What follows is a story I’ve read before, but never had I heard the part about Panauti village. This is my best recall of the way it was told to me, by a gentleman who knew only that I was a Canadian visitor, and not a devotee of the very Deva whose deeds he described.
“God Indra, the God of Heaven, got into trouble…you know, with sex, with Ahilya, an apsara, one of the heavenly women, very beautiful. But her husband was a great holy man, and he was very angry. So he cursed Indra, and the god was covered everywhere with blemishes. He wandered all over, looking for a way to end this awful curse, and at last he came across a sadhu meditating under a tree.
“The sadhu told the god that he could help him. He said to Indra, you must keep going, walk until you find a place called Panauti, and there you will meditate for twelve years. Indra did all that the sadhu instructed, and was healed. That place, where Indra did penance, was at Indreshwar Mahadev temple.
“They built the temple in 1294,” the man continued, “but it was a very sacred place long before that because God Indra stayed there. And inside the temple are small stones on the ground – you might miss them if you didn’t know they were there – those are symbols of Ahilya.”
The town website explains that the name Panauti comes from Sanskrit pūrṇa-mati, signifying wholeness or completeness. The webpage offers the more familiar tale of Indra’s body covered with yonis; when stricken by this calamity, Indra comes with Indrāṇī to Panauti, and husband and wife perform austerities together. It is Śiva and Pārvatī who deliver the two from their burden: Śiva heals Indra, and Pārvatī transforms Indrāṇī into the invisible river Indrayani. And so Śiva is honoured in Panauti as Indreshwara, as the merciful and potent Lord who delivered the King of Gods from affliction, and the temple there houses a Śiva-lingam. But I never heard this version during my week in Panauti, or indeed the name of Śiva in connection with Indreshwar Mahadev temple at all.
It was wonderful to hear this story told to me, since Indra’s name usually doesn’t come up in conversation. And the tale was singularly well-timed, because I heard the Subrahmaṇyā litany the next morning, for the very first time: a chant inviting Indra to the ritual, and one of the names they sing is the lover of Ahalyā.
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