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Kaikeyi: Ram Ke Mangeela Banvas
|by Satya Chaitanya|
A short, exquisite Bhojpuri folksong traditionally sung at weddings goes like this:
Bansva katavan chal le raja dasarath, anguri garele khapchaal e
“King Dasharatha went to get bamboos cut. His finger was wounded by a splinter. Run, nau, run; run, bari, run; give Kaikeyi the news. Kaikeyi came, she sat on the cot and held the tip of the finger in her hand. When Kaikeyi held the tip of his finger, the king slept relieved, without a worry. Ask, Kaikeyi, ask, ask for a boon that will please your heart. As for asking, I shall ask, Raja, I shall ask for such a boon as you won’t be able to give. She asked for Bharata’s consecration and Rama’s exile to the jungle. You have asked, queen, but the boon you have asked is like putting your hand inside my chest and pulling out my heart. Rama is the beloved of all Ayodhya, how can I exile him to the jungle?”
The song is rich in interesting details to students of the Ramayana, particularly to those interested in folk perceptions and folk variations of the Ramakatha.
The first thing we notice about the song is that it gives us an entirely new context in which Kaikeyi gets her boons from Dasharatha. The context differs from all other known contexts in which she is given the boons.
Fr. Kamil Bulcke, who has made an exhaustive study of the many Ramayanas and other Rama literature in his book Ramakatha, discusses the different circumstances in which Dasharatha gives Kaikeyi the boons in various versions of the Ramakatha.
According to the Ayodhya Kanda of Valmiki Ramayana, it is from Manthara we learn about the boons. Before Kaikeyi enters the Chamber of Anger, she reminds Kaikeyi of the boons, asking her, “Don’t you remember?” For, Kaikeyi seems to have forgotten them. Manthara then tells the queen the story that she herself has told Manthara several times.
“Long ago,” says Manthara, “the king went to help Indra in the battle between the Devas and the Asuras, taking you along with him. There is a famous city called Vaijayanta in the south, situated in the Dandaka forest, and there lived a great Asura called Shambara, whose emblem was the whale and who was a master of a hundred illusions. Such was his might that the gods had never been able to vanquish him in battles. Once Shambara started a war with Indra and during the war when the warriors used to sleep exhausted in the night, Rakshasas used to pull them out of their beds and kill them.”
“King Dasharatha too,” Manthara continues, “fought with the Asuras in that great war and was badly wounded by their weapons. And you, my queen, then drove the king away from the battlefield while he was unconscious. And when the Asuras attacked him there too, you drove him away from them again until he reached safety.
Pleased, the king gave you two boons. You told him you would ask for those boons when you needed them and the king agreed.”
Manthara tells Kaikeyi she had no knowledge of this until the queen had told her of it. And then she tells Kaikeyi to use these two boons and ask the king to consecrate Bharata as the crown prince and send Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
According to this version of the Valmiki Ramayana, the boons were given to Kaikeyi by the king in the battlefield during a war between the Devas and the Asuras, in gratitude and in appreciation of her heroic feat of saving him.
In the northern recension of Valmiki Ramayana, Kaikeyi also treats the wounds of Dasharatha, apart from saving him from the midst of enemies in the battlefield. The Telugu Dvipada Ramayana adds another dimension to Kaikeyi’s impressive expertise – she betters Shambara in the arts he is best at – illusions. She had learned these from a master and was a great adept at these herself.
According to another pauranic version, Kaikeyi puts her finger in the pinhole of Dasharatha’s chariot wheel when the wheel pin falls off during the battle and thus keeps the wheel in place. In some others it is her hand she puts in when the axle breaks off. A pleased Dasharatha offers her boons, which she says she would claim when she needs them.
In the Bhavartha Ramayana too this later version appears but the war is between Indra and Dasharatha. According to Krittivasa, Kaikeyi gets her first boon during the war with Shambara and the second one when she sucks out pus from Dasharatha’s wound. There is also a story that tells of how Kaikeyi heals Dasharatha when he is stung by a scorpion and that is when she gets her second boon.
In the Vasudevahindi, she gets her first boon when she pleases Dasharatha with her skill in the erotic arts and the second one when she goes out with an army and wages a war with a border king and vanquishes him when he had taken Dasharatha a prisoner.
In the Brahma Purana, she gets three boons for supporting the axle during the Devasura war. Whereas in the Mahabharata Vanaparva version, as well as in some other stories, she gets only one boon. And in the Pauma Charia, this boon is given to her for driving Dasharatha’s chariot while he fought the kings who attacked him immediately after his wedding with Kaikeyi.
But the Bhojpuri folksong version gives us an entirely different reason why Dasharatha gave the boon to Kaikeyi. He gave it to her after she cared for him when he was hurt by a splinter when he went to get bamboos cut.
Apart from adding this original idea to the Ramakatha lore, the song is extremely interesting to us in several other ways, too. For instance, Dasharatha here is not the mighty emperor, but more like the local petty zamindar who goes to the outskirts of the village to get some bamboos cut. Probably he gives a helping hand too – for, that must be how the splinter enters his finger. There are shouts now – run, barber, run; run, bari, run. Probably there is the zamindar’s usual coterie of attendants around him, his chamchas, and it is they who shout. Or maybe it is he himself that shouts these words – the song, with the characteristic economy, directness and power of folksongs all over the world, just captures the words spoken, without a word about who said them.
The barber, the nai/nau, being asked to run is typical of north Indian culture. The nai here is also a healer and many other things, apart from being a barber. He has perhaps already taken care of the wound – a minor fingertip wound. It is possible it is after that that he is being asked to run.
But he has to run. And bariya, the man who dances before wedding processions, another part of village life, too has to run. Since it is a matter concerning the “lord”, if a dozen people are available, all the dozen will have to run. The prestige of the big man depends to an extent on the number of people who run on such occasions. The villager knows affluence and power are displayed through excess. The greater the display of excess, the greater the affluence and power.
Why do these people have to run? They have to run to bring Kaikeyi. But why? The song does not say. But we can make a good guess. Dasharatha here is exactly the Dasharatha we see in the Ramayana. Except for the legends of his fabled past valour, the Dasharatha we actually see in the Ramayana is a very weak person – prone to break into tears easily, and very dependant on others for strength.
A fascinating fact here is that it is to Kaikeyi that the men run – not to Kausalya. It is to her that the coterie sends the men. Or maybe, it is to her that Dasharatha wants the men to run. She is perceived as the person capable of handling the situation. Perhaps it is only in her arms that Dasharatha can forget his pain and worries and relax. Kaikeyi is the wife closest to Dasharatha’s heart in his moments of agony.
That’s it – Kaikeyi holds Dasharatha’s hurt finger and Dasharatha falls asleep, without a worry, all his pain forgotten – nirbhed, as the song says.
It is a beautiful relation between a man and his wife that we see here – a relation that echoes without a mistake the wonderful, intimate relation between Dasharatha and Kaikeyi that Valmiki portrays.
Valmiki’s Ramayana mentions clearly that it is to Kaikeyi that Dasharatha went in his moments of need. It was with her he wanted to be when he was tense, excited, in emotional turmoil or charged up in any other way. On the eve of the abhisheka, after Dasharatha was able to persuade his samantas, important officers and other ‘senior’ citizens for the crowning of Rama as the yuvaraja, it is to her palace he went seeking release. The tense day’s events and its eventual successful outcome had charged him up with sexual energy [kamabalasampannah] and he sought release in her company and through sex with her [ratyartham]. He wanted to find release and to celebrate, both – for his victory had been great. He had succeeded in getting his important people to agree with his plan to give the kingdom to Rama against his promise given to Kaikeyi’s father by way of kanyashulka, bride price, at the time of her wedding – the promise that her future first-born son would inherit the throne of Ayodhya.
The Bhojpuri song truly reflects here Valmiki’s characterisation of Kaikeyi and the relation between Kaikeyi and Dasharatha by making Dasharatha or his people ask the men to run for Kaikeyi when he is in pain.
“Ask, Kaikeyi, ask; ask for a boon that will please your heart,” says Dasharatha on waking up. And Kaikeyi asks. She warns him he will not be able to give her what she is going to ask for. Then she asks: the crown of yuvaraja for Bharata and exile for Rama.
The song does not tell us whether Dasharatha granted her the boon or not – it only tells us that he said what she did was like putting her hand inside his chest and plucking his heart out, for Rama is the beloved of all Ayodhya. We must assume that he did, for if he did not there would not have been the Ramayana.
Kaikeyi here claims her boon immediately, on the spot – she does not wait.
Here again the song is true to Valmiki – for in the Ramayana repeatedly it is against sending Rama to the jungle that Dasharatha protests, that is what he cannot endure, and eventually when he dies, it is not because Rama did not become yuvaraja, but because of his separation from Rama.
However, apart from the circumstances in which the boon is given and Kaikeyi’s claiming it immediately, there are other some major respects in which the song differs from Valmiki’s Ramayana.
Valmiki’s Kaikeyi is a love-intoxicated woman who does not keep it in her mind that when the payasa from the sacrifice for children came, Dasharatha gave her the smallest amount – exactly half of what he gave Sumitra and exactly one-fourth of what he gave Kausalya, something about which the Valmiki Ramayana is absolutely specific, though even at that time Kaikeyi was supposed to be Dasharatha’s favourite queen. And though the kingdom belongs to Bharata as her kanyashulka, when Manthara comes and informs her about the decision to crown Rama, she is delighted beyond words. She does not seem to hold it against Rama that he does not come and inform her about it – though Rama was always the first in her love, Bharata only the second, though she always treated Rama as her eldest son and Bharata only as the second one. She is so delighted at the news of Rama’s coronation, she practically dances at the news. She gives a costly ornament to Manthara for bringing the news, which she describes as ‘nothing can be happier than this’, and tells Manthara to ask for anything else she desires and it shall be given, for she is not contented with what she has given. In the Ramayana, until Manthara persuades her after an arduous, tireless battle with her, Kaikeyi never has any desire for the kingdom for Bharata.
But here at the first opportunity she gets, she asks for the crown for Bharata and exile for Rama. Interestingly, Dasharatha does not give her two boons – but she asks for two, or at least a boon with two parts to it.
The Bhojpuri song denies Kaikeyi all the nobility that is hers in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Even the service she does to Dasharatha in return for which she claims the kingdom for Bharata and exile for Rama has nothing special about it – holding the hurt finger of Dasharatha, and it is hurt from a bamboo splinter, perhaps just a tiny sliver, and not from an arrow or anything else more respectable. In every one of the other stories, what Kaikeyi does is something remarkable, frequently spectacular, and speaks of at least one outstanding quality in her.
Subsequent versions of the Ramakatha would deny Kaikeyi all the nobility that is hers in the adikavi’s epic, just as the future would deny Ravana all his nobility that Hanuman could not stop praising when he first encountered him face to face.
Hanuman had then said: “Aho roopam! Aho dhairyam! Aho Sattvam! Aho dyutih!” [“What handsomeness! What courage and patience! What majesty of personality! What brilliance!” – Sundara 36.11].
Later Ramakathas would vilify Kaikeyi, even demonise her. It is this ignoble, vilified Kaikeyi that we find in the Bhojpuri song. There is nothing noble about her – she comes when the king calls, and seeing a moment of tenderness in him, which to her is a moment of weakness in him, she decides to take advantage of it, exploit it. The price she demands from Dasharatha for her care of him, for his dependence on her, is the crown for Bharata and exile to Rama. This is true wickedness. This Kaikeyi is truly wicked.
The Semitic tradition, from which Judaism, Christianity and Islam, three major world religions, were born, tells us the story of Lilith. According to this tradition, Lilith was the first woman created – and she was created along with Adam, and not after him, not from him. They were two independent creations, and therefore equals. One was not less than the other, unlike in the popular version of the story of Adam and Eve. However, Adam insisted that she deferred to him in everything as he was the male. For instance, says the tradition, when they made love, Adam wanted Lilith underneath him. However, the first woman refused to comply with this demand of the first man, which led to a quarrel between the two, and eventually Lilith walked away from Adam. Adam appealed to God and God sent his messengers to Lilith asking her to go back, but she refused, telling she was Adam’s equal and not his inferior. It was then, says the tradition, that God created Eve.
Subsequent generations would vilify and demonise Lilith for her claim of equality with the male, for her refusal to accept him as her master, and for being independent and assertive. Thus in later traditions we find her portrayed as an evil seductress, a dark female spirit, a female demon who causes miscarriages in pregnant women, a fiend who drinks human blood and eats human flesh, and eventually as the very empress of the domains of evil and the wife of Satan.
Didn’t we in India convert the word dakini, which originally meant a tantrik yogini, a woman of power, to dain, an evil witch, to the extent that the word is now hardly known in its original sense?
What the Bhojpuri song does is no better or worse than this. Kaikeyi, as in most subsequent Ramakatha traditions, becomes evil, either on her own or because she was tempted. The king promises her a boon – the promise is now and not in the past, and, as though she had been waiting exactly for such an opportunity, she pounces upon it and demands two things: the kingdom for her son and exile for Rama.
As a folk song, Bansva katavan chal le raja dasarath is beautiful. It has admirable brevity, immense power, and a directness that is impressive. In its few words it not only paints poignantly before us one of the most agony-filled scenes from our culture but also portrays a woman archetype of mythology all over the world – a woman on whom the man has learned to be dependant, whom he trusts implicitly, but who betrays him for her own selfish ends. The tempter-betrayer, the black widow who first tempts its male and then, post-mating, devours it.
The words in which Dasharatha talks about his predicament is truly heartrending: you are putting your hand inside my chest and pulling out my heart.
One wonders what the meaning of singing such a song during the festivities of a wedding is.
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Durga Sarada Ch
10/09/2014 14:01 PM
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