– Ramayan: Book 2: Canto III – The Banishment

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana all gave worthy presents to the Brahmins and to their servitors as well as to the afflicted, the destitute and the impoverished. After this they proceeded to their father’s palace to take leave of him. As the three of them walked through the streets, without a chariot and attendants, the people exclaimed in sympathy.

“What dreadful misfortune has befallen our noble prince that he should walk unescorted like this through the streets. Look at the princess of Videha, whose face has never been seen by any one, walking like an ordinary woman? How could the king banish a son like this, whose character has been acclaimed by all! Strange are the ways of destiny” Thus spoke the citizens of Ayodhya who were heart-broken to see the condition of their beloved prince. “Let us also follow him into the forest, and let Kaikeyi and her son rule over a deserted land. Let rats and mice play havoc, eating the grains and foodstuffs which are stored here. Let Ayodhya turn into a forest while we convert the forest into a city, with Rama”.

Though he heard the laments of the citizens, Rama was unperturbed and continued his journey to Kaikeyi’s apartments to see his father. The king ordered his minister to fetch his other wives before Rama entered. Both Kausalya and Sumitra came, accompanied by their attendants. As Rama entered, the king rose and went forward to meet him but he was so overcome with weakness, that he collapsed. Rama and Lakshmana ran forward and helped him to his couch.

With folded palms Rama said, “Kindly grant me permission to leave for the forest 0 king! And kindly allow Sita and Lakshmana to accompany me. They refuse to be left behind even though I have tried to dissuade them from comings.

The wretched king now spoke in tortured accents, “Because of the pledge I had made to Kaikeyi, I have been forced to act in this senseless fashion. I beseech you to make me captive and ascend the throne yourself, this minute”

Rama smiled and said, “I have no desire for sovereignty, Sire. I will proceed to the forest and redeem your pledge. I shall clasp your feet once again after my return”.

Urged by Kaikeyi, the afflicted monarch said in faltering accents, interspersed with tears, “I give you leave to proceed to the forest, my dearest son, but remember, this promise has been extracted from me by Kaikeyi, by a trick. I cannot bear to see you go. At least, stay this night with me and your mother so that we might delight in your presence for a few more hours before you depart”.

Rama was pained to hear this request of his father and said, “Please do not try to deflect my intention, Sire. Neither kingship nor comforts can give me the joy which I gain by carrying out your wishes and thus ensuring that you keep your word. Do not worry about us, dear father. We shall sport with the deer in the forest and have the association of sages and saints. I have promised Kaikeyi that I shall leave this very day and I must keep my word. Do not give way to grief, my Lord. Let the land be given to Bharata. I bear him no ill-will. Do not grieve on my account. I shall live in the forest as happily as I lived in the city”.

The bereft king now clasped his beloved son to his bosom and blessed him, crying all the while. As Rama backed out of the room followed by Sita and Lakshmana, Dasaratha told Sumantra, his minister and charioteer to take a contingent of the army together with all precious articles and provisions and drive the three of them to the forest. Hearing this command of the king, Kaikeyi remonstrated and said that this was very unfair since Bharata would inherit a barren land, if the king insisted on sending all the precious articles in the treasury with Rama to the forest. The king was wounded to the quick by these words but Rama intervened and said in his gentle fashion, “Father, what is the use of burdening me with the wealth, which I have already forsaken? A forest dweller does not need wealth or an army. It is the monarch who needs protection, so let Bharata enjoy all these luxuries. I want none of them”.

Kaikeyi now asked her maid to bring the pieces of bark which was the correct apparel for forest dwellers and very kindly presented a set to each of them. Rama immediately took off his silken apparel and donned the bark. Ill clad though he was, nothing could mar the nobility of his towering personality. Lakshmana followed suit. Sita looked dismayed at the pieces of bark in her hands and did not know what
to do with them. She looked appealingly at her husband. Rama took the bark from her hands and tenderly fastened them over her clothes. All those present wept at this. The women spoke up and begged Rama not to take Sita.

“Kaikeyi cannot demand Sita’s banishment. Let us at least rejoice in seeing her countenance even though we cannot see yours. If Sita goes, we will also come with you”. Turning to Kaikeyi they continued, “The whole state of Kosalawill accompany Rama to the forest and you can rule over a barren land. Even your son for whose sake you are doing all this, will curse you, for he is devoted to Rama. You should be giving Sita jewels, 0 queen, and not the bark of a tree. Are you not ashamed of yourself? Infamy will be your lot if you persist in this wickedness”.

Sita who was listening to all this was not in the least put out, for she was quite excited at the prospect of following her husband to the forest. Dasaratha also exhorted Kaikeyi not to insist that Sita wore the clothes of an ascetic.

“0 wicked woman”, he said, “what do you gain by forcing the delicate princess of Videha to wear such clothes? Let her go, if she insists, but let her be allowed to wear clothes befitting a princess”?
He told his minister to go and take the costliest jewels from the treasury and personally decked his daughter-in-law in all finery. He then ordered Sumantra to fetch the chariot and take Rama to the forest.

All the ladies started to wail. Kausalya clasped her daughter-in-law to her
bosom and gave her words of advice. Rama requested his father to take special care of his mother Kausalya, for he feared she would not be able to bear the parting. The three of them circled their father thrice and then turned to their respective mothers.

Sumitra was the bravest of them all. Clasping Lakshmana to her bosom she said, “You have my permission to accompany your brother to the forest, my son. May all go well with you. Look upon Rama as your father, Dasaratha, regard Sita as myself, your mother, and let the forest be your Ayodhya. Depart happily, my son. My prayers will always be with you”.

Luckily for Lakshmana, his wife, Urmila,did not seem to have put up much of a resistance to his going, nor did she insist that she should also accompany him. No doubt, the thought of going into the forest for fourteen years must have been intimidating for a delicately nurtured girl like a princess of Videha. As for Sita, she was obviously an extraordinary woman, as indeed Rama was an extraordinary man. An ordinary woman would never have had the courage to forgo the comforts of a regulated life in the palace and embark on a life of rigorous discipline in the forest. That is why you find all the sages extolling her extreme fidelity and love for her husband which enabled her to dare anything for his sake. Lakshmana’s character as indeed Bharata’s too, is marked by the fact that they were totally devoted to their brother. Nothing seemed to give them as much pleasure as service to Rama. Indeed, this is another point to be remembered when we analyse Rama’s character. His charisma was such that there was no one who came within his orbit who could resist him. Everyone including monkeys and bears were drawn irresistibly to him. Such was the power of his commanding personality and such the power of his love, which he gave to all without discrimination – blood brothers or adopted ones, he was the same to all.

Requested by Sumantra, the three of them entered the golden chariot in which were kept the weapons of the two brothers as well as the glorious raiment and jewels which had been bestowed on Sita by her loving father-in-law. As the chariot started to move, the citizens clung to its sides, praising Rama and bewailing their lot. Rama told the charioteer to move faster. Looking back, he was most distressed to see
that even the aged king and his mother were following the chariot, along the dusty road. Though he was sorely distressed at the sight, he knew that it would be fatal to stop and turn back to comfort them. Even Rama’s strong mind wavered at the sight of his mother, bereft and weeping, who was running after the chariot. Sternly controlling his emotions, he ordered Sumantra to drive faster so that the painful scene would not be prolonged.

He left behind a city in which life was frozen into immobility. The fires in all the hearths died down, for no one cared to attend to them. No food was cooked that day in Ayodhya, for no one could eat a morsel. Cows lowed piteously and refused to feed their calves. All shops remained shuttered and closed. No one could think of either food or recreation. Even the sun was obscured by clouds so that it appeared
as if darkness had fallen over the city, soon after Rama left. The city of Ayodhya which had been festooned and gay just that morning appeared to be in deep mourning – the banners were fluttering forlornly in the wind, the garlands were torn* and flowers scattered, clouds of dust rose up in the streets and the citizens with sad, unhappy faces wandered about, lamenting their cursed luck which had robbed them of their saviour at the last minute.

They cursed Kaikeyi who was the root cause of the problem. Dasaratha kept his eyes glued to the fast vanishing chariot until at last only the dust raised by the wheels remained. He then turned and tottered back to the palace refusing Kaikeyi’s help and leaning heavily on Kausalya*s arm. The whole night, the bereft parents sat and lamented their lot until at last Lakshmana’s mother, Sumitra came and gave wise counsel. She told them that they should be proud to have a son who

was such a dharmatma, one who was bound to righteousness, and who was prepared to give up a kingdom so that his father’s word would be honoured.

The next evening the charioteer Sumantra returned to Ayodhya at dusk. Dasaratha was anxiously waiting for information about Rama but the only news which Sumantra could give him was that Rama had crossed the river at night and had asked him to return. He gave him the message which had been given to him by Rama. He believed that Rama had proceeded to the forest of Chitrakoota.

Both Kausalya and Dasaratha were greatly agitated on hearing this news and Dasaratha related the story of how in his youth, he had once inadvertently killed a young ascetic in the forest who had been filling his pot with water in the river. Mistaking this gurgling sound for the sound of an elephant, he had killed the boy with his arrow. The parents of the boy were blind and had no one to help them and when they heard of this heinous act, they cursed the king that he too would meet his death in his agony of separation from his son. Thus saying they gave up their lives.

After the grief-stricken king had narrated the entire episode to Kausalya and Sumitra, he fell into a swoon from which he never woke up. When the bards came to wake him up the next morning, they found him dead. The consorts of the king now started wailing and lamenting their loss. The whole city was immobilised with grief. The sages urged Vasishta to send for Bharata and Shatrugna immediately and install Bharata as king, for a land without a ruler would be an easy prey for invaders. Messengers were forthwith sent to the land of Kekeya to recall the princes.

Thus ends the third Canto called “The Banishment” of the Ayodhya Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

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