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Soon after Rama’s, marriage with Sita, King Dasharatha wanted to crown him the king as he himself was getting older. Dasharatha therefore consulted his ministers about this. All of them whole-heartedly welcomed his decision. Dasharatha felt very happy and enthusiastic. He looked forward to the Coronation of Rama. He therefore immediately made announcements to this effect. He invited all the important people of Ayodhya and told them, “I have decided to crown my eldest son Rama. This is my ardent desire. If all of you agree, I will go ahead with the arrangements.” Everybody was delighted. The people of Ayodhya rejoiced that Rama was to be their king.
Hectic preparations were on. Singers, dancers and other artistes were invited to the city to provide entertainment to the people. While these preparations were going on, Dasharatha had a talk with Rama and advised him about how a king should conduct himself, “A king should never fall a prey to vices. He should treat each and everyone with respect and rule the kingdom well.” He also talked to his son about the duties of a king.
Kaushalya was very happy to hear that Rama was to be crowned shortly. She generously gifted valuable jewellery to those who conveyed this good news to her.
At the time of proclaiming that Rama was to be crowned, Bharata and Shatrugna, were away from Ayodhya. Sumitra, Shatrugna’s mother, was also happy to hear the news.
When this news reached Kaikeyi, she was delighted that Rama was to be the king. But soon, Manthara, her maid, poisoned her mind.
“Queen Kaikeyi, have you forgotten that you also have a son? Your son Bharata has equal rights over this kingdom. If Rama becomes the king, then Kaushalya’s haughtiness will know no bounds. You will be her maid and Bharata will be treated like Rama’s servant. You are supposed to be king Dasharatha’s favourite. But how has he proved it? By making Rama the king and by ignoring Bharata totally? Is it fair? Just think about the future.”
“Why should I think about the future?” replied Kaikeyi, “Manthara, Rama is the eldest born. He is virtuous, he is valiant and is thoroughly well-versed in all sciences and arts. People love him. To tell you the truth, I love him more than my own son.”
Manthara would not give up. Speaking in a loving tone, she told Kaikeyi, “Dear child! I am old enough to know the ways of the world. I can only pity you for your misplaced love towards Rama. Just imagine! What will be the fate of Bharata? And the king has taken this decision at a time when Bharata and Shatrugna are away from Ayodhya. The king knows that Lakshmana will be a mere puppet in his hands. Kaikeyi! Don’t be idiotic. If you do not act now, you will be sending Bharata to exile.”
Provoked by Manthara, Kaikeyi thought about what she said. She did not mind Rama being the king. But could she, the favourite wife of Dasharatha, be a slave to Kaushalya? “Never”, she thought. So she immediately said to Manthara, “I agree with you. But how do we prevent Rama from becoming the king?”
“Simple,” answered Manthara, “send him to the forest.”
“But how?”
“Don’t you remember that Dasharatha had agreed to grant you two wishes when you saved him in the war against Asuras? Ask them now. Dasharatha will come to your chambers to talk about Rama’s Coronation. Show him that you are angry and demand your two wishes. First of all, demand that Bharata should be crowned the king. Your second wish should be to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.”
Kaikeyi was totally changed. She forgot about Rama’s love for her or that she had looked upon him as her own son. At that moment, Rama appeared to be her enemy, someone who was usurping Bharata of the kingdom. Filled with hatred and anger, she tore up all the fine clothes she had worn, she pulled out the jewellery and threw them on the floor. She sat huddled in a corner, thinking about Bharata’s future and her misconstrued fears of becoming a slave to Kaushalya.
King Dasharatha came to Kaikeyi’s chamber to share his happiness and to tell her about the grand preparations for the Coronation. But he was upset when he saw the strewn jewellery and the torn clothes. And when he saw his dear queen in tears, he was puzzled. He gently wiped her tears and asked her, “0, my precious one! Why are you angry? I will do anything to make you happy. I love you very dearly. Tell me, why are you so upset?” Kaikeyi grabbed this opportunity. “Will you grant me the two wishes due to me long ago?” she asked.
“Have no doubt, dear,” said the king. “I swear on Rama that I will keep up my word.”
Feeling bold, Kaikeyi demanded, “My first wish is that Bharata should be crowned the king. To fulfill my second wish, Rama should live in the forest like a hermit for fourteen years. Grant me these wishes right now. Otherwise, I will end my life.”
King Dasharatha could not believe his own ears. He was horrified that Kaikeyi could be so mean and ruthless. “Are you playing a joke on me/’ he asked her.
“No, I am very serious,” Kaikeyi said, laughing cruelly. The king was shocked. He fainted. After a while, he regained his consciousness and pleaded with her, “Kaika, give up these wishes. What you ask for is totally unfair. You have always told me that you love Rama as your son. Bharata has been very devoted to Rama and when he comes to know of your treachery, he will never forgive you. Don’t Kaika, don’t! Give up such dangerous thoughts. I cannot bear to be separated from Rama. Don’t inflict this agony upon me in my old age. If you insist, I will crown Bharata as the king but please do not banish my Rama to the forest.” King Dasharatha just could not control his emotions and wept bitterly.
Kaikeyi was unmoved. She did not want Rama in Ayodhya because she felt only then would Bharata gain the love and respect of the people of Ayodhya. So she was adamant. “Keep up your word,” she insisted. The king went pale with anxiety. Rama was born as a result of the Yagna and that too, after being childless for a very long time. How could Dasharatha betray such a precious son. Why was Kaikeyi behaving in such a wicked manner? Who provoked her into this?
Tormented with these thoughts, the king again tried to change Kaikeyi’s mind, “Kaika, are you angry that I decided on Rama’s Coronation without telling you? If so, please forgive me. I beg of you. Agree to this
Coronation. People will love and respect you for this.”
Kaikeyi did not budge. Dasharatha spent that night in Kaikeyi’s chamber, pleading with her, begging her and crying for mercy. The Coronation was to take place the next morning.
The morning dawned. The city of Ayodhya wore a gay look. People were getting ready to take part in the Coronation ceremony. Vashishta and other sages were busy with rituals. Sumanthra, the minister, who was told that the king was in Kaikeyi’s chambers, reached the room, only to find the king in a sad state. Kaikeyi stopped him from talking to the king and ordered him, “Sumanthra, go and fetch Rama here. I want to talk to him.”
Sumanthra conveyed this message to Rama and Rama reached Kalkeyi’s chambers immediately. On seeing him, the old king just could not control his tears and cried out, “Rama! My dearest son, Rama!”
“Mother, why is father looking so pale and grief-stricken? Have I caused
him any anguish?” asked Rama politely.
Kaikeyi told him about her two wishes and about the king’s reluctance to agree to them.
Without any hesitation, Rama agreed to carry out her wishes. “Mother, you want me to live in the forest like a hermit. Is that all? I will do anything for you. I will leave today itself. Bharata is my brother. I will be the happiest person to see him as the king. I will sacrifice even my life for him.” Rama continued and said in a very calm voice, “For such a minor matter, I do not want to see my dear father unhappy. Please console him and please summon Bharata to Ayodhya at once.”
Kaikeyi was delighted that Rama had agreed to carry out her wishes. “Rama, I will send word to Bharata.
Meanwhile, you can leave Ayodhya,” she said.
On hearing this, Dasharatha cried out once again, “Kaika, Kaika, don’t be so cruel.” He could not even stand up properly.
Rama hurried to his father and hugging him lovingly, told him, “Dear father, it is my duty to honour any promise you have made.” He turned towards Kaikeyi, “Mother, please allow me a few moments to tell my own mother and my wife Sita.” He touched his parents’ feet in salutation and left the chambers in a dignified manner.
Kaushalya on hearing the news, lamented, “Rama, my child! How can I live without you. Take me along with you to the forest.” Lakshmana who heard this was enraged. “Why is father banishing Rama to the forest?
Is he afraid of Bharata? In that case, I will wipe out Bharata and his supporters,” he shouted in anger. But Rama spoke in a calm and firm voice that it was his duty to carry out his father’s promises. Kaushalya felt very sad. Should a prince like Rama live in a forest eating simple food and sleeping on a rough-straw mat? But Rama would not hear of any such argument and so, with a heavy heart, she bid farewell to her dearest son.
After taking leave of his mother, Rama went to talk to Sita. As soon as she heard that Bharata was to be the king and that Rama was to live in the forest, she decided to go with her husband. Rama tried to stop her and said, “Janaki, don’t worry about me. Please stay back in the palace and take care of my mothers. Treat my brothers well. At the end of the fourteen year period, I will return safely to Ayodhya. No harm will come to me.”
Sita replied, “Lord, I will follow you like a shadow. I do not want the comforts of the palace. Nothing can give me greater happiness than being with you.” Rama tried his utmost to dissuade her. He said, “Wild beasts roam around in the forest. You will not have a soft bed to sleep on. Nor will there be good food to eat. Your tender feet will hurt when you walk on the thorny stretches of the forest.”
Sita did not lose courage. “Aryaputra, how can the beasts attack me when you are there? Without you, even the softest bed will be like a bed of thorns. It is my duty to be with you. Please let me come with you,” pleaded Sita. So Rama agreed to Sita’s request.
Lakshmana who heard about Sita’s decision, came running to Rama and fell at his feet and begged of him, “Please do not leave me behind. I will also come with you to the forest. Ayodhya will be like hell to me without you.” Rama hesitated, for, there was a very strong bond of love and affection between the two of them. But at the same time, why should Lakshmana undergo such an exile for the sake of brotherly love, thought Rama. So he said, “Sowmithri, if you come away with me, who will, protect and look after our parents?” Lakshmana said, “Bharata will look after our parents. Whereas, you will have none with you in the forest. I can fetch you fruits and water and look after you and my respected sister-in-law law.” So saying, he went to his mother to break the news to her.
Sita, Rama and Lakshmana discarded all their royal clothes and wore rough saffron clothes. All that Rama and Lakshmana carried with them were their bows and arrows. By that time, this sad news had spread like wildfire all over Ayodhya and people wept at the thought that Rama, would not be their king. None could witness the scene of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walking barefoot, dressed like hermits. “Fate is so cruel” thought many. “Will these three be able to face the dangers of a forest” was their only worry.
As Rama, Sita and Lakshmana entered Dasharatha’s chamber to bid their final farewell to him, Dasharatha just could not control his anguish. “Rama, my dearest son, I wish I was robbed of my eyesight than to witness such a cruel scene. Will you ever forgive me, my son?” said
Dasharatha. Rama wiped his father’s tears softly and said, “Father, I am duty bound to fulfill your wish. Please bless us.”
Dasharatha realised that he could not make Kaikeyi change her mind nor could he make Rama go back on what he had said. In a trembling voice, he asked Sumanthra, the minister, to send the troops and servants along with Rama to the forest. This made Kaikeyi all the more angry. “O King! Is it fair on your part to send the troops away. Do you want my son to rule over an empty Ayodhya? No, no one should go with Rama,” she said in a decisive tone.
Utterly defeated, Dasharatha ordered that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana be taken by chariot at least till the outskirts of Ayodhya. “I cannot bear to see them walking through the streets of Ayodhya,” he said. Since Kaikeyi did not object to this, Sumanthra got a chariot readied.
Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana touched the feet of all their elders to seek their blessings. As Rama, Sita and Lakshmana got into the chariot, the entire population of Ayodhya wept. ‘How could the king behave so foolishly” ridiculed some. Will the old parents bear the separation from their dear son, they thought.
The chariot started moving. King Dasharatha wanted to have a last look at Rama. Seeing this, Rama wanted the chariot to move faster, but the old king ran behind it crying out, “Rama! Rama!” Kaushalya also followed the chariot. People averted their eyes, as they could not withstand such a pitiable scene. Rama’s eyes were filled with tears. As the chariot moved faster, Dasharatha collapsed on the street. When Kaikeyi tried to help him, he cried, “Don’t ever touch me. I don’t want to see you again. Just go away.”
Even when the chariot began to move faster, people followed it. Rama again appealed to them, “I know of your enormous love and affection for me. From now on, Bharata will be your king. Please show him the same love and affection that you have for me.” The citizens insisted that they would follow him to the forest. By that time, the chariot had reached the Tamasa river bank. Since they ran behind the chariot for a long distance, they were all tired and soon fell asleep under the trees. Taking advantage of this, Rama ordered Sumanthra to take him to the borders of Kosala country. Before dawn, Rama, Sita and
Lakshmana reached the banks of the river Ganga.
When the citizens woke up in the morning, they realised that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were nowhere in the vicinity. They had no other option than to return to Ayodhya.
Rama decided to cross the Ganga and continue their journey. In the nearby forest lived Guha, the king of the hunters. As he was a friend of Rama, he was very happy to see him. Welcoming Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, Guha offered them many delicacies to eat. But Rama refused these saying that since his exile had begun, he would only eat simple food. He stayed there overnight and slept on the hard floor. He was very worried about his father. So, the next morning, he requested Sumanthra to return to Ayodhya and to take care of his parents. Sumanthra reluctantly agreed to return to Ayodhya. The three travellers bid good-bye to Guha and walked through the dense jungle. Lakshmana walked in front, clearing the jungle path, Sita walked in between and Rama walked behind her. It was not easy for them to walk barefoot on the thorny paths. But they walked on cheerfully, admiring the way huge trees grew, how the insects collected their food and so on. In the night, they slept on the grassy slopes of a hill and at dawn, started their journey again. On the way, they baited at the hermitage of Bharadwaj. Sage Bharadwaj’ was delighted with bis guests and extended a warm hospitality to them. He then suggested that they live in Chitrakut region, which was full of enchanting scenery.
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, followed his advice and reached Chitrakut by crossing the river Yamuna.
Rama liked the place very much. So, he decided to live there and asked Lakshmana to set up Parnakuti, a thatched hut. Rama performed rituals and offered prayers to his elders and entered his new home. Malyavati river flowed nearby. Flowering trees and fruit trees were found to be in plenty. Beautiful butterflies and the sweet singing of the birds lent an enchantment. Sita loved the place very much.
In the meantime, Sumanthra had returned to Ayodhya. By then, he had received news about Rama, Sita and Lakshmana having reached Chitrakut. Without Rama’s presence, the entire Ayodhya looked like a ghost city. People seemed disinterested in everything. And when they saw Sumanthra return in an empty chariot, they wept.
Sumanthra’s return to Ayodhya kindled a small hope in Dasharatha. May be Rama was persuaded to give up his word and return to the kingdom, he thought. “I do not’want to live without my Rama,” he cried. He could only think of Rama’s birth, his childhood and his marriage to Sita. “I have lost such a wonderful son. I do not know what sin I committed.” Then, he suddenly remembered an i incident which occurred when he was young.
Dasharatha had once gone hunting ; tend had reached Sarayu river. It was a dark night and he heard a sound of splashing water. He thought that a wild beast had come to drink water and aimed his arrow in the direction from which the sound came. When Dasharatha tried to trace his game, he found that his arrow had pierced a young lad by name Sravanakumar. This boy was fetching water for his blind parents. Dasharatha at once picked him in his arms. But by the time he took him to his blind parents, the boy was already dead. The grief stricken father of Sravanakumar cursed Dasharatha, “O King! You have killed my son and thus separated me from him. This grief will cause me my death. You shall also die, pining for your son.”
Dasharatha told Kaushalya about this incident and holding her hands, said, “The sage’s curse has come true now. Please forgive me for all my sins.” The king recalled each and every feature of the handsome Rama and with tears blurring his eyes, and cried out, “I wanted my son to be near me when I died. Kaikeyi has destroyed even this. She is my true enemy. Kaushalya! Sumitra! I do not want to live any longer. My eyes are failing, llama, my son! Rama, my son!” uttering these words, the king died.
Ayodhya which was still grieving over Rama’s exile, was plunged into sorrow as the news of the king’s death spread. “But what a tragedy? The king who had four mighty sons, died when none of them was near him. Who will perform his funeral rites” debated the people. Sage Vashishta therefore made arrangements for the I >odd to be preserved for a longer time.
Dasharatha’s ministers hurriedly called a meeting and on Vashista’s advice, sent word to Bharata who had l^one to visit his maternal relatives.
The messengers were instructed not to disclose to Bharata about Rama’s exile and the king’s death. On receiving the message, Bharata immediately hurried back to Ayodhya. Just the previous night, he had some evil omens and he was anxious to return home at the earliest.
On reaching Ayodhya, Bharata was shocked to see people huddled in corners and weeping. No prayers were offered. No chanting of Vedas could be heard. Not even one child was found playing in the streets. There was a deathly silence everywhere. The worried Bharata first went to his father’s chamber, but found it empty. So he went to Kaikeyi’s chambers hoping to find his father there, but only Kaikeyi was there. “Mother, where is Father? What has happened in my absence?” he asked.
Kaikeyi thought that Bharata would be very pleased to hear that she had got him the kingdom of Ayodhya. In a gentle tone, she said, “Son! Nobody can prevent death. Your father has passed away.” Shocked by this news, Bharata collapsed. The death of his father, whom he loved so dearly, brought tears to his eyes. “I wish I was with my father when he died,” he thought. “Atleast Rama and Lakshmana have had that great honour,” he said aloud. “Mother, I shall go and see Rama and find out if my father had any last message for me.”
Kaikeyi stopped him from leaving and said, “Son, wait. Your father cried out only for Rama, Sita and I .akshmana. He said he could not live without them.” Bharata felt that there was more bad news.
“Why, mother? Isn’t Rama in Ayodhya? Where has he gone?” he asked.
Kaikeyi then had to tell him everything. Placing her hand over his head, she said, “Bharata, your brother Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana are now living in a forest. I have got you the kingdom of Ayodhya.”
Bharata was stunned to hear this. Feeling enraged, he told his mother, “I am ashamed to call you my mother. You are nothing but evil. How could you banish Rama to the forest? Hadn’t you loved him more than you loved me? Alas! You have killed my father, just to make me the king. And do you expect me to wear the crown that rightfully belongs to Rama? Shame on you!”
Full of scorn and anger towards his mother, Bharata decided to atone for her sins. “I will go to the forest and live there for the rest of my life. But before that, I will bring back Rama and make him the king.”
He then went to Kaushalya and sobbing bitterly, he fell at her feet and said, “Mother, I am the sinner. I have been the cause of my father’s death and my brother’s exile to the forest. Will you ever forgive me and my own mother?” Kaushalya consoled him that none can change the course of destiny. She knew of his pure mind.
Bharata met the ministers. He offered his salutations to Sage Vashishta. On seeing Bharata, Vashishta made arrangements for the funeral of Dasharatha. With a heavy heart, Bharata performed all the rites a son ought to do.
Shatrugna wanted to punish Manthara for her evil thoughts and
for provoking Kaikeyi. But Bharata did not want to subject an old woman to cruel treatment and so, she was pardoned.
Bharata lost interest in everything. For hours, he sat alone and in shame and anger, thinking about his father’s death and about Rama. He refused to be crowned as the king. “In Raghu dynasty, none has witnessed a younger son becoming the king. I will bring back Rama and go to the forest in his place,” he vowed.
So, the next day, Bharata left Ayodhya with a large army. The people of Ayodhya followed him. The queens including Kaikeyi went with them. By that time Kaikeyi realised that she had committed a grave mistake. She was very repentant and wanted to plead with Rama to forgive her.
When this huge group of soldiers and people reached the area where Guha lived, Guha at first thought that Bharata had brought his army to kill Rama and retain the kingdom even after the period of fourteen years. So, he asked Bharata, “Why have you brought such a huge army? If you plan to attack Rama, you will have to defeat me first.”
Bharata was extremely hurt by this suspicion. But he explained to Guha that he would take Rama back to Ayodhya and crown him the king. Guha was very happy to hear this. So lie helped Bharata, his army and his retinue to cross the Ganga.
As Bharata and his army approached Chitrakut, Lakshmana saw them coming, and at once informed Rama, “Brother, take up your bow. Bharata is coming here
with a big army to kill you. His mother banished you to the forest. He will not hesitate to kill you. I will fight against him and kill him,” he said angrily.
Rama listened to Lakshmana calmly and said, “Lakshmana, you – have misunderstood Bharata. He probably has come here to ask me to return to Ayodhya. Don’t talk hastily. Don’t talk ill of Bharata.” Lakshmana never disobeyed his brother. So he kept quiet. As soon as Bharata saw Rama, he ran towards him and fell at his feet. Rama embraced his brother and was concerned to see agony on his face. So he asked Bharata, “How is father? Have you taken over the affairs of the kingdom?” Bharata could not control himself any longer and sobbing he said, “Our father died heart-broken. He could not bear the grief of your exile.”
On hearing this news, tears welled up in Rama’s eyes. “Bharata, how unfortunate I am! I could not look after my father even when he was dying. Nor did I have the opportunity to perform my father’s last rites.” Sita and Lakshmana too were shellshocked to hear about king Dasharatha’s death.
Bharata who had come dressed in the clothes of a hermit, told his brother, “Rama, please return to Ayodhya and rule over it. Instead of you, I will stay back in the forest.” Rama was deeply moved by Bharata’s love for him. But he said in a firm voice, “No, Bharata, I am here to fulfill my father’s promise. You should also respect his wishes. We should not disobey our father. I will rule over Ayodhya only after completing my exile in the forest.”
Bharata tried his level best to make Rama change his mind. The sages also tried to influence Rama, but in vain. Rama’s only answer was, “It is my duty to carry out the wishes of my parents.”
Bharata made one more attempt to persuade Rama. “I do not have the capability to rule over the kingdom. Come back to Ayodhya at least for my sake,” he pleaded. Rama smiled gently at him and said, “Bharata, you are a very intelligent and capable person. You have the expert knowledge of your ministers with you. And the responsibility of ruling over Ayodhya is yours. Go back and rule over it well.”
With no other option, Bharata said, “Brother, I will rule over Ayodhya on your behalf. So please give me your sandals. I will place them on the throne.” Rama agreed to this.
Speaking again, Bharata swore, “I hereby take an oath that I shall await your return and for this period of fourteen years I shall not wear any royal clothes and I shall subsist only on fruits and tubers. If you do not
return on the appointed day, I will jump into the fire and end my life.”
Such was the love between the two brothers. Rama hugged his brother and advised him, “Please treat our mother Kaikeyi well. Be happy. Be kind to others.”
Bharata placed his brother’s sandals over his head and carried them to Ayodhya. He did not like to live in Ayodhya without Rama. So he chose a small village called Nandigram near Ayodhya. He placed the padukas (sandals) on the throne and coronated them. “I am merely a servant of my brother,” he announced. “These padukas are the true masters,” he said. He showed due respect to these padukas and remembering Rama at each and every step, ruled over Ayodhya. People felt safe and happy under him.
Sri Rama wanted to go away from <‘hitrakut as the place reminded him of Bharata and his mothers. So he decided to leave the area and move on. The three of them wandered Ihrough dense forests, leading a peaceful, contented life,