– Ramayan: Book 2: Canto II – Kaikeyi Contrives

Kaikeyi was the king’s youngest and favourite wife. When she came to Ayodhya, she was accompanied by her maid – a hunchback called Manthara who had been deputised to look after her interests. That evening the woman happened to climb to the battlements and look down at the festivity, going on in the town. She was quite astonished to see the city decorated all of a sudden, as if for a big occasion.

Seeing Rama’s old nurse standing near-by, she asked, “Why has the city of Ayodhya gone mad with joy overnight? What is the special occasion”?

The nurse gave her the news of the impending installation. Hearing this, Manthara was shocked and rushed to her mistress, who was relaxing in bed.

“Rise up! 0 deluded queen”! she said. “Your husband who professes to love you has cheated you. Having sent your son away to his maternal grand-parents, he is now set on crowning Kausalya’s son, Rama, as heirapparent, tomorrow. Beguiling you with sweet words, your husband has behaved like a treacherous serpent”.

Kaikeyi rose up, filled with delight at the news of Rama’s impending installation. She presented Manthara with a beautiful jewel, since she was the first to bring the good news to her and said, “Thank you for
having given me this most welcome news. In my eyes there is no difference between Rama and Bharata. I am delighted with the king’s decision”.

Manthara was shocked at Kaikeyi’s reception of her news. She threw away the jewel and spoke in scornful accents, “I cannot believe that you can be so blind to the misfortune that is to befall you. Once Rama becomes king, you will be only a maid to Kausalya, and your son too will be degraded to the status of a servitor to Rama. The hunchback ranted and raved over the calamities which she foresaw for her mistress and would not listen to Kaikeyi’s praise of Rama. Kaikeyi could not foresee any of the dire possibilities which Manthara kept insisting would happen, but at last after listening to this tirade for a full hour, Kaikeyi also began to believe that all that Manthara said was true and the king had indeed plotted to deprive her son of his lawful position. This shows us how important it is to keep the company of the noble. This is why there is such a stress in our scriptures on the value of sat-sang. Once we start mixing with wicked people, even the most elevated mind will slowly succumb to their poisonous insinuations.

At last, the agitated Kaikeyi begged Manthara to tell her how she could save her son from this dire calamity which was to overtake him. Manthara reminded her of the two boons which Dasaratha had promised her long ago. Once he had taken her along on one of his military sorties. At that time he had been sorely wounded and in an unconscious state. Kaikeyi had skillfully maneuvered the chariot and taken him away to a safe place. When he regained consciousness, he was so grateful to her for having saved his life that he asked her to choose two boons. She had kept the offer pending and had almost forgotten about it. Manthara now reminded her of these boons and asked her to demand them now. One was that Bharata should be crowned as heir-apparent and the second was that Rama should be banished for fourteen years to the forest, which would give enough time for Bharata to consolidate his position in the country. Manthara advised the queen to enter the apartment specially kept aside for sulking wives (sob-chamber), and lie there with hair dishevelled and torn clothes, thus indicating to her husband the unhappy state of her mind. Instigated by the hunchback, Kaikeyi proceeded to carry out-all her orders, her own good sense completely stilled.

At nightfall, the Emperor entered Kaikeyi’s chamber, eager to share the news of the forthcoming event with his favourite consort. He was quite dejected to see that she was not awaiting his arrival as she usually did. He was even more dejected to hear that she was in the sulking chamber. He hurried to that room and was horrified to see his beauteous wife writhing on the floor with her jewels scattered everywhere, unkempt hair and face darkened with anger.

“What is it my dearest one”? the old king inquired in distress. “Who is it that has dared to offend you? What is it that you lack? Whatever be your wish do not hesitate to ask. You know that I will gladly give you anything you ask for”.

Kaikeyi then spoke, “I have neither been insulted nor treated with disrespect, but I desire something which only you can give me. Promise me that you will fulfil my desire, only then will I rise up”.
The infatuated monarch smoothed her dishevelled locks with his hands and placed her head on his lap and solemnly swore that he would grant her whatever she wished.

The queen, knowing full well what effect her words would have on him, cruelly spoke the following words as prompted by Manthara.

“0 king! Do you remember the time when I saved your life in the war and guarded you till you regained consciousness? At that time you promised me two boons. The time is now ripe to redeem your pledge. I request you to install my son Bharata as Prince Regent and secondly to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years. These are my two wishes and if you do not grant me these wishes, you will be proving yourself a traitor to the noble family in which you have been born and be guilty of the great sin of breaking your solemn word”!

The king could not believe that he was hearing such cruel words coming out of his beloved’s mouth. Unable to bear the anguish which her words had caused him, he swooned away.

Coming out of his swoon at last, the king said, “What has possessed you, 0 wicked woman to ask for such terrible boons? What has the innocent Rama ever done to you? When the whole of the country is extolling Rama’s virtues, why are you alone bent on ruining him, as well as this noble race? You know full well that I cannot continue to
live without seeing Rama even for a day. Are you bent on killing your husband as well? What demon has possessed you, 0 Kaikeyi! Have I been nurturing a viper in my bosom all these years! I beg of you, I will fall at your feet, but please spare me from going against my word, for I cannot agree to this most terrible request” Thus saying the agonized king fell at her feet.

But the queen whose good sense had been completely stilled by the wicked words of Manthara retorted cruelly, “How can you, who claim to be the scion of the lkshvaku race, break your word to me not once, but twice, for you not only gave me your word at that time, but also just now? Shame on you that you should be so false to your own race and have no pride in your status as a king. Hear this, 0 perverted king. If Rama is installed as Prince Regent, I shall surely drink poison in front of your eyes and die here this very minute”. Saying this she sank down and refused to utter a single word.

The demented king now ranted and raved of how all the other kings would despise him when they heard that he had cancelled his own command to have Rama installed and placed Bharata in his stead and also sent the peerless Rama to the forest. What would he say to Sita? What could he say to Kausalya?
“0 wicked woman! Do you want to kill your husband and enjoy the kingdom with your son? How will my darling and delicate Rama survive in the forest? How will the daughter of the king of Videha bear her separation from her beloved husband”? Thus wailing, the unhappy monarch writhed in pain on the floor beside his cruel consort.

The night had passed and the auspicious day on which the installation was to take place had dawned. Sage Vasishta entered the city with his disciples and requested the minister Sumantra to apprise the king of his arrival. Sumantra was astonished to see the king on the floor and Kaikeyi sitting in a dishevelled state beside him. She ordered him to go and get Rama. Sumantra left immediately and brought Rama to the king’s chamber. As the chariot with Rama and Lakshmana seated within, passed through the streets thronging with people, he was hailed on all sides and showered with flowers and jewels. Entering the royal palace, Rama bowed before the dejected king and before Kaikeyi. He was surprised to see his father, who was usually so happy to see him, sitting with eyes cast down.

“Have I caused you any unhappiness, 0 father! In what way have I displeased you”? he asked.

The king could not speak or even raise his eyes to look at him and Kaikeyi said, “The king is neither angry nor displeased with you. He is unhappy because he does not wish to keep the promise he gave me long ago. It is your duty as an obedient and loving son to see that your father does not break his word. One who breaks his word will have to go to a special hell, reserved for such people”.

Rama was astonished to hear this and said, “How can my father doubt that I would not obey his commands! I would jump into the fire if he so ordered me”.

Kaikeyi now spoke again, “Well know this, 0 scion of the Raghus, the two boons I have asked for are these – that my son Bharata should be installed as Prince Regent in your place and that you should be banished to the forest for fourteen years! Your father cannot bear to carry out these wishes of mine and that is why he has such a sorrowful look and refuses to look at you”.

Not by a flicker of an eyelid did Rama betray the fact that the news was a great shock to him. He had come there expecting to be feted and fawned over, instead of which he had been stung as if by a venomous serpent, yet his countenance showed no anger or hatred.

In an even voice he asked, “How can you doubt, 0 princess of Kekaya, that I would be disobedient to my father’s wishes, even though I have not heard this command from his own lips. Yet, your wish is my command. Just give me time to take leave of my mother Kausalya and the princess of Videha and I shall do your bidding and go to the forest with matted locks this very day, as desired by you”.

Thus saying, Rama circumambulated his father and Kaikeyi thrice and backed out of the room. The agonized king was choking with grief and could not utter a word. Rama walked out of the palace without a backward glance. Nothing in his mien or behaviour gave an inkling to his waiting friends and citizens of the shocking news which he had just received. Waving aside the white umbrella and fan of royalty, he strode into his mother’s apartments, in complete control of himself and his emotions as befitted a sthithaprajna, a master yogi, who had risen
above all the pairs of opposites. But Lakshmana strode after him with eyes blazing with anger, and face suffused with fury, his hand clutching and releasing the sword at his side, as if ready to draw and kill even his father, if Rama so desired it.

Rama entered his mother’s apartments accompanied by Lakshmana and saw his mother seated in rpuja. She rushed to greet him and embraced him fondly and offered him a bejewelled seat. Rama merely touched the seat. He was sad at having to upset his mother but there was no way of breaking the news gently to her.
“0 mothern he said, “I fear I have to give you some bad news. This jewelled throne is not for me, nor the white umbrella, for by my father’s orders I am to proceed directly to Dandaka forest, clad in bark and existing on fruits and roots for the next fourteen years, while Bharata rules in my stead” .

Hearing this shocking news Kausalya fell to the ground in a dead faint. When she recovered, she began to lament, “0 my beloved son! Can I be hearing aright! Can the king give such a shameless order? How can I live without you? For many years after he married Kaikeyi, the king had treated me with scant respect but at least after you were born, I had some claim to merit but now without you I shall surely be despised and treated like Kaikeyi’s servant. I will not stay but will follow you as a mother cow follows her calf”.

Hearing this Lakshmana who was in a furious mood spoke up, “0 brother who will follow the orders’ of a man in his dotage who is completely under the thumb of a woman. Who but a fool would forsake son as godly as you and listen to the prattle of his wife? Before anyone comes to know of this shameful fact, take up the reins of administration in your own hands and install yourself as Prince Regent. Both the priests and the people will support you and I will stand guard over the gates of the city, ready to kill anyone who thwarts you, even if it be the king himself or Bharata. On what authority does the king dare to give the kingdom to Kaikeyi’s son, when you alone have sole right over it? I shall kill my aged and wretched father, who is in his second childhood and hand over the reins of government to you, this minute”!

Hearing this Kausalya added, “Indeed Lakshmana speaks rightly. I wilt not grant you permission to go to the forest. If you go, I shall fast to death”.

Knowing her agony, yet unable to help her, Rama spoke to his mother, “0 noble lady, please try to understand that I cannot flout the command of my father even if it brings grief to you and to me. Our land is filled with stories of great men who, at the behest of their fathers, were ready to carry out any order. It is my duty as a son to do this. Moreover I have already given my word to mother Kaikeyi and will not back out of it. It is your duty to bless me and give me leave to carry out my duty”.

Then turning to his brother he said, “0 Lakshmana, I am well aware of your great love for me as well as your valour, but remember that I have pledged my word to do my father’s bidding and in so doing, I am also redeeming the pledge he made to Kaikeyi, which has to be honoured by me. 0 gallant Lakshmana, I have taken my stand in righteousness and it is your duty to help me to carry out the royal command. This is not the time for violence, my dear brother. It is not worthy of you to sink into unrighteousness”.
Once again he turned to his mother and said, “Grant me leave, 0 mother, to carry out the behest of my father. After fourteen years in the forest I shall return. It is your duty as well as Sita’s and mother Sumitra’s to abide by the commands of my father. Such is the eternal law of dharma”,
Even after he said this, Kausalya wept and begged him not to go. Time was running out and Rama was impatient to leave before any one else tried to dissuade him.

Once again he turned to Lakshmana and said, “0 Lakshmana! I know of your everlasting devotion to me but both you and my mother have failed to understand me fully and you are both harassing me most painfully. Dharma, artha and kama are the three goals of human life but all these will lead to moksha or liberation only if a person follows the path of righteousness. Which is the man of righteousness who would fail to perform, as a sacred obligation, a command given by his aged father! My mother is his wife and so long as her husband is alive she cannot follow me to the forest like a widow. It is her duty to remain here and pray for my successful return. Therefore I beg of you to give

me leave to depart to the forest. Life is of short duration and I will certainly not accept the trivial sovereignty of the globe, if I have to resort to unrighteousness in order to get it”.

Thus saying he circumambulated his mother and said to his brother, “Curb your anger against my father and Kaikeyi and be joyful that you have helped your father to keep his word. The only way you can help me is to see that all the materials which have been brought for the coronation ceremony are sent back. Without wasting any more time, see that everything is kept ready for my departure to the forest. See to it that Kaikeyi’s mind is not in the least agitated by the fear that I shall back out of my promise. I hold nothing against her. It is fate alone which has decreed that I should go to the forest and that sovereignty should have been snatched from me at the last moment. Kaikeyi and Manthara are only instruments in the hand of providence. How else could my gentle mother Kaikeyi ever have conceived of such an idea? To the best of my knowledge, I have never offended her at any time, and I have never made any distinction between my three mothers. A decree of providence cannot be set aside by any one. Joy and sorrow, fear and anger, gain and loss, birth and death will all come, according to the time. An individual who comes under the sway of these pairs of opposites will always be unhappy. Only he who can surmount the pain and pleasure caused by these, can be called a man of enlightenment. Despite the shock which I received this morning, I feel no agony and no anger. Therefore, 0 Lakshmana, take my advice and do not give way to remorse over my loss of fortune. To me, it makes no difference if kingship or exile falls to my lot. In fact, the latter is more favourable, for it gives me an opportunity to redeem my father’s pledge”.

All these words failed to convince Lakshmana, for he was of a fiery temperament but Kausalya realised that Rama was firm in his resolve and could not be shaken and said, “I see that you will not be shaken from your high resolve and therefore I give you my blessings. Let good betide you at all times, my beloved son. Destiny is all powerful and cannot be averted. As for me, I shall have no peace of mind until I see you return, safe and sound. How can I sleep on my silken bed when you are sleeping on rocks and stones? How can I eat the palace fare when you are living on roots and fruits? How can I wear satin clothes
when you are clad in bark? I can sleep soundly only after you return to my arms once again, my darling son. May that dharma which you follow so scrupulously, protect you. May your path be smooth and may

your every undertaking meet with success. Depart happily, my beloved son, and return safely, protected as you are on all sides by my constant prayers”. So saying Kausalya controlled her grief and blessed Rama who fell at her feet. Rama now proceeded to his own palace to convey the unwelcome news to his wife.

Sita was waiting joyfully for the arrival of her husband accompanied by bards and waving of ceremonial fans. She was shocked to see him come alone, looking pale, for he was not sure how to break the news to his dearest wife.

“What is troubling you, my noble Lord”? she asked. “How is it that you have come alone and unaccompanied by minstrels? The auspicious time has come and yet you have not gone to the hall. Tell me what is cause of this change of plans”?

Rama briefly narrated to her the story of his father’s promise to Kaikeyi and of his banishment to the forest and Kaikeyi’s demand that her son Bharata should be installed as Prince Regent.

“It is your duty, my dearest wife to stay with my aged mother and look after her, as well as your father-in-law and pass your time in prayer and penance until my return. Do not displease Bharata in any way for he will be king in future and be sure to treat all three mothers equally”.

Hearing these words of Rama, Sita, though a docile and meek wife, could not bear the thought of separation from her beloved husband and spoke out forcefully.

“What you have just said is unworthy of you, 0 scion of the race of Raghu! Fathers and mothers all reap the consequences of their own destiny. It is only the wife who actually shares the fortunes of her husband. For a wife, her husband alone is her refuge. Therefore I shall follow you wherever you go, my darling husband. I shall go before

you and crush the thorns in your path. Accompanied by you, the forest will be as secure for me as my parental home. Without you, this palace will be a forest for me. I too long to see the mountains and the lakes and flowers of the forest, my darling one. I can spend hundreds of years with you in this fashion without any sorrow. Heaven itself has no charms for me without you. I assure you that I shall not be a burden on you. I shall serve you as I have served you here and we shall delight in each other’s company and rejoice in the beauty of nature”.

Hearing these words of his wife, Rama said to her, “My dearest wife,

you have painted a rosy picture of life in the forest but believe me, this is far from being the case. You are a tender and frail princess, totally unfit for life in the harsh forest, filled with wild beasts, rakshasas and other poisonous creatures. There will be none of the delicacies which

you have been used to and no one to wait upon you. You cannot imagine such an existence and that is why you are speaking like this. But please heed my words and desist from this idea. I say this for your benefit and not because I think you will be a burden to me”.
None of this could deter Sita from her firm resolve. “My Lord”, she said, “how many times have I begged you to take me for a trip to the forest and now when the opportunity has come, why are you denying me? I have been told by Brahmin soothsayers that I was fated to go to the forest one day. The time has now come for the prophecy to come true. In fact, I feel quite delighted at the prospect of a prolonged sojourn in the forest in your enchanting company. I cannot live even for a minute without you, my dearest love. If you refuse to take me, I will take poison and give up my life here and now in front of your eyes. Nothing can deter me from my resolve to follow you, so please do not waste your time trying to convince me of the rigours of forest life”.

Rama was actually delighted to hear her words. He had been dreading the thought of parting from her and had tried to deter her only from a stern sense of duty but now that she was so adamant in her resolve to accompany him, he gave in gladly.

Folding his agitated wife in his arms, Rama spoke soothingly to her and kissed away her tears. “Not knowing the strength of your purpose 0 Janaki (daughter of King Janaka), I tried to deter you, not because 1 wanted to leave you but only because it was my duty to point out to you the dangers of forest life. You know that I cannot bear to cause distress to you, my lovely princess. 0 beloved Sita, even heaven has no charms for me without your bewitching presence. I too would love to sport with you in the woods and glades of the forest and on the
mountain-tops, so make haste and gift away all your jewels and costly clothes and prepare yourself for a prolonged sojourn in the forest with me”.

Hearing these delightful words of her husband, Sita hurried to do his bidding.
Lakshmana who had been listening to this dialogue between Rama and Sita, could not bear the thought of being separated from him and said to Rama. “0 brother, I cannot remain in Ayodhya without you. I will go with you and clear the path for both of you so that you can blissfully enjoy the beauties of the forest”.

Rama tried to deter him with these words, “Who will look after our aged mothers and father if you come with us, 0 Lakshmana? I know of your great love for me but it is your duty to stay here and be a support to our aged parents”.

“How can you doubt, 0 brother, that Bharata will look after both our mothers, as if they were his own? Shatrugna will be there to help him so have no fears on that score. Kindly condescend to take me as your attendant. I will bring a sword and spade and my bow and arrows and cut the creepers and trees which stand in your path. I will stand guard over you and Sita day and night so that you can sport with her

on the mountain-tops, unmolested by any evil forces. Please do not stop me from coming with you, my dear brother, for my mind is made up”.

Rama knew it was useless to try and dissuade Lakshmana, so he agreed to take him and told him to go and take leave of his dear ones and to collect his two heavenly bows and quiver of inexhaustible arrows and his two invincible swords and return immediately. As soon as Lakshmana returned with the weapons, Rama instructed him to call Suyajna, the son of his preceptor Vasishta so that he could worship him and give away all his wealth and thus get his blessings before departing to the forest.

Thus ends the second Canto called “Kaikeyi Contrives” of the Ayodhya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

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