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Chapter 7

Rāma Agrees to Depart

Towards the end of night, Vasiṣṭha, accompanied by numerous disciples, hastily entered Ayodhya from his hermitage outside the city. He went along the well-swept and watered streets, all thronging with citizens eagerly awaiting Rāma’s installation. Crossing the outer courtyard of the king’s palace, which was decorated all over with rows of flags, he approached Daśaratha’s inner chambers. The ṛṣi saw the courtyard crowded with large numbers of Brahmins reciting sacred hymns from the Vedas. Upon reaching the palace gate he was met by Sumantra, who prostrated himself before the sage and then immediately left to inform Daśaratha of his arrival.

As he passed through the palace and approached the inner chambers, Sumantra was entirely ignorant of his master’s present plight. He composed in his mind pleasing prayers with which to greet the king, who was dearer to him than his own father. The guards informed Sumantra that the king was in Kaikeyi’s chambers and, as he arrived at her door, he began to loudly recite those prayers. “Even as the sun, which sustains all beings, arouses the world, arise now, O Emperor, like the sun rising from the eastern hills. As Mātali, the minister of Indra, extolled his master who then rose up and conquered the demons, so do I now extol you to rise up and do your duty, O lord. All of us await you with joined palms. The glorious sage Vasiṣṭha has arrived with other sages and stands ready to perform the sacred installation ceremony of Rāma. Order us now to proceed, O mighty monarch.”

Hearing Sumantra speaking at the door, Daśaratha became overwhelmed with sorrow once more. He went to his charioteer and embraced him. The king looked at Sumantra with eyes reddened with grief. “Today, O Sumantra, your well-chosen words only pierce my heart with pain.” Daśaratha’s happiness had ended. He could not say anything more and simply stood with tears flowing down his face.

Sumantra was unable to fathom the cause of the king’s sadness. He stepped back with tightly joined palms. This was strange. Surely this was the happiest day of Daśaratha’s life. For so long he had desired a successor. At last his desire was about to be fulfilled.

Seeing the mystified Sumantra, Kaikeyi said, “The king has remained awake the entire night, considering Rāma’s installation. Sleeplessness has made him unwell. He wishes now to see his son. Therefore bring Rāma here.”

The intelligent minister looked at Daśaratha. Something was surely wrong. On such a momentous occasion why was the king not himself going to fetch Rāma? Daśaratha saw his minister’s confusion. Reassuring him, the king told him to fetch Rāma. Sumantra considered then that his master might just be exhausted from the preparations for the installation. Saying “It shall be done,” he bowed low and left for Rāma’s palace.

Meanwhile the priests were making ready all the items required for the ceremony. Around a beautifully carved and adorned wooden seat were arranged many gold pitchers filled with water from all the sacred rivers, ready to anoint Rāma. Above the seat was a large white umbrella which shone like the full moon on a clear night. Excellent musicians played melodies appropriate to the mood, while Brahmins chanted Vedic texts meant to invoke good fortune. The brilliant sun rose in a clear sky and everyone eagerly awaited the arrival of the king and his son.

Sumantra reached Rāma’s palace, which was as splendid as Mount Kailāsa. Secured with oak doors fifty feet tall, and embellished with hundreds of balconies, its main facade was adorned with gold images studded with innumerable gems. The outer gateway was constructed of coral worked with gold and embedded with large precious stones of every description. As Sumantra passed through that gateway he was greeted by delightful music and the aroma of various incenses. Peacocks and cranes crowded the courtyard, which was graced with blossoming trees and bushes.

Sumantra descended from his chariot and entered the palace, which was in no way inferior to the palace of Kuvera, the god of riches. Enlivened by simply seeing that palace, Sumantra passed through three entrances, each guarded by powerful young warriors wielding spears and bows. Rāma was as dear to him as his own life and his heart pounded with joy as he approached the inner chambers. The corridors through the palace were cool and delightful, decorated with fine wood carvings and lit by the luster of thousands of celestial gems. Arriving at the gate to Rāma’s personal quarters, Sumantra asked the doorkeepers there to inform Rāma of his arrival. Rāma, who was alone with Sītā, immediately instructed that Sumantra be shown into His room.

Sumantra went before Rāma, whom he found seated upon a gold couch, being fanned gently with a whisk by Sītā. Richly adorned with costly garments and smeared with crimson sandal-paste, Rāma seemed to shine like the midday sun. He smiled affectionately at Sumantra, who fell prostrate on the ground, offering prayers. Rising up with folded hands, the minister said, “Most blessed is Kaushalya for having had You as her son. Your father, along with Queen Kaikeyi, now desires to see You. Be pleased to go there without delay.”

Rāma looked at Sītā and said, “Surely My father is speaking with his queen about My installation. I think the blessed Kaikeyi, always favorable to My father, must even now be urging the king to make haste with the ceremony, knowing as she does how much the emperor longs for its completion. As he has sent his most trusted messenger to fetch Me, the king along with his most beloved queen undoubtedly wish to bless Me that My installation will proceed without impediment.”

Rāma rose to leave and the dark-eyed and lovely Sītā invoked divine blessings upon Him. Following Her husband to the gate She said, “After installing You as Prince Regent, the king should, in course of time, consecrate You as the ruler of this world, even as Brahmā installed Indra as the ruler of the gods. I wish to serve You in that state. May the great deities Indra, Yamarāja, Varuṇa and Kuvera, the guardians of the four quarters, guard You from every side.”

Along with Sumantra, Rāma went out from His palace quarters as a mighty mountain lion might emerge from his cave. Rāma saw Lakṣman standing at the first gate, bent low with joined palms. At the middle gate Rāma met His friends and relations and He greeted them all according to their status, offering obeisances or embracing them.

Within the courtyard Rāma mounted upon a golden chariot, which shone like fire and was covered over with white tiger skins, and had thousands of small golden bells hanging from its sides. The charioteer spurred on the tall steeds, which were as powerful as young elephants, and the chariot moved away swiftly with a deep rumbling. As the outer gates swung open, Rāma’s chariot came out from the palace like the moon emerging from behind a cloud.

Rāma went along the main road, preceded by a platoon of mailed warriors wearing swords and carrying bows. The prince sat peacefully while Lakṣman fanned Him. He smiled at the people who thronged the streets in the thousands. His chariot was followed by great elephants resembling moving mountains. Thousands of horsemen brought up the rear. Poets and singers chanted Rāma’s praises to the accompaniment of divine music echoing in the heavens. Mixed with these sounds were the shouts of the warriors, which resembled the roaring of lions.

On the balconies and at the windows of the mansions lining the roads stood women who showered Rāma on all sides with flowers. The ladies also praised Sītā, saying, “Surely that godly lady has performed the highest penances to have been blessed with this great hero Rāma as Her husband.”

The citizens, seeing Rāma pass by, uttered blessings. “May victory attend You!” they cried out. Others were heard to say, “Here goes Rāma, who will today inherit the royal fortune. Fortunate too are we who will soon be ruled by Him.”

Being extolled everywhere, Rāma rode down the highway, which was lined with white houses appearing like clouds and with shops filled with abundant produce of every variety. The streets were strewn with jewels and with grains of rice and blades of sacred kusha grass. Brahmins made offerings of ghee lamps and incense to Rāma as He passed, invoking divine blessings and saying, “We would renounce every worldly happiness simply to see Rāma coming out of the palace as Prince Regent today. Indeed, even liberation itself is not so desirable.”

None could turn away their eyes or mind from Rāma as He went along the road in Ayodhya. Everyone looking upon Rāma also felt that He was glancing at them. Gradually Rāma and His entourage arrived at Daśaratha’s palace. Rāma passed through the three outer gates on His chariot and then got down and passed through the last two gates on foot. He politely sent back all those persons who had followed Him, even though they found it difficult to part from Him. At last Rāma reached the inner chambers alone and approached Kaikeyi’s rooms.

As He entered the rooms, Rāma saw the afflicted king seated with Kaikeyi on a golden couch. He bowed at His father’s feet, then laid himself low before Kaikeyi, His mind fully composed. Daśaratha appeared dejected and distressed, his face streaked with tears. He sat burning with agony and repeatedly sighing, appearing like the eclipsed sun or like a holy Brahmin who has told a lie. Seeing his son standing before him with a modest demeanor and folded palms, the monarch said only, “Rāma,” and could not say another word, being overcome by grief.

Rāma was seized with apprehension to see His father in that unusual state. Like the ocean at the rising of the full moon, Rāma became agitated. He was devoted to the king and was saddened to see him so sorrowful. How was it that on such a day His father did not greet Him? Even when angry he would always rise to bless his son. Why was he now remaining seated, looking downwards and weeping silently? Rāma went before Kaikeyi, who sat at a distance from the king, and addressed her alone.

“O godly lady, pray tell Me the reason for My father’s distress,” Rāma asked gently. “Even though always affectionate to Me, why does he not greet Me today? Have I unwittingly committed some offense? Is the king angry with Me for My having failed in some way to respect him?”

Kaikeyi remained silent and Rāma continued. “I hope no suffering caused by illness or mental anguish has afflicted My father. Truly it is said that everlasting happiness cannot be had in this world. I hope I have not offended anyone dear to the king. If I were unable to please My father or if I failed to do his bidding and thus angered him, I would not survive even for an hour. What wretched man would not devotedly serve his father, a veritable god to him on earth, to whom he owes his own birth in this world?”

Understanding from Kaikeyi’s taut expression that there was tension between her and His father, Rāma said, “Perhaps My father has been hurt by some utterance of yours, O fair-faced queen, made out of vanity or anger. My dear Kaikeyi, please inform Me of the cause of this unprecedented disturbance to the emperor, for I am very curious.”

Upon hearing this question from the high-minded Rāma, Kaikeyi, who had become impudent and was thinking only of her own interests, replied boldly, “The emperor is neither angry nor anguished, O Rāma. However, there is something on his mind which he will not disclose for fear of hurting You, his beloved son. Having made a promise to me, the king now repents and wishes to retract his word, just like any other common man. The ever-truthful monarch wants to build a dam across a stream whose waters have already flowed away. Truth is the root of piety. This is known to the righteous. O Rāma, take care lest the king loses now his piety for Your sake, angry as he is with me.”

Looking into Rāma’s apprehensive eyes, Kaikeyi said, “If You will undertake to do whatever the king may ask, be it good or bad for You, then I shall explain everything. I shall speak out the king’s promise only as long as it shall not fail because of You; but the king himself will not in any event tell You.”

Rāma was distressed to hear Kaikeyi speaking in this way. Within the hearing of the emperor He replied to her, “Alas, how shameful it is that I should hear words expressing doubt about My devotion to My father! You should never think this, O glorious lady. At My father’s command I would this very moment leap into blazing fire, swallow a deadly poison or plunge into the depths of the ocean. Therefore tell Me, My dear mother, what is on your mind? By My avowed word I shall without doubt do whatever is desired by the king. Know that Rāma’s word is always truth!”

Seeing the king mute and the guileless Rāma prepared to carry out her desire, Kaikeyi felt her purposes all but accomplished. In an unkind voice she revealed her wicked intentions to Rāma.

“It is well known how I once saved the king’s life and how, as a result, he granted me a couple of boons. Against those boons I solicited today a promise from the king to fulfill my desire. I wish for Bharata to be installed in Your place and for You to go to the forest, remaining there for fourteen years. O descendant of emperors, prove true to Your word and to that of Your father. Indeed, rescue the king from the ignominy of impiety and leave without delay. Let Bharata be duly consecrated with all the paraphernalia arranged for You. While He remains here to rule this wide and prosperous earth, You shall remain for fourteen years in some distant forest, wearing matted locks and the barks of trees.”

The king cried out in pain as Kaikeyi spoke. Rāma stood by without showing any emotion as the queen continued. “Overcome by compassion for You, this monarch cannot even look at Your face. O Rāma, ornament of Your line, make good his promise and deliver him from his difficult and awkward situation!”

Even though Kaikeyi uttered such cruel words, Rāma did not yield to grief. The king, however, felt increasing agony as he thought about his impending separation from Rāma. He listened in silence as Rāma replied to Kaikeyi, “So be it! To honor My father’s promise I shall put on the dress of an ascetic and depart forthwith for the forest. You need entertain no doubt in this regard, O queen. Why, though, does not My father greet Me as before? I could never transgress his order, even as the ocean, by the order of the Supreme Lord, can never transgress its shores.”

Rāma looked across at His father, who could not return His glance. The king kept his head down and wept softly. Rāma turned back to Kaikeyi. “Ordered only by you, O Kaikeyi, I would joyfully part with, in favor of Bharata, not only the kingdom but also all My personal property, My wedded wife Sītā and even My own beloved Self. How much more gladly would I part with these things when ordered by My father, the emperor himself, in order to please you and honor his pledge? Please reassure My afflicted father, for seeing him sitting there shedding tears pains Me greatly. He may feel assured that I shall immediately enact his desire without feeling any sorrow at all. Let swift horses be sent for Bharata. Without questioning My father’s command I shall now quickly proceed to the forest!”

The ignoble Kaikeyi then rejoiced at heart. Confident that Rāma would soon leave, she urged Him to hurry. “Let it be so!” she exclaimed. “Messengers may leave immediately to fetch Bharata from His uncle’s kingdom. You should not wait a moment, O Rāma, lest some impediment presents itself. Keen as You are to depart, leave right now. Do not be concerned for the king’s silence, for he is too shy to ask You himself. Let this apprehension be banished from Your mind and make haste. As long as You have not left, the king will take neither food nor water.”

Drawing a deep sigh with the words, “Alas, how very painful,” the king collapsed unconscious on the couch. Rāma gently placed His cool hands on His father’s forehead and raised him up. The prince was again urged on by Kaikeyi. Turning towards her, Rāma said, “I have no desire to live in this world as a slave to material gains. Like the ṛṣis I am devoted only to righteousness. I will always do whatever is agreeable to My adorable father, even at the cost of My life. The greatest piety lies in serving one’s father. Indeed, O gentle lady, greater still is service to the mother, according to sacred texts. Surely you do not see any good points in Me, O princess of Kekaya, as you felt it necessary to ask such a minor thing of My father. Your request alone would have sufficed. I shall go to a lonely forest and live there for fourteen years. Please bear with Me only as long as it takes for Me to take leave of My other mothers and to gain the agreement of Sītā. Try to ensure that Bharata protects the kingdom and serves His aged father, for this is the eternal morality.”

Unable to speak due to grief, Daśaratha wept aloud. Rāma bowed low at the feet of His royal father and also before the hard-hearted Kaikeyi. He was moved by acute sorrow but He kept it within Himself, showing no external sign. Joining His palms and circumambulating His father and stepmother, Rāma departed.

He then made His way towards Kaushalya’s rooms. Lakṣman, hearing from Rāma of the turn of events, followed close behind, His eyes brimming with tears. Reaching the room where the installation was to be performed, Rāma respectfully went around the royal seat without casting His eyes upon it. Despite His renouncing the rulership of the world, no change of mood could be perceived in Rāma, any more than in a perfect yogī who has completely transcended all dualities.

Forbidding the use of the royal umbrella which was offered Him as he left, as well as the pair of beautiful royal whisks, Rāma sent away His ministers, His chariot and the citizens. The news of Rāma’s impending exile had spread quickly and the people were shocked and dismayed. By mastery over His mind and senses Rāma controlled His own agony upon seeing the people’s sadness. He exhibited His normal peaceful demeanor and approached Kaushalya’s apartments. He was followed by Lakṣman, who, seeing His brother equipoised, was strenuously controlling His own emotions. Rāma smiled softly. He was as dear to His relatives as their own lives and He did not wish to display any feelings which would cause them pain.

As he entered Kaushalya’s quarters a loud and pathetic cry came from the ladies. “Alas, here is that Rāma who has served all of us exactly as He did His own mother. Today He will leave for the forest. How could the foolish king exile the harmless Rāma and thus bring ruin to the world?”

Hearing from a distance the piteous wail, Daśaratha shrank with shame and hid his head beneath the silken sheets on his couch. Rāma went towards Kaushalya’s room. He carefully maintained His composure, although He felt agonised at seeing the suffering of His relatives. As He approached the outer entrance of Kaushalya’s apartment He saw many doorkeepers seated and standing there. They quickly flocked around Rāma, uttering blessings on the young prince. At the middle entrance Rāma was greeted by elderly Brahmins who were constantly reciting Vedic hymns. Bowing low before them, Rāma entered and came to the inner door where He was led into Kaushalya’s chamber by her personal maidservants.