Kaikeyi was one of the three (some versions say five) wives of King Dasaratha. She had been a princess of the kingdom of Kekaya, seven day’s journey from Ayodhya. When Dasaratha was summoned to svarga (heaven) to help the devas (gods) in a war with the asuras (demons), Kaikeyi rode with him in his war chariot and helped him. The asura Sambara used sorcery (black magic) to attack Dasaratha and the devas from ten thousand directions at the same time. So Dasaratha had to fight in ten thousand directions at the same time. As he was doing that, a lynch pin on one wheel of his chariot fell off, and the wheel seemed about to be lost—along with the battle. But Kaikeyi inserted her thumb into the hole so that the wheel stayed on. When Dasaratha discovered his wife’s bravery, he granted her two boons. Wisely, she saved them.
Years later, evil advice from a hunchback maid named Manthura darkened her heart. Dasaratha was preparing to anoint as heir-apparent his son, Rama, by his first wife Kausalya. Kaikeyi demanded her two boons: that Rama be exiled to the forest for fourteen years and that her son Bharata be anointed heir-apparent. It was done. But Dasaratha died almost immediately.
The story of the rest of the queen’s life will be found interwoven in the stories of Bharata’s fourteen-year reign in the name of his half-brother, Rama, Rama’s exile adventures, Sita’s abduction, the war with Ravana, Hanuman’s help, and Rama’s eventual perfect rule in Ayodhya. As with many other heroines the mythmakers gave her both good and bad roles in which her character vacillated between praise and blame.