Click here to load whole tree
NITAAI-Veda.nyf > Other Scriptures by Acharyas > Valmiki Ramayana > Ayodhya kanda


Bharata and Shatrughna remained with Their maternal uncle, Yudhajit, for some time, being very warmly entertained by him. At Ayodhya, Rama became the pet son of Maharaja Dasharatha, and the beloved of all classes of citizens.

Rama was Lord Vishnu Himself, incarnated in human society for the purpose of killing the wicked Ravana. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama exhibited Himself as the reservoir of all good qualities. Rama’s beautiful bodily features provided everyone that viewed Him with the full satisfaction of their eyes.

Rama played the part of a most courageous and heroic kshatriya, and yet, at the same time He was self-controlled, self-satisfied, without malice, and gentle in word and deed. Rama did not take offense when criticized by others, and He was pleased by even the smallest show of kindness. He was forgiving and always humble about His own position. Rama kept the association of only those persons who were pious and of superior wisdom, and He was always the first to welcome guests. Rama firmly adhered to truth, He honored the brahmanas, He loved the citizens, and they loved Him in return.

Rama always acted according to religious principles, and He was very learned in all shastra. He epitomized youthful vigor and at the same time He was a mature judge of character. Rama was always diligent in the matter of punishing wrongdoers and rewarding those who were meritorious. As a horseman and wielder of the bow, Rama excelled all others, and He was also the greatest chariot warrior. In truth, Rama was the Lord of the three worlds, and the controller of eternal time, and thus He was unconquerable even by the greatest of demigods and asuras.

Maharaja Dasharatha had ruled his kingdom for a very long time, but at last he grew old and fatigued. Increasingly, he desired to retire from administrative duties and prepare himself for attaining an exalted destination after quitting his present body. The King also began to see various omens forboding evil, making him fearfully desire to install Rama as his successor as quickly as possible. For this purpose, Maharaja Dasharatha called a meeting of his ministers, prominent citizens, and subordinate kings. But, because he felt pressed for time, he did not invite King Janaka or Kekaya, feeling confident of their approval anyway.

Thereafter, when all had assembled, Maharaja Dasharatha made the following announcement: “I have grown old, and so I desire to hand over the rule of the kingdom to my eldest son, Rama, who has reached the age of twenty-seven. This is the sacred month of Chaitra, and tomorrow, the auspicious constellation Pushya will be in the ascendant. Therefore, with your permission, I would like the ceremonies for installing Rama as my successor to the royal throne to begin tomorrow.”

Everyone applauded this suggestion and glorified Rama’s incomparable virtues. Maharaja Dasharatha was very pleased and relieved, and after the assembly had departed, he requested Vasishtha Muni to immediately begin preparations. Vasishtha in turn gave instructions to the chief minister, Sumantra, and others, that the city should be very gorgeously decorated and all other preparations should be made, so that the ceremonies could begin promptly the next morning. Maharaja Dasharatha then had Sumantra call for Rama, and as soon as He received the message, the son of Kaushalya hurriedly came. Entering the royal assembly, Rama approached His father with folded hands and then fell flat at his feet to offer His respects.

Maharaja Dasharatha picked up his son, and after warmly embracing Him, he said, “My dear Rama, I have grown old and weary, and so I feel that it is time for me to retire. I have sufficiently enjoyed all kinds of royal opulence, I have performed innumerable sacrifices, and I have distributed a huge amount of charity to the brahmanas.”

“Rama, you are my eldest and favorite son, and all the ministers and citizens love You dearly. Therefore, I have arranged that tomorrow You will be installed to succeed me as the King of Koshala.”

Some of Rama’s friends heard this and they quickly ran to Mother Kaushalya so that they could be the first to give her the news. When Kaushalya heard that her son was going to be installed as the next king, she was overjoyed, and according to custom she gave the bearers of the good news gold, jewels, and cows. The news spread fast, so that as Rama returned to His palace, crowds of cheering citizens greeted Him along the way.

Meanwhile, Maharaja Dasharatha went to his bedroom and lay down to rest. But, as he was drifting off to sleep, the King saw a recurring and ominous dream. Waking up with a start, he had Sumantra summon Rama, for he was afraid that there might be some obstruction to his son’s installation the next day. When Rama learned that His father was calling Him once again, He felt some apprehension and so departed in great haste. Upon entering His father’s room, Rama fell flat onto the floor to offer His respects.

Maharaja Dasharatha picked Rama up, and while fondly embracing Him, he spoke as follows: “My dear Rama, all the desired objectives of my long life have been fulfilled, except for Your installation upon the royal throne. Unfortunately, this is a very bad astrological period for me, because of the influence of the sun, Mars and Rahu. I have been seeing some inauspicious dreams, and so I am convinced that a great calamity awaits me. For this reason, I want to expedite matters and begin the installation ceremony immediately, even without the presence of Your brothers, Bharata and Shatrughna. You and Sita should fast tonight for purification, and then, early tomorrow morning, get yourselves ready.”

Maharaja Dasharatha was constantly haunted by the remembrance of how he had promised King Kekaya, at the time of his marriage, that it would be Kaikeyi’s son who would inherit the royal throne upon his retirement. Dasharatha knew that Bharata was Rama’s faithful follower. But, he thought, “After all, the minds of men are fickle and inconsistent, especially when it comes to the allurements of power and prestige.” It is for this reason that Maharaja Dasharatha was so eager to install Rama upon the throne before Bharata’s return.

After taking His leave, Rama returned to His palace to inform Sita of His father’s wishes. Not finding her there, Rama next went to His mother’s residence. Upon entering Kaushalya’s room, Rama saw her sitting in front of her household Deity of Lord Narayana, with half-closed eyes and suspended breath, silently praying for His welfare. She was being waited upon by Sumitra, Sita and Lakshman.

As Kaushalya got up to greet Him, Rama said, “Mother, my father wants to install Me as the next King of Koshala. He is very anxious for the ceremonies to begin early tomorrow morning, and he has asked Sita and I to fast for the night.”

With tears of joy in her eyes, Kaushalya replied, “It is my great fortune that all the austerities I had performed for the satisfaction of Lord Vishnu have not gone in vain! My dear child, may You have a long and happy life!”

Rama smilingly turned to Lakshman and said, “My dear brother, You must help Me to rule the kingdom, for You are just like My second self. In fact, I could not even think of finding happiness in royal luxury, or even life itself, without You.”

Rama then returned to His palace, along with Sita, and He was in a jubilant mood. Meanwhile, Maharaja Dasharatha became so anxious that everything would go as planned, he sent Vasishtha Muni to see if Rama was all right. When Rama was informed of Vasishtha’s arrival, He quickly ran out of His palace and took the rishi by the hand to help him down from his chariot. As the family priest, Vasishtha gave Rama some sage advice and soon departed.

As he was on the way back to the King’s palace, Vasishtha marveled at how all the citizens were crowding the decorated streets, awaiting the next day’s festivities. The roads were covered with flowers after having been cleansed with perfumed water. Brilliant and colorful lamps were seen burning in each and every house and shop, turning night into day. The noisy crowds swelled like waves of the sea, and the numerous elephants, horses and camels appeared like large aquatics within that ocean.

Sita and Rama sat together to worship Lord Narayana, and after doing so They lay down on kusha-grass mats to rest for the night. Rama awoke three hours before sunrise and worshiped Lord Vishnu and chanted the Gayatri mantra, as the entire city began to buzz with excitement in anticipation of the installation ceremony.

At the time of Kaikeyi’s marriage to Maharaja Dasharatha, her father, Ashvapati, the King of Kekaya, had given her a hunch-backed maidservant named Manthara. Manthara was actually an Apsara who had been deputed by the demigods to assist in the killing of Ravana. The evening before Rama’s planned installation, Manthara had gone onto the roof of the palace. From there she could see the splendidly decorated city, crowded with people in a festive mood.

Being surprised to see all this, Manthara inquired from Rama’s former nurse, who was standing nearby, “What is the occasion that warrants such a grand celebration? Why do I see Kaushalya in such a joyful mood, giving charity lavishly to the brahmanas?”

The nurse cheerfully replied, “Have you not heard? Tomorrow, the constellation Pushya will be in the ascendant. Taking advantage of this auspicious time, Maharaja Dasharatha is going to install Rama as his successor to the royal throne.”

This unexpected news deeply pierced Manthara’s envious heart. Suspecting foul play on the part of the King, she excitedly approached Kaikeyi. When she entered her mistress’s room, Manthara was very surprised to see her peacefully lounging on her couch.

In a very agitated voice, Manthara said, “Get up, you fool! Don’t you see the flood of disaster that is about to engulf you? Are you so deluded by your husband’s sweet words, that you do not understand what is happening right in front of your eyes?”

Kaikeyi was shocked to hear these harsh words. She asked, “What is the matter? What are you talking about?”

These innocent inquiries further inflamed Manthara’s anger. Although a maidservant, she was a master of the art of speech. Cleverly speaking in such as way as to cause dejection to enter Kaikeyi’s heart, as well as estrangement from Rama, Manthara replied, “Do you not know that your husband is going to install Rama as his successor to the throne? Cannot you see his deceit? Dasharatha speaks to you very sweetly, but at the same time he sent away Bharata so that he could be free to crown his pet son, Rama. If Rama becomes the emperor, you will find yourself drowning in an ocean of suffering, and your beloved son will also meet with ruin.”

“Kaikeyi, not only your son, but I as well, completely depend upon you. Your fortune is my fortune and your misfortune is mine as well. Please do something before it is too late! I beg you to act quickly to save yourself and your son.”

Kaikeyi was astonished that her maidservant was speaking in this way. She replied, “Manthara, I am overjoyed to hear about Rama’s installation! I do not make any distinction between my son, Bharata, and Kaushalya’s son, Rama. For being the first to deliver such wonderful news, I will give you this magnificent jewel, and you can ask for whatever else you may desire.”

While saying this, Kaikeyi placed a priceless jewel into Manthara’s hands. However, the maidservant disdainfully threw it aside and said with great indignation, “I am shocked that you can express such joy on the eve of a great disaster! The King’s passing over Bharata to choose Rama is a terrible insult to you. You have always thought that you are Dasharatha’s darling, but now the truth comes out that it is Kaushalya whom he adores. Don’t you feel humiliated? You say that you are happy, but after Rama becomes king, it will be Kaushalya who prospers. You will be forced to act just like her maidservant, and Bharata will have to become Rama’s slave.”

Kaikeyi resented the bleak picture that her hunchback maidservant was painting, and so she replied, “Manthara, how can you talk like this? Rama is the most generous of all persons and His character is adorned with every virtue. He is the eldest prince and so He deserves to become the king after my husband’s retirement. Besides, I am confident that after ruling for one hundred years, Rama will gladly hand over the kingdom to Bharata. I have no doubts about Rama’s motives because He serves me more carefully than He does His own mother! I consider Rama to be more glorious than my own son. And, what is the difference, whether Rama sits on the throne or Bharata? Rama treats all His brothers as His very self!”

Manthara’s anguish became even more aggravated by hearing Kaushalya talk like this. She shouted, “Stupid! Rama will never hand over the kingdom to Bharata! He will give it His own future son! In fact, after becoming the king, Rama will no doubt exile Bharata or even kill him. With Bharata out of the picture, Rama will be able to rule without a rival.”

“Kaikeyi, I am trying to bring you to your senses, but you take your co-wife’s victory to be a cause of happiness! Can’t you understand the simple fact that Kaushalya is your rival, and because of this, Bharata’s future is at stake? Rama’s mother hates you because you are young and beautiful, making the King more attached to you than to her. My advice is that you act quickly to somehow have Rama exiled to the forest so that Bharata can be installed upon the throne.”

It so happened that Kaikeyi’s heart gradually became poisoned by Manthara’s hateful words. She had always cherished the idea of her son becoming the King, and deep down she resented her co-wife’s seniority.

Her enviousness of Kaushalya aroused, and her face flushed with anger, Kaikeyi at last declared, “Manthara, you are right! I must somehow have Rama banished to the forest so that my own son can sit upon the throne. How can I do this?”

Manthara replied, “The means has already been given. If you have forgotten, I shall now remind you, provided that you promise to act on it.”

Kaikeyi solemnly promised to do whatever Kaikeyi would recommend, and so the hunchback maidservant spoke as follows: “O Queen, do you not remember this story that you had once related to me? Long ago, Maharaja Dasharatha had fought on behalf of Indra, against the asuras. When the demigods suffered defeat, your husband led an attack on the asuras’ capital city, Vaijayanta. Although he fought valiantly, Dasharatha was critically wounded and fell unconscious on the battlefield. You had accompanied the King on that occasion, and it was you who removed him from the battlefield and nursed him back to health. Out of a deep sense of gratitude, Maharaja Dasharatha offered you two benedictions, but you told him that you would ask for the favors later on.”

“Kaikeyi, now is the time to utilize these two boons. With one benediction, ask that your son become the king. With the other, demand that Rama be banished to the forest for fourteen years. Rama’s absence will give Bharata a good opportunity to establish His popularity among the citizens. Then his position as the rightful ruler of Ayodhya will remain secure.”

After revealing the means whereby Bharata could be installed on the throne and Rama banished to the forest, Manthara gave Kaikeyi some practical advice about the tactics that would help her to get what she wanted.

Manthara said, “Go now to the sulking-chamber. Throw off your ornaments and royal dress and put on old, dirty clothes. Then, lie down on the bare floor and when your husband comes to see you, make sure that you are crying like someone who is bitterly aggrieved. When the King speaks to you, remain silent at first, and do not worry. Maharaja Dasharatha is so attached to you that he cannot bear to see you unhappy. You must be confident that he will do anything to pacify you.”

“Kaikeyi, the most important thing is this- You must never forget that the only thing you want is for your son to become the king. Don’t give up your anger in exchange for gold or jewelry, or anything else. Simply remind the King of his promise to give you two benedictions. Then, when he promises to give you whatever you want, demand that Bharata be immediately installed upon the throne, and Rama banished to the forest.”

Because her heart had come under the sway of malice and greed, Kaikeyi was delighted with Manthara’s plan. She assured her maidservant that she would follow her advice to the letter. Having become obsessed with the idea of making Bharata the emperor of the world, Kaikeyi considered Manthara to be the cause of all good fortune.

Like a mad-woman, she glorified the maidservant as follows: “My dear Manthara, although hunchbacks are generally sinful, you, on the other hand, are wise and honorable. To me, your so-called bodily deformity appears very beautiful. You stoop over like a lotus-flower, bending in the breeze, and thus your appearance is very charming. Your breasts are large and lovely, concealing your delicate navel as they bend low. Your hips are graceful and your thighs are smooth and shapely. Dressed in bright silk, you appear to sparkle, while the anklets that encircle your soft feet tinkle melodiously. The entire science of diplomacy must be residing within your hump, which is as large as the hub of a chariot-wheel.”

“My dear Manthara, when Bharata is installed as the emperor of the world, I will garland that hump with a chain of pure gold. When Rama is exiled to the forest, I will smear your hump with sandalwood paste. Manthara, I will reward you with exquisite dresses and jewelry, and I will make all the other hunchback women your maidservants so that they will massage your feet.”

Although flattered, Manthara interrupted Kaikeyi, saying, “Remember, all this talk is useless unless we act quickly to stop the King from installing Rama.”

Manthara led Kaikeyi to the sulking chamber. As they walked, she repeatedly fanned the Queen’s anger by saying, “Never forget what will be in store for Bharata if you do not succeed. You must be determined to either achieve your glorious end, or else fast to death.”

Meanwhile, having completed all necessary preparations for Rama’s installation, Maharaja Dasharatha returned to his palace. Filled with longing for his youngest queen, the King entered her bedroom and was surprised to find her absent. Thinking that Kaikeyi must be nearby, he repeatedly called out her name, and when there was no response he became apprehensive.

At last, by inquiring from a servant, the King learned that Kaikeyi had entered the sulking chamber. With an agitated heart, Maharaja Dasharatha hastened through the palace corridors. When he entered the room, he was shocked to see Kaikeyi lying down on the bare floor like an Apsara fallen from heaven, her jewelry and garlands scattered here and there.

The young and beautiful Kaikeyi was dearer to Maharaja Dasharatha than his very life. When he saw her writhing on the floor, sobbing, the King felt highly alarmed and pained at heart.

Falling to his knees, Maharaja Dasharatha spoke as follows, while affectionately stroking Kaikeyi’s face: “What is the matter, my dear one? Tell me the cause of your grief and rest assured that I will do anything to rectify it. Is it that I have been too busy, and have failed to pay proper attention to you? Did you have an argument with one of your co-wives? Has someone insulted you?”

“My dearest one, I am fully under your control. I would never dare to do anything that is displeasing to you. Speak freely and tell me what is on your mind. O most precious one, you know that I love you more than life itself. Let me dispel your sorrow, as the rising sun evaporates the morning mist.”

Cupid’s arrows had pierced Maharaja Dasharatha’s heart, and thus he was a slave to the urges of passion. After hearing her husband’s words, Kaikeyi felt confident that her goal would be achieved. There was a brief silence, and then she replied, “No one has insulted me or shown me any disrespect. My lord, I will tell you what is on my mind. But, first you must give me the complete assurance that you will accomplish whatever it is I desire.”

Maharaja Dasharatha placed Kaikeyi’s head upon his lap. While tenderly smoothing her disheveled hair, he replied, “My darling, you know that I love no one more than you, except Rama. I swear that I will do whatever it is you may order. Feel free to tell me your desire and rest assured that I would fulfill it without fail. My dear one, you know that I will always give you everything that you want. Please tell me what is troubling you.”

After hearing this triple assurance, Kaikeyi felt blissfully sure that her husband was completely under her thumb. Urged on by an inflamed desire, born of partiality toward her son, the young Queen made the following terrible proclamation, which was as grim as death itself: “May the twelve Adityas, the eleven Rudras, the eight Vasus and twin Ashvins bear witness! May the sun and the moon, day and night, and the four directions also bear witness, as well as the Gandharvas, Rakshasas, Pitris, Bhutas, Pretas and all other living creatures. My illustrious lord, the follower of dharma and adherent to truth, has promised to fulfill my desire.”

“My dear husband, remember how you were critically wounded and left for dead while fighting with the asuras? I nursed you back to life and so you gratefully promised to reward me with two benedictions. O noble King, you must grant me these two boons today without fail- otherwise, I will give up my life out of grief. Let Bharata be installed as the ruler of Koshala, utilizing the very preparations that you have made for Rama. This is the first benediction I desire, and the second is this: May Rama depart for the Dandaka forest this very day and live in exile there for fourteen years, wearing only tree-bark and deerskin.”

When Maharaja Dasharatha heard Kaikeyi’s ultimatums, he became practically stunned with bewilderment. He wondered, “What is happening to me? Am I dreaming of vivid mental pictures from a past life? Maybe I have gone completely mad!”

Becoming overwhelmed, the King suddenly fainted to the floor. After a brief moment he regained consciousness, but finding the situation too painful he swooned once again. It was only after a long time that he again came to his senses, and as he summoned his courage, a burning anger swelled within his heart.

With great agitation, Maharaja Dasharatha rebuked Kaikeyi, saying, “You vicious woman! What have I done to deserve this? What offense did Rama commit against you? Rama loves you as much as He loves His own mother. Why are you bent upon harming Him? Everyone loves Rama as much as life itself, and I could never bear to live without Him. I could abandon my other two wives if need be, but I could never forsake Rama!”

After venting his rage, Dasharatha’s mood suddenly changed. Touching his head to Kaikeyi’s feet, the King pleaded, “My dear beautiful Queen, please give up your terrible determination. Rama is the embodiment of all virtues- He is kind, forgiving, truthful, gentle, fixed in His duty, and everyone’s well wisher. Rama has always served you just as lovingly as your own son, Bharata, if not more. If you insist, I will install Bharata upon the throne, but I could never think of banishing Rama to the forest. How can you even consider harming Rama? He is faultless and has never so much as uttered an unkind word to you.”

“My dearly beloved, have pity upon me. Ask for any other benediction. I am ready to give you the entire earth, but not this. If I were to banish Rama, it would certainly be the death of me. Please spare me from this most cruel and irreligious act.”

As he spoke, Maharaja Dasharatha was writhing in agony and wailing piteously. Nonetheless, Kaikeyi was unmoved. Remaining fixed in her determination, she replied, “How can you dare lecture me about dharma, when you are trying to avoid giving the benedictions that you had solemnly promised? Think about King Shibi, who gave his own flesh to a hawk in order to fulfill his promise of protection to a pigeon. If you fail to keep your word, you will stain the spotless reputation of the glorious kings who appeared in your dynasty. My dear husband, whatever the circumstances may be, you gave me your promise, and now you must keep it!”

As she spoke, Kaikeyi became more and more determined to get her way. Being overwhelmed by anger and greed, she had given up all sense of shame and decency. After a brief pause, Kaikeyi continued, “O King, I know your real motive! After installing Rama upon the throne, you will gradually push Bharata and myself out of the picture so that you can enjoy life with Kaushalya without impediment. But, know this for certain- if you do not keep your promise, I will drink poison and die this very day!”

Kaikeyi remained silent while Dasharatha continued to moan in agony, staring at his Queen with unblinking eyes. Finally, the King lost his equilibrium and fell unconscious to the floor while uttering, “Rama, Rama”.

Then, after some time, Maharaja Dasharatha regained a little composure and said, “You misguided woman! From whom did you learn this shameless wickedness? Don’t you realize that even if Bharata is installed upon the throne, He will never accept the kingdom without Rama. What are the people going to think about me if you force me to perform this ignoble act? Everyone will ridicule me, saying, ‘There goes the King who lusted after his wife so much that he exiled his beloved son to the forest.’ Kaikeyi, do you really believe that you will find any happiness under such circumstances?”

Pausing, Maharaja Dasharatha began to contemplate how Rama, who had always lived in royal comfort, would be able to endure a harsh forest life. Becoming more and more pained and angry at the thought, the King suddenly mocked, “O righteous Queen, I wish you all success in ruling the kingdom after ridding yourself of all your relatives. Do not expect me to play any part in your sinister plan! I will never grant your wishes- never!”

In the ensuing silence, a feeling of hopelessness began to swell within Maharaja Dasharatha’s heart. He then reached out to submissively touch Kaikeyi’s feet. Wailing in agony, the King pleaded, “O Queen, please give up your wicked intentions”, and then he fainted once again. Kaikeyi responded by chastising her husband with sharp words, again and again, and in this way, the King remained unconscious for about an hour.

After coming to his senses, Maharaja Dasharatha once again rebuked Kaikeyi, saying, “How condemned women are, for they are perverse, cruel and selfish by nature! Maybe not all women, but at least you, mother of Bharata. Your demands are evil and malicious, and so I will never grant them! You can scream and shout, you can take poison or threaten to do whatever you like, but I will never banish Rama to the forest!”

The sun went down, and Maharaja Dasharatha spent the entire night wailing with grief. Sometimes, though, the King would join his hands in supplication and beg, “O lovely-limbed lady, please be kind to me. I am growing old and do not expect to live much longer. Have pity upon me and be merciful to Rama, to our preceptors, to the citizens, and Bharata as well. O lovely-eyed one, please be kind to me.”

Maharaja Dasharatha’s eyes were red from weeping, and his voice was very pitiful to hear. Still, Kaikeyi simply turned her head away and remained silent. Sometimes the King would chastise his Queen in a threatening voice, and sometimes he tried to coax her with argument and reason. All the while, he prayed that the night would never end, so that he would not have to face the ordeal of banishing Rama to the forest the next day.

At last, when he realized that Kaikeyi was unwavering in her determination, Maharaja Dasharatha once again fainted out of hopelessness. He awoke the next morning when the bards came to his door, singing his praises. Feeling disgust, the King ordered the singers and musicians to go away.

When she saw her husband awaken, Kaikeyi resumed her relentless talk: “What is the matter, my lord? Is it wrong for you to grant me the two benedictions that you had previously promised? Those who know dharma (religious principles) have declared that truth is the highest virtue. In fact, truth is the very root of dharma, and truth is its ultimate goal. O King, abide by truth, if you actually seek the fruit of righteousness. Grant me my wishes!”

Maharaja Dasharatha angrily replied, “Wicked woman, I hereby disown you! You are no longer my wife!”

Kaikeyi retorted, “My lord, why are you so agitated? Summon Rama quietly and then do your duty by telling him that you are installing Bharata as the inheritor of the throne.”

Again and again Kaikeyi pressed her demands upon Maharaja Dasharatha, as if she were repeatedly whipping a horse. At last, the King called for Rama, just at the time when Vasishtha Muni and his disciples were entering Ayodhya, after having collected the necessary paraphernalia for the installation ceremony. When Vasishtha Muni arrived at Maharaja Dasharatha’s palace, he met Sumantra and told him, “Please inform the King of my arrival. Also, tell him that everyone is eagerly waiting for Rama’s coronation to begin, and that the necessary preparations are completed.”

Sumantra went to Maharaja Dasharatha’s room, and while standing at the door he first of all properly glorified the King. Then he related Vasishtha’s message and implored the King to come out and greet his family priest. However, Sumantra’s words only inflamed Maharaja Dasharatha’s grief, and so the King sharply replied, “Go away! Your words of praise are not welcome!”

Finding the King to be in such an irritable mood, Sumantra retreated a few steps. Then, the diplomatic Kaikeyi said, “The King was so excited about Rama’s installation ceremony that he hardly slept at all last night. Being thoroughly exhausted, he had just managed to get a little rest and so he became annoyed when you disturbed him. Bring Rama here, and then Maharaja Dasharatha will get up and the ceremonies can begin.”

Sumantra replied, “Unless I hear the King’s voice, I cannot execute any order.”

Maharaja Dasharatha called out, “I am not asleep. I have already summoned Rama. Why has my order not been executed? Bring Rama here at once!”

Sumantra quickly departed, thinking the King to be very eager to perform the coronation ceremony. But, the brahmanas were becoming restless because the sacrificial arena was ready and time was passing, making Maharaja Dasharatha conspicuous by his absence. When Sumantra reached the palace gates, the guards escorted him into the presence of Sita and Rama. Sumantra informed Rama that his father had summoned Him. At this time, Rama remarked to Sita, “My father and Kaikeyi must be calling Me, being impatient to begin the installation ceremony.”

When Rama departed, He saw Lakshman standing at the gate with folded hands. Rama took His brother with Him, mounted upon the waiting chariot, and proceeded through the crowded streets of Ayodhya. The natural characteristic of Lord Rama is that whoever happens to see Him cannot bear to turn his eyes away from that vision. After coming to the inner gates of his father’s palace, Rama got down from the chariot and dismissed the citizens who had followed Him. Rama then entered His father’s room alone. There, He saw Maharaja Dasharatha seated upon the couch along with Kaikeyi, his face displaying prominent signs of dejection and anxiety.

As Rama bowed down to Maharaja Dasharatha and then Kaikeyi, the King could only utter “Rama, Rama”, as his eyes filled up with tears. Actually, Maharaja Dasharatha could not bear to look directly at his son.

Rama became very apprehensive upon seeing him like this, and He wondered, “What has made my father so dispirited, just like a saintly person who has performed some abominable activity? Formerly, even when irritable, My father would become very pleased as soon as I came before him. Why is he not happy to see Me today?”

Rama asked Kaikeyi, “What is the cause of My father’s distress? Have I unwittingly done something to offend him?”

Kaikeyi had become thoroughly callous because of her sinful behavior, and so she impudently replied, “The King in not angry, nor is he offended or aggrieved. He simply has something to tell You, but is afraid to do so, thinking that it will hurt You. Formerly, your father had offered me two benedictions after I had saved him from a great danger on the battlefield. But, due to unmanly weakness he now hesitates to fulfill his promise.”

“Rama, You should protect Your father’s virtue by convincing him not to fall prey to falsity. If you promise me that You are prepared to carry out the King’s order, then I will tell You the two benedictions I desire.”

Feeling deeply hurt, Rama replied, “My dear mother, I am very surprised that there is any doubt in your mind that I would unflinchingly carry out My father’s wishes, even if it meant entering into fire. Please speak freely about what My father wants, and rest assured that I would act accordingly. This is my solemn promise.”

Being thus assured by Rama, the cruel Kaikeyi spoke as follows: “Long ago, when Your father was severely wounded while fighting with the demon Shambara, I carefully nursed him back to life. Out of a sense of deep gratitude, the King begged me to accept two benedictions. At that time, I told my husband that I would utilize these two boons later on, when I need them. Now, I wish to accept these two benedictions, and here is what I desire.”

“First of all, I asked Your father to install Bharata as the next King of Koshala. Secondly, I have asked the King to banish You to the forest for fourteen years, where You will live as an ascetic, having matted hair and a garment of tree-bark and deerskin. Rama, it is Your duty to insure that Your father does not go back on his word and thus tread the path of unrighteousness.”

Although Kaikeyi had spoken so maliciously, Rama was not the least agitated or aggrieved. Without displaying even the slightest displeasure, He cheerfully replied, “My dear mother, I shall immediately go to live in the forest as you desire. Let messengers be sent at once to summon Bharata. I have no regrets. My only wish is that My father may always look upon Me favorably. Please do not harbor any ill feeling toward Me.”

Hearing this, Kaikeyi exclaimed with delight, “It is settled! Send messengers to my brother’s house so that my son may come as quickly as possible. As for You, Rama, I urge You to leave without delay. Do not worry about Your father. For the moment, he is bewildered, but after Your departure he will regain his normal composure.”

Rama said, “My dear mother, it grieves Me that My father himself has not ordered Me to go into exile. Of course, I am quite ready to leave for the forest at once in obedience to your command alone.”

Kaikeyi replied, “Your father is too mortified to speak, because You are his pet son. In fact, until You depart, I do not think that he will even be able to bathe or eat his breakfast.”

While listening to all this, Maharaja Dasharatha could only moan, “Oh, how painful”, and “what a shame.” When Kaikeyi finished speaking, the King lost consciousness and fell onto the floor.

As Rama picked His father up, He told Kaikeyi, “I do not want to live in this world as a slave to greed and passion. Like the rishis, I am devoted to righteousness. I would never give up the path of virtue merely for the sake of ruling a kingdom. My dear mother, there was no need for you to trouble My father. If you had asked Me directly, I would have unhesitatingly given you the kingdom and retired to the forest.”

After saying this, Rama bowed to Maharaja Dasharatha and Kaikeyi and then left to break the news to His mother. Lakshman had been listening outside the door, and it was with great effort that He controlled his rage as He followed His elder brother. As the two left the palace, sorrowful wailing could be heard from those who had learned about Rama’s impending exile. When Maharaja Dasharatha heard the crying, he hid himself under the bedsheets out of shame.

As Rama entered Kaushalya’s apartment, the palace ladies joyfully greeted Him and then hurried to inform His mother of His arrival. When Rama entered Kaushalya’s room, she was worshiping Lord Vishnu, but she quickly got up and embraced Him. Kaushalya then said, “Rama, I am so happy that You are going to succeed my husband as the King of Koshala, this very day.”

With gentleness and humility, Rama replied, “My dear mother, please do not become too upset at what I must tell you. As the result of two benedictions that My father had formerly promised Kaikeyi, Bharata will be installed upon the royal throne, and today I will leave Ayodhya to go live in the forest for fourteen years.”

As soon as she heard this, Kaushalya fainted and fell down to the floor. Rama gently lifted His mother to her feet. Then, as she came to her senses, Kaushalya bitterly lamented as follows: “What greater misery could happen to me than this? It would have been better for me to remain childless! Why did death not come instantly to take me, as soon as I heard of this calamity? Now, my younger co-wives will surely despise me, and by hearing their taunts my life will become doubly miserable!”

Lakshman had been controlling His rage, but after hearing this He could remain silent no longer. Lakshman vented His anger by saying, “Our father has become senile and perverse due to being overpowered by lust. He has become a plaything in the hands of wicked Kaikeyi! Why should We stand by passively and accept all this? A father, a king, or a spiritual master who has lost sight of what should be done and what should not be done must be rejected.”

“Rama, You should take control of the kingdom immediately, before everyone hears about the King’s decision to install Bharata. And, even if all the ministers and people already know of it, and are against You, I am prepared to depopulate Ayodhya if necessary!

Turning to Kaushalya, Lakshman said, “My dear mother, you should know that I am loyal to Rama alone. I am ready to kill the foolish Dasharatha if it is necessary to install Rama upon the throne!”

Kaushalya did not care for the kingdom, however. She only feared separation from her beloved son. Kaushalya said, “Rama, please do not go into exile. It would be more virtuous for You to remain here to please Your poor mother, than go to the forest at the command of Your father. If You go, I will fast to death, because life would be unbearable without You.”

Rama replied, “Mother, it is not possible for Me to disobey My father. Therefore, you must give Me permission so that I can leave at once. The order of one’s father can never be avoided. Just consider how Parashurama beheaded his own mother, Renuka, at the command of his father, Jamadagni.”

Turning to Lakshman, Rama said, “My dear brother, do not lose all good sense by becoming a victim of anger. Give up the idea of seizing the throne by force and accept the order of Our father.”

Rama then said, “Dear mother, do not torture yourself and speak about ending your life. After My term of exile is over, I will come back to you. Now, please give Me your blessings so that I can depart without remorse.”

Kaushalya was sobbing piteously, for she could not bear to grant her son permission to leave. This was very painful for Rama, and so He became sterner and told Lakshman, “Both of you are simply causing Me grief by opposing My desire to go to the forest in accordance with My father’s command. To obey My father is the only righteous path for Me, and I will never be deterred from following it.”

After a short pause, Rama spoke again, to try and pacify Lakshman: “My dear brother, don’t you see that the sooner Bharata is installed upon the throne and all of this is forgotten, the sooner You will be able to give up Your grief? Do not blame Kaikeyi, for she is simply an instrument in the hands of the Supreme Controller, who is the real shaper of our destinies.”

Lakshman was not to be easily pacified, however, and so He angrily replied, “Rama, it appears that You have become impotent! You have given up Your kshatriya spirit of reliance upon personal prowess, and have surrendered to Destiny! I am not such a eunuch! I will subdue Fate by My own power and then install You upon the throne this very day!”

Rama knew that this harsh criticism was actually a manifestation of Lakshman’s love for Him. While wiping the tears from His brother’s eyes, He spoke in an attempt to comfort Him. Meanwhile, Kaushalya finally understood that nothing would deter Rama, and so she pleaded, “My son, if You are so determined to follow Your father’s order, then let me accompany You to the forest.”

Rama replied, “My dear mother, after being deceived by Kaikeyi and abandoned by you, Maharaja Dasharatha would certainly give up his life. It is the foremost duty of a chaste and virtuous wife not to leave her husband under any circumstance. A woman should never even think of leaving her husband because he is her lord for as long as she lives. No matter how noble or religious a woman may be, if she fails to serve her husband, she commits sin. This is the verdict of all Shruti and Smriti- the revealed and remembered scriptures.”

“My dear mother, remain with My father and wait for Me, for I shall return after fourteen years without fail.”

Hearing this, Kaushalya gave up all hope of accompanying Rama, and so at last, she gave Him her blessings. Kaushalya said, “May You soon return, so that my happiness will once again be restored! May righteousness, which You so highly cherish, be Your protector! May the gods in heaven protect You, and may the weapons that You received from Vishvamitra defend You! May heaven and earth, the air, the land and the water, as well as all animate and inanimate beings protect You! May daytime and night, as well as the sun and the moon give You protection! May You be happy, Rama, for my blessings go with You!”

Kaushalya smelled Rama’s head with great affection and embraced Him. In turn, Rama touched His mother’s feet again and again. Then, without hesitation, Rama swiftly departed for His palace to see Sita. Sita knew nothing of all this intrigue, and she had been waiting for Rama in happy expectation for many hours. But when Rama finally entered her room Sita saw that He was pale, perspiring, greatly troubled and not accompanied by His usual entourage. Sita hurriedly got up and asked, “My dear Rama, what is the matter?”

Without hesitation, Rama replied, “My father has ordered Me to leave Ayodhya and go live in the forest. Instead of Me, Bharata will be installed upon the royal throne. Long ago, My father had promised to fulfill Kaikeyi’s two wishes after she had nursed him back to health as he lay wounded upon the battlefield. At that time, Kaikeyi told her husband that she would utilize the two benedictions at a later date. Now she is asking that her son becomes the next ruler and that I must be banished to the forest.”

“My dear Sita, I have no choice but to abide by My father’s order, but I want you to remain here. Go every day and offer your respects at My father’s feet, and follow Bharata’s commands implicitly. My dearest one, I have come here just to see you before going to the forest.”

Sita became very agitated while listening to Rama. With anger born of love, she replied, “O Rama, my husband, most excellent of men- what advice are You giving me? It is the duty of a wife to share her husband’s destiny, and so I will go with You to the forest. A father, mother, brother, son and daughter-in-law all have separate identities, but a wife has no choice but to follow her husband.”

“Rama, I cannot find any refuge in my father, mother, friends or relatives, or even myself. My husband is my only shelter, and so I am determined to follow You. I will walk behind You and I will eat only after You have eaten. I will never do anything to displease You, and I shall remain happy by gazing at the hills, lakes and rivers. I will never become tired, because I will feel secure in Your presence. I would not want to live in heaven without You. Rama, it is You alone that I love. Without You I would surely die.”

Because of Sita’s frailty, Rama was reluctant to take her with Him. Attempting to discourage her, He said, “Delicate lady, one has to endure great discomfort while living in the forest. There are no soft beds to lie upon, and one has to bear the onslaught of excessive heat, cold and torrential rain. In the forest, one can only hope to eat fruit and roots, and there is always danger on account of ferocious animals in search of prey. Considering all this, I could never allow you to accompany Me to the forest.”

Rama’s words of refusal made Sita tremble with fear. As pearl-like tears rolled down her cheeks, like drops of water falling from a lotus-leaf, Sita replied, “As long as I remain with You, all of these inconveniences and dangers would be of no consequence.”

“Rama, without her husband, a woman cannot live. If You do not allow me to go with You, I will give up my life by taking poison, entering a fire, or drowning myself. Before my marriage, an astrologer predicted that I would have to spend part of my life in the forest. Because of this, I know that it is my destiny to accompany You. To be with You is heaven, and to live without You is hell. Please- You must take me with You!”

But even after hearing this heartfelt appeal, Rama was unwilling to allow Sita to share His forced exile. Because of this, Sita felt as if she were falling into a great abyss of calamity. Overwhelmed with a terrible fear of being separated from her husband, she became almost mad.

Unable to tolerate Rama’s stubbornness any longer, Sita chastised Him for His callousness as follows: “My father made a big mistake by choosing You for his son-in-law! Are you going to desert Your chaste wife now, who was married to You before her puberty? Are You going to leave her unprotected and exposed to the stares of others? The citizens of Ayodhya are fools for declaring, ‘Rama is as splendorous as the sun, for His glories are without equal!’ Rama, I refuse to remain here alone while You go off into the forest! Either You will take me with You, or I will die by drinking poison!”

Crying bitterly, her heart tormented by fear, Sita was on the verge of fainting. Seeing his darling wife like this was more than Rama could bear, and so His heart finally softened. Taking Sita in His arms, Rama assured her that she could accompany Him.

Then, He said, “My darling, I only tried to dissuade you because I did not know the real situation of your mind. Sita, I could no more abandon you than a wise man could give up his sense of compassion. How could I ever rest peacefully, knowing that you were unhappy? Go now and give the brahmanas all your valuable clothes and jewels, and whatever else you possess.”

Sita joyfully departed, and then Lakshman, who had been standing nearby, came and caught hold of Rama’s lotus feet. With tears in his eyes, Lakshman pleaded. “O Rama, let me also go with You to the forest.”

Rama replied, “Lakshman, You must remain here to serve Our two mothers, for without Your protection they will surely be mistreated by Kaikeyi.”

Lakshman said, “Bharata will take care of Our mothers, so there is no need to worry about them. Rama, as You walk through the forest, I will stay in front with My bow in hand, so that You and Sita can enjoy the scenery without distraction. I will gather fruit and vegetables, and when You sleep, I will stand nearby to guard You.”

At last, Rama cheerfully said, “Alright, You can come with Me, but first go and say goodbye to Your mother. Then bring the two mighty bows that Varuna had given to Maharaja Janaka, as well as the impenetrable armor, two inexhaustible quivers, and a pair of the best swords. After offering respect to Vasishtha Muni, return here with the weapons and We shall depart.”

Thereafter, when Lakshman returned, Rama summoned the foremost of brahmanas so that He could give away all His possessions in charity. Before long, Suyagya, the son of Vasishtha; the sons of Agastya and Vishvamitra, and many other brahmanas arrived there.

There was a brahmana named Trijata who lived in a forest near Ayodhya and was very weak and frail because of being very poor. One day, Trijata’s wife asked him to go to Ayodhya and beg for some charity from Rama. It so happened that Trijata arrived just at the time when Rama was distributing His entire wealth.

When Trijata approached Him and described his impoverished condition, Rama jokingly replied, “Take your staff and throw it as far as you can. As many cows as that stick passes over, I will give you.”

Trijata tightened his belt and then threw his staff into the air with great enthusiasm. Much to everyone’s surprise, it soared all the way across the Sarayu and landed amongst a herd of thousands of cows that were grazing by the riverside. Rama gave Trijata all the cows that were situated from the bank of the river up to the point where his staff had landed. Then, He embraced the brahmana and said, “Please do not be offended by My jest. I simply wanted to see you exhibit your exceptional brahminical prowess.”

Thereafter, Rama gave away everything in His possession, so that no brahmana, relative, dependent or even beggar, failed to receive charity on that day. Sita, Rama and Lakshman then proceeded on foot through the streets of Ayodhya, to the palace of Maharaja Dasharatha. The people who lined the streets, as well as those who gazed from their balconies, were very pained to see this.

Addressing one another, the citizens exclaimed, “What a great misfortune! Even common men are now able to see Sita, who previously had never appeared in public. We will take our families and accompany Rama, so that Ayodhya will become desolate, like an uninhabited forest, and the forest will become populous like a great city.”

When Rama entered Kaikeyi’s quarters, He saw Sumantra and so asked him to announce His arrival to the King. Then, when Rama entered the room, followed by Sita and Lakshman, Maharaja Dasharatha quickly got up and ran to embrace Him. Becoming too saddened, though, the King fainted onto the floor before he could reach his beloved son. Rama hurriedly picked up His father, and all around could be heard cries of anguish. After being brought back to his couch, Maharaja Dasharatha regained consciousness.

Rama said, “My dear father, I have come to bid you farewell. Please give Me permission to leave for the forest, along with Sita and Lakshman. I tried to dissuade them from following Me, but they could not even consider living without Me.”

Maharaja Dasharatha then urged, “Rama, take my advice. Imprison me at once and sit on the royal throne by force. Who will stop You?”

Rama replied, “My dear father, I have no ambition to rule over the earth or attain any kind of royal opulence.”

The King then said, “Alright, my son. You have my permission to depart for the forest, but just stay here one more day so that I can have this last opportunity to see You.”

Rama replied, “No, My dear father. It is My duty to fulfill your promise, and so I will do as Kaikeyi orders by leaving for the forest at once.”

Maharaja Dasharatha had embraced Rama, but when he heard this, he once again lost consciousness. Sumantra had been weeping, and he also fell to the floor, while everyone, except Kaikeyi, cried out loud due to grief. Sumantra was the most intimate associate of the royal family, and so he, more than anyone, suffered.

Getting up, Sumantra approached Kaikeyi and began to chastise her, saying, “Wicked woman! By sending away Rama, you will become the murderer of your husband. Your insistence that Bharata be installed upon the throne violates the religious principle that a kingdom should be handed over to one’s eldest son. Rest assured that you will receive the bitter fruit of your evil deeds, for when Rama leaves Ayodhya, all the brahmanas will follow Him. As a result, the kingdom will become devoid of all auspiciousness.”

Sumantra then told Kaikeyi a story. “Once, long ago, your father, Kekaya, received a rishi’s benediction that enabled him to understand all languages, even those of animals. The rishi made one condition, though. If Kekaya ever disclosed the meaning of an animal’s speech, he would die.”

“Once, later on, the King heard the shrill cry of a bird and understanding its meaning, he began to laugh. Your mother, the Queen, suspected that her husband was laughing at her, and so she asked him to disclose what he found so amusing. The King told her about the rishi’s benediction, and warned her that he would die if he disclosed the bird’s meaning. The foolish Queen was stubborn and jealous, however, and so she replied, ‘You can live or die, I don’t care, but I insist that you tell me why you were laughing.’ ”

“The mortified king then went to the rishi who had given him the benediction and explained his dilemma. The rishi said, ‘Do not disclose the bird’s meaning to your Queen. Rather, rebuke her for her impudence.’ Taking the rishi’s advice, Maharaja Kekaya gathered his courage, and after chastising his wife severely, he lived happily thereafter.”

“In the same way, Kaikeyi, you are acting very impudently toward your husband. Admit your fault and give up your wicked plan, so that Maharaja Dasharatha can go ahead and install Rama upon the throne.”

Still, Kaikeyi was unmoved. Considering Rama’s exile to be inevitable, Maharaja Dasharatha ordered Sumantra, “Get ready one akshauhini of soldiers, and organize many merchants, hunters, servants, and the royal treasurer, so that they can accompany Rama into exile. Although He will reside in the forest, my beloved son does not have to be deprived of the objects of comfort and enjoyment.”

When she heard this, Kaikeyi became fearful. With a choked up voice, she exclaimed, “Bharata will not accept the kingdom if you strip it of all its resources before his installation!”

Maharaja Dasharatha sharply replied, “I have already agreed to install Bharata upon the throne and exile Rama to the forest. Why are you trying to punish me further? If you did not want Rama to take anything with Him into exile, why did you not mention this at the time of accepting benedictions?”

Kaikeyi snapped, “In our dynasty there is the example of how King Sagara exiled his eldest son, Asamanja. You should cast off Rama in the same way, without providing Him any comfort.”

An elderly minister named Siddhartha could not tolerate this, and so he said with indignation, “Asamanja took delight in drowning his playmates in the River Sarayu. When the citizens complained to King Sagara, he rejected his cruel son. What sin has Rama committed? How can you dare make this comparison between Rama and Asamanja?”

Although Maharaja Dasharatha was becoming very weak, he managed to raise himself up. He then vowed, “Kaikeyi, if you will not let Rama go to the forest in comfort, I will take all of the citizens with me and accompany Rama myself!”

Rama then said, “My dear father, please do not become so upset. I have no use for the royal comforts that you desire for Me. Let Kaikeyi’s maidservants bring Me tree-bark at once so that I can wear suitable clothes for My forest life.”

Upon hearing this, the shameless Kaikeyi personally went and brought clothing made from tree-bark and asked Rama to put it on. Without hesitation, Rama and Lakshman obediently took off Their royal garments and put on the clothes that Kaikeyi gave them. But, Sita felt very unhappy when she took from Kaikeyi her dress made of kusha-grass and tree-bark, and her eyes filled up with tears. Then, as she tried to put on the forest dress, it kept slipping from its proper position because she was not at all used to it. Rama took that tree-bark dress and began to drape it over Sita’s silk saree. This was unbearable for Vasishtha Muni.

With tears in his eyes he restrained Rama, while chastising Kaikeyi with strong words: “You wretched woman! Don’t you see that everyone is prepared to go with Rama? I am also quite sure Bharata and Shatrughna will follow Him, so that you will be left all alone to rule the kingdom. At least Sita should be allowed to go to the forest with a comfortable dress while being carried upon some kind of conveyance.”

Sita wanted to follow her husband’s example, and so she kept the forest clothes on. When they saw Sita dressed in tree-bark, the palace residents condemned Maharaja Dasharatha with strong words, and while hearing this talk the King lost all interest in maintaining his life. For about an hour he remained delirious, while mumbling words of self-reproach. When Maharaja Dasharatha at last regained some composure, he ordered Sumantra to bring a chariot to carry Rama to the forest.

At this time, Kaushalya embraced Sita and gave her the following womanly advice: “It is well-known that during times of misfortune some women desert even a righteous and loving husband. These women forget all past favors, for there is nothing that can bind them. Because of ingratitude, such women cannot be controlled by wisdom, by gifts, or even by marriage. But, on the other hand, there are women who are gentle, truthful and obedient by nature, and they honor their husbands above all.”

“O Sita, please do not despise my son because of His exile. Let Him always remain your worshipful Lord in all circumstances.”

Sita accepted this advice with folded hands and then replied, “I know very well my duty toward my husband, and so please do not speak to me about faithless women. My attachment to Rama is like the moonlight to the moon. Just as there in no veena without strings or chariot without wheels, so there is no future for a wife without a husband, even though she may have one thousand sons. Rama is my Lord, and He shall always be so. How could I despise Him?”

Kaushalya began to weep while thinking of the impending separation from her son, and so Rama assured her that the time would quickly pass. Rama then went and clasped His father’s feet, and circumambulated him, along with Sita and Lakshman. After this, Rama bowed one last time to His mother, while Lakshman did the same to His mother, Sumitra, who affectionately smelled her son’s head in return.

Just then, Sumantra came there, and at his behest Rama mounted the chariot, followed by Sita and Lakshman. Without delay, they departed for the forest.

As Rama passed through the streets of Ayodhya, all the citizens came out to see Him. While clinging to the chariot they begged Sumantra, “Please drive slowly so that we can have one long last look at Rama.”

Then, while glancing backward, Rama saw His father running through the crowd, desperately calling for Sumantra to stop the chariot. Being duty bound, however, Rama commanded the driver to go more quickly. These conflicting orders put Sumantra in a dilemma, so that he became confused as to what he should do.

Seeing this, Rama shouted, “Do not prolong the agony of seeing My aged father like this!” and so Sumantra finally urged the horses on with determination. One of the ministers then restrained Maharaja Dasharatha by saying, “O King, if a person wants someone to return, then he should not accompany him very far at the time of his departure.”

As long as the dust raised by Rama’s chariot could be seen, Maharaja Dasharatha kept his gaze fixed upon it. Finally, after losing all sight of the departing chariot, the King fainted onto the ground. When Kaushalya and Kaikeyi ran to pick him up, Maharaja Dasharatha forbade the younger Queen, saying, “Don’t touch me! I have disowned you, and so I no longer want to see you!”

After lifting up her husband, as Kaushalya escorted him back to the palace, she noticed that the shops were closed and a gloom pervaded the faces of all the citizens. When he entered his palace, Maharaja Dasharatha told the servants, “Please take me to Kaushalya’s rooms. From now on I will only remain there.”

The King passed the night with great difficulty, and around midnight, he said to Kaushalya, “Please touch me, for my sight has not returned after going with Rama.”

Kaushalya was heartbroken, seeing the piteous condition of her husband and worrying about Rama. Trying to pacify her, Sumitra said, “You should not worry about your son. Because Sita and Lakshman are with Him, Rama will not experience even the slightest difficulty. Dear Kaushalya, Rama is not an ordinary human being. He is the God of gods, the illuminator of the sun, and the controller of eternal time. While Rama resides in the forest, the earth herself and all natural phenomena will engage in His devotional service. Rest assured, that you will one day see the return of your beloved son. Lamenting will serve no purpose. Just see how the citizens have practically become inactive due to grief. O Queen, you will have to pacify them and so you should not allow yourself to become too disturbed.”

Meanwhile, the people of Ayodhya had followed Rama’s chariot into the forest, and they were begging Him to turn back. Rama told them, “I cannot break My vow, and so you should give Bharata the love that you have for Me.”

There were some elderly brahmanas who could not walk fast enough to keep up with the others. In great distress, they called out to the horses, begging them not to proceed further. Hearing these anxious pleas, Rama felt compassion and got down from the chariot. Then, along with Sita and Lakshman, He proceeded on foot, so that these elderly brahmanas could catch up with Him. Still, Rama would not turn His face backwards, for He was determined to perfectly keep His promise.

In this way, they finally reached the River Tamasa. The sun had already begun to set and so Sumantra and Lakshman made a bed of leaves for Rama to sleep on. After lying down with Sita, Rama quickly fell asleep. Lakshman stayed awake all night, sitting nearby with Sumantra, discussing the glories of His elder brother. When Rama awoke early the next morning, He saw all the citizens of Ayodhya sleeping nearby.

After devising a plan, He told Lakshman, “It seems that the people will not give up their determination to try and convince Me to return home. Let us depart at once. Sumantra should drive the chariot in such a way that the people will not be able to understand which path we took.”

After crossing the river, Rama instructed Sumantra to take the chariot on a clearly visible path, just to mislead the citizens, and then return. Sumantra thus drove off alone, and when he came back some time later, Sita, Rama and Lakshman got onto the chariot and proceed in another direction, into the forest.

When the people awoke and found that Rama had already left, they reproached themselves as follows: “How can we return to Ayodhya without Rama? What will the women and children say if we fail to bring Him back with us?”

The people set out, following the tracks that had been left by the chariot, but because of Rama’s trick they soon became confused and lost the trail. At last, having no alternative, the people returned home feeling quite depressed. When the women saw the men coming back without Rama, they reproached them with cruel and harsh words. Everyone greatly condemned Kaikeyi, saying that they could never bear to live under her rule.

In this way, life in Ayodhya practically came to a standstill, making it look like a great ocean that had dried up. The brahmanas neglected to perform their sacrifices, and the mercantile men gave up conducting business. Householders no longer bothered to prepare meals, and the domestic animals let the grass fall from their mouths as if they were stunned. Cows no longer gave milk to their calves, and mothers felt no pleasure greeting their sons. Even the stars in the sky appeared to have a stern look about them. Feeling completely depressed, no one bothered to eat or engage in any kind of entertainment. Everyone appeared to be almost lifeless, like statues, because they were absorbed in thinking of Rama in separation.

Wherever Rama went, while proceeding through various territories, villages and forests, He heard the people condemning Dasharatha and Kaikeyi. Finally, after crossing the Vedasruti and Gomati Rivers, Rama arrived at the River Shyandika, which marked the southern boundary of the Koshala province.

Here, Rama got down from the chariot and while facing Ayodhya with folded hands He took leave of His birthplace. Many of the local inhabitants had followed Rama, and when He asked them to return home, they cried loudly, being unable to depart. But, Rama drove off swiftly, and while going along, He passed His time by having discussions with Sumantra. Finally, they reached the mighty Ganga, and there they stopped under a large Ingudi tree.

The king of this territory was named Guha, a Nishada by birth and a close friend of Rama’s. When he heard of Rama’s arrival, Guha jubilantly came to greet Him. As the sons of Dasharatha rose from their seats, the Nishada King came and embraced Rama, feeling pained at heart to see how they were dressed in forest clothing.

Guha said, “My dear Rama, my kingdom, Shringaverapura, is as much Yours as it is mine. Please make use of everything, as if You were back in Ayodhya. I am greatly honored that You have come here as my guest.”

Guha had brought sumptuous food, comfortable beds, and articles of worship in order to give Rama a royal reception. Rama was very pleased by all this, and while embracing Guha He replied, “At heart, I accept all that you have offered Me. But since I have taken a vow to wear only kusha-grass, tree bark and deerskin, and eat only fruit and roots, I cannot actually utilize these gifts. Please take away all that you have brought, except some of the food, which I can give to the horses for they are My father’s favorites.”

While Guha went and fed the horses, Rama accepted a little water from Lakshman, because He was fasting that day in honor of the Ganga. That night, Sita and Rama slept beneath the Ingudi tree while Lakshman and Guha stayed awake to guard them. Although Guha requested Lakshman to also rest, He refused to do so as long as Sita and Rama were sleeping. Lakshman then spent the whole night lamenting for His father and mothers, while Guha listened with tears in his eyes.

The next morning, Rama wanted to cross the Ganga and so Guha provided Him with a beautiful boat. Before departing, Rama told Sumantra, “Please return to Ayodhya and engage in My father’s service. Remain calm so that you can pacify the others. You have been a great help to Me, but from now on We shall proceed by foot.”

Sumantra pleaded with Rama for permission to accompany Him. Rama was adamant, though, and replied, “Do not be so sad, for We shall return after fourteen years. Assure My parents of My well being, and urge the King to install Bharata without delay. Also, request Bharata on My behalf to treat all His mothers equally.”

Sumantra could not bear the thought of leaving Rama, and so he argued, “When I return to Ayodhya alone, the people will be terribly unhappy. Rama, please let me accompany You. If You leave me aside, life will be unbearable. I will drown myself or enter fire.”

Rama replied, “I am sending you back to Ayodhya so that Kaikeyi will be convinced that I have entered the forest. If you do not return with this chariot, she will always be afraid that I may come back at any time.”

Turning to Guha, Rama said, “I do not want to live in the forest surrounded by friends and relatives. I will go to an uninhabited place and live like a rishi. Please bring Me the milk-like extract of the banyan tree so that I can mat My hair.”

When Guha brought this substance, Rama and Lakshman used it to mat Their hair so that They looked just like forest-dwelling rishis. While bidding Guha farewell, Sita, Rama and Lakshman boarded the boat, and after sipping some Ganga water, They departed.

When the boat reached mid-stream, Sita offered prayers to Mother Ganga, asking for Their safe return to Ayodhya. After disembarking on the far side, as the three continued Their journey, Rama instructed Lakshman to carefully protect Sita by walking in front, while He stayed at the back.

When night fell, They took shelter of a large tree, and as Sita slept, Rama and Lakshman stayed awake all night. As They talked, Rama once again requested Lakshman to return home so that He could protect Their mothers from Kaikeyi’s persecution. Rama became very emotional while thinking about His mother, so that His face became covered with tears. While comforting Him, Lakshman was able to convince Rama that He could not live in His absence, and so, at last, Rama gave Him permission to stay.

The next morning, Sita, Rama and Lakshman set out, and after walking and walking, They reached the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers. Desiring to meet the great rishi, Bharadvaja, who lived nearby, Rama approached the ashram and waited at the entrance. Soon, a disciple of the rishi came to greet Him.

When Rama went inside, He saw Bharadvaja sitting in meditation, surrounded by many students. Rama introduced Himself and then briefly related the incidents leading up to His arrival. Bharadvaja offered Sita, Rama and Lakshman a very nice reception, and fed them many varieties of foods prepared from fruit and roots.

At last, as he led them to their sleeping accommodations, Bharadvaja said, “Rama, I have been expecting Your arrival ever since I heard the news of Your exile. I would like You to spend Your fourteen years of forest life here. With my students at Your disposal, I am sure that You, Your wife and Your brother will not experience even the slightest inconvenience.”

Rama replied, “Best of rishis, your offer is very kind, but since your ashram is so close to Ayodhya, many people would come to see Me if I stayed here. Please tell Me about some isolated spot where we can happily pass our period of exile.”

Bharadvaja suggested, “You can go to Chitrakoot Mountain, which is about one hundred kilometers from here. After crossing the River Yamuna, when You see the gigantic banyan tree named Shyama, You will know that You are proceeding in the right direction. The entire area of Chitrakoot is very beautiful, with cascading waterfalls and meandering streams. The cries of peacocks and cuckoos will enchant Your ears, and everywhere there is plenty of fruit and honey. Like the heavenly Gandhamadana, it is a very suitable place for leading a life in the mode of goodness.”

Sita, Rama and Lakshman spent the night at Bharadvaja’s ashram, and the next morning they said goodbye to the rishi and departed. After some time, They came to the Yamuna, and so Rama and Lakshman prepared a large raft to carry Them across the river.

Later on, when they reached mid-stream, Sita offered her prayers to goddess Kalindi. After disembarking on the far side, They soon came to the banyan tree, Shyama. Sita offered her obeisances to the sacred tree, praying for Their safe return to Ayodhya. Finally, after walking for a few hours, the three travelers halted to pass the night by the side of the river.

Early the next morning, They resumed Their journey, and while walking through the forest, Sita questioned Rama again and again about the plants and trees that she saw there. As Lakshman walked in front, bow in hand, Rama took great pleasure in describing to Sita the various manifestations of nature.

When, at last, They arrived at the vicinity of Chitrakoot, They were very pleased to find an abundance of fruit, roots, sweet water, and honey. There They found Valmiki’s ashram. Sita, Rama and Lakshman were very warmly received by the rishi, for he had been expecting Their arrival for some time.

During the course of their conversation, Valmiki invited Rama to reside at that spot. At Rama’s request, Lakshman brought the necessary materials and within a short time He built a nice little house, having walls made of wooden stakes and a thatched roof. The customary rituals for consecrating their new dwelling were performed, and when Rama entered His cottage, He felt very happy, as if He had left aside the grief that had been brought about by Kaikeyi’s intrigue.

Meanwhile, after Rama’s departure, Guha dispatched some spies to follow Him unnoticed. When news came back that Rama had reached Chitrakoot, Sumantra mounted his chariot and began the painful journey back to Ayodhya. Sumantra arrived in the evening of the second day, and he immediately noticed that the city had become practically desolate.

When the news of Sumantra’s arrival spread, thousands of people came and gathered around him. In reply to their inquiries, Sumantra simply explained how he had returned after leaving Rama at the banks of the Ganga.

Sumantra then went to see Maharaja Dasharatha, but as he began to relay Rama’s messages, the King fainted due to strong feelings of separation. Sumantra and Kaushalya quickly went to pick him up, but then she also lost consciousness while crying loudly. Finally, after regaining his composure, Maharaja Dasharatha said, “Sumantra, please describe to me all that Rama said before departing.”

Knowing that the King’s life could be sustained only by hearing about Rama, Sumantra replied, “At the time of His departure, Rama instructed me to return here to engage in your service. It is only for your welfare that Rama is determined to fulfill your promise to Kaikeyi. For the same reason, Rama wants you to install Bharata right away.”

“After Rama’s departure, when I picked up the reins, my horses simply stood with tears in their eyes, refusing to move. So, I stayed with Guha for some time, hoping that Rama would change His mind and call for me. Finally, after losing all hope, I returned here. All along the way, I saw that every moving and non-moving creature in the Koshala kingdom is in a miserable condition due to separation from Rama.”

While listening, Maharaja Dasharatha felt terribly distressed. In a fit of despair, he declared: “You must take me to Rama at once, or else bring Him back here- otherwise, I shall die! I am merged in the ocean of grief! The two benedictions I granted Kaikeyi are the shores of that ocean, and the term of Rama’s exile is its extent. My inward and outward breaths are the waves, and the rivers of tears shed by Kaushalya and others are further agitating the ocean. The flaying of arms in agony is the leaping of the fish, the disheveled hair is the seaweed, and the loud crying is its roar. Kaikeyi is the subterranean fire that causes showers of welled-up tears, and Manthara’s words are the alligators that infest its waters.”

After saying this, Maharaja Dasharatha fainted. Kaushalya began to writhe in agony on the floor, wailing, “Sumantra, if you do not take me to Rama at once, I will surely die!”

Although Kaushalya was the foremost of devoted wives, she addressed her husband harshly as follows: “It is all your fault that Rama has been exiled! How could you be so cruel to your son and His delicate wife? How will They be able to tolerate lying upon the bare ground? How will They survive, eating only fruit and roots? How will They be able to protect Themselves from the ferocious jungle animals, and how will They survive the onslaught of freezing cold, fierce winds and torrential rain?”

“Even if Rama lives and returns after fourteen years, Bharata will never give Him back the throne. And, even if Bharata offered it, Rama would never accept something already enjoyed by a younger brother. Oh, how unfortunate I am for having a wretched husband like you! The primary support of a woman is her husband, but because you are under the control of Kaikeyi, I am now bereft of that support. The secondary support of a woman is her son, but because Rama has gone away, I am now completely doomed!”

Maharaja Dasharatha was lying down, practically unconscious, and when Kaushalya thought about how much he was also suffering, her heart softened. When the King regained his senses, the two became reconciled, and soon thereafter, he fell asleep. But, after a short while, he suddenly awoke, having remembered a terrible sin that he had committed in the distant past.

Considering this to be the cause of his present suffering, Maharaja Dasharatha narrated the incident as follows: “When I was a young man, I learned the art of piercing an unseen target by hearing its sound. Once, as I was hunting at night, on the banks of the River Sarayu, I heard what sounded like an elephant. I released my arrow, but then I heard the loud scream of a human voice, calling out, ‘Who has cruelly pierced me with his arrow, although I am a rishi and without any fault?’ ”

“I quickly went there and saw a young hermit boy lying on the ground with my arrow stuck in his body. Seeing me, the boy said, ‘My old and invalid parents are waiting for me to bring water. You have not only killed me, but you have killed them as well, for without me they will surely die. Go and confess that you have killed me, but first pull out the arrow because it is giving me great pain.’ ”

Maharaja Dasharatha continued, “I hesitated to pull out the arrow, being afraid that the boy would immediately die. He then convinced me by saying, ‘Do not think that you are killing a brahmana. I was born of a vaishya father and shudra mother.’ So, I pulled out the arrow and the boy instantly gave up his life. I filled up his pitcher with water and carried it to his ashram with a grief-stricken heart.”

“There, I saw the feeble, old, blind couple. Hearing me approach, they thought that their son had returned and so they addressed me with affectionate words. This made me feel even worse, but I summoned my courage and explained to the couple how I had accidentally killed their son.”

“The old man then said, ‘Because you have voluntarily confessed your sin, I will not curse you. If I were to do so you would instantly die. Please take me to where my son’s body is lying.’ ”

“After I led them there, the old, blind couple began to caress the dead body of their son and cry piteously. Then, when they offered libations of water for the benefit of their son’s departed soul, King Indra descended to that spot, riding on a celestial chariot. After assuring the parents that they would achieve the same exalted destination as their son, Indra took the boy in his celestial form to the heavenly planets. The old rishi then cursed me with the following words, ‘Just as we are experiencing great anguish upon the death of our son, you will have to feel similar grief due to separation from yours.’ ”

“After saying this, the old couple threw themselves upon their son’s funeral pyre, thus giving up their lives and ascending to heaven. My dear Kaushalya, today I am reaping the fruit of my horrible crime. I am dying of a broken heart. I can feel the power of my senses ebbing, like the flame of an oilless lamp. I know that death will come to me very soon. O Queen, I have already become blind on account of my grief. Please touch me so that I can be assured of your presence.”

Maharaja Dasharatha continued to lament in separation from Rama, while remembering Him with a fully absorbed mind. Then, when half of the night had passed, the King gave up his mortal body.

Early the next morning, the bards came as usual to awaken Maharaja Dasharatha, while the servants stood with folded hands, awaiting the King’s orders. Then, when some of the King’s consorts entered the room and saw that his body was without any sign of life, they cried out in horror. This awakened Kaushalya and Sumitra with a start, and when the two Queens realized that their husband had passed away, they fell down upon the floor, wailing in anguish. Upon hearing the uproar, Kaikeyi quickly came there, along with some others, and when they understood that Maharaja Dasharatha had left his body, they also began to cry very piteously.

While caressing her dead husband’s head, Kaushalya told Kaikeyi, “I will enter the King’s funeral pyre so that I can accompany him to his destination. Only a sinful wretch like you can bear to go on living in the absence of her husband.”

The ministers then came and led Kaushalya away while trying their best to pacify her. They preserved the King’s body in oil, because the funeral ceremonies could only be performed in the presence of a son. Being bereft of its ruler, the city of Ayodhya became shrouded in gloom. Since no one was able to sleep the following night, people gathered in the streets and reproached Kaikeyi to vent their grief.

The next morning, all the leading brahmanas assembled at the royal court, urging the priests and ministers to install one of the King’s sons upon the throne that very day. Addressing Vasishtha, Vamadeva, Markandeya, Kashyapa, Gautama and other foremost rishis, the brahmanas said, “A country without a king is doomed, because all sorts of rogues and thieves take advantage of the situation, creating lawlessness. In a kingdom without a ruler, ownership disappears, sons disobey fathers, the giving of charity is neglected, and religious practices decline as the citizens simply exploit one another.”

The rishis replied, “What you say is perfectly correct, for it is the King who makes the demarcation between good and evil in this world. Bereft of a good King, the subjects are just like cattle without a herdsman.”

Vasishtha then suggested, “Since Bharata has already been selected as the successor to the royal throne, He should be installed as soon as possible. Let messengers go swiftly to Girivraja, the capital city of King Kekaya, to bring Bharata and Shatrughna back to Ayodhya.”

All the brahmanas and ministers agreed. Messengers were dispatched at once, being instructed simply to say, “Bharata, Your presence is urgently required at Ayodhya.”

The very night that the messengers arrived, Bharata had a nightmare that caused Him to wake up in a very disturbed state of mind. When Shatrughna inquired about His despondency, Bharata explained, “Last night, in My dreams, I saw My father, disheveled and dejected, fall from a mountaintop into a pool of cow-dung. As he floundered in the mire, the King drank oil from his cupped palms and laughed hysterically like a madman. After the oil became smeared all over his body, he began to eat rice that had been cooked in it.”

“After that, the scene changed, and I saw that the ocean had dried up and the moon had fallen onto the earth. As the earth remained enveloped in darkness, Rakshasas wandered over its surface while fire and lava erupted from volcanoes. Then, this scene evaporated and I next saw that the tusks of my father’s elephants had been broken. Young dark-skinned women began harassing the King, who was completely dressed in black, smeared over with red sandalwood paste, adorned with a garland of red flowers, and seated upon an iron throne. Finally, I saw a chariot drawn by donkeys swiftly carrying My father toward the south,”

“After witnessing this ghastly dream, I have concluded that either My father, Myself, or one of My brothers will surely die. Even now, although for no apparent reason, I feel a constant fear in My heart. My voice is hoarse and My complexion has lost its luster. My mind is reeling, and I feel shame and hatred- all for no apparent reason. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that this nightmare forebodes some great evil.”

While Bharata was speaking, the messengers from Ayodhya entered the room. After offering their respects to Maharaja Ashvapati and Bharata, they relayed this message, “O Prince, You are being summoned to Ayodhya by the ministers and Vasishtha Muni, for there is an urgent matter that requires Your presence.”

When Bharata inquired about the welfare of His parents and brothers, the messengers assured Him that they were all fine, for that had been their instruction. Bharata departed at once, and even though Maharaja Ashvapati gave Him many valuable gifts, He hardly noticed them, because of the urgency of Vasishtha’s message and the premonition that had been caused by His dreams.

On the seventh day of their journey, Bharata and Shatrughna arrived at the outskirts of Ayodhya. Even from a distance, the city did not seem to have its usual cheerful appearance. When Bharata entered Ayodhya, He saw that everyone was in a state of deep depression. The entire city appeared neglected and dirty because all the citizens had stopped performing their occupational duties.

Being greatly alarmed, Bharata entered His father’s palace, and when He failed to find the King in his room, He hurried to His mother’s apartment. When Bharata entered her room, Kaikeyi jumped up from her seat, for she was overjoyed to see her long-absent son. Bharata bent down to clasp His mother’s feet, and then she picked Him up and lovingly placed Him upon her lap. In answer to His mother’s inquiries, Bharata assured her that her father was well.

Bharata then said, “I have hurried back to Ayodhya at the urging of messengers. How is My father? I did not find him in his room.”

Kaikeyi calmly replied, “My son, Your father, the King, has passed away.”

Upon hearing this, Bharata fell to the floor while crying aloud. Kaikeyi quickly went and lifted Him up saying, “My dear Bharata, do not become so sad. It is the duty of an enlightened person to remain equipoised.”

Bharata tearfully asked, “How did My father die? Did he leave any message for Me? Mother, please send someone immediately to inform Rama of my arrival.”

As if relating some pleasant news, Kaikeyi frankly replied, “Being exiled from the Koshala kingdom, Rama went to the forest dressed in tree-bark, and Sita and Lakshman have followed Him. Your father could not bear to live without his pet son, and so he gave up his life while crying out, “O Rama! O Sita! O Lakshman!”

Bharata asked, “Why was Rama sent into exile? What horrible crime did He commit? Did He unwittingly kill a brahmana or take his possessions?”

Kaikeyi then narrated to Bharata all that had happened, considering herself to be very clever for having manipulated events as she did. Kaikeyi said, “In your absence, the King suddenly announced that Rama would be installed upon the royal throne the very next day. In order to save us from being dominated by Kaushalya and her son, I took advantage of two benedictions that Your father had formerly promised when I had saved his life.”

“With the first boon I demanded that You become the King’s successor, and with the second, I banished Rama to the forest for fourteen years. Rama was always Dasharatha’s pet son, and so in separation the King died of a broken heart.”

“My dear son, you must accept the royal throne this very day, after performing the funeral ceremonies for Your departed father. Please take heart and give up Your grief.”

When Bharata thus learned the truth of the matter, He angrily rebuked His mother as follows: “Wicked woman, you must be the goddess Kali herself, appearing for the destruction of the universe! You have killed My father and exiled Rama, who is dearer to Me than My own life. Are you really so perverse that you believe that I will accept the throne from you? You are not My mother- you are My worst enemy! I hope that you go to hell for all that you have done!”

“Sinful woman, I will never let you accomplish your selfish ambition. I will go to the forest at once and bring back Rama so that He can rule the kingdom. After Rama is installed upon the throne, I will engage myself as His eternal servant, for that is My natural position and highest aspiration. Hardhearted woman, think of how Kaushalya must feel in the absence of her only son. Wretched one, not only will I bring Rama back to Ayodhya, but I will myself spend fourteen years in exile, just to keep My father’s promise intact and save Rama from abandoning His vow.”

His anger having become highly inflamed, Bharata was hissing like a serpent. But then suddenly, due to excessive grief, He fell to the floor unconscious.

When He regained His senses after a long time, Bharata spoke as follows to the ministers who had gathered there: “I have no desire to become emperor of the world, for I consider Myself to be a servant of My elder brother, Rama. Being away in a distant place, I had no idea of My mother’s evil schemes. Please believe Me when I say that I had nothing to do with Rama’s exile, and that Kaikeyi’s hopes are not shared by Me.”

Kaikeyi was shocked by Bharata’s response to all that she had done. Her illusion having been destroyed, like a dream upon awakening, she felt pained at the turn of events and tears began to well up in her eyes.

Kaushalya learned of Bharata’s arrival, so she went to meet Him, just as Bharata and Shatrughna were on Their way to see her. While going, Kaushalya fainted, and so Bharata and Shatrughna saw her lying on the floor. They picked Kaushalya up and embraced her, but when she saw Bharata, she sarcastically said, “Oh, You have come back to enjoy the kingdom You always coveted. You must be overjoyed that everything has worked out perfectly, according to plan.”

Bharata felt very pained to hear these harsh words, and so He remained speechless for some time. Then, regaining His composure, Bharata fell at Kaushalya’s feet.

After getting up, He said, “My dear mother, I had nothing to do with Rama’s exile. I had no idea of what Kaikeyi was planning. You know how much I love Rama! Can’t you see how aggrieved I am because of My father’s death and Rama’s exile?”

“Just to convince you of My innocence, I hereby make this solemn declaration: ‘May whoever helped Kaikeyi in her nefarious plan to exile Rama reap the consequences of killing a king, a cow, a woman, a child, or an old person. May he become addicted to wine, women, meat and gambling. May godly men painstakingly avoid him, and may he remain childless throughout his life. May he incur the sinful reaction that afflicts the arsonist, the traitorous friend, and the unfair arbitrator. May he suffer the sinful reaction of refusing water to a thirsty man and shunning his wife when she approaches him at her time for conception.’ ”

“My dear mother, Rama is My very life and soul and My existence has no other purpose than dedication to His service.”

Hearing this, Kaushalya gave up her doubts and became convinced of Bharata’s innocence. She lifted Him up and placed His head upon her lap, and she cried loudly while fondly caressing Him. Bharata also felt very aggrieved by seeing His stepmother, and so they passed the night together in commiseration.

The next morning, Vasishtha came and encouraged Bharata to cremate the body of His deceased father. The body was taken out of the vat of oil and placed upon a decorated carrier. But as He looked at the dead body, Bharata lost all composure and began to address His father while sobbing convulsively. Once again Vasishtha urged Bharata to calm Himself, so that the funeral rites could be completed.

At last, the procession wended its way as flowers were scattered on the road in front of the carrier. The funeral pyre had been constructed from logs of sandalwood and aguru. After the body was placed upon it, the fire was ignited while the brahmanas chanted mantras from the Sama-veda. All the King’s consorts had come there, riding upon chariots and palanquins, according to their status, and thus the air was filled with the sound of hundreds of wailing women.

At the conclusion of the cremation, everyone went to the banks of the Sarayu to offer water for the benefit of the King’s departed soul. After that, a ten-day contamination period was observed, and then Bharata performed some required rituals for two days. At the end of the twelfth day, Bharata gave profuse charity to the brahmanas.

At the dawn of the thirteenth day, Bharata and Shatrughna went to the funeral pyre to collect the remains, which were to be thrown into the River Sarayu. Upon arriving there, however, Bharata and Shatrughna once again became overwhelmed with grief. Weeping profusely, They fell to the ground, and while writhing in agony, They cried out, again and again, “O dear father, where have you gone, leaving Us aside?”

Vasishtha came and picked up Bharata, saying, “My dear prince, You must control Yourself so that You can perform Your duties. First of all, collect the bones and ashes of Your father’s cremated body. After cleaning the grounds, You must throw these remains into the river. The dualities of life and death, joy and sorrow, and gain and loss are experienced by all embodied beings, and are unavoidable. The indulgence in lamentation that You are now displaying is not befitting a descendent of the Ikshvaku dynasty.”

Vasishtha similarly picked up and pacified Shatrughna, and thereafter, all the funeral rites were dutifully completed. Finally, returning to the palace, Bharata began to think about going to the forest, to bring back Rama and Lakshman.

Shatrughna then said, “Rama is the best well-wishing friend of everyone, and yet He has been exiled to the forest at the insistence of a cruel and selfish woman. My brother Lakshman must be even more condemned! Was there nothing He could do to avert this disaster?”

Just at that moment, the hunch-backed maidservant, Manthara, appeared on the scene. Although she looked no better than a monkey, her body was smeared over with sandalwood paste, and she was wearing a valuable dress along with jeweled ornaments.

Knowing her to be the real cause of Rama’s banishment, the doorman suddenly grabbed Manthara by the arm and dragged her before Shatrughna, exclaiming, “Here is the wicked witch that incited Kaikeyi to banish Rama to the forest. O Prince, she fanned the flames of jealousy within the Queen’s heart and thus became the murderer of Your father. Punish her as You see fit!”

Overcome with a strong desire for revenge, Shatrughna violently grabbed Manthara and began to drag her along the floor. As Manthara’s ornaments broke, so that the jewels scattered here and there, her hunchbacked companions ran away in fear. Shatrughna then vowed, “I shall now release My long-held wrath upon both Manthara and Kaikeyi so they can feel as much pain as they have caused others.”

As Kaikeyi ran to Him for shelter, Bharata restrained His younger brother by saying, “Shatrughna, women never deserve to be killed! I would have gladly killed Manthara and Kaikeyi Myself, except that I knew that Rama would have never forgiven Me. Please restrain Yourself!”

Shatrughna relented, letting go of Manthara, and she went sobbing to the shelter of Kaikeyi’s feet.

The next morning, the bards came to eulogize Bharata in expectation of His becoming the next king. Their praises only served to aggravate His grief, however, and so He ordered them to stop by saying, “I am not the ruler of Ayodhya.”

Meanwhile, in the royal assembly, Vasishtha Muni ordered that Bharata be summoned, along with the ministers, military commanders, and other important citizens. When Bharata arrived at the assembly hall, He was received with the same enthusiasm that had formerly been shown to Maharaja Dasharatha.

Vasishtha then said, “O Prince, because Rama and Lakshman have been banished to the forest, and Your father has passed away, life within the kingdom is now disrupted. We know that You had nothing to do with Kaikeyi’s intrigues, and that Maharaja Dasharatha selected You as his successor. All the preparations have been made and the citizens are in great anticipation. Please give Your consent so that we can install You upon the throne today.”

Bharata felt very pained at heart to hear this proposal. While restraining His tears, He replied, “O foremost of rishis, you are well aware of our family tradition that the eldest son must be the inheritor of the royal throne. I could never think of usurping the kingdom from Rama, for I consider Myself to be His menial servant. I want to go to the forest as soon as possible, to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya. If I am unsuccessful, then I shall also remain in the forest, like Lakshman.”

“Please make ready a formidable army, and have the engineers construct roads where there are none, so that we can proceed without impediment.”

Tears came to the eyes of all who heard Bharata’s impassioned statements, and the ministers were very pleased by His determination. Upon receiving everyone’s approval, Bharata also felt great relief, and He began to shed tears of joy.

Thereafter, the ministers summoned all kinds of engineers and laborers so that soon a huge work crew left Ayodhya to construct a broad highway into the forest.

First, the workers cut down many trees, dug up their roots, and leveled the ground by filling in the holes. They built bridges across the streams, and after paving the road, they lined it with rows of flowering trees. Dams were constructed so that artificial lakes could be built.

When everything was completed, the entire highway, which extended from Ayodhya up to the banks of the Ganga, was sprinkled with sandalwood-scented water. Large tents were put up at appropriate places, to provide rest-camps for the travelers, and fences and moats surrounded them. The entire highway, which appeared to be fit for the demigods, was completed in an amazingly short time.

The next morning, Bharata ordered Sumantra to bring His chariot, and before long They departed, along with a huge army. Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi rode in separate chariots, and they were all hopeful of bringing Rama back from the forest. Many other citizens also accompanied Bharata, being delighted at the prospect of seeing Rama.

Arriving at the banks of the Ganga, the party rested for the night. When Guha saw Bharata’s army, he suspected that He might be going with the intention of attacking Rama. Therefore, he told his associates, “We are followers of Rama. As a precaution, let one hundred soldiers guard each of our five hundred boats, so that, if necessary, we can prevent Bharata from crossing the Ganga.”

Then, taking many gifts with him, Guha went to meet Bharata, to ascertain His actual mentality. When Sumantra saw Guha approaching, he informed Bharata of his friendship with Rama. The King of the Nishadas then came and extended all hospitality, and in response, Bharata asked about the route to Bharadvaja’s ashram.

Guha said, “You can rest assured that I will guide You there. Now, please tell me frankly what Your intentions are in going to see Rama. Since You have brought such a large army, it appears that You want to fight with Him.”

Bharata replied, “My dear Guha, your words give Me great pain. Please believe Me when I say that I have come here just to persuade Rama to return to Ayodhya so that He can be installed as the ruler of the Koshalas.”

Guha was convinced by Bharata’s sincerity, and since darkness had already fallen, everyone prepared to rest for the night. Later, Guha approached Bharata as He lay upon His bed, and said, “When Rama came here, along with Sita and Lakshman, He lay down on a bed that we made of dry leaves. As Sita and Rama slept, Lakshman and I stayed awake all night talking. Lakshman could not bear to accept any comfort as long as Rama lay upon the bare ground. The next morning, Rama and Lakshman matted Their hair with the sticky extract of the banyan tree, and then crossed the Ganga.”

When Bharata heard how Rama had matted His hair, He became disheartened, thinking that He might not be willing to return to Ayodhya. Kaushalya was seated nearby, and she came to comfort Bharata. Guha continued to speak about everything that Rama had done while going to the forest. Then he led Bharata, Shatrughna and Their mothers to the place where Sita and Rama had slept, showing them the kusha grass that remained crushed by the weight of Their bodies. Everyone felt sad to see this, for they remembered how Rama used to sleep in royal comfort.

Bharata was especially pained, because He considered Himself to be the cause of Sita, Rama and Lakshman’s sufferings. While condemning Himself, Bharata made up His mind to mat His hair, and also lie down upon the bare ground to take Rama’s place in exile.

The next morning, Bharata, who now had matted hair and clothes made of tree-bark, requested Guha to help Him across the Ganga. All the men and horses then crossed the river in boats, while the elephants swam. After disembarking, Guha showed Bharata the way to Bharadvaja’s ashram.

When He came close to the rishi’s hermitage, Bharata left his army at a distance of three kilometers, and then proceeded on foot with Shatrughna and Vasishtha Muni. When he saw Vasishtha enter, Bharadvaja quickly got up to greet him. Then, after the usual formalities, Bharadvaja inquired, “O Prince, please tell me why you have come to the forest. I certainly hope that you have not come with the intention of harming Rama.”

It was painful for Bharata to hear the rishi’s words. With tears in His eyes, He replied, “It is very disturbing for Me to see how people doubt My motives. Please be assured that I have come here just to convince Rama to return to Ayodhya and rule the kingdom. O best of rishis, kindly point out where My brother is staying.”

Bharadvaja replied, “My dear Prince, I already knew of your intentions by dint of my yogic powers. I just felt it was my duty to test You. Rama is staying at Chitrakoot Mountain, and so remain here tonight and then continue Your journey tomorrow morning.”

Bharata accepted the invitation, and then Bharadvaja asked Him to call for His soldiers, for he wished to entertain them all. After the army’s arrival, Bharadvaja invoked Vishvakarma, along with other leading demigods, headed by Indra, Yama, Varuna and Kuvera. The rishi requested them to supply all necessary objects of enjoyment so that he could provide a first-class reception for his guests.

Immediately after the departure of the demigods, fragrant breezes began to blow. Then, by the influence of Vishvakarma, the entire area, to the extent of sixty kilometers, became carpeted, except for some gardens placed at interval, full of fruit trees and flowers. Miraculously, four-room houses and stables manifested themselves, as well as a royal palace that was furnished with every conceivable article of enjoyment.

Bharata entered this magnificent building, followed by His priests and ministers, and as He approached the royal throne, He meditated upon Rama, as if He were seated there. Bharata circumambulated His elder brother and then bowed His head to offer obeisances. He then picked up a chamara and sat down in the chair meant for the chief minister, as all others took their respective seats.

Meanwhile, by utilizing his mystic power, Bharadvaja created a river of kheer (rice cooked with milk and sugar) that flowed through his ashram. Lord Brahma and Kuvera each sent 20,000 women whose embrace would cause a man to appear as if seized by a fit of madness. The chief Gandharvas- Narada, Tumburu and Gopa, came to sing of Rama’s glories to Bharata, and Bharadvaja summoned celestial trees to accompany them with musical instruments. Thus, a bel tree played tablas while peepul trees danced. Other trees, such as the tamala, appeared as hunchbacks and dwarves to render service to Bharata, and jambu trees took the form of young women.

While Bharata was being entertained in this manner, the soldiers were hardly neglected. Celestial girls sang to them in very sweet voices while urging them to drink wine and eat kheer. Seven or eight girls were engaged in massaging oil over each soldier’s body and then bathing him with water. Other girls massaged the soldiers’ feet, and had them drink wine in a secluded place. Even the horses were fed sumptuously with grains soaked in honey.

When the men became intoxicated, they exclaimed, “This is heaven! We no longer want to continue our journey to the forest, nor return to Ayodhya!”

In this way, the soldier became satiated with all kinds of enjoyment in the association of heavenly damsels. In fact, thousands of soldiers were seen running here and there while singing, dancing and laughing. Everyone was so amazed by the entertainment that they felt as if they were enjoying a delightful dream. The night seemed to pass quickly, and with the appearance of dawn, all the Gandharvas, Apsaras and celestial trees took permission from Bharadvaja and returned to their respective abodes.

Bharata then took His mothers and went to Bharadvaja to ask for directions to Chitrakoot. As the rishi inquired whether Bharata had enjoyed the reception, he noticed that one woman appeared to be emaciated because of grief, another was clasping his feet to offer respect, and the third stood with her head hung down in shame.

When Bharadvaja inquired about their identities, Bharata replied, “This is Kaushalya, the seniormost widow of Dasharatha, and this is Sumitra, the mother of Lakshman and Shatrughna. This other woman, who is cruel, vulgar, conceited and sinful, is Kaikeyi. Being the cause of Rama’s exile, she is the root of all our present miseries.”

Bharadvaja then said, “Bharata, You should not consider Your mother to be guilty, for there is a higher purpose behind Rama’s banishment to the forest. Your mother’s actions are just a part of a great plan, meant for the welfare and happiness of all beings.”

Thereafter, Bharata circumambulated Bharadvaja Rishi and then commanded His army to depart. As the regiments of infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots proceeded, all the forest animals fled in fear to distant places. At last, when Chitrakoot Mountain came into view, Bharata asked the soldiers to be on the lookout for Rama’s cottage. Someone then saw a column of smoke rising up in the distance, and so he excitedly went and told Bharata. After ordering His army to set up camp, Bharata went on foot, along with Vasishtha, Shatrughna and a few others.

Meanwhile, Rama had been sitting with Sita on a big rock at the foot of the hill. Pleasantly passing their time, Rama was describing to Sita the varieties of roots that the rishis eat. He also pointed out all kinds of trees, plants and wild animals that were found in the region. They had been residing at Chitrakoot for about three months, and Rama always tried His best to divert Sita’s mind from the grief of living in exile. Rama pointed toward the River Mandakini, which was adorned with beautiful flowers, and which served as the sporting ground for numerous swans, cranes and other exotic birds.

Rama said, “Dear one, there is no reason for Us to be aggrieved, for We are living together in such a lovely place.”

It was at this time that Rama spotted the dust being raised by Bharata’s army in the far distance. Soon, Rama could hear the sounds of the wild animals that were fleeing in fear. Turning to Lakshman, He said, “Just see the dust being raised over there by something that is frightening the forest animals. Please find out at once what is causing this disturbance.”

Lakshman climbed a tall tree, and from there he could see the vast army approaching. With great alarm, he called down to Rama, “Put out the fire immediately and hide Sita within a cave. Then, bring our weapons, for there is an army coming toward Us.”

Rama called back, “Look at the flags on the chariots, and see if you can tell whose army it is.”

When Lakshman saw that the flags had the design of a white Kovidara tree, he shouted, “It is Bharata’s army! Our brother must be coming here to kill Us so that He can be assured of enjoying unrivaled sovereignty. The soldiers are approaching us with great enthusiasm, so We had better take our bows and prepare to fight from the top of the hill. Rama, it is Our good fortune that Bharata has come here so that I can fight with the one who has caused Our suffering. We should not hesitate to kill Bharata. After doing so I will take great pleasure in killing Kaikeyi and all her relatives, just to purge the earth of the sins she has committed.”

To pacify Lakshman, Rama replied, “When Bharata has come here in great eagerness to see Me, what is the necessity of bows and arrows? In My opinion, Bharata has come here just to offer Me the kingdom. But, if You want to kill Bharata so that You can enjoy the kingdom for Yourself, just say so and I will order Bharata to hand it over to You peacefully.”

After being admonished, Lakshman hung His head down in shame and said, “I was hoping that Our father had come to see Us. I can see his elephant, but it is without the usual white umbrella and so I think that he has not come.”

Sita, Rama and Lakshman returned to their cottage while Bharata was searching in the forest nearby. Climbing a tree, Bharata spotted a column of smoke, and so He hastened in that direction, followed by Guha, Shatrughna and Sumantra, while Vasishtha went to get the three mothers.

At last, Bharata came to a clearing in the forest, and there He saw the small cottage with Rama and Lakshman’s gold-plated bows and a sacrificial altar in front. Upon seeing Rama, Bharata rushed forward with tears in His eyes, crying out, “Oh, how painful it is to see You with matted hair and tree-bark clothing! You were accustomed to living in royal comfort, but due to My fault, You are now suffering in the forest.”

Then, as Bharata ran to touch Rama’s lotus feet, He fainted and fell to the ground. Rama quickly came and lifted Him up, and He was also very aggrieved to see His younger brother so emaciated and dressed in tree-bark. Rama embraced Shatrughna, who had fallen at His feet, and then Sumantra and Guha.

After taking Bharata upon His lap, Rama inquired, “My dear brother, why have You come here, leaving Our father alone and unattended to? Tell Me about Our mothers, and about the residents of Ayodhya? Are they well and happy? I hope that You have not come here after having already lost Your sovereignty!”

Rama continued to inquire about Bharata’s welfare, in a manner that would give instruction to all political heads of state: “My dear brother, a righteous kingdom will surely prosper. Are the brahmanas, demigods and elders being properly respected? Are the women within the kingdom being properly honored and protected? Are disputes being impartially judged? I hope that You avoid the fourteen weaknesses- atheism, hypocrisy, anger, procrastination, laziness, slavery to the senses, contempt for good advice, lack of vigilance, fondness for bad council, impractical planning, inability to keep a secret, attachment to foolish friends, negligence of religious observances, and failure to counteract enemies.”

“Bharata, are you aware of the three kinds of prowess- physical strength, power of authority, and intelligence? Do You avoid the following eight kinds of friends- the deceitful, the reckless, the violent, the envious, the gossiper, the foul-mouthed, the usurper of property, and the unjust?”

“Do You avoid making alliances with these twenty kinds of kings? They are- the child-monarch, the senile, the frail and ill, the over-aggressive, the cowardly, the greedy, the sensualist, the frivolous, those who were defeated in battle, who have been overthrown, who frequently travel abroad, who have many enemies, who are poverty-stricken, who are opposed to religious principles, who are despised by their ministers, and who are mentally disturbed?”

“I hope that You prefer to keep the company of one learned man rather than thousands of ignorant fools. A single talented minister can give one immense benefit, whereas in times of necessity, thousands of fools are of no use.”

“Bharata, if a King does not get rid of a physician who is simply adept at aggravating a disease, a servant who in intent upon bringing disgrace upon his master, or a warrior who wants to become the ruler himself, then he will surely be killed by these three.”

“Are the women protected and honored by You, and are they pacified with regards to their material demands? I hope that You do not place too much faith in women or confide Your secrets to them.”

While observing Bharata’s matted hair and forest dress, Rama could understand that He had accepted these austerities out of love for Him. After once again embracing Bharata, Rama inquired, “My dear brother, why have You relinquished the throne and come here to the forest, dressed as a mendicant?”

Bharata replied, “Rama, my mother’s intrigues were carried out without My knowledge. Please believe Me. You are the rightful inheritor of the royal throne, and so I implore You to return at once to take up the rule of the kingdom. Practically the whole of Ayodhya has come to a standstill for everyone is morose on account of Your absence.”

As He made this impassioned appeal, Bharata clasped Shri Rama’s lotus feet and placed them upon His head. Rama picked up Bharata and embraced Him while saying, “I know that You had no part in banishing Me to the forest. Still, I don’t want to regain the kingdom by sinful means.”

“Bharata, You should not condemn Your mother or the King, for they were both acting within the bounds of propriety. In fact, elders are always free to treat their dependents as they like. Just accept the royal throne and rule the kingdom, for that was the desire of Your father. For My part, I am determined to spend fourteen years in the forest. I consider the father’s order to be the supreme religious principle.”

Bharata objected, saying, “In the presence of an elder prince, no one can become the King. You must come back to Ayodhya and sit upon the throne, after offering water for the benefit of Our dear father’s departed soul.”

Upon hearing of His father’s death, Rama fainted onto the ground. Sita, Bharata and Lakshman hastily sprinkled water over His body, so that Rama soon regained consciousness. After tearfully lamenting at great length the loss of His father, Rama declared, “I shall never return to Ayodhya!”

Afterwards, Rama went to the banks of the River Mandakini Ganga, along with His brothers and Sumantra. There, He offered water for the welfare of His departed father. Upon returning to His cottage, Rama clasped His brothers’ hands, and all four began wailing with grief. This loud sound reverberated throughout the valley, and when the soldiers of Bharata’s army heard it, they became saddened, knowing it to be the grief of the four brothers. They hurried toward the direction from which the sound was coming, and soon after, they greeted Rama with tears in their eyes.

Meanwhile, keeping the three widows of Maharaja Dasharatha in front, Vasishtha also hastened to see Rama. Arriving at the Ganga, he saw the remnants of articles that Rama had used for making offerings to His departed father. Kaushalya was pained to observe that the only food that Rama had at His disposal was some pulp of the Ingudi fruit.

Considering this to be unworthy of being offered to her husband, with a tinge of amusement she thought, “Now I am practically experiencing the truth of the old adage that says, ‘The deities that a man worships have to partake of the same food upon which he subsists.’ ”

When Vasishtha and the three women came to the cottage, they were very pained to see how Rama looked just like a demigod that had fallen from heaven. Rama quickly stood up and went to touch His mothers’ feet. As Rama bowed down, the mothers wiped the dust from His back, while Sita and Lakshman also came to greet them.

After the exchange of welcomes, Rama sat down with His preceptor, Vasishtha, while the others took their seats around them. Bharata then told Rama, “My mother is now repentant, and so, with her permission, I wish to return the kingdom of Koshala to You.”

Everyone present applauded the proposal, but Rama replied, “My dear Bharata, in this world no one can act independently. Under the control of eternal Time, everything ultimately meets with defeat. Therefore, no wise man should lament for life’s reverses. Union always ends in separation. Pieces of driftwood float together on the surface of the ocean and then later on disperse. Similarly, members of family and society meet briefly and then depart for their separate destinations. As solid pillars gradually decay, causing a house to collapse, so a man totters into old age, and at last meets with death. As a river cannot return to its source, so everyone must follow the path of his forefathers.”

“Why should one feel sorry for others, when he himself is going to die? A man’s skin becomes wrinkled and his hair turns grey. What can he do? He is happy to see the sun rise, and then he is happy to see the sun set, without realizing that he has died a little. Therefore, a sober and learned person should use his energy for executing religious principles, so that he can attain a higher destination after death.”

“Bharata, there is no need to lament for Our father, for he has given up an old body to attain heavenly happiness. You must return to Ayodhya at once and execute Our father’s order, just as I will remain here to carry out his will.”

Still, Bharata argued, “Rama, Our noble father had become too infatuated with women in his old age. He seemed to confirm the popular notion that at the time of death one invariably becomes obsessed with something. You should return to Ayodhya and thus undo the harm that Our father caused by his weakness. You are a kshatriya, and so it Your duty to act like one, not like a rishi. You are a grihastha, which is the noblest of the four ashrams. Why are You abandoning the duties of married life? If You refuse to return to Ayodhya, then I shall also not go back. I will remain here in the forest like You and Lakshman.”

Rama replied, “My dear Bharata, You are wrongly criticizing Our father by saying that he was impelled by lusty attachment for Kaikeyi. At the time of the King’s marriage to Kaikeyi, her father had made him promise that it would be her son who succeeded him as emperor. Please go back to Ayodhya, so that Our father’s promise can be kept intact. You must take responsibility for ruling the kingdom, even if it is only for My sake.”

A great rishi named Jabali was accompanying Vasishtha, and he was the next to speak. In the hopes of arousing within Rama the desire to enjoy royal opulence and sense gratification, thus facilitating His return to Ayodhya, Jabali expounded an atheistic philosophy.

The rishi said, “O Prince, a living being is nothing more than the resultant combination of a sperm and an ovum. The father is called the efficient cause of the living entity and the mother is called the material cause. But in reality, the only cause of creation is the chance interaction of atomic particles. When a person dies, he once again becomes dust. Thus, everything we see is just a combination of atoms and nothing more. What we call mother, father, son or daughter, have no real relationship with us.”

“Rama, why should You suffer, just for the sake of Your so-called father? What is the use in performing the shraddha ceremony? Can a dead man eat Your offerings? Whatever we perceive is the all-in-all. Therefore, You should enjoy what is pleasing to the senses, by accepting the kingdom from Bharata.”

After hearing this, Rama heatedly replied, “Your views are actually impiety in the garb of piety, and because of this, they are most dangerous. In the guise of wisdom, you are preaching the grossest ignorance.”

“One who lives only for the pleasure of the senses becomes a slave to uncontrolled lust and greed. Truth is the highest principle of virtue, and so I will adhere to the order of My father without being swayed by the aspiration for personal sense enjoyment. This earth is the field of activities, and when one attains the rarely achieved human birth, only pious acts should be performed.”

“My father made a mistake by keeping you as an advisor because your views are staunchly atheistic like those of Charvaka and the Buddhists. People like you are so condemned that the Vedas prohibit one from even seeing the face of an atheist.”

Jabali then admitted, “Rama, I am actually a follower of the Vedas, and I have firm faith in the existence of God. I was only speaking from the atheistic point of view to try and persuade You to return to Ayodhya.”

Rama had become terribly angry while listening to Jabali’s atheistic discourse, and so Vasishtha also spoke to pacify Him. The rishi said, “Rama, every king in the Ikshvaku dynasty had selected his eldest son to inherit the kingdom. The unbroken rule is that as long as an elder brother is alive, no younger brother can sit upon the throne. Therefore, I implore You to return to Ayodhya. To deny my order would be irreligious, because the guru’s instructions take precedence over those given by a mother or father.”

Rama remained adamant, however, insisting that one’s duty to his parents is inviolable. When Bharata finally understood that His attempt to persuade Rama had failed, He became so depressed that he ordered Sumantra, “Spread kusha grass in front of the door to Rama’s cottage. I am going to sit there blindfolded, fasting from all food and drink, until Rama relents and accepts the royal throne.”

Sumantra would not act without Rama’s order, however, and so Bharata spread the kusha grass with His own hands and then sat down at the entrance to Rama’s cottage. Rama then said, “My dear brother, I have not done You any harm. Why are You trying to force Me like this?”

In response, Bharata appealed to all those present there, “Why are you standing like statues? Why don’t you try and dissuade Rama from His determination to remain here in the forest?”

The people replied, “Since Rama is fully determined to fulfill His father’s promise, it is very difficult for us to even think of arguing with Him.”

Rama then said, “My dear brother, why don’t You also accept this attitude, instead of stubbornly trying to oppose Me?”

At last, Bharata gave up the idea of fasting until death. Still, He pleaded, “Rama, let me act as Your proxy by staying here in the forest for fourteen years while You return to Ayodhya to rule the kingdom.”

Rama replied, “This is not a proper proposal, for the use of a proxy is only sanctioned when one is incapable of performing some act.”

Just then, a host of celestial rishis appeared invisibly in the sky and praised the wonderful conversation between the two divine brothers. Desiring to accelerate the death of Ravana, the rishis said, “Bharata, you should follow Your elder brother’s advice.”

Rama was very pleased to hear this, but Bharata still pleaded, “I am not powerful enough to rule the kingdom, and so You must go back to take charge of the administration.”

Saying this, Bharata fell at Rama’s lotus feet. Rama took Bharata upon His lap and said, “My dear brother, You are quite capable of ruling the kingdom in My absence. My mind cannot be deterred from its decision, and so You must give up all reluctance and accept the responsibility that has come to You.”

At last surrendering to the inevitable, Bharata brought forth a pair of wooden sandals that were inlaid with gold and requested Rama to place His lotus feet upon them. Rama put on the shoes and then immediately gave them back to Bharata.

Bharata bowed down to Rama and said, “After relegating the burden of ruling the kingdom to these shoes, I will remain outside Ayodhya, keeping matted hair and wearing clothes of tree-bark. Rama, I will eat only fruit and roots while awaiting Your return. But, if after fourteen years You do not come back, I will give up my life by entering fire.”

Rama accepted this statement and then embraced Bharata and Shatrughna. He assured Them that after the expiry of His term of exile, He would return home to sit on the throne. With tears in His eyes, Rama bid farewell to His brothers, while urging them not to neglect Kaikeyi. Rama spoke some very sweet words to His mothers, but they were too upset to say anything in reply. Rama then implored everyone to return to Ayodhya, and after doing so, He turned His back and entered His cottage.

Thereafter, placing Rama’s shoes upon his head, Bharata got onto his chariot, along with Shatrughna, and set out, keeping the brahmanas in front.

After arriving at Bharadvaja’s ashram, Bharata went and offered his obeisances to the rishi. In answer to Bharadvaja’s inquiries, Bharata described Rama’s determination to remain in exile. Vasishtha then brought Rama’s shoes and requested Bharadvaja to empower them with the potency to fulfill all the needs of Ayodhya’s citizens. This was done ceremonially by the rishi, after which Bharata took permission to depart.

Returning by the same path by which he came to the forest, Bharata eventually arrived at the outskirts of Ayodhya. Seeing the city’s desolate appearance, he remarked to Sumantra, “Without Rama, Ayodhya has no life, just as the material body becomes inert after the passing away of the soul.”

After entering his father’s palace, Bharata broke down and cried because of its bleak and desolate appearance. At this time, he made up His mind to retire to Nandigrama and live there like an ascetic. The ministers praised this noble determination. Bharata then called for His chariot and departed, along with Shatrughna. Out of spontaneous affection, all the citizens followed Bharata as He went to Nandigrama. Upon His arrival, Bharata first of all ordered His ministers to place Rama’s shoes upon the throne.

Thereafter, as He remained at Nandigrama, along with His army, Bharata submitted all the state affairs to Rama’s shoes, as well as all the gifts that were presented to Him. Bharata would often be seen holding the royal umbrella over Rama’s shoes, or else fanning them with a chamara. In this way, Bharata ruled the kingdom for fourteen years, always feeling Himself subordinate to Lord Rama, who remained there in the form of His shoes.

Meanwhile, Rama began to notice anxiety in the minds of the rishis living in the vicinity of Chitrakoot. Feeling that perhaps He was the cause, Rama humbly approached the leader of the rishis and said, “I can see that there is something disturbing the minds of the rishis living here. If you can, please disclose the reason for this, especially if there is some fault on My part.”

The elderly rishi replied, “My dear Rama, there could never be any fault on Your part. Our fear is caused by the Rakshasas, headed by Khara, the younger brother of Ravana. Being envious by nature, Khara and the other Rakshasas come before us in hideous forms, and while disrupting our sacrifices, they pollute our bodies with foul substances. We plan to move to another area before the Rakshasas resort to violence. I will take my disciples to Ashva Muni’s ashram, which is not very far from here. If You like, You can accompany us and take up residence there.”

Rama informed the rishi that He preferred to remain at Chitrakoot. But after some time, He also made up His mind to go to Atri Muni’s ashram, feeling disturbed by memories of Bharata and His mothers’ visit there. The rishi received Sita, Rama and Lakshman very warmly, as if They were his own children, and Sita took the opportunity of meeting his elderly wife, Anasuya. While Sita listened with rapt attention, Anasuya spoke about the duties of a chaste wife.

Finally, being very pleased with Sita, Anasuya said, “My dear child, I wish to offer you a benediction by utilizing my ample stock of ascetic merit. Just tell me what it is that you would like.”

Sita replied, “O saintly lady, your presence is, in itself, sufficient benediction.”

Nevertheless, Anasuya gave Sita an unfading celestial garland, celestial garments and ornaments, and cosmetics that were inexhaustible. When evening approached, Anasuya asked Sita to go and attend to her husband, after putting on her newly acquired dress and jewelry. Rama was very pleased to see Sita in this way, and that night They slept at Atri’s ashram. The next morning Rama inquired from Atri Muni about the path to the Dandaka forest.

At this time, the rishi warned, “This forest is infested with fierce and malicious Rakshasas. They take pleasure in devouring anyone who neglects to wash his mouth after eating, or who is inattentive in following other such injunctions.”

Rama said goodbye to Atri Muni and Anasuya, and then, along with Sita and Lakshman, He entered the dense forest, like the moon entering a mass of dark clouds.