Rama To Become The King
To add to the joy of wedding, King Dasharatha announced that Rama, his eldest son, would succeed him to the throne of Ayodhya. Everyone, including the queens, the ministers, and the citizens of Ayodhya were overjoyed with this news. The auspicious day for this noble ceremony was decided accordingly.
Manthara Provokes Kaikeyi to Seek Throne for her son Bharata
But there was a corner in the palace where this news caused a different reaction. Instead of joy and merriment, the chamber of queen Kaikeyi was tense. The maid-servant of queen Kaikeyi -- Manthara by name - was trying to convince the queen how great injustice had been done to her and her son -- Bharata. Instead of Rama, her son was the right successor to the throne.
Queen Kaikeyi was puzzled. Her love for Rama and Bharata knew no distinction; to her, her own son Bharata and Rama were equal. In fact, she was overjoyed that Rama would be the next king and Bharata would get opportunity to serve his elder brother. She thought Rama to be the proper choice because of his decent character, nobility, intelligence, bravery, and also because Rama was the son of eldest queen.
Reflecting thus, the queen said to her maid, "O Manthara, why raise this unnecessary controversy on this auspicious and opportune time? Are you not aware of my immense and equal love for both Rama and Bharata? Moreover, Bharata also has no objection and is loyal to Rama."
But Manthara was in a different mood. Boldly she replied, "O honorable queen, pardon me for crossing my limits of modesty, but I must say what I feel to be just and correct towards my Lady and her son Bharata. If Rama becomes the king, your son Bharata would never get opportunity to occupy the cherished throne of Ayodhya. As a mother, should you not help him fulfill his ambition? And have you forgotten the past two boons the king - your husband - Dasharatha has conferred upon you!"
The Story of Two Boons
Manthara was correct in reminding Kaikeyi about the two boons king Dasharatha had promised to her in the past. The circumstances were as follows:
Once in his youth, king Dasharatha was engaged in a ferocious battle with a powerful enemy. Queen Kaikeyi, who was young, brave, and very bold had insisted to accompany her husband in this battle. Both, the king and the queen, were in the same chariot when a major breakdown occurred as one wheel of their chariot got damaged. As such, life of the king was in great peril and danger. But the bold and brave queen was quick to throw her life for her husband's safety. She managed to control the chariot and supported the wheel with her arm! Her arm was bleeding and there was intense pain, but she endured. Her presence of mind and sacrifice resulted in not only saving the life of her husband but also his winning the battle.
So pleased was the king with Kaikeyi that he said, "O my beloved, today you have not only saved my life but also have set an example of bravery and presence of mind on the battle field. You have shown that women are not inferior in any way in the matter of bravery and sacrifice. I grant you two boons; ask for any two things or desires and I will fulfill the same for you. Whatever you shall ask I will give it to you. I promise."
With due regards for her husband, the queen told that she would seek her boons later in her life if and when she required anything. And King Dasharatha had agreed to this condition.
Thus, Manthara reminded the queen of those almost forgotten promises the king had made to her. She told the queen it was the most opportune time to claim those two promises NOW. And without any delay also suggested what should Kaikeyi demand:
1. Of the first boon, O queen, ask that instead of Rama her son Bharata be given the throne of Ayodhya, and,
2. Of the second, ask for the banishment of Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
(Bharata was not present in Ayodhya during all this period.)
The weakness of human nature is very nicely described in the original text. How a small ambition and love for the son takes control of the mind of Kaikeyi that leads to major upheaval later in her own life, and in the lives of her near and dear ones. She would become a widow! as the tragic separation from his most loved son Rama was sure to take life force away from the heart of the king Dasharatha.
We must remember the first episode -- story of Shravana -- where the old father of dying Shravana, mortally wounded by the arrow of the king, had put the curse on Dasharatha: "I send a curse to you, O king, that you shall also die experiencing the pain and suffering of separation from your son."
Queen Kaikeyi Sends Rama to Forest!
And indeed Kaikeyi was convinved about the injustice being done to her son Bharata! She was angry and did not come out ot greet her husband Dasharatha. Therefore, the king himself went her chamber and inquired about her well being. In fact the king loved queen Kaikeyi the most!
But today the words of Manthara had done their trick. Queen Kaikeyi reminded Dasharatha about the two boons he had promised her years back. The king remembered and was in fact pleased to grant the boons on that auspicious day. And as the fate had it, Kaikeyi asked:
1. Of the first boon, O my beloved husband, I ask that instead of Rama Bharata be given the throne of Ayodhya, and,
2. Of the second boon, I ask for the banishment of Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
The king was not prepared for such unusual demands. He tried to persuade the queen to ask for something else, but no. Kaikeyi was firm in her resolve. The king went for compromise in granting the throne to Bharata but pleaded with his queen not to insist to send Rama to Forest. But still, no. Kaikeyi was firm on both the counts.
King Dasharatha was heartbroken on listening to the resolve of Kaikeyi to send Rama to the forest for fourteen years. He could not imagine even in dream that his most beloved son Rama would be put to such an acid test. He knew that the separation from Rama would be the last thing his old and frail body could tolerate. With heavy heart, he pleaded with his wife, "O Kaikeyi, what has possessed your kind heart! Why has your love for Rama disappeared! Please say that you are speaking in jest, and that you are not serious about your two demands."
"Ask for anything else. Ask for many palaces and jewelry, ask for army of thousand of elephants and horses, ask for my life, but spare my Rama from the hardships of forest and banishment to the life of recluse. I grant Bharata the throne of Ayodhya."
But, no. Kaikeyi was firm as a rock in her demands. Said she, "Come what may, you must keep your word of honour. If you fail, you will see my corpse at the sunrise next morning." She also reminded the King about the lofty tradition of keeping promises even at the cost of life in the Raghu dynasty.
The news reached the chamber of Rama and Sita, as also all around the palace, that something grossly inopportune has happened to the king, and that he is ill in the chamber of Kaikeyi. The prime minister - Sumanta - was summoned by the king to fetch Rama to the chamber of Kaikeyi.
When Rama reached there he saw his father lying semiconscious on the floor full of grief and pathos. His eyes were filled with tears of desperation and sorrow. Rama pleaded with Kaikeyi to tell him what had happened to his father. When the whole story of the promises etc. was told, Rama understood the situation very well. He knew that both King Dasharatha and himself are caught in a situation that demanded supreme sacrifice. Bharata was not present in Ayodhya during all these happenings.
Rama was full of praise for Kaikeyi. Said he,
"O mother, you have bestowed a great honour upon me by asking for these two promises. Firstly, I agree with you that Bharata would be a better king than I. Secondly, what of fourteen years of forest life! Time will fly with wink of the eyes. But I must be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to be close with the nature. Moreover, I shall personally look after the conditions of subjects in far off places of our kingdom. I would be more than happy to redress their grievances. And most importantly, I shall get the rare opportunity to submerge myself in spiritual practices to seek the God. The daily hectic life of the king otherwise also comes in the way of God realization and meditation. And last but not the least, to uphold the word given by the parents is the duty of every son, even if it puts him to utmost suffering. It is a rare opportunity offered to anyone to die for the honour of his father."
Sita and Laxmana Decide To Go With Rama
Thus Rama genuinely felt nothing at such an arduous predicament. Everyone present was stunned to listen to the brave and high thinking of Rama. Respect for Rama doubled in everyone's heart. But the daughter of Janaka - Janaki (i.e. Sita), the newly married wife of Rama, was not be left behind. After seeking permission from her mother-in-law, she spoke with dignity and composure to her husband, "O Lord, I will also accompany you to the forest."
Instantly many objections were raised by Queen Kausalya, Prime Minister, and Rama himself that for the newly wedded queen it would not be proper to leave the comforts of the palace and seek difficult life of the forest. Moreover, her in-laws needed her care more than the able-bodied husband. Kaikeyi has not asked her to accompany her husband.
But Sita was not to be so easily put off. With firm determination she said to Rama, "Please do not deny me the chance of serving you when you need it most. I am your shadow, I have taken wedding vows to be with you in joy and sorrow, in palace or in jungle, in life and death. I can not remain alive without you. If you still insist that I should stay here with your parents, I declare that I will jump in the river Sarayu after your departure!"
At last when every effort of persuasion failed, Rama conceded to the request of Sita, his wife, to accompany him. And then comes the extreme sacrifice of a brother for elder brother.
Rama Banished to Forest
Laxmana who was watching all the proceedings with some emotions, said, "O brother, Sita and you are like mother and father to me. A child cannot remain alive separated from his parents. Let me accompany you both so that I not only can serve you, but also protect you from the predators and the demons of the jungle. Otherwise, who would look after you when you sleep under the open sky or a small make-shift hut? Will not the tender body of Sita-Ma suffer with efforts of labour all alone! O Rama, take me with you otherwise I would suffer like a fish out of water."
All eyes were wet with tears of distress and grief, except those of Kaikeyi and Manthara. The love between the brothers and supreme sacrifice of dutiful Sita made every heart heavy with tons of grief and pathos.
Next day the trio Rama, Laxmana, and Sita gave up the royal silk and the valuables and put on simple clothes fit for the forest life: robes of sanyasin. Sita still looked pretty without her ornaments, but every heart in Ayodhya was filled with despair and remorse. Every eye was wet with the tears of separation and sorrow. The palace was filled with the silence of grief. Around the palace every inch of land was occupied by the people of Ayodhya. Some were sitting in the path, others were lying down as if to prevent their beloved to leave. Nobody was in a mood to allow them to depart. It was difficult to control the crowd, it was equally difficult to control the emotions.
But promise was a promise, not only for the royal family, but for every citizen of Ayodhya. Everyone knew that although Kaikeyi was harsh in her demands, but she could not be faulted on that account alone. She had every right to demand her two promises which the King Dasharatha must keep, come what may. If it created tragic condition of gloom and helplessness the people were willing to suffer stoically, without violence or revenge. Kaikeyi never was threatened, no, nobody ever thought of harming her. But the crowd made the departure of our heroes very slow. Rama advised all to remain calm and collected; to support the would-be king Bharata, and to look after the ailing king Dasharatha and the helpless queens.
The night fell even as Rama-Laxmana- Sita could barely cross the limits of the city. It was painfully slow process to leave the people. At this juncture, minister Sumanta drove his chariot towards Rama and said, "My Lord, the people are asleep. Let me take you across the border quickly without much ado." Rama agreed and thus leaving all tired people behind, Rama-Laxmana-Sita fled far off under the cover of night sky.
Story of Adivasi Chief Guhaka
Thus Rama-Laxmana-Sita reached the banks of the river Tamasa. The small, simple village was predominantly populated by the outcasts Bhilla, an aboriginal caste. The chief of this clan was Guhaka, a very wise man although illiterate. These simple, hard-working, honest and poor people were neglected as no officer would visit them in distress or want. The revenue minister and officials would be content to collect their dues and report to Ayodhya 'everything is fine there'.
Thus, although a part of Ayodhya kingdom, these people were denied any chance of contact with the royal house or the king. However, despite their poverty and inconvenience, their chief Guhaka was aware of the noble character and pious nature of Rama. he had also the news as to the recent ill-fated happenings in Ayodhya. Therefore, he was waiting for the arrival of Rama-Laxmana-Sita with great expectations and eagerness. He was keen to serve the nobility, and in particular Rama.
On their arrival, Guhaka arranged for their meals consisting of fruits and milk only as he was not sure whether other items would be accepted by the members the royal family. He saluted Rama from a distance, but Rama went a step ahead and embraced the chief as his old friend! This unexpected gesture of solidarity beyond caste consideration on the part of Rama made Guhaka very happy. He could not control his tear s that fell on the chest of Rama. Laxmana and Sita were silent witness to this high drama of love between the two.
The night fell and arrangements were made for Rama and Sita to retire. The bed of straw was hastily prepared as Rama refused to enter the village and accept the hospitality of the chief, saying, 'O dear friend, I have taken the vow of leading a simple life in a forest. I cannot come inside your palace.'
It is important to note that Rama and Sita did not have any physical contact during these fourteen years of forest life.
Laxmana did not sleep for he had come to protect and serve Rama and Sita. He and Guhaka had night long talk on the decency of Rama's character and divine qualities. According to Laxmana, Rama as the God-incarnate and Guhaka as the devotee made a wonderful duo of peace, love, and tranquillity. Guhaka was also impressed with the insights that Laxmana offered about the real nature of Rama as Brahma-incarnate. It is the Absolute GOD that has deliberately planned all this sport of forest-treading, banishment, etc. so that more democratic, peaceful, righteous, society without caste and creed, racial or ethnic hatred should emerge.
Moreover, the king Ravana, the mighty Demon King of Lanka was too powerful wicked, and unrighteous who required to be vanquished. Only Rama was capable of defeating Ravana, and hence all this play of forest life.
Story of Bharata
What was the reaction of Kaikeyi and others when Bharata returned to Ayodhya? What happened to king Dasharatha after Rama left for the forest?
As we know the minister Sumanta accompanied Rama and company for some time. The idea was to persuade Rama to return back to Ayodhya; the argument was that Kaikeyi would repent her hastiness and accept her mistake. She would not mind Rama coming back and stay at Ayodhya, even if Bharata be the king!
But , no. Rama flatly refused to return back. He said to his minister,
"O honorable one, I can understand your concern and love for me, but do not expect me to follow the course of action that has even minimum indication of cleverness, ambiguity, or suspicion. I have given my word to my father and people of Ayodhya to lead forest life of simplicity and renunciation for fourteen years, and I cannot think or act otherwise. It is not a question of comfort or privilege, it a matter of principle, truth, which one must even die to uphold. Don't I know that Sita who is so tender and inexperienced is suffering? But once decided let us do our duty."
Bharata Returns to Ayodhya
Thus Sumanta, without success, had returned to Ayodhya. Meanwhile, news of these dramatic happenings was sent to Bharata who was far away from Ayodhya. He was told that king Dasharatha sought his urgent meeting. He was not told about the banishment of Rama, role of his mother, and critical condition of his father.
But when he entered the boundaries of the kingdom, he was aware that something was amiss. "Why the birds are not at their usual happy chirping? Why these cattle is dried up and thinned out? Why all people are so silent, instead of their usual fun and play; their eyes swollen as if with constant crying? Why the usual sweet music and singing at the palace not audible to his ears?"
He could guess of impending tragedy, but was not sure as to what exactly might have happened. He straight way went to the chamber of his mother and was pained to see his father lying semiconscious on the floor. He was angry as well as confused. With a firm voice he inquired of her mother,
"O mother, what is all this? Can anyone tell me what has happened to my father, who has brought this disgrace to him, and why is Rama not to be seen?" A series of rapid fire question, but no immediate answer! Who would describe this sudden catastrophe where villain was of his mother Kaikeyi only! Ultimately through the intervention of the ministers gradually Bharata came to know all the details of the happenings. He was flabbergasted that her mother would be so mean to take life of her own husband! How can she not feel the pain of separation from her son Rama! Then with language that was sharper than the razor's edge, Bharata takes her mother to the task.
Says he, "O mother, to call you mother is an insult to motherhood. Indian tradition does not allow to kill one's mother and hence I am desisted from doing so, otherwise any one other you would have not remained alive for more than a minute after doing this to my father and brother Rama. Let the world know that from today you cease to remain my mother, I will not speak to you for fourteen years. From today onwards my mother's place is taken by Kausalya and Sumitra."
Bending low down, he then lifted the head of his father in his lap and said, "O father, what should I do to pacify you? On one side there is that noble Rama and here I am so unlucky and useless to become the king at the cost of my father and brother. Why have I lived to see this unfortunate day! please tell me father what is your command for me."
Dasharatha Dies Separated From Son Rama
Thus full of remorse Bharata did not know exactly as to what he should do. In a weak voice then, Dasharatha said, "O my son, my end is near, I cannot live where Rama is not. The life force here draws its sustenance from Rama alone. But my request to you is to go and fetch Rama-Laxmana-Sita from wherever they may be. After my departure from this earthly bond, I do not want the people of Ayodhya and all of you to suffer the agony of separation from Rama."
All eyes were wet. Bharata vowed to seek the forest-dwelling of Rama and to bring him back and offer him his legitimate right to throne. On hearing these words the heart of Dasharatha was pacified to some extent, and he breathed his last with repetition of 'He Rama, He Rama, He Rama.
Rishis Praise Rama
Soon the trio reached the holy Ashrama of the sage Bharadwaja. The sadhu received them with dignity and poise. The sage was already aware of the true nature of Rama and his mission:
"Whenever there is threat to righteousness, whenever vices prevail, whenever the saints and sadhus (spiritual aspirants) are threatened with unrighteousness, Brahman, with the help of His Maya-Shakti (Power) incarnates as Rama (or Krishna, etc.) on the earth."
"To show the right path to the devotees and to remove the obstacles in their way by subduing the wicked."
After accepting the hospitality of tribal -low caste- people and thereby establishing a new and revolutionary precedence, Rama-Laxmana-Sita proceeded ahead. They reached the bank of mighty and holy river Ganges. The boatman, Kewat, washed the holy feet of the trio and made arrangements for taking them to the other shore. When Rama offers him the fare, the devotee Kewat, eyes full of tears, describes the glory of Lord in a touching song. Says he,
"Sri Rama, the Almighty Redeemer, who ferries millions of souls across this ocean of worldliness seeks himself to be ferried across the river today! Lord seeks help from his Bhakta! I must have done some good work in my past birth to get this opportunity to serve Rama. O Compassionate One, to deem my fare, I will wait for fourteen years on this bank of river till your return."
Seeking tearful leave from the boatman, Rama and company reached the holiest confluence of three rivers in India - Triveni Sangam of the rivers Ganga-Yamuna-Saraswati at Prayag, North India. The confluence of Bhakti -devotion, Jnana -knowledge, and Karma -action.
n Bharata Tries to Persuade Rama to Return
Rama Laxmana and Sita Proceed Further
The Holy Trio reached the mountain top at Chitrakoot. Here they decided to stay for sometime and took last salutes from all accompanying friends and Rishis. They now wanted to remain within themselves and lead the hard and simple forest life as directed by mother Kaikeyi. The poor forest people came with fruits and other food. They saluted the trio for their benevolence.
They were ever vigilant lest the leopards and other jungle animals should hurt these royal guests. Rama also loved these neglected tribal people. He understood their plight and hardships to earn their living and food. He was highly impressed with their knowledge of the plants and herbs, and equally for their concern and care to preserve the forest -- eco-freindly nature!
Bharata meanwhile was persuaded to take the reigns of Ayodhya in his hands, as it was thought unwise and improper that the throne of Ayodhya should remain vacant without legitimate king. Bharata did not agree to this. He said that only after meeting Rama this whole affair can be sorted out and settled.
Kaikeyi, Kausalya, Sumitra, Gurudev Vashistha, many officers of the royal army and a huge population of Ayodhya accompanied Bharata on his 'pilgrimage' to meet Rama. Bharata also adored simple dress of sanyasin and started on foot as directed by the minister, Guhaka, and sages Bharadwaja and Valmiki. Thus the party reached the base of Chitrakoot mountain.
The tribal eager to protect their respected Rama-Laxmana-Sita obstructed their path thinking them to be the invaders or enemy. But finding Bharata without bow and arrow and seeing tears in every eye, they desisted from attacking them. Some of the tribesmen rushed to the mountain top and explained the scene below. It took no time for Rama to know that his brother Bharata had come to meet him.
Bharata and his associates were escorted in the presence of Rama with due respect and poise. Seeing Rama-Laxmana-Sita in a simple dress without ornaments and royal paraphernalia, Bharata's heart was filled with intense grief. His eyes gave vent to flood of uncontrollable tears. Rama too could not check his emotions, and rushed to hug his beloved brother Bharata. No one spoke for a long time that appeared as eternity. Continuos flow of tears calmed their hearts and mind after a while.
Bowing down at the feet of Rama and taking the holy dust from them, Bharata politely said,
"O brother, why did you not wait for my return? Did you also think that I would be pleased to get the throne of Ayodhya? How did you forget that without you Ayodhya, or for that matter whole of kingdom of universe, is like a mud puddle for me! Did you not know that mother Kaikeyi had committed a grave mistake which I was sure to rectify? Now I invite you to return to Ayodhya and take the reigns in your hand. O brother, our father could not bear the separation from you and has left for heavenly abode. We have all become orphans now; your return is the only saving grace now. Otherwise everything is like food without salt."
Everyone was watching with dismay and respect the meeting of these two brothers. Nowhere on the earth such brotherly love was ever witnessed nor would be seen in future, they thought. Rama lifted the bent down Bharata, took him to his breast again and consolingly said,
"My dear brother, why do you also behave like common folk? Where has your bravery, discrimination, and self confidence vanished! Why do you think this to be hour of crisis? No my dear, this is not any crisis. The destiny should never be mistaken for tragedy. First of all you must never utter a single word against mother Kaikeyi. She is a lady of great honour and judgment. She has not committed any crime, he is not a sinner as you mistakenly believe. She has done a great favour to Ayodhya and mankind which will be revealed to you and others during these fourteen years.
Yes, these fourteen years are offered to me by her to spread my kingdom of peace, equality and social justice. Even though ordinary folks may rebuke her foe her actions, the wise and learned would bow down to her in reverence for the unparalleled opportunity she opened up for me establishes the rule of Dharma! hence do not grieve. Go back to Ayodhya and rule as a noble, wise, and kind king for the welfare of all irrespective of caste and social status. See that injustice is firmly handled with a blend of kindness. Ensure that aspirations of all are fulfilled."
Gradually Bharata could see reason. The rule of heart shifted to rule of intellect. He took a vow in front of Rama and others, saying, "O Rama, I agree with what you said. but remember, I will take care of Ayodhya on your behalf from my ashrama in a nearby village. The throne will be decorated with the wooden sandals of your feet which I beg you to give to me. I refuse to enter Ayodhya till your return after fourteen years. If you fail to show up after fourteen years I will immolate myself on the burning pyre."
When it was found that the resolve of Bharata was final, Rama agreed to his conditions and gave away his wooden shoes to Bharata who carried them on his head to Ayodhya.'