The story of Anant Chaturdashi goes thus:
Brahmin Sumant and his wife Diksha had a daughter called Sushila. Diksha dies and Sumant married Karkash, who ill-treated her step-daughter.
Sushila married Kaundinya and left the house to avoid the harassment of Karkash. They reached a river and Kaundinya went to take a dip in it. Sushila saw some women worshipping Lord Anant. She asked them about the pooja. They replied that it is Anant’s Vow.
They also explained the rituals connected to the pooja and their importance. Devotees prepare some gharga from flour and anarase – a special dish. Brahmins have to be offered half of these. A cobra (shesh) made of darbha grass, placed inside a bamboo basket, has to be worshipped offering oil lamp, scented flowers, incense sticks and naivedyam.
A silk string is offered to the Lord and tied on our wrist. This string is known as the Anant. It has to be made with 14 knots and colored with kumkum. Ladies should wear it on the left arm and men on the right, for the next 14 years. This thread bestows divinity and wealth upon us.
Sushila began to follow the procedure of the worship of Anant. As a result, she and Kaundinya became prosperous and rich. One day, Kaundinya noticed the thread on his wife’s wrist. Post hearing the story, he rubbished everything and claimed that he got all the riches by way of his own virtue. After a heated argument, he pulled the thread from her hand and threw it into the fire. This resulted in several calamities for the couple and they became very poor. Kaundinya realized his folly and decided to perform rigorous penance to make Lord Anant appeared before him.
Kaundinya entered the forest and saw a mango tree laden with mangoes. However, nobody was eating the mangoes because the tree was infested with worms. He requested the tree to help him find Anant. But, the tree did not know about Him. Kaundinya moved further and saw a cow and a calf. Then, he saw a bull standing on lush grass but not eating it. He saw 2 lakes adjacent to one another and their waters mixing with each other. Then, he saw a donkey and an elephant. None of them had heard of Lord Anant.
In desperation, he tried to hang himself. An old Brahmin came in front of him and stopped him from taking the extreme step. The Brahmin led Kaundinya into a cave. Initially, it was dark. Sudden brightness revealed that they had reached a grand palace. Many men and women had assembled there. The Brahmin walked toward the throne and turned into Maha Vishnu. Kaundinya realized that Maha Vishnu Himself had appeared before him to save him from his calamities. Maha Vishnu was Anant or the eternal one.
Kaundinya confessed to his sins and requested Anant to forgive him for them. Anant promised him that if he took the 14-year vow, He would bestow upon his devotee wealth, prosperity, happiness and children. Lord Anant explained the meaning of what Kaundinya saw during his search for Lord Anant.
The Lord said, “The mango tree was a Brahmin in its previous birth and was stingy with his vast knowledge. The cow represented the earth, which ate all plant seeds in the beginning. The bull depicted religion, which was standing in the field of grass. The 2 lakes were 2 sisters, who loved each other. They were reborn as lakes because they had spent all their alms only on each other. The donkey represented anger and cruelty while the elephant was Kaundinya’s pride.”