Story of Sushila & Kaundinya
There was a Brahmin named Sumant. From his wife Diksha he had a daughter named Sushila. After the death of Diksha, Sumant married Karkash, who began to give a lot of trouble to Sushila. Sushila got married to Kaundinya, and they decided to leave the house to avoid the harassment of the step-mother. On the way they stopped near a river where Kaundinya went to take bath. Meanwhile Sushila joined a group of women who were performing some worship. On enquiring they told that they were worshipping "Anant and taking Anant Vow".
“Anant's Vow” they explained – is a worship done with some fried "Gharga" (made of flour) and "anarase" (special food). Half of these have to be given to the Brahmins. A hooded snake (cobra) made of "darbha" (sacred grass) is put in a bamboo basket and then the snake ("shesh") is worshipped with scented flowers, oil lamp and incense sticks and special food gharga and anarse. A silk string with 14 knots and coloured in vermillion (kumkum) is kept before the god while worshipping. This string is tied to the wrist and is called "Anant", Women tie the "anant" on their left hand and men on their right. The purpose of this vow is to obtain divinity and wealth, and is kept for 14 years. After listening to this explanation Sushila decided to take the Anant vow. From that day she and her husband Kaundinya began to prosper and became very rich. One day Kaundinya, noticed the “Anant” string on Sushila's left hand. When he heard the story of the Anant Vow he got displeased and maintained that they had become rich, not because of any power of Anant, but because of the wisdom he had acquired by his own efforts. A heated argument followed, and at the end Kaundinya took the Anant string from Sushila's hand and threw it into the fire.
As a result of this all sorts of calamities happened in their life, and finally they were reduced to extreme poverty. Kaundinya realized that it was the punishment for having dishonoured "Anant", and decided to undergo rigorous penance until God Himself appeared to him.
In Search of Anant
Kaundinya went into the forest. There he saw a tree full of mangoes, but no one was eating the mangoes. The entire tree was attacked by worms. He asked the tree if he had seen Anant, but got a negative reply. Then he saw a cow with her calf, then a bull standing on a field of grass but not eating it. Then he saw two big lakes joined to each other with their waters mixing with one another. Further he saw a donkey and an elephant. To each of them Kaundinya asked about Anant, but no one had even heard this name. Then he became desperate and prepared a rope to hang himself, when suddenly an old venerable Brahmin appeared before him and removed the rope from Kaundinya's neck. He led him into a cave. At first it was very dark. But then a bright light appeared and they reached a big palace. A great assembly of men and women had gathered. The old Brahmin went straight towards the throne.
Then Kaundinya could no longer see the Brahmin, but only Lord Vishnu instead. Kaundinya realized that Vishnu himself had come to save him, and that Vishnu was Anant, the Eternal One. He confessed his sin in failing to recognize the Eternal in the string on Sushila's hand. Anant promised Kaundinya that if he made the 14-year-vow, he would be free from all his sins, and would obtain wealth, children and happiness. Then Anant disclosed the meaning of what Kaundinya had seen during the search. Anant explained that the mango tree was a Brahmin, who in a previous life had acquired plenty of knowledge, but had not communicated it to anyone.
The cow was the earth, which at the beginning had eaten all the seeds of plants. The bull was religion itself. Now he was standing on a field of green grass. The two Lakes were two sisters who loved each other very much, but all their alms were spent on each other only. The donkey was cruelty and anger. Finally the elephant Kaundinya's pride.
Hence goes the celebration of Anant Chaturdashi.