A small chapter of Valmiki’s Ramayana lies quietly, inconspicuously, in the vastness of the epic, innocuously tucked in among other ‘great’ chapters. On our first reading we almost miss this innocent-looking chapter and have a feeling that its elimination from the epic will not affect the narrative thread of the story in any significant way. And yet this deceptively simple chapter is incredibly rich in the invaluable insights it gives us into the personality of Rama – insights that could be quite disturbing unless we are willing to accept that Valmiki’s Rama is not God, but a human being, with all the strengths and frailties that we human beings are heirs to.
Unlike in the subsequent developments in the Ramakatha literature, where devotee-authors repeatedly try to cleanse Rama of all that is dark or grey in him, inventing a thousand stories that often stagger our sense of the possible even by mythical standards, some of them plainly ridiculous, and in the process render him one-dimensional and flat, Valmiki portrays Rama as a multi-dimensional personality, rich in complexities, with as many dark or grey sides to him as there are white ones. Valmiki’s Rama is a man tied up in a hundred psychological knots, his inner being as much a prey to the ravages of the passions of kama, krodha, lobha, moha, madaand matsarya, the six enemies of man, as that of any one of us, which perhaps is the real reason for the enormous fascination Rama has exerted over us for the last several thousand years. Refusing to see these many facets of Rama would be an insult to the genius of the adikavi. Turning a blind eye to them would be refusing to pay tributes to the first brilliant flowering of the great literary genius of our culture.
This chapter that throws so much light on our first epic hero is the fifty-third in the Ayodhya Kanda of the epic.
When the chapter opens, it is evening and Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are resting under a nyagrodha, a banyan tree, in the jungle, on their way to Bharadwaja Ashram at Prayag. Guha, the Nishada, and Sumantra, the minister, have both gone back after seeing the brothers and Sita cross the Ganga and disappear in the distance. The brothers have hunted earlier during the day, killing four kinds of deer, and at sunset have sought whatever comforts the tree could offer for the night. After finishing theirsandhya worship, Rama reminds Lakshmana it is their first night alone, without Sumantra, away from Ayodhya [Adyeyam prathama ratrir yata janapadad bahih ya sumantrena rahita… - Sl. 2*]. And then, in the same sloka, he tells him he should not worry because of this. [tam notkanthitum arhasi]
It is not clear what Rama is asking Lakshmana not to worry about. It is not likely that Rama is talking about the fears of the jungle. The brothers are not known to be afraid of such things and, besides, they have had enough experience of spending nights in the jungle, during their days with Vishwamitra earlier. Of course, then Sita was not with them. Perhaps it is she, her safety, that worries him, for, in the next verse he talks about looking after her.
Earlier also, on the banks of the Tamasa, Rama had asked Lakshmana not to worry, in the same words as now [Ayo 46/2]. Then too, he had followed it up with a reference to Sita’s safety. [vaidehya rakshanartham – Ayo 46/9]
It is also possible that Rama is referring to the comforts of the palace, for this is really their first night in the open without any kind of comforts offered to them by anyone. Rama’s statement that they shall somehow spend the night sleeping on a bed of leaves and grass that they shall gather by themselves, seems to justify this.
Was Lakshmana worried about either of these? We do not know. Perhaps he was. But it is also equally possible that Rama is talking of his own worries. It is perfectly natural for a man in his position to worry about the safety of the woman with him. Did Rama miss the comforts of the palace? It is very likely he did. And perhaps it was his own discomforts he was talking about. Perhaps he was not even talking to Lakshmana. Perhaps he was just talking to himself, talking of himself, of his inner feelings of loss, of inadequacy, frustration, though the words were addressed to Lakshmana. It is fairly common for frustrated people to do so.
For, the Rama we find in this chapter is indeed a very frustrated Rama. The Rama we find in this chapter is not the same Rama who does not utter a word of protest when Kaikeyi asks him to forget about the coronation and, instead, leave for the jungle, to spend fourteen years there, leaving the crown to Bharata. That Rama has the air of someone putting on a performance for the world to see – he is too much in control. He is not shocked, he is not disappointed, he is not even surprised. That complete lack of surprise, if nothing else, has an air of performance. He should at least have been surprised by the news. There is no surprise in him as he hears the news, no bitterness, no anger, he shows none of the feelings that Lakshmana shows when he hears the news later.
Lakshmana, when he hears the news, becomes furious and wants Rama to snatch power by force – he would do it for Rama if necessary. He would do it even if all the people of Ayodhya together opposed it – that is what Lakshmana says. If the people of the city opposes, then he would with his sharp arrows make the entire Ayodhya devoid of human beings [Nirmanushyam imam sarvam ayodhyam…karishyami – Ayo 21/10]! “I’ll kill everyone who takes Bharata’s side, or desires his welfare,” he says. [Bharatasya atha pakshyo va yo vasya hitam ichchati, sarvanstanscha vadhishyami - Ayo 21/11]. “We should imprison or even kill our father forgetting all our soft feelings for him if he, encouraged by Kaikeyi and pleased with her, is turning our enemy,” he says. [Protsahito’yam kaikeyya santushto yadi nah pita amitrabhooto nissangam vadhyatam badhyatam api. Ayo 21/11]. A few shlokaslater, in his cold fury, he again repeats the idea of killing Dasharatha, calling him old, feeble-minded, infatuated with Kaikeyi, puerile and detestable in his old age, [Hanishye pitaram vrddham kaikeyyasaktamanasam krpanam cha sthitam balye vrddhabhavena garhitam [Ayo 21/19].
Lakshmana’s words, which Kausalya immediately approves of and with immense passion urges Rama to act on, are genuine. His shock is genuine, his fury is genuine. But Rama’s complete lack of reaction, except to say, “Let it be so. I shall go from here to live in the jungle wearing matted hair and an ascetic’s clothes to fulfil the king’s pledge,” [evam astu, gamishyami vanam vastum aham tvitah jatacheeradharo rajnah pratijnam anupalayan – Ayo 19/2] and to enquire why the king does not talk to him happily, definitely has the air of a performance.
Chances are Rama felt more or less the same as Lakshmana. The two brothers usually shared their views and feelings, though Rama generally had these in control, whereas Lakshmana was more impetuous. Also, perhaps Rama’s feelings were not so raw, or as vehement, as Lakshmana’s were.
The Ramayana tells us specifically that Rama was not upset at the news, he was not sad – na chaiva ramah pravivesha shokam [Ayo 18/41]; na vivyathe ramah [Ayo 19/10].
However, the text of the Ramayana itself tells us a few verses later that it was not that Rama did not feel sadness. The text tells us that he ‘held his sorrow in his heart’ –dharayan manasa duhkham – [Ayo 19/35]. Commentators have tried to explain this away by saying his sorrow was ‘sympathetic’ – that is, it was not his own sorrow, but the sorrow he felt for his dear ones. It was not sorrow at his loss of the throne, but at the thought that his friends would soon miss him and would be sad.
In the light of the chapter under discussion, I do not think that the explanations of the commentators hold. As I see it, it was not that Rama was not affected by the news. He was deeply affected. But he held his sorrow in his heart, exactly as the text says, and put on a brave face.
There were people around. After all, it was the important day of the coronation and Rama’s meeting the king in the morning was not an entirely private affair. Perhaps Sumantra who had gone to call Rama had come back with him and was not far from him – though the Ramayana does tell us that Rama asked the people accompanying him, that is, his friends, to wait outside before he went in to meet Dasharatha and Kaikeyi. But this need not include Sumantra. Attendants could have been present, waiting maids could have been present. People are always present on such occasions – people whom we mean when we say the walls of the palace have ears. Invisible people – invisible because of their ordinariness, because of their familiarity, because of their ubiquity, because of their inevitability, because of their lack of importance.
We see that Dasharatha is now seated on a beautiful couch, and not on the ground where he had spent the night begging Kaikeyi to take back her demands, and Kaikeyi is sitting next to him on the couch. It is a presentable picture – not the non-presentable sight of the night. In all likelihood, there are people waiting on them. People whom the adikavi has no reason to mention specifically.
So Rama holds his feelings in his heart. He puts up a brave face. It is a performance.
But this is the jungle, where there is no audience. In the night, under the tree, the truth can come out without masks. Raw feelings can come out without fear of exposing oneself. This is the night of truth. Rama has no need to play a role here. He can be himself. Just himself.
And the face of Rama we see here is his genuine face. It is the face of a man from whom the kingdom has just been snatched off. Snatched off at the last possible moment. Moments before his coronation.
This is the face of the man who wanted to be the greatest of the Ikshwakus. The face of the man who wanted to take the glory of the Ikshwakus to the highest pinnacle possible. Who wanted to be the greatest Solar king – greater than his father, greater than his grandfather, greater than such legends as Raghu, Dileepa, Bhageeratha, Sagara, Harishchandra and Mandhata, greater than Ikshwaku himself. The man who wanted to be perfect. Perfect in every respect. So that no blemish shall fall on the Ikshwakus through him. He will be the perfect king.
In his obsession with perfection, he will forget that the glory of the Ikshwakus that he wants to take to the highest pinnacle had not been without blemishes. The Ikshwakus have done shameful deeds.
The very second Ikshwaku, Danda, the son of Ikshwaku himself, was a rapist – he raped his own priest’s daughter.
Danda was the ruler of a vast kingdom between the Vindhya and the Shaivala mountains. Once he comes to the ashram of Acharya Shukra, his priest, and there, roaming in the jungles around the ashram, comes across a girl, breathtakingly beautiful. Danda is maddened by lust at her sight and wants to have sex with her on the spot. The girl tells him that she is Araja, the eldest daughter of his priest Shukra and still under her father’s protection – if the king wants her, he should talk to her father. But marriage is not exactly what Danda has in mind. Seeing that she does not willingly surrender herself to him, the king takes her by force. She warns him of the dire consequences of his action, screams, tries to fight him off with all her strength, but he takes her anyway and then, his lust satiated, leaves her there and goes away. A furious Shukra makes Indra rain fire over Danda’s country and the land turns into what later comes to be known as Dandakaranya, a land inhospitable even to birds and animals.
Danda’s crime is all the more heinous because the word araja, by which name Shukra’s daughter is called in the story, could mean one who has not reached the age of raja, a girl who has not yet attained puberty.
Satyavrata was another famous Ikshwaku. A thorough wretch, arrogant to the core, a lecher and a shameless womaniser, he once snatches from the middle of her wedding celebration a Brahmin girl to satisfy his insatiable lust. Her people complain to Satyavrata’s father, King Trayyaruna, who turns him out of the palace and Satyavrata starts living among Chandalas. Later in a fit of anger sharpened by hunger, he kills Vasishtha’s cow Nandini and eats her meat – the anger was because Vasishtha, Trayyaruna’s priest, had not opposed his punishing his son. After eating part of the beef, he hangs the rest from a tree, to be eaten by Vishwamitra’s wife and children, whom he had been looking after for a while since the sage was away doing tapas. Until then he had only been living with Chandalas – now Vasishtha turns him into one. This Chandala whom we know by his more famous name Trishanku, thrice cursed for eating beef, for being the cause of his father’s just anger, and for stealing another’s wife, becomes king after his father and it is him that Vishwamitra tries to send to heaven in his body of flesh and blood.
Kalmashapada, also known as Mitrasaha and Saudasa, equally arrogant of his power, coming across Vasishtha’s son Shakti on a mountain path, refuses to give way to him. Instead, he wanted the Brahmin to give way to him and when he refused, picked up a whip and thrashed the sage brutally. Shakti turns the king into a Rakshasa for twelve years. In his fury at the curse, the Rakshasa Kalmashapada eats up Shakti.
Kalmashapada later gets the same curse as Pandu of the Mahabharata gets – and for almost exactly the same reason. He sees a young Brahmin couple engaged in lovemaking, kills the youth and eats him up, ignoring repeated implorings by the woman not to. The woman lights a pyre and enters it, becomes a sati. Before she dies she curses Kalmashapada – he would die if he ever made love to his wife in her ritu, the period sanctioned by the scriptures for lovemaking. The accursed king would later be forced to offer his wife Madayanti for niyoga to Vasishtha. The next Ikshwaku king, Ashmaka, is the son of Vasishtha and Madayanti.
The story could also be read as Kalmashapada admitting his defeat before Vasishtha and offering his wife’s body to him in atonement for his sins. Madayanti submits herself to the king’s will but such is her disgust and fury that she repeatedly hits her womb with a stone in an attempt to abort her pregnancy or to kill herself – an act that reminds us of a pregnant Gandhari’s furious striking her womb with a stone. Madayanti perhaps dies as a result of this, but a child is born and is named after that stone with which his mother tore open her womb – Ashmaka. Ashma means stone.
The legendary Harishchandra, another Ikshwaku, would try to give his son Rohitashwa in a human sacrifice to Varuna. When Rohitashwa runs away in mortal fright, a boy, Shunahshepa would be purchased from his father Ajeegarta in exchange for money. Only the kindness of Vishwamitra would save the screaming Shunahshepa tied to the sacrificial pillar. This Harishchandra would later boast of the glorious Rajasooya he conducted and tell an old brahmana – Vishwamitra in disguise – that he would give anything asked for, that was his vow. This pride and this boast would eventually lead to his being forced to sell his wife and child into humiliating slavery, in which she is beaten up brutally on a regular basis, and will be forced to suffer unspeakable agonies.
Asita was an Ikshwaku who would be forced to run before the might of his enemies. He would hide in the Himalayas with two of his queens, where he would die, leaving two pregnant queens behind. And one of them would poison the other, in an attempt to abort her rival’s pregnancy. The attempt would fail and the child, born with poison in his body, would be known as Sagara, whose name means ‘with poison’.
And then there were others.
Not all Ikshwakus were perfect. Not all Ikshwakus were without blemish.
Besides, ironically, as the story of Kalmashapada tells us, there was no Ikshwaku blood in Rama who was willing to sacrifice everything including his wife, his brothers and even his life for the glory of the Ikshwakus. Just as there was no Bharata blood in either the Pandavas or the Dhartarashtras who fought between themselves over their claim to the Bharata throne. Rama is a descendent of Ashmaka – son of Madayanti, who was not an Ikshwaku by birth, and Vasishtha, who was certainly not an Ikshwaku.
But he would be perfect. Rama would be perfect. Without a blemish.
In his obsession with perfection, Rama would forget that obsession with perfection can make human beings ugly. That all perfectionists end up as ugly, monstrous people. That all perfectionists make life hell for themselves and for all around them.
Human beings can excel. But they cannot become perfect. Excellence is an ongoing thing. Greater and greater excellences are possible. There is no end to excellence. It is an endless journey. It is an endless road. But perfection? It is a blind alley. A state which cannot be improved upon. From which no further growth is possible. Perfection is like death, by definition. No more journeys from there.
Perfectionists, in their obsession with perfection, turn blind. Blind to people around. Blind to situations. Blind to what is human in themselves and in others. Intolerant. Intolerant of human weaknesses. Intolerant of imperfections.
Perfectionists destroy, rather than create.
Rama wanted to be without blemish. Perfect. The Maryada Purushottama.
He wanted to be the perfect son. He wanted to be the perfect brother. He wanted to be the perfect husband.
He wanted to be the perfect king.
And the chance has been lost. The chance to be the perfect king has been lost with Kaikeyi claiming the throne of the crown prince for Bharata. Lost for ever, as far as Rama knows. For he does not know that Bharata would reject the crown when it is offered to him. He does not know that Bharata would offer it back to him. He does not know that when Rama refuses it, Bharata would decide to wait for fourteen years to give it back to him on his return from the jungle, in the meantime officiating as his mere regent. As far as he knows, he has lost the kingdom for ever.
The face of Rama we see under the banyan tree in that jungle that first night he is alone with Sita and Lakshmana is the face of a frustrated man. An angry man. A jealous man. A man who believes he has been betrayed. A man who believes great injustice has been done to him.
For, in the very next sentence, in the very next shloka, he says in Ayodhya Kaikeyi must be very happy – krtakama tu kaikeyi tushta bhavitum arhati [sl. 6]. Kaikeyi must be very happy, having achieved her objective. While the king must be sleeping unhappy, she must be sleeping in great satisfaction, great contentment.
We hear Rama’s disappointment very clearly here. Disappointment at losing the crown of yuvaraja. His words are bitter.
Was Rama’s disappointment the greater because the kingdom he lost was never his and yet had almost come to him? The more bitter because he had never expected it to come to him and yet it had come to him only to be snatched away from him at the last moment?
For Rama had no right to the throne of Ayodhya and he knew it.
The throne of Ayodhya was never Rama’s. He had no right to dream those dreams of glory. Sad for him, for he was the eldest son of Dasharatha, but that is the fact – he had no right to dream those dreams. Unless of course the crown went to him through some accident – Bharata’s death – or he revolted against Bharata and snatched it from him, or built up an empire of his own, or something like that. Rama had no right over the throne of Ayodhya. He had lost that right even before he was born and he knew it.
The throne of Ayodhya belonged to Bharata after Dasharatha. It was under this agreement that Dasharatha had married Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi was rajyashulka – her bride-price was the kingdom. Before she was given in marriage to him, Dasharatha had solemnly promised the kingdom to her future firstborn son. Kaikeyi’s father gave the young, beautiful, immensely talented Kaikeyi to the old king only on that condition. Just as later in the Mahabharata Satyavati’s father would give her in marriage to the old Shantanu.
And Rama knew it. He tells Bharata so. He himself tells him so, later at Chitrakoota. When Bharata refuses to accept the kingdom. When Bharata begs Rama again and again to accept the crown and come back to Ayodhya as its king.
In the Ayodhya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, Rama tells Bharata: Pura bhratah pitanah sa mataram te samudvahan, matamahe samashrausheed rajyashulkam anuttamam. [Ayo 107/3] “A long time ago, when our father married your mother, he made a promise of rajyashulka to your grandfather.” Rajya shulka is the promise that the bride’s future son would inherit the throne.
We have to presume that Rama knew it all along because he knew it at Chitrakoota and there is no mention of anyone telling him of it between the announcement of the coronation and his telling it to Bharata at Chitrakoota. He must have known it before the announcement of the coronation.
Apparently, many others knew of it, too.
Dasharatha of course knew it. He had made the promise. This would explain his unbelievable hurry to crown Rama as yuvaraja. He decides it and then announces – the crowning would take place the next day itself.
The abhisheka of a crown prince is not something done in a day. It involves days, maybe weeks or months, of preparations.
There is no satisfactory reason given for the hurry, except that Dasharatha had been seeing inauspicious dreams.
But that does not explain why he insists that it should be done while Bharata is away – it should be done before Bharata comes back, he says. The right time for the coronation is while Bharata is still away, he says. [Viproshitascha bharato yavadeva puraditah, tavadevabhishekaste praptakalo mato mama – Ayo 4/25].
As a matter of fact, the coronation was not such a hurried affair. There was hurry once the announcement was made, once the decision was made public. It should take place the very next day. But before that such hurry was not there. Dasharatha invites kings and dependants and friends from across the land. And they come. And it is in consultation with them that the decision was made. This must have taken time. A lot of time.
But once the decision was made, he wanted it to take place the very next day itself.
It was as though he wanted to present the world a fait accompli. Like a coup. Like political coups today. Exactly like them.
To be accomplished before Bharata is back in Ayodhya!
One of the two relatives he failed to invite was the king of Kekaya – Bharata’s grandfather! He leaves him out, along with Janaka – for there is no time! Let them hear the good news later. [Na tu kekayarajanam janakam va naradhipah tvaraya chanayamasa paschat tau shroshyatah priyam. – Ayo 1/48]
Of course Dasharatha knew Rama had no right to the throne.
Which also explains why he called for such a huge meeting and sought support for his plan from other samanta kings, friends and the most important people from all his towns and cities. No other king is known to have held such a consultation before he crowned his eldest son as crown prince – it being the most normal thing to do. Dasharatha, however, places his proposal to crown Rama as the yuvaraja before the meeting and the meeting discusses his proposal in great detail. The Ramayana tells us how the kings attending the meeting approved of his proposal, how the brahmanas, military chiefs and important citizens from each city and town sat together and discussed it before giving their approval. [Ayo 1/46-47; 2/17-20] Before seeking approval for crowning Rama as king, Dasharatha at length praises Rama’s virtues, repeatedly telling them Rama is in every way superior even to himself and how they will all be wonderfully happy under his rule – his words echoing of a hard sell in a modern multinational corporate boardroom.
Of course he makes sure that the king of Kekaya is not present. The only other person left out is Janaka, renowned for his wisdom, saintliness and rootedness indharma.
Dasharatha knew Rama had no right to the throne.
Kausalya knew it, too. The moment she hears of it from Rama’s friends, she rushes to the shrine to thank the gods for her great good fortune – for her son’s great good fortune. She takes Sumitra along. And when Rama visits her in the shrine, she tells him there will be celebrations in her and in Sumitra’s paternal kingdoms – in Kosala and Magadha.
Kausalya does not inform Kaikeyi. She does not invite Kaikeyi to the shrine. And she does not speak of any celebrations in Kekaya.
Kausalya knew it. “It is because of my prayers that this great good fortune has come to you,” she tells Rama. It is the fulfilment of her prayers, not Rama’s natural right as the eldest son of Dasharatha.
She has no qualms about the injustice being done to Bharata.
Apparently, Rama has no qualms about the injustice being done to Bharata either.
When Dasharatha calls Rama to him and informs him of his decision, he does not say a word about Bharata’s right to the throne. When Dasharatha tells him that the coronation should take place the very next day, Rama does not say a word about Bharata’s and Shatrughna’s absence. When Dasharatha tells him that it should be accomplished before Bharata is back in Ayodhya, he does not ask why.
Rama knows the reasons very well.
Rama goes to inform his mother. He meets Sumitra with his mother there – she already knows. But Rama does not think it necessary to go and inform Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi who loved him. Loved him more than she loved Bharata. Kaikeyi who called him her first son. Kaikeyi who would be delighted beyond words when she would eventually hear of it from Manthara. She would present a precious ornament to Manthara for the good news she brought, even when Manthara was shouting at her calling her a fool. It would take a lot of persuasion on the part of Manthara for Kaikeyi to realize what was being done to her, to realize the cruel betrayal she was being subjected to. And then she would protest. And claim what was hers, what was her son’s, by right.
Rama was very devoted to Kaikeyi until the announcement of the surprise coronation. And then, when he should have gone and sought her blessings too, he forgets her completely.
She was delighted at the news. But he felt guilty in his heart. How could he have faced her?
Under the banyan tree that night, alone with Lakshmana and Sita for the first time since they left Ayodhya, Rama tells Lakshmana that Kaikeyi should be very happy.
And was she really very happy? Did she really want the kingdom for Bharata? I do not think so. Certainly not in the beginning. Certainly not until she realized how she was being betrayed. By Dasharatha. By Kausalya. And, yes, by Rama himself.
There is no indication anywhere in the Ramayana that Kaikeyi wanted the kingdom for Bharata in spite of it being his by right, until Manthara persuaded her to demand it. There is no indication anywhere in the Ramayana that Kaikeyi resented Rama getting the kingdom, or was not happy about it. From all we know, in spite of the kingdom being Bharata’s, she was happy to have Rama have it. Until she realized how she was being betrayed.
Her initial reaction to the news of Rama’s coronation as crown prince was immense joy. Immeasurable joy. She would instantly get up from the bed on which she was lying, her heart filled with ecstasy, her beautiful face bright like the autumn crescent, in a transport of joy, her happiness beyond measure. [Ayo 7/31-32]. “You have given me supremely joyful news” [akhyatam paramam priyam – Ayo 7/34], she would tell her. “I see no difference between Rama and Bharata and for that reason I am pleased that the king is crowning Rama” [Ayo 7/37], she would add later. “Nothing will please me more than this [na me param kinchid itah – Ayo 7/36] and therefore, Oh Manthara, I want to give you more – ask for any boon you wish and I shall give it to you,” [varam param te pradadami tam vrnu – Ayo 7/36], she would tell Manthara after giving her the priceless ornament.
And she was not putting on an act – there was no need. She was with Manthara, who was her constant companion, who had come with her from her mother’s place, hermaika, to whom Kaikeyi’s interest came first. She could be completely frank with her, she was absolutely safe with her. There was no need to put on an act. She was truly ecstatic at the news.
Until she understands the betrayal. Until Manthara makes her understand, arguing against her again and again, explaining to her repeatedly. Shouting at her. Calling her a fool, an idiot, when necessary. Telling her not to trust appearances so completely, telling her not to be so naïve. “You are born in a family of kings, you are a queen yourself to a king. And yet you do not understand how ruthless the policies of a king could be. Your husband speaks of justice, but he is a smooth talker, a cruel schemer, and you, in your naivety believe whatever he says – and are betrayed treacherously.” [Ayo 7/23-24]
Then she understands. And decides to strike back.
I also believe that Kaikeyi did not use two boons that night with Dasharatha. There was no need for claiming two boons. She must have used one – to send Rama to the forest. The crown she must have demanded from the king by reminding him of the promise at the time of the marriage.
Kaikeyi was not really happy. She couldn’t have been happy. Not under the circumstances. From all we know of her nature until that moment, she couldn’t have been happy at all. She would have been happy if all those ugly scenes had never taken place.
She loved Rama more than she loved Bharata – and called him her eldest son, as Dasharatha himself reminds her that night in Kopa Bhavana [Ayo 12/17]. As Kaikeyi herself tells Manthara – to me Rama is as dear as Bharata is, in fact dearer. [Yatha vai bharato manyah, tatha bhooyo’pi raghavah – Ayo 8/18]
She wouldn’t have been happy snatching the kingdom away from him. She wouldn’t have been happy banishing Rama to the jungle for fourteen years.
She was forced to do so.
She must have been miserable.
And yet Rama says that she must be happy in Ayodhya. Says so on that night of truth under the banyan tree – his first night away from ‘the others’, his first night alone with Sita and Lakshmana.
That statement tells us more about Rama than about Kaikeyi.
Rama is frustrated. It is this frustrated face of Rama we see that night under the Banyan tree. A very human face.
The Ramayana shows us how frustrated Rama was by telling us what he did during the day the night of which we are discussing. After crossing the Ganga, Rama, whose misery comes out later in the evening, goes on a hunting spree with Lakshmana! He spreads death in the jungle.
Rama unleashes his fury on the animals of the jungle! The Ramayana does not tell us how many animals he killed. But it tells us that he killed four kinds of animals: varaha,rshya, prishata and maharuru. Varaha is the wild boar, rshya the white-footed antelope, prshata the spotted antelope, and maharuru yet another kind of deer.
Could it have been that he killed these for food? I do not think so. For one thing, Rama has announced earlier that he would live on fruits, roots and tubers all the fourteen years in the jungle. “Giving up meat, like a hermit, I shall live on roots, tubers and fruits all the fourteen years in an uninhabited jungle. [Chaturdasha hi varshani vatsyami vijane vane kandamoolaphalair-jeevan hitva munivad amisham – Ayo 20/29]. He specifically mentions here he shall avoid meat – hitva amisham.
The shloka that refers to their hunting [Ayo 52/102] also refers to their eating. The part that refers to their eating is rather ambiguous. It only says that the food they ate on that day after hunting was medhya – meaning clean or pure. Later, however, during his stay in Chitrakoota, we do see Rama giving meat lovingly to Sita. As they sat on the flat top of a hill, Rama offers Sita meat, pleasing her, and tells her “this is pure, this is delicious, this has been well-cooked in fire.” […nishasada giriprasthe sitam mamsena chhandayan; idam medhyam, idam swadu, nishtaptam idam agnina – Ayo 96/1-2]. Still later, on the day Sita is abducted by Ravana, we see Rama, after he had killed Maricha, killing another deer, a prishata, a spotted deer, and hurrying home with its meat. [Nihatya prshatam chanyam mamsam adaya raghavah tvaramano… Aranya 44/27]. Around this time, Sita, in her hermitage, tells Ravana to rest for a few moments – Rama would be coming back any moment, bringing lots of forest food, as well as meat from several rurus, mongooses, and wild boars, having killed these. [Agamishyati me bharta vanyam adaya pushkalam ruroon godhan varahanscha hatvadayamisham bahuh. Aranya 47/23]
However, I do not think it likely that the killing on that day was for meat.
For one thing, how many animals do you need for one day’s meal? You don’t need three kinds of deer for a day’s food for three people, in addition to at least one wild boar. And I do not think Sita could have cooked all these meats separately – she was not in a position to do so, even if she was in the mood to. So far as we know, she had neither the vessels required nor the spices and other requirements.
Under the circumstances, they could not have bothered too much about declicious food.
No, I do not think the animals were killed for food.
Could it have been that they killed these for fun – for mrigaya, which kings love, which is one of their favourite sports? It could not have been. It is not the ideal condition for mrigaya. They are not exactly on a holiday. They are on their own for the first time since the banishment. They have left a weeping Ayodhya and weeping parents behind [even if Lakshmana does not remember his wife Urmila]. There is uncertainty about the life of Dasharatha – who kept saying he would die. The people of Ayodhya were angry – they could have reacted violently to the recent incidents, especially after Rama left them on the banks of the Sarayu while they slept. Their own future course of action was not clear – fourteen years in the jungle with a beautiful woman like Sita with them would not be easy. They were certainly not in the mood formrigaya.
And, in any case, mrigaya with Sita with them? No.
It is more likely they just killed the animals that came their way.
In anger. In fury. In frustration.
Was the killing cathartic? We do not know. Did it purge the brothers, give them some freedom from the burden of anger and frustration in their heart, even if momentary? We do not know.
What we do know is that Rama was still frustrated at the end of the day.
Kaikeyi has nothing bad to tell about Rama in the entire Ramayana. Not one word anywhere. Not even when she sends him to the jungle. When Bharata comes back from Kekaya and learns that Rama has been sent to the jungle, he asks why. Why has Rama been sent to the jungle? What was his crime? Did he steal wealth from brahmanas? Did he kill some innocent man? Did he lust for someone else’s woman? And Kaikeyi assures him, no, Rama has done nothing like that. Rama never does anything like that.
Kaikeyi has nothing evil to tell about Rama anywhere.
But Rama, under that tree, on that night of truth, when he shows his genuine face, accuses Kaikeyi of being capable of killing Dasharatha. “I’m afraid she might take the king’s life once she sees Bharata is back,” says Rama. [Sl. 7].
That was an ugly thing to say about Kaikeyi who had given him more love than to her own son.
“Mean in her actions is Kaikeyi… She could even poison your mother and mine.” [Kshudrakarma hi kaikeyi dveshad anyayam acharet, paridadyaddhi dharmajna garam te mama mataram – Sl.18]
Words Rama should be ashamed of!
That night of truth, under that tree, for the first time away from people, Rama reveals many more things about himself.
Rama shows his green face when he says “Now that Father is old and I am away in the jungle, Bharata will enjoy the kingdom all alone.” [Sl. 12] Remember Rama is saying this about the Bharata who would refuse to touch the ‘rajyashree’ and instead would chose to live the life of an ascetic in Nandigrama for fourteen years even when that kingdom was offered to him on a platter and immense pressure was put on him to accept it.
Rama did not understand his brother!
Dasharatha understood him. Dasharatha tells Kaikeyi in the Kopa Bhavana, “Bharata will not accept the kingdom without Rama. Because according to me he is superior even to Rama in the practice of virtue. [Ayo 12/61-62] Dasharatha understood Bharata. But Rama did not understand his brother.
The kingdom was his and still he refused to touch it, and instead offered it to Rama. And Rama? He quietly accepted it when it was offered to him in the convenient absence of Bharata, even though he knew full well it belonged to Bharata. And now he says Bharata will now enjoy it all alone like a monarch.
This is Rama’s anger and frustration speaking. This is his jealousy speaking. It is the pain he held in his heart coming out.
The human face of Rama.
Rama also means, implies, that a kingdom is a bhojya, an object of pleasure, something to be enjoyed, by the king. To Rama kingship is not a responsibility, it is a privilege! Power is not a responsibility, but a privilege. Authority is not a responsibility, but a privilege. With great power comes not great responsibility, but great privileges!
The majority of modern politicians would agree with that! Thousands and thousands of our politicians, big and small, would agree with Rama completely. Power isbhojya! It is meant for bhoga! It is a bhogya!
Fortunately, this is not how Rama thinks of kingship always. This is his thwarted ambition speaking. He has been disturbed. It is a disturbed mind’s thinking. A placid Rama would think differently.
To Bharata, though, the kingship is never meant for bhoga, for enjoyment. To him it is a responsibility. He would discharge that responsibility – as Rama’s regent. He himself would live the life of an ascetic for fourteen years. Until Rama came back and took it over from him.
But, albeit under frustration, Rama does think of the kingdom, rajyashree, as something meant for the enjoyment of the king.
This is the face of a man who has not yet become God.
That night of truth tells us Kaikeyi’s son is different from Kausalya’s son! Very different.
Just as Kausalya is very different from Kaikeyi.
This gem of a chapter that Valmiki so innocuously hides in the epic gives us a glimpse of a very disturbing face of Kausalya. Speaking of Kausalya’s pet parrot, speaking of how it loves her more than he does, how it is more devoted to her than he is, Rama says how it keeps repeating the words “shuka padam arer dasha”. “Parrot, bite the foot of the enemy!” [Sl. 22]
That is truly shocking!
Those are Kausalya’s constant words to the parrot, which the parrot has learnt and repeats! This is what Kausalya keeps telling her parrot – “Parrot, bite the foot of the enemy!” She tells that again and again and again to the parrot. Until it learns it by heart. Until it can repeat it perfectly. Until repeating it becomes its constant habit.
I wonder who that enemy she had in mind is. And I see only one enemy. The young woman who had usurped her place in the king’s heart. The beautiful woman who had snatched away her husband’s love from her. The radiant woman who had allured her husband. The gifted woman who had ensnared her husband. The accomplished woman who could ride. The able woman who could drive a chariot. Drive it in the battlefield, surrounded by a multitude of enemies, and evading them, drive her wounded husband to safety when the driver is killed in the battle. The woman whose skill in bed was such that an ecstatic king would offer her boons. The woman her old husband would seek later, at the end of the day of the announcement of the coronation, after he has been charged up by the events of the day, driven by a strong sexual urge and desiring sex [Sa kamabalasamyukto ratyarthi manujadhipah – Ayo 10/17]
The woman who loved her son enough to call him her firstborn.
Dasharatha’s youngest wife! Kaikeyi!
Kausalya had used words meaning the same thing earlier too. When Rama met her in the shrine where she was praying for his welfare, after he prostrated before her and gave her the news of the coronation which she had already heard from her friends, Kausalya would say, “Hataste paripanthinah!” – May your enemies be destroyed! And yet we are told that in the entire world Rama had no enemies, no one who hated him. Then who was Kausalya talking about?
The same woman and her friends, I believe.
The one whom Rama now accuses