Book 2: Ayodhya Kanda (part 1)

In Ayodhya
Nicole Hembroff

Upon their return to the kingdom, Rama continued to be an ideal son. He was ever present at his father’s side. He was studious and excelled in the Vedas. He loved archery, music, art and everyone who surrounded him. Rama, although handsome and strong, was always humble and tried to show others how much he appreciated their actions, no matter how small. His divine nature did not inflate his ego, in fact, he rarely thought about it. It was only in moments like his encounter with Parasurama Barghava that he was forced to recognize his own power. Dasaratha had realized his son’s nature during that incident as well, but it was not long before he no longer considered it. Instead, he concentrated on the love he felt for his favorite son.

As the king neared the end of his days, he realized he must choose a yuvaraja, an heir. There was no question as to whom he would choose. Rama had been born for that very purpose and Dasaratha could not wait to see his son crowned yuvaraja. He knew Rama would prove to be an exceptional leader.

Soon after, Dasaratha began to see frightening visions. The universe was trying to tell him something and it wasn’t good. He believed the omens were warning him of his death. His time must have been coming sooner than he had expected. The king called his advisers and told them of his plan to crown Rama yuvaraja. After consulting many people in his kingdom, Dasaratha knew they shared his faith in Rama’s ability to rule.

When Rama arrived, Dasaratha said, “My son, you have proven yourself in every way. A father could not have more pride in his son and I want to crown you as heir to my throne.” The ceremony was to be held on Pusyami. But something in Rama’s heart did not bode well. He knew he had been training to be a king since birth, yet he felt uneasy about his father’s announcement.

It was not until after Rama had left that Dasaratha was told Pusyami was only a day away. He immediately called his son back, which only served to increase Rama’s anxiety. When he arrived, Dasaratha said, “You must participate in a fast with your wife Sita. For the next night you must sleep on a bed of darbha grass and you cannot embrace one another.”

The king felt the hurried ceremony was advantageous in some ways. The omens had been growing stronger since his decision, but that was not the only benefit. Rama’s younger brother Bharata was away with Satrughna to visit Kaikeyi’s father, King Asvapati. The brothers loved each other very much, but Dasaratha knew envy could manifest in the best of friends. Thus, with Bharata away, no unnecessary rivalry would occur.

After receiving a blessing from Kausalya, Rama and Sita began their fast. Just to be sure, his guru Vasistha was sent to watch over them. As one would expect, Rama and Sita stayed true to their fast. They slept soundly while preparations and festivities continued outside.

Although it seemed like everyone was celebrating, it was not the case. On a balcony Kaikeyi’s maid Manthara stood glaring at the joyous throngs of people below her. She was known for her hag-like qualities. She was not particularly pretty, young or even nice for that matter. When she discovered the celebrations were to be held in honor of Rama’s position as yuvaraja she was furious. The maid ran immediately to Kaikeyi’s chambers and snarled “Dasaratha has decided to crown Rama yuvaraja.” To her dismay, Kaikeyi was ecstatic. Even though Rama was not her son by blood, she loved him as though he were.

Kaikeyi’s response did not fit Manthara’s plan in the slightest. The maid proceeded to convince her with the aid of her silver tongue. She said, “Kaikeyi, don’t you know Rama perceives Bharata as a threat? Surely Rama or Kausalya will attempt to have him banished or more likely still, they will slaughter him.” Kaikeyi was horrified. She cried, “We must hatch a plan to stop Rama from being crowned or my son’s very life will hang in the balance.” Manthara was eager to help and reminded Kaikeyi, “You have two boons saved up from saving your beloved Dasaratha’s life. Don’t you remember that he was so grateful to you that he offered two boons in return for your heroism? You didn’t need them at the time but you asked him to remember his promise. Wouldn’t now be an excellent chance to claim them? Kaikeyi, you did say you would use them in a time of great need.” She grinned, showing her crooked teeth and said, “This moment is just such a time.”

That night, when Dasaratha went to see his favorite wife, he found out she was in her krodhagraha. The queen had never gone to her chamber of anger before. He was instantly concerned for her and rushed to discern what he could do to help. When he saw her, she hardly looked herself. It was as though she had been possessed by some demon, even her voice was not her own. He tried to touch her but she pulled away. Dasaratha told her “I will do anything to help ease your pain. I swear on Rama’s very life that I will end your suffering.”

This was Kaikeyi’s chance to take matters in her own hands. She asked, “Dasaratha, do you remember the two boons I have saved for so many years? I want to claim them now. I would like to use the first boon to send Rama into the forest for fourteen years and the second will make my son, Bharata king!” When Dasaratha realized what she was asking, he fainted. Upon awakening he wondered, “Am I dreaming?” He thought a demon must have possessed his beloved wife. How else could she ask such things?

When he realized Kaikeyi was perfectly serious, he cried that she was evil. He begged her “Please! Change your mind! Ask me for anything but this! How can you expect me to deny the throne to my beloved Rama, the very son everyone agrees is most worthy of ruling? How can you be so cruel, so twisted? What have you done with my dear wife?” He did not know how he would tell the family and his subjects about his decision, especially when he did not believe it himself. Time and time again he beseeched her to change her mind. The harder he begged the more she exclaimed “Never!” He knew he had no choice, he must honor her request. Dasaratha fainted once again.

The next morning, the whole city was ready to celebrate the crowning of Rama. Yet something seemed to indicate that all was not well. The sun did not shine and it even began to rain. Upon awakening, the king hoped to find his wife reformed, alas, her mind was unchanged. She was still infused with the ugly disposition she’d displayed the night before.

All the preparations had been made; everyone was expecting Rama to be crowned. Kaikeyi snarled at Sumantra, “Go and fetch Rama.” He could tell the queen was not at all like herself and the king looked incredibly distressed. Sumantra was worried but decided to push the feeling aside as he went to bring Rama to the king.

He told the prince, “Dasaratha wants to speak to you privately before the ceremony.” Rama was led through the crowd in a chariot. Sumantra had to demand the masses to let them through; they were all waiting to see their shining prince crowned as yuvaraja.

Finally, they reached the palace and Rama entered with his excited brother Laksmana. When they arrived in the royal chamber, Rama was surprised to see his father’s sad face juxtaposed with the evil shadow that had taken over his mother’s. He would receive no blessing that day, only the news that he was to be banished or condemn his father. Being the dharmic man he was, Rama exclaimed, “Of course I will agree to mother’s wishes. I would not wish to bring shame to my family.” He seemed to be the only one maintaining his composure at this moment. His father was crying, his brother was becoming angry and his mother still kept her cold demeanor intact.

Before leaving the kingdom he and Laksmana went to visit his mother, Kausalya. He worried about hurting her when he broke the news, but summoned up the courage to do what he must. The rumor had spread to her dwelling already. The queen hoped it was just that, a rumor. Rama had been her shining star, in a life where her husband largely ignored her. When Rama entered Kausalya’s apartment, he was greeted with joy and with blessings. Alas, those blessings were to go unfulfilled. He told her of the news she already hoped was untrue. She was shocked. For the first time in Rama’s life, his mother said, “Your father was never around for me, he cared for Kaikeyi the most. What will I do when you leave? I have no other choice but to come to the Dandaka vana with you.”

Finally, Laksmana lost his composure. “How could our father have done this to you Rama? He has surely become a slave to his love for Kaikeyi. Dasaratha is not thinking of his kingdom. He has lost sight of his duty and his wretched wife’s opinion should not matter. We must end this horror and kill both Kaikeyi and our father. Rama, you have to rule, it is your destiny!” Kausalya gave her full support. “Laksmana,” she said, “I think your idea is the only one that will work. You are right, Rama must be yuvaraja.”

Rama did not hold their words against them. In such strange times it seemed natural to be so distraught. He declined explaining, “I cannot dishonor my father. Such strange occurrences must be the workings of dharma. Why else would Kaikeyi, who loves me as though I were her biological child, sentence me to banishment in the blink of an eye? I am determined to go into the forest. I will only ask for your blessing.”

Despite his requests Kausalya and Laksmana could not calm down. They said, “Kaikeyi can not simply be an instrument of dharmaa. She must have some ulterior motive.” It was clear to them that the young queen was evil. It hurt Rama to think of the way Kaikeyi had treated him. He knew that was not the mother he had loved all his life. Their explanation must be wrong; she must have been possessed by the will of the Gods.

Rama knew he could not sacrifice a piece of heaven to fulfill his mother and brother’s wishes. Again, he asked them “Please offer me your blessings so I might go to the forest with some semblance of serenity. I urge you to act rationally. Al I ask is that you support me in my decision.”

Kausalya finally understood there was nothing she could do to persuade him to change his mind. She only hoped he would take her with him. Rama knew she mustn’t go. Who would be there to support Dasaratha in his time of need? It was clear the king had just as much opposition to Kaikeyi’s request as everyone else. Rama told her, “Mother you must stay and comfort my dear father. You are the only one who can truly take care of him.” As any loving mother would, Kausalya blessed him on his path and wished for his safe return. He bowed at her feet and left her apartment.

Rama now had the task of parting with his most beloved Sita. He could not maintain his cool exterior when he went to see her. She knew something was wrong as soon as she saw him. Holding her hands tightly, he told her of his fate. Before she could respond, he explained, “I must uphold my father’s dharma; I have no choice but to journey to the forest. Sita, you must stay behind and await my return, but it is important that you be careful when speaking to Bharata about me. No matter how close we are, it would still be difficult for him to hear your praise of my greatness. You must not mention that I should have been king. Please, remember me and pray for my safe return and I promise everyone will take care of you in my absence. Do not forget to help my mother and father through their grief; you three will find strength in each other. Sita, my love, if you stay behind, our time apart, although difficult, will pass more quickly than you think.”

To Rama’s surprise Sita became very angry with him. She cried, “How can you think of leaving me? Have I done something wrong? I was taught when a man and woman are married they are bound to share his path. To be cut from you for fourteen years would be the cruelest punishment you could offer me.” She wouldn’t have any of his requests. She demanded, “I am coming to the forest with you Rama. I will find happiness just by being near you. Any hardships we might bear will seem like joys as long we are together.”

Being the protective, caring husband he was, Rama tried to resist. “The forest will be too dangerous and do not forget, our time apart will pass quickly. How can you live off forest plants and clothe yourself in tree bark? It would surely be too much for your delicate body to handle.”

For the first time since he had known her, Sita started to cry. “I will not be parted from my one and only love. All the dangers in the world cannot keep us apart. In fact, they will only serve as a wonderful new experience for us, a change of scenery, a chance to enjoy each other without the burdens of the kingdom.” She even told him of a prophecy she had received from rsis when she was young. They foresaw she would spend years with Rama in the forest. It was fate; she had no choice but to accompany him. With her last hope of accompanying him Sita threatened, “Rama, I vow I will take my own life if you refuse me. We were meant to be together; we have been in the past and will be forever more.”
It was then that Rama realized how deep Sita’s love for him really was. He claimed he had been merely testing her loyalty. If their destiny was to go to the forest together then they would do so.

Laksmana had been eavesdropping and ran into the room. He shouted, “If Sita is going there is no way I will be left behind!” He would offer protection and help as they continued on their journey. Rama could not send him away; after all, they were inseparable. To part the two brothers would be a crime.

The three prepared for their journey. They gathered their weapons and armor, gave away their worldly possessions, and went to see Dasaratha one last time. The people had heard by now of Rama’s fate. They all wanted to follow him into the forest, leaving Kaikeyi and Bharata to rule nothing.

When they reached Dasaratha his wishes were much the same as those of his subjects. In the midst of fainting spells and crying, the king begged Rama, “You must betray me!” But Rama could not dishonor his father. The king gave up but asked him, “Could you stay one more day?” Knowing one more day would turn into many, Rama declined, I promise it will not seem long before we have all returned.” The king ordered his armies and possessions to be taken by the travelers but Kaikeyi would have none of it. They were to live like rsis, with nothing but bark for clothing.

Finally, Dasaratha was able to express his anger to his wife. He fumed, “You only said they were to go into the forest, you didn’t mention anything about what they can take with them!” Rama did not require his father’s generosity. He said, “Laksmana and I will be happy to wear valkala –bark clothing. But I will allow you to send silks and jewelry for Sita to wear. She should not have to give up her beauty just because she has chosen to accompany me into the forest.”

Rama asked, “Dasaratha will you promise to take care of my mother. She would be in need of your help. Through each others support I know you will find a way to overcome your grief.” Now his time had come to leave. After receiving the blessings of Kausalya, Sumitra, and Dasaratha, the three loyal companions entered Sumitra’s chariot and left the city. Everyone was weeping as the chariot drove away. Dasaratha ran to follow them but fell, crying for the chariot to be stopped. Kausalya took his hand and helped him to the palace. He could not be around Kaikeyi anymore; she had caused him too much pain. The king only hoped Bharata would remain loyal to his brother and bring him back to Ayodhya.

That night, Kausalya was Dasaratha’s comfort. They shared stories and tears. Unfortunately, since Rama had left, Dasaratha had lost his sight. Their sorrows seemed to drown them until Sumitra came to fetch Kausalya. She said to Kausalya, “Dasaratha needs your strength now, not your grief. Our son will return before long.”
As Rama journeyed to the forest the people of Ayodhya followed him. They could not stop begging him to return. They vowed, “We will make you come back or you will force us to follow you into the forest.” He knew neither option was plausible. The crowd followed Rama, Sita, Laksmana and Sumantra until their day’s journey had ended. They all spent the night together by the river.

In the morning, the exiled party rose before dawn. They had to leave early in order to ensure that their followers could not trace them. They backtracked and finally headed toward the Dandaka vana. The people would think they had gone home and would not follow them.

The chariot carried them further into the lands of Kosala. From there they reached the Vedasruti river and from there the Gomati river. Along the way Rama told his companions stories of the lands they passed through. As they continued it dawned on Rama that he might never see his family or Sumantra again, but he had to remain strong for the other members of his party.

When they reached the Ganga, they decided to spend the night by a tree. It was not long before the group was greeted by a friend of Rama’s. His name was Guha and he was the king of hunters. He came bearing mattresses and a feast. Guha offered, “I have a place for you to stay for as long as you wish.” Rama politely declined, “I prefer to stay true to my life as a tapasvin –renouncer.” Instead, Guha spent the night with them. He, Sumantra, and Laksmana watched over the weapons while Rama and Sita slept.

Laksmana could not think of sleep. His head was filled with worries. His father would surely die of grief and they would never see him again. After he had gone, how were Kausalya and Sumitra to live under Kaikeyi and Bharata’s rule. His fears for his family plagued him constantly as the night wore slowly on.