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AMA ONLY EVER SPOKE the truth. He was grateful for the smallest favour received from others but never took offence from their actions. He understood people and knew how to encourage and correct them, so that they felt appreciated when they were with him. He always kept a positive outlook on life and had a natural sense of the right time and place for everything.
Although he was already far advanced in knowledge he continued to study science, politics and economics, as well as military arts. He wanted to protect his people from all harm, so he learned battle strategies and military command, and in personal combat none could defeat him. Besides all this he still found time to enjoy himself and was a keen patron of music and the arts and an accomplished rider. For all these reasons he shone before all like the Sun god, and all his people loved him.
Not surprisingly, of all his sons Dasaratha loved Rama the most. Emperor Dasaratha was getting old, and seeing how well Rama was doing he decided to pass control of the kingdom over to him. Bad omens had been seen recently, which further convinced him that he should place responsibility for the kingdom into younger and more capable hands. He called together his ministers and advisers and put it to them that it was time to hand over to Rama, but he did not invite Bharata to be present. One reason for this was that Bharata was far away, staying with his uncle Yudhajit, in the state of Kekaya. But there was another reason. Dasaratha had once promised to Kaikeyi's father that her son would be crowned king of Ayodhya. In view of this, he thought it best not to give Bharata the opportunity to object to Rama's coronation.
After thousands of years in the service of my people my body is worn out and my mind exhausted,' Dasaratha's voice rumbled like distant thunder. 'I now wish to install Rama as king.' He paused. 'Does anyone wish to speak?
The assembly shifted uneasily. They had to choose their words carefully. How could they show their enthusiasm for Rama without appearing to suggest that the emperor was indeed growing old?
Mother Earth wants Rama as her guardian,' spoke up Vasistha, 'therefore she has inspired you to think in this way. if it is her wish and yours, then it is also ours. Let Rama be our protector.' Dasaratha seemed pleased with his answer.
Then let us make haste. Now is a good time for the ceremony. The trees are in blossom and spring is upon us.'
So it was decided. Priests were sent for and hasty preparations began. Ingredients were gathered: white flowers from the meadows, dried paddy, grains, curds, ghee, honey, fragrant oils, gold and precious stones.
Call the royal guard, decorate the gateways let the dancers perform. Tomorrow the moon stands in conjunction with the auspicious star Pusya and there is no time to lose,' decreed Dasaratha. When all was underway he called aside his personal assistant, Sumantra, and spoke quietly to him, 'Bring Rama to see me.'
Rama prostrated himself full-length before his father and waited for the familiar touch of his hand. Dasaratha drew his son to him and hugged him long before sitting him on an ornate seat. He loved to look at Rama.
I am getting old. I have done all I had to do for the gods, the sages, the Brahmans, the people and for myself'. But still there is one thing that remains: I must install you as my successor. I have decided that you should be crowned king. The date for your coronation is fixed for tomorrow.
Rama listened quietly, taking in his father's words. He enjoyed life as a royal prince and had no wish for this sudden change. But his father's word was law and his deep sense of duty and his love for the old man who had always shown him such affection bound him absolutely. To question his wishes would be unthinkable.
Always be humble, control your senses and avoid anger. Lay up stocks of wealth and food grains. Keep your courtiers happy.' Dasaratha went on with his good advice while Rama listened respectfully. When the interview was finished, he hurried home to tell Sita the news.
Meanwhile, news spread through the city. As Rama returned to his house crowds pressed around to congratulate him. He arrived home and was searching for Sita to tell her about the coronation when he was surprised to see Sumantra again and to hear that the emperor had called for him a second time. Concerned, he hastened to his father.
My dreams are troubled by omens, meteors have been sighted, and my astrologers have warned that the planets are against me,' Dasaratha told him. 'They say I must take advantage of tomorrow's favourable moon to crown you before it is too late. I am worried about Bharata. He is your loyal and honest brother and he is far away, but he may lay claim to the throne. We must be on our guard tonight. To ward off bad for-tune you and Sita should observe a fast through the night and sleep on the bare floor.
Quickly now Rama went in search of Sita. He found her attending his mother in the temple. Kausalya had long wanted her son crowned, and now her prayers had been answered. Silently she sat in grateful meditation on Vishnu, the Lord of the Heart. Becoming aware of her son's presence, she joyfully embraced him. '
0 Rama, may you live long, and may your enemies be destroyed! Now all my sacrifices and prayers to Lord Vishnu have been fulfilled.
Lakshmana came in and bowed. Rama put his arm around him and said, 'Rule with me. This blessing is for both of us.' Then taking leave, he and Sita made their way home.
TFIE TEN incarnations, or avatars, of Vishnu are a recurrent theme in Vedic literature. Vishnu enters this world to restore its balance, described below by Krishna, the original Vishnu
Whenever there id a decline in religion, and a rise of irreligan, I incarnate myself. To protect the good, to destroy the wicked, and to re-establish religious principled, I appear in every age.
The ten avatars of Vishnu are: Matsya the fish, who saved all creatures from the universal flood; Kurma the tortoise, who helped the gods gain immortality; Varaha the boar, who rescued the earth from the bottom of the universe; Narasimha the man-lion, who killed the demon Hiranya Kasipu; Vamana the dwarf, who defeated the demon Bali; Parasurama, who defeated the war-like kings; Rama, who killed the demon Ravana; Balarama, brother of Krishna; Buddha, who taught compassion; and Kalki, who will come at the end of time to vanquish evil and inaugurate a new cycle of the universe.
At Rama's palace there were scenes of celebration. Soon Vasistha arrived, sweeping up to the inner gate in his chariot and hurrying inside. Dasara.tha had sent him with further counsel. '
There is no going back on this now, Rama. It is most important that you observe the fast according to the proper rules given in the sacred texts.'
After Vasistha left, Sita and Rama lit a sacred fire and made offerings to Vishnu. Then they spread grass mats on the bare floor of the temple and lay down to sleep, thinking only of Lord Vishnu.
Manthara stood on the roof' of the royal palace surveying the scene below. She had heard nothing about Rama's coronation, but she could tell from the flags, the freshly-watered streets, the commotion and noise that something was happening.
Have you heard? Tomorrow the emperor is to install Rama on the throne.' The words, spoken joyfully by Rama's old nurse, who had just appeared on the roof, hit Manthara's ears like a thunderclap. To her alone in Ayodhya this news was not wonderful. She was Queen Kaikeyi's aged personal maidservant. When Kaikeyi had married Dasaratha, Manthara had come with her as part of' the royal household and she was fiercely loyal to her mistress, particularly as her deformity gave her few other friends: she was a hunchback.
She hurried down to find her mistress as usual reclining in her bedroom.
Get up!' she scolded. 'This is no time to sleep. Your luck is about to evaporate like a river in the dry season. In the absence of your son Bharata your deceitful husband plans to install Rama on the throne. You must act quickly to protect your rights!' Kaikeyi was bemused at this statement. She looked upon Rama as her own son. His good fortune was hers, and would be shared with all his brothers.
You are the bearer of joy, Manthara. Why should I be unhappy to hear this?' 'Foolish woman, what is there to celebrate? Don't you see? Once Rama is king your son will be powerless and you will be forced to serve Queen Kausalya.' Manthara knew that Kaikeyi, as the youngest of Dasaratha's wives, was not fond of Kausalya. But these words made Kaikeyi indignant.
Rama is full of virtue and deserves to be king. Besides he is the eldest brother and it is his right. He will look after Bharata and me as he would his own mother. Already he serves me more than he does her. Anyway, Bharata can still be king. After a hundred years when Rama retires, he will hand over to Bharata, as Dasaratha has to him.
How can you be so stupid as to think Bharata will ever get the throne? Once Rama is king the succession will go to his son, as it always does, and Bharata will be excluded forever from the royal line. Rama will more likely send Bharata into exile. Rama should be sent away instead, and Bharata should have the throne. You must act to protect Bharata and yourself from the schemes of your co-wife. Find a way to give Bharata the throne and banish Rama.
Kaikeyi heard this with increasing alarm. It was true that she had always wanted Bharata to be king, especially because Dasaratha had promised it so, and she did resent Kausalya's seniority. Now Manthara's crooked words fed her fears and ignited a resentment born of long frustration. Her lethargy turned to anger.
Perhaps you speak the truth, Manthara. Maybe Rama should be sent away and Bharata put on the throne. But how on earth could it be done?' 'You yourself have the means, you told me in the past. Must I remind you?' Kaikeyi got up from her bed. Her interest was definitely aroused.
Once when Dasaratha was severely wounded on the battlefield, you saved his life by taking him away to a safe place. At that time he offered you two boons. You said you would ask for them later, to which he said, "So be it!" You told me this long ago and I have treasured it ever since, waiting for the right time to help you. Now you should ask for these two boons to be granted. First, ask that Bharata be put on the throne. Second, demand that Rama be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years,' exclaimed Manthara.
Kaikeyi listened with excitement as Manthara told her to enter her chamber of wrath, her private room for anger and depression, throw off her ornaments and finery, loosen her hair and lie on the floor. When her husband would find her there she must weep and wail and wait for him to offer her what she wanted.
He will offer you jewels and gifts. Do not accept them. Fix your mind only on the throne for Bharata and banishment for Rama.
Manthara made her put on old clothes and sent her to the chamber of wrath. The delicate queen untied her hair and threw herself upon the ground, scattering her ornaments about her. Tossing from side to side she began to work herself into a frenzy.
If Rama becomes king your life will be misery and your son will surely be killed!' Manthara goaded her.
Either Bharata will be crowned or I will eat nothing and stay here until I die,' said Kaikeyi. Her face darkened by rage and her heart poisoned by Manthara's arrows of hatred, she awaited her husband.
Dasaratha had just seen Rama for the second time and evening was approaching. He had been issuing orders all day and at last he felt confident that all was in hand for the coronation. Now he looked forward to the enjoyable task of telling his dear Kaikeyi the exciting news. As was his habit he went to find her in her bedroom.
Kaikeyi's bedchamber was empty, her bed unused. He found one of her maids who told him nervously that she was in her chamber of wrath. In dismay he entered the darkened room and found her sprawled on the floor, like a creeper torn from a tree, weeping piteously. He knelt beside her, but she pushed him away.
My beloved, who has upset you? What is wrong? Let me put it right. If someone needs to be punished I will punish them, or if someone must be rewarded I will reward them.' The queen took no notice and continued to weep. 'I promise on my honour that I will do whatever pleases you. I rule an empire stretching from the southern Deccan to the Himalayas, from east of Bengal to west of Rajasthan. Whatever you want is yours.' She turned to him. 'No one has insulted me,' she sobbed, 'but there is some-thing I must have. Promise you will give it. Give me your word and I shall tell you what it is.' She had Dasaratha at her mercy.
My dear, I promise you shall have what you want. I swear on my beloved Rama, without whom I could not live for even a day. I swear I will satisfy' your desire. Please let me make you happy again.' Helplessly the emperor was drawn into Kaikeyi's trap.
Indra and the gods have heard your oath. The moon and sun bear witness to your words. Now listen to me.' Kaikeyi's voice hardened. 'Remember when I saved your life and ydlit offered me two boons? Now I want them. If you refuse me I promise I will die. My first request is for Bharata to be installed on the throne in place of Rama. My second is for Rama to be sent this very day to Dandaka Forest for fourteen years to live as hermit.
Dasaratha could not believe his ears. All day he had felt a sense of foreboding which now turned to a throbbing in his head and pain in his heart. He collapsed on the bare floor beside his queen and began to murmur.
0 pity! Pity! Your words are cruel. What harm has Rama ever done you? When the whole world loves him why should I send him away? Life might go on without the sun or water, but I cannot live without Rama. I can't believe you mean what you say. This is not you speaking, but some evil spirit that has entered you. I might agree to put Bharata on the throne, but I will never banish Rama. Take pity on me. I am old and weak. You can have anything I possess, but without Rama I will die. But the emperor's weakness only served to strengthen Kaikeyi's resolve.
You have given me your oath. Are you going back on your promise?' she tormented him. 'Your word has no value? Banish Rama or I shall drink poison.
In vain Dasaratha tried to reason with this cruel queen, by turns groaning and pleading. How would Rama, who knew only fine food and soft beds, survive alone in the forest? Rama was so noble and obedient that if asked he would go at once with-out complaint, but what of Sita and Kausalya? Surely they would die of' broken hearts without him. Indeed who would wish to stay in Ayodhya if he were gone? Even Bharata would not stay. And Dasaratha would be ridiculed and die. Kaikeyi would be left alone to preside over the collapse of the empire. But the woman's heart was hard and cold and his words useless. Spent, he collapsed at her feet, a broken man.
Darkness fell and the palace became silent. Dasaratha lay unconscious. As the long night passed, he drifted in and out of wakefulness, pleading and whimpering, and dreading the arrival of dawn. The queen, however, was alert with angry determination. As the sky lightened she commanded Dasaratha to send for Rama.
0 kings, awake, for today is a glorious day,' he called. 'As the sun wakes the world so do I wake you. Vasistha is here and all is ready. Come and order the installation of' Rama.' From the shadows emerged the emperor, red-eyed and feeble.
I am not asleep, Sumantra. Silence, please. You are only making things worse.' The emperor collapsed onto a couch and Kaikeyi stepped forward.
He was unable to sleep last night in anticipation of today's coronation,' said Kaikeyi. Now he is exhausted. Call Rama to come here at once.' Sumantra hesitated, waiting for the emperor's approval.
Do as she says -bring Rama,' murmured the emperor. Sumantra hurried to fetch him. Hearing that his father wanted him, Rama came out of his palace like a lion from his mountain cave. Joined by Lakshmana he mounted his chariot, inlaid with gems and gold, and moved in state procession through the city. The crowd followed him right up to the inner gate of the palace, where they waited for his return as the ocean waits for the moon.
Rama went inside with Lakshmana. As soon as he saw his father he knew some-thing was terribly wrong. He was sitting with Kaikeyi on her bed, his face black with despair like the sun in an eclipse. Rama bowed at save to falteringly repeat the name 'Rama', and his turned to Kaikeyi in alarm.
What has upset my father? Rama demanded. Why is he in such a state?'
The emperor is not angry. He has something himself' to say the words. If you promise to carry On his own he will never tell you.'
Mother, you know that I will do anything for my father. If he wishes I will drink poison. Tell me his wish and I shall execute it. Rama never goes back on his word!'
Long ago your father offered me two boons, and now I am claiming them. I have asked him to install Bharata on the throne in your place and to exile you to Dandaka Forest for fourteen years where you are to live as an ascetic. Now you know why your father cannot look you in the face.
These words made Lakshmana recoil in anger and dismay, but Rama heard them without flinching. His voice remained even-tempered as he replied:
lf the emperor has promised you this then without hesitation I shall go to the forest.' Kaikeyi was delighted to rind Rama so cooperative. Shamelessly she pushed home her advantage, urging him not to waste time in getting ready to leave.
I am not attached to worldly comfort, and I will happily live in the forest for four-teen years. I do not need to hear it personally from my father. Your word as my mother
SADHUS & ASHRAMS
DURING HIS exile Rama met many sadhus, holy men or women, living in the forest. In modern India, Sadhus are still an important part of Hindu life. They practice detachment From the world, following the advice of Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: 'Happiness and distress appear and disappear like the passing of winter and summer They arise from the perception of the senses and you must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.'
his feet. Dasaratha could not speak eyes were blinded with tears. Rama Have I angered him in some way? to ask of you but he cannot bring out his wish This renunciation sets an example to the rest of society and makes sadhus the object of veneration to ordinary people. Even today a genuine sadhu ranks higher than anyone in Hindu society.
An advanced sadhu may become a guru and accept disciples who live with their teacher in the ashram, or place of spiritual shelter. They follow a daily routine beginning before dawn with bathing, worship and study of' the scriptures. Sadhus and their disciples often take vows of celibacy.
Is sufficient, and I will leave today. Make sure Bharata is brought here at once to protect the kingdom and look after my poor ageing father.' So saying Rama bowed before his weeping father and the hateful Kaikeyi and strode purposefully out of the palace, taking with him Lakshmana, whose eyes were brimming with tears of anger.
Rama emerged into the sunlight before the waiting crowd. He sent away his chariot and royal attendants and insisted on walking on foot to see his mother. As he entered her chamber, he saw that she was in the midst of her morning worship, praying for blessings for his installation. Happily, she embraced him. Rama held her tight.
Mother, I have painful news for you. The emperor has decided to give the throne to Bharata and has sent me away to the forest for fourteen years where I must live as a hermit, feeding on roots and herbs.
The queen trembled. The blood drained from her face. She opened her mouth but no sound came out. Rama caught her as she fell and held her in his arms.
My son!' she stammered, 'I would rather have stayed childless than have to hear such words. I cannot bear the pain of losing you. Let death take me.' Lakshmana could stay silent no longer.
The emperor is out of his mind. He is so attached to Kaikeyi that he does not know what he is saying,' he burst out, 'No son should have to obey a senile old man when he is in this state. I should kill him rather than see Rama go.'
Listen to your brother, Rama! Such terrible words have never been spoken in this family. And if you leave I will fast to death. Give up this madness,' said his mother.
Mother, this is not madness. This is my sacred duty. I must obey my father. Don't despair I shall return after fourteen years.' Rama was calm and unmoved. He turned to his brother. 'Truth is the source of our strength, Lakshmana, and must never be given up. There is no use in making threats.' Kausalya cried without control; Lakshmana shook with anger; and Rama stood between them.
Lakshmana, you must understand that truthfulness and honour come before every-thing. I am bound by my father's order. I would rather live in the forest with nothing than rule a kingdom at the cost of my honour. Do not blame Kaikeyi or the emperor for this turn of events. How could Kaikeyi have ever thought of such a thing herself? It is not her doing. They are both under the control of providence. I am also under the same control. I accept this as the will of God.
Lakshmana, however, was wild-eyed and ready to defend Rama by force. 'This is a conspiracy, don't you see? he cried out. 'This story of vows has been fabricated to get rid of you. If it is true, why did we not hear it before? As for your honour, your surrender to fate will be interpreted as weakness and your piety ridiculed. We must fight for what we know is right, not meekly surrender. Tell me who your enemies are and I will destroy them. They will never send you away.' Lakshmana's voice broke with emotion as he wiped away tears of frustration. Rama caught his hand and tried to soothe him.
I know you love me, Lakshmana, and I know you want to help me. Instead of threatening violence on my behalf, use your energies to get everything ready for my departure. I must leave as soon as possible.
Kausalya saw it was useless to try to dissuade Rama. She felt the misery building up inside her, threatening to consume her like a forest fire. She pleaded with Rama that if he must go, let him take her with him. She would look after him and prepare his food. But Rama was adamant.
Poor father will not survive if' both of' us desert him. Dear mother, you know that a woman's duty is to serve her husband.'
Go then, and may the gods protect you. I will wait for your return, my beloved son!
She gathered flowers and incense and chanted hymns, imploring Vishnu to protect her boy. She tied on his wrist an amulet blessed with sacred mantras. Her eyes streaming tears, she held him in her embrace, and smiled bravely. 'I can see you now, dear boy, returning from the forest your face shining as you run towards me, your arms reaching out to embrace me. You are dressed in forest barks with leaves in your hair.
Rama loosened her hold and made to go. 'Hurry back my child,' she cried, 'I cannot wait for long.' He slipped from her grasp.
Writer – Ranchor Prime