Adapted from Garuḍa and Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇas
Garuḍa Purāṇa 1.142.19-29 tells the story of a Brahmin named Kaushik who lived in the city Pratishthanpur:
Kaushik was afflicted with leprosy, but still his wife, Sandili, worshiped him like a god. She was very chaste and faithful to her husband. Even when he rebuked her, she never ceased to consider him her worshipable deity.
One evening, Kaushik instructed his wife to take him to the house of a prostitute. Obeying his order, Sandili brought a quantity of money with her, and carrying her husband on her shoulders, set off.
On the path, the sage Mandavya, who had been wrongly accused and then punished by the king for being a thief [see part one of this story], was sitting impaled on a pointed lance which penetrated his body all the way to his head. Not seeing him in the darkness, Sandili came too close to him and her husband’s foot accidentally bumped the sage. Mandavya became furious and cursed him, saying, “He who kicked me with his foot shall die at sunrise.”
Hearing this, Sandili said, “If I am truly chaste then the sun will no longer rise.”
The balance of the story is given in the sixteenth chapter of Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa:
The next morning, the sun did not rise, nor the rest of that day, nor the next. A constant night continued for many years. Terrified, and not understanding what was happening, the demigods approached Lord Brahma for help. He told them, “The sun cannot rise due to the greatness of a pativratā, a chaste wife. The power of austerity [referring to Mandavya Muni] has been defeated by the power of chastity [Sandili]. If you desire to return things to normal then you must approach Anasuya, the great lady ascetic and faithful wife of Atri Muni. If she is pleased with you then she can arrange for the sun to again rise.”
The demigods then went to Anasuya, offered homage to her, and requested her to restore the system of days and nights as it was before. She replied, “O devas, so as not to diminish the greatness of a chaste wife in any way, I shall make the sun rise again, but only after honoring that virtuous lady. I will both reestablish the cycles of day and night, and simultaneously make sure that the good wife and her husband are not destroyed.”
Anasuya then went to Sandili, and said, “O blessed woman! I hope that you rejoice upon seeing your husband’s face. May you consider your husband to be greater than all of the gods! I have achieved the greatest rewards simply by faithfully following my husband. By my service to him, all of my desires have been fulfilled and all obstructions removed from my path. Everything that can be obtained by a man with great effort is obtained by a woman simply by dedication to her spouse. Therefore, you should always focus on serving your husband.”
Pativratā Sandili replied, “O best of the chaste women, we are blessed to receive your merciful glance and kind instructions. I assure you that service to my husband is my life. Please tell me why you have come and how we may serve you?”
Anasuya said, “Due to your vow, the natural order of day and night has stopped. Because of this, no one has been able to do sacrifice [which is supposed to take place during the day] and all of the devas have been deprived of the regular offerings from mankind. The devas have begged me to restore the system of day and night. That is why I have come to you.
“O virtuous woman, due to the absence of the sun and daytime, the devas are not getting any nourishment. Consequently, there is an absence of rain, and the entire world faces destruction. So, I’m appealing to you, good woman, to alleviate the distress of the world. Let the sun run its normal course as before.”
Hearing her words, Sandili, the devoted wife of Kausika, hung her head and said, “Please forgive me, but how can I agree to your request? The angry sage Mandavya cursed my husband to die as soon as the sun rises. If I withdraw my words then my husband will lose his life.”
Anasuya then told her, “O chaste woman, if you like I can restore your husband’s life and give him a fresh, youthful body free from leprosy. O beautiful lady, I am dedicated to glorifying chaste women, and therefore I desire to honor you.”
Sandili agreed to her request. Then, taking sacred water in her hand, in that dark night that had been continuing for many years, Anasuya invoked the sun. Then Bhagavan Vivasvan, the sun, rose and shone with his full glories.
At that moment, the Brahmin Kausik fell to the ground dead. Seeing the lifeless form of her beloved husband, Sandili embraced his body and began to wail.
Anasuya comforted her, “Good woman, do not lament. Witness the power I have acquired by serving my husband! On the strength of my chastity to my husband, by the power acquired by fully devoting my body, mind, and speech to his service, may this Brahmin live again as a young man free from all disease for one hundred years in the company of his wife.”
In this way, the sun was restored to the universe, and the Brahmin Kausik’s life was saved. Pleased with Anasuya for her efforts, the demigods offered her a boon of her choice. Anasuya replied that she wanted the three guṇa-avatāras, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, to be born as her children. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (4.1.15) thus describes:
atreḥ patny anasūyā trīñ jajñe suyaśasaḥ sutān
dattaṁ durvāsasaṁ somam ātmeśa-brahma-sambhavān
Anasuya, the wife of Atri Muni, gave birth to three very famous sons — Soma, Dattatreya and Durvasa — who were partial representations of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma. Soma was a partial representation of Lord Brahma, Dattatreya was a partial representation of Lord Vishnu, and Durvasa was a partial representation of Lord Shiva.
This article was excerpted from issue 205 of the email magazine Sri Krishna Kathamrita Bindu, produced by ISKCON Gopal Jiu Publications. To read back issues or to get a free subscription go to: www.gopaljiu.org
— Garuḍa Purāṇa. English translation by a board of scholars. Edited by Prof. J. L. Shastri. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi. 1978.
— Mandakranta Bose. Faces of the Feminine in Ancient, Medieval, and Modern India. Published by Oxford University Press. New York. 2000.
— Mārkaṇḍeya Mahāpurāṇam, With Hindi translation by Pandit Kanayalal Mishra. Published by Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. Prayag. 1996
— Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. English translation and commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Singapore. 1982.