The Banishment Of Rama
The Ramayana goes on to relate fateful events: “Queen Kaikeyi had brought up an orphan girl named Manthara, who served Kaikeyi as a maidservant. “Kaikeyi was one of King Dasarath’s wives, and Manthara was her hunch-backed maidservant. It was she who sowed the evil seed of the great personal ordeals related in The Ramayana. Amidst universal joy, Manthara alone heard the news of Rama’s coronation with a feeling of rage. With malicious intent she entered the room of Queen Kaikeyi and proposed to her that the coronation of Rama Chandra was a calamity to the Queen. Kaikeyi was the mother of Dasarath’s next oldest son, noble Bharat. Manthara cunningly outlined how Dasarath had recently sent Bharat away on a visit to his uncle, in order to install Rama Chandra. And, after installation, Rama Chandra would surely see that Bharat was killed. With crooked logic, Manthara predicted all the grief ahead for Kaikeyi, and in this way implanted evil wrath into the Queen’s heart.
Queen Kaikeyi was now convinced that Rama Chandra must be eliminated. She was very dear to Dasarath, and she was able to strike tellingly by binding him to a promise. Once Dasarath had fallen badly wounded on a battlefield, in a clash between Indra and some Asuras (demons), and Queen Kaikeyi had nursed him as he lay unconscious. At that time he had promised her two boons, but she had said she would ask for them at a later time. By that service rendered by her, and by the oath of Dasarath, Kaikeyi wrought long and bitter grief upon Ayodha.
Lying down in a room in her palace called “the chamber of wrath,” Kaikeyi awaited Dasarath, and when he came and found her there, she infected the coronation day, like a snake biting a calf, by demanding the following two boons: 1. Let Rama Chandra be banished to the forest for 14 years, and 2. Let Bharat be installed as king. Dasarath fell unconscious at her words. He soon regained his senses, understood what she was saying, and again fainted away.
Awakening a second time, he cried out in torment: “Oh how sad! How painful! I suffer from your words, being oath-bound to you! I suffer now as a man does for misdeeds committed in a previous birth!”
We may think, what is this “truth,” what is this “promise,” if it wreaks such evil? Why didn’t Dasarath simply say, “No! Never! I will not banish Rama. Rama is dearer than truth!” But he did not. He had made a promise, and as a Kshatriya (warrior) he must stand by it. His religion was truth. Because he had promised Kaikeyi a boon at a time when she had saved his life, therefore he must now grant her promise, whatever it might be—in this case a fate worse than death.
There are other examples in the Vedic literature of extreme sacrifices to truth, and Kaikeyi mercilessly cited them for Dasarath: A King named Saivya once promised a pigeon who had flown into his arms that he would protect him from a pursuing hawk. The hawk, who was actually a demigod in the form of the predator, demanded flesh from the king’s body as substitute for the pigeon, and King Saivya agreed, cutting the flesh from his own body.
But was that the same as banishing Rama Chandra? How could Dasarath banish the rightful heir to the throne? For what offense? Rama was the absolute darling of every living entity in Ayodha. He was the outright Destroyer of the demons. He and His wife were comparable to the moon and the brightest star! When the people came to say, “Where is Rama Chandra?”—what then? In short, Dasarath was ruined, and the Kingdom of Ayodha with him. Dasarath lamented bitterly, and prepared himself to be condemned by his peers and by the future. Still, he was bound to the truth of his promise.
Rama Chandra was called to court by Dasarath. Rama was about 26 years old, and it was His Coronation Day. He rode in His chariot to answer His father’s call. The Ramayana states that Rama Chandra came out from His palace surrounded with an effulgence of glory, just as the moon emerges from behind the dark blue clouds. Lakshman stood by Him with a chowri fan. Elephants and horses followed His chariot; and music, shouts and cheers were continually heard. As He passed the windows of beautiful women, they rained flowers on His Head. Some of them praised Kausalya, the mother of Rama Chandra, and others said that Sita was the gem of all women, and must have practiced great penances in former births or she would not have had such a husband as this king-to-be.
But on entering His father’s presence, Rama found the old King looking miserable and sad, seated on a sofa with His Queen Kaikeyi. She personally delivered the cruel message to Rama Chandra. Dasarath fainted away in grief at hearing again the wish of Kaikeyi, but he could not deny it.
Magnanimous Rama Chandra, however, was not a bit pained to hear her shameful words. He only replied: “Very well. I shall go from here and proceed to the Dananka Forest for 14 years with an unwavering mind.”
Rama Chandra proceeded to inform all those gaily preparing for His Coronation that He was at once leaving for a mendicant’s life in the forest. His natural cheerfulness did not leave Him, but He was troubled to have to tell His mother, and He thought both parents might die at His separation from them.
The fateful news soon spread. It spread to the women in Rama’s palace, and they began to cry bitterly. The queens and other royal ladies wailed, for He Who used to serve them and Who looked on them as His mothers, and Who never grew angry with them but had sweet words for all—that Rama was going to the forest!
“No! Dasarath should never have forsaken Him!”
When He approached His mother Kausalya, she was still informed only of the Coronation, and she fell at His Feet and offered Him a seat and some refreshment.
Rama Chandra, with clasped hands, said to her, “Mother, you don’t know what a great calamity is descending upon you and Janaki and Lakshman. I don’t require a seat anymore, for I am now bound for the forest, and shall live there for 14 years on fruits and herbs. Father has ordered My exile, and Bharat’s installation.”
Kausalya fainted on the ground like a tree felled by an axe. Valmiki describes how, with difficulty, she told Rama that He must fight to win the crown. But Rama Chandra told His mother that it was beyond His power to disobey His father’s orders. He could not follow any desire which went beyond righteousness. Similarly, Lord Jesus Christ once taught: “If you gain the whole world, but lose your immortal soul, what have you gained?”
Rama Chandra said to Kausalya: “Father is our preceptor. Who, having any regard for righteousness, will disobey his orders, even though they may be given from anger, joy, or lust? I cannot act against My father’s vows. This life is not everlasting, and so I would not wish to acquire even the world by an unjust means.”
Lakshman was not consoled. He was brooding and overwhelmed with grief at this turn of events. Lakshman argued that Rama Chandra must not submit; he suspected, in fact, that the whole story of promised boons was just a plea by the King in order to install Bharat, and thus satisfy the lust of his Queen Kaikeyi. Lakshman was prepared to hack to pieces with his sword the King and his whole army. He was ready to bring the whole world under the sway of Rama Chandra. Rama replied that he thought the best course for Himself was to obey His father’s orders. Rama’s mother gradually, with great sorrow, offered her blessings and prayed that she would someday see Him coming back.
Rama Chandra then took leave of His mother and went to Janaki’s quarters.
She also knew nothing of Rama Chandra’s exile. She was in a state of joyfulness over His installation as King. She was worshipping the deities when He entered with His head hanging down in shame. On telling Sita of His exile, Rama Chandra said that she must stay behind and live under the rule of Bharat. Janaki, who was always sweet in speech, replied to Him with an offended air. How could He say such infamous unworthy things, especially as He was a hero versed in Vedic science?
“If You repair to the forest, I shall go in front of You and make smooth the path by crushing the thorns under my feet. I shall not leave Your company, nor will You be able to dissuade me. I shall feel no sorrow in passing a long time with You.”
But Rama Chandra, thinking of the factual hardships of forest life told her about the reality of the situation: Prowling animals, sharks, crocodiles in muddy rivers, sometimes no drinking water, no bed, hunger appeased by fruits fallen on the ground, matted locks, bark for clothes, observance of the rules of asceticism, three baths daily, flowers offered on the sacred altar by picking them with your own hand, blasts of wind, reptiles roaming free, great pythons, scorpions, mosquitos, penance, the necessity for bold action—this is the business of forest life.
Rama Chandra said it was too dangerous, but Sita entreated Him that, as a devoted wife, she was happy in His happiness, and sorry only in His sorrow. With Rama, she assured Him, she would find the hardships heavenly. Rama Chandra finally relented and admitted that He was by no means unable to protect her in the forest. And, formerly, many royal saints had repaired to the forest with their wives. So He would follow their example. He advised her to at once give away her beautiful clothes and valuables, and to be ready to leave.
Lakshman, who had been there while Rama Chandra spoke with Sita, caught hold of his Brother’s Feet, as it was unbearable for him to be separated from Rama. Rama tried to dissuade him from joining Him. He asked him to stay in the kingdom and keep an eye on the court. But nothing could turn Lakshman. He replied that Bharat would maintain the kingdom, but he must be given leave to join Rama Chandra. He would go before Sita and Rama Chandra as Their guide, and would procure Their foods; and They could enjoy while he would do everything else required, whether Rama was asleep or awake. Rama was pleased, and ordered Lakshman to prepare for departure at once.
Unfortunately, the whole kingdom could not join Rama Chandra in exile. But the people were sorely distressed. Indeed, they proposed to join Him by the thousands, but Kaikeyi would not allow if: If everyone went with Him, it would be no exile at all. No, Rama Chandra must go with only Sita and Lakshman. But the people lamented that the city would become deserted without Him, all religious institutions would be destroyed and dirt and filth would cover the yards, and rats would roam free. Rama Chandra. hearing them carry on, was not moved.
Shortly after Rama Chandra’s departure his father died of grief. He could not live with Rama in exile, and with his last breath he cried the Names of Rama, Lakshman and Sita. Young Bharat was at once called back from his uncle’s house by special messengers, who told him no more than to come at once. Bharat arrived before his mother, Queen Kaikeyi, and learned first that his father was dead, and then that his Brother was exiled on the wish of his mother. Bharat was shaken with remorse, and called Kaikeyi a murderess. To Bharat there was no question of assuming the throne without Rama Chandra and Lakshman. After performing the funeral rites for his father, he set out without delay, with an army behind him, to bring Rama back and himself take the place of the Exile in the forest. Only in that way could he hope to remove the stain of his mother’s action.