Maharṣi Durvāsā’s āśrama is a very ancient place. Here, Durvāsā performed austerities by which he attained numerous perfections. In three yugas, also, this āśrama is famous. From all over India, people come to see it and pray for the fulfilment of their various material desires.
Maharṣi Atri was a mentally-born son (mānasa-putra) of Brahmā, the creator of the material universes. Once, the three demigods Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa appeared before Atri to give him a boon. Upon receiving darśana of all three of them, Atri became very satisfied. With great love and a faltering voice he began to offer them prayers. The three gods were pleased and told him to accept a boon of his choice from them. After consulting his wife, Anusūyā, he asked that the three of them, Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa, become their sons. Saying, “So it shall be,” the three demigods departed for their own abodes.
After some time, as Devarṣi Nārada was playing his vīṇā and singing the glories of Bhagavān, he met Sarasvatī, Lakṣmī and Umā, and made a point of highly extolling the glories of Anusūyā’s chastity to them. He said, “Due to her chastity, Anusūyā, the wife of Atri, is now the most famous woman in the entire universe. Within all three worlds, there is no woman more chaste than she is.”
When the three goddesses heard these words of Devarṣi, their faces revealed their disappointment. They were proud of being renowned as the most chaste women within the three worlds and could not tolerate that another woman may be more chaste than they were. They insisted that their respective husbands – Śrī Brahmā, Śrī Viṣṇu and Śrī Maheśa – put such a difficult test before Anusūyā’s chastity that she would be unable to pass it. The three husbands tried to convince their wives that because Anusūyā is most austere, extremely chaste and a great devotee of Bhagavān, by attempting to test her chastity they were risking defeat. Still, their wives were insistent.
Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa arrived at the āśrama of Śrī Atri and Anusūyā at Citrakūṭa. At that time the austere Anusūyā was alone in the āśrama, which was situated in a dense jungle within a mountain range. Atrijī was in a nearby mountain cave immersed in worshipping Bhagavān. Upon seeing the three demigods enter their āśrama, Anusūyā stood up and offered praṇāma with folded hands. “How can I serve you, our worshipable guests?” she asked. She then came to them with water and with some fruits and roots in her hands. But they were not ordinary guests. They said, “If you give us alms while being completely naked we will accept them. Otherwise we will be dissatisfied and go away.”
Upon hearing these strange words, Anusūyā thought for a moment. She then requested them to wait there and went to her husband Atrijī, telling him of the remarkable condition they had put on their acceptance of alms. Atrijī meditated on it and understood that these three guests were none other than Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa. He told his wife, “These are not three ordinary guests but Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa themselves. Welcome and honour them according to their desire; there will be no harm.” Anusūyā returned to her āśrama and said to the three gods, “I agree to serve you according to your desire, but according to my desire you must also become newborn babies and sit on my lap.” At once they became babies and began to play on her lap, and she began nurturing the three children with great love. The three children were named Candramā, Dattātreya and Durvāsā. Brahmājī had descended as Candramā, Viṣṇu as Dattātreya and Maheśa as Durvāsā.
After some time the three goddesses Sarasvatī, Lakṣmī and Umā became very worried because their husbands had not returned. They had come to know from Devarṣi Nārada that their husbands had become babies and were playing on the lap of Anusūyā. They adopted the dress of ordinary women and together went to Anusūyā’s āśrama. After welcoming and honouring them, Anusūyā asked them, “Who are you?”
They replied, “We are your daughters-in-law.”
“How have you become my daughters-in-law?” she asked.
Hesitating due to some shame, they replied, “Those three children playing in your lap are none other than our husbands. Because our husbands have become your sons, we have therefore become your daughters-in-law.”
Smiling, Anusūyā said, “What do you want?”
“We want our husbands back,” they replied. “Please be merciful and return them to their original forms so we will be able to serve them again.”
Anusūyā said, “They will remain with me in their present forms as my sons while simultaneously returning to their original forms and accompanying you back to your respective abodes.”
This story is from the beginning of Satya-yuga. The complete narration of this story can be found in the Purāṇas and in the Mahābhārata.
Excerpted from the Gaudiya Vedanta Publication “Maharṣi Durvāsā & Śrī Durvāsā-āśrama”