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Chapter 8

Grief and Fury

Kaushalya had spent the night in undisturbed prayer and penance on behalf of her son. She was unaware of His meeting with the king and Kaikeyi. Rāma found her seated before the sacrificial fire, surrounded by Brahmins making offerings to Viṣṇu. She was clad in white silk and, although fatigued by fasting, she still appeared most beautiful. Upon seeing Rāma bowing at her feet, she rose up joyfully to embrace and bless Him. “May You attain the age and fame of the virtuous royal sages who have gone before You in our line. Sit with me a little and take breakfast, then go to Your father, the ever-truthful monarch, for today he will install You as the Prince Regent.”

Kaushalya offered Rāma a bejeweled seat next to her, but He merely touched it in respect and said, “O godly lady, surely you do not know that a great calamity has now arrived. What I am going to tell you will cause you unprecedented pain, even as it will My beloved wife Sītā. I am about to leave for the forest; therefore, what need have I of this fine seat? The time has arrived for Me to occupy a mat made of forest grasses. Indeed, in accord with a promise already made to My father, I shall inhabit a lonely forest region, living on fruits and roots. How then can I partake of this royal fare you offer? The emperor will install Bharata as Prince Regent and has exiled Me to the forest, to live like a hermit for fourteen years.”

Kaushalya at once fell down, like a tree severed at its root. Her mind confused, she lay on the floor like a goddess fallen from heaven. Rāma quickly lifted her, gently stroking her face with His hand. Kaushalya slowly regained her senses. Struck with agony, she looked at Rāma, who was controlling His own grief. She knew beyond doubt that her son could not possibly have spoken falsely, nor was He given to flippancy or jest. His words were certainly true and they pierced her heart.

Clasping Rāma’s hand in hers, she spoke in a choked voice. “For a long time I suffered the terrible pain of being childless, O beloved son. Surely the feeling of being without issue is a grief that consumes a barren woman. Before Your birth every effort your father made to please me was futile, O Raghava, for I longed only for a child. Your birth ended that pain, but now I fear that an even greater suffering has arrived.”

Kaushalya could not bear the thought of separation from Rāma. She held Him tightly as she spoke. “Separation from You will rend my heart in two. That pain will be compounded by the cruel words of a junior wife. What could be more painful for a woman? Unending grief and lamentation has become my lot. Even with You by my side I have been despised; what then will be my fate when You are gone, O dear child? Surely I shall soon die.”

Kaushalya thought how she had always been neglected by her husband in favor of Kaikeyi. With Bharata enthroned she would be entirely abandoned. For twenty-seven years she had watched Rāma grow to manhood, awaiting the day when He would assume the throne and end her woes. How could she any longer suffer Kaikeyi’s scorn? Now Rāma, her only solace, was leaving. It seemed her prayers were all in vain. Her fasts and meditations were useless. What was the value of all her self-discipline and sacred observances? Rather than becoming the king, her son was being cast away. Kaushalya condemned herself.

“Surely my heart is hard like steel, for it does not shatter upon hearing this terrible news. Death will not take one before the proper time or else I should have certainly gone immediately to the court of Yamarāja, the great lord of death. If by one’s own sweet will one could meet with death, then in Your absence I would depart this very day. Without You, O Rāma, life will be useless. Therefore, like a cow following its calf, I shall definitely go with You to the forest.”

Wailing in this way Kaushalya contemplated the calamity about to befall her. Rāma was duty bound to His father and would never oppose his order. He would certainly leave without delay. Unable to bear her suffering, Kaushalya collapsed sobbing onto a couch.

Lakṣman stood nearby, writhing in pain. This situation was intolerable. How could Rāma accept it? Why did He not do something? Unable to repress His tumultuous anger, Lakṣman spoke furiously to Kaushalya. “I also find Rāma’s imminent departure to be unacceptable, O glorious lady. Rāma should never relinquish the royal fortune for any cause. Perverted by the words of a woman, the king has lost his good sense. He is desirous of sensual enjoyments and has been overpowered by lust and senility. What will he not say, urged on by the sinful Kaikeyi? To desire the banishment of the powerful Rāma is nothing short of madness. What vice or offense can be found in Rāma? There is no man in this world, even if he be Rāma’s deadly enemy, who could find in Him any fault, even in His absence. What man who respects virtue would forsake such a son, who is equal to the gods, disciplined and kindly disposed even to His enemies? What son would heed such a command from a father who has abandoned righteousness?”

Lakṣman’s furious voice resounded around the chamber. If the king would not give Rāma the kingdom, then it should be taken by force. He would stand by His brother with bow in hand, exhibiting His valor. Let anyone who dared try to prevent the installation of Rāma! He would hold off the entire city of Ayodhya should they oppose Rāma. Whoever supported Bharata would find himself slain by Lakṣman. This situation called for strong action. Why should They accept it meekly? Lakṣman tightly gripped the bow hanging from His shoulder and turned to His brother.

“If, at Kaikeyi’s instigation, our father acts like an enemy, then he should be made captive or even killed without compunction. The scriptures make clear that even a father or a preceptor can be rejected if they lose their discrimination, failing to distinguish between right and wrong. On what authority has the king sought to confer the kingdom upon Kaikeyi’s son when it rightfully belongs to You?”

Breathing hot, heavy sighs, Lakṣman turned back to Kaushalya and assured her that Rāma would be installed as king. He held up His bow. “O godly lady, I swear by My bow that I am truly devoted to Rāma with the whole of My heart. If Rāma enters into blazing fire or retires to the forest, know that I have already done the same. I shall dispel your sorrow by means of My arms even as the sun dispels the morning mist. Let your royal highness along with Rāma witness today My valor. I shall kill my aged and wretched father who, as a result of senility, has entered his second childhood in Kaikeyi’s association.”

Lakṣman stood blazing like fire, yet Rāma remained calm and composed. Kaushalya, weeping, spoke to her son. “Having heard Your brother Lakṣman, who has raised pertinent and proper arguments, consider now what ought to be done. You should not obey the unjust command of Kaikeyi, leaving me here to grieve.”

Kaushalya knew Rāma would act only according to moral laws. He would never be swayed by sentiment to deviate from scriptural codes. She called upon Rāma as his mother. “Dear son, do I not deserve the same obedience as you offer to the king? Is service to the mother not an even higher virtue than service to the father? I cannot allow you to leave, nor could I live in your absence. If you leave I will take a vow to fast until death. You will then be guilty of killing your own mother.”

The queen cried piteously, trying again and again to convince Rāma not to leave. Rāma burned with anguish to hear His mother her express her feelings, but keeping His mind under control, He spoke to her in a gentle voice. “I do not feel able to flout My father’s command, and therefore I wish to enter the forest. The order of one’s father is no less than the order of the Supreme Lord. It cannot be transgressed if one wishes to acquire virtue in this world. The king is not ordering Me to do anything sinful. By obeying his command I shall be following the path of morality, which has ever been followed by pious men. I only desire to do what is right, never otherwise. For as long as one does the bidding of his father, he is never overcome by evil.”

Rāma turned towards Lakṣman and admonished Him, speaking in soft but firm tones. “I know Your unsurpassed love for Me, as well as Your strength of arms, which cannot be easily withstood, O noble prince. My gentle mother does not deeply understand the imports of morality and is thus experiencing great agony. My father’s command is rooted in righteousness and is therefore worthy of being obeyed. Indeed I have already given My word to honor his order. I cannot break My pledge. Since I have been commanded by Kaikeyi according to My father’s promise, O valiant prince, how can I, knowing well the path of piety, neglect that command? Therefore give up this unworthy thought of overthrowing the king. Stand firm on righteousness alone and do not give way to anger and a display of strength. Accept My resolution to follow the royal order.”

Rāma went before His mother and knelt down with folded hands, bowing His head low. He was as devoted to Kaushalya as He was to Daśaratha and did not want to leave without her consent. He again asked her permission to depart. Rāma swore on His life that after the fourteen years had passed He would return and remain in Ayodhya as her devoted servant. He asked her not to yield to sorrow. In accord with the eternal laws of morality she should serve the king. He also desired to follow the path of piety. For that reason He was anxious to leave for the forest in compliance with His father’s order. She should not try to prevent Him.

Hearing His request, Kaushalya felt impassioned. How could her son abandon her in this way? She had always carefully observed her duty as a mother. She was always affectionate towards Rāma. Surely Rāma realized that she would die if He left her now. In a last attempt to change His mind the queen spoke in spirited tones. “As your mother, I do not grant You leave to depart. Am I not as venerable to You as Your father? O Rāma, I cannot face the thought of Your leaving. In Your absence I care not for either life or death. What will be the value of life to me without You, whether it be in this world or in heaven? Your presence for even an hour is more preferable to me than the possession of heaven and earth combined.”

As his mother wailed piteously, Rāma only became all the more desirous to escape, even as a lordly elephant would want to escape when surrounded by men goading it with firebrands towards a trap. Fixed in His determination to do his duty, He replied, “I feel that both you, My dear mother, and the powerful Lakṣman have not properly understood My mind. Thus both of you harass me most painfully. Happiness in this world is temporary and ultimately illusory. Only the foolish think themselves to be the body composed of material elements and thus seek sensual happiness. This body, along with its relations and all its sensual joys, exists for only a few moments. The real self is the eternal soul dwelling in the heart, whose happiness lies only in the pursuit of a godly life.”

Both Kaushalya and Lakṣman listened silently as Rāma spoke eternal spiritual truths. He described how association of friends and relatives was exactly like the coming together of sticks floating in a river. They are thrown together and very soon parted by the swift current of time. Therefore one’s happiness should never depend upon such ephemeral relationships. One should give up all attachment for the body and fix the mind only upon the eternal Supreme Lord, whose order is represented by superiors such as the king. This would bring everlasting happiness. Rāma concluded, “How then can I abandon the righteous path of following My father’s command simply out of attachment for either the kingdom or My relatives?”

Rāma reassured them that he was not at all disturbed to be leaving for the forest. He responded to the suggestion that Daśaratha was acting against the codes of morality. “The king has adhered to virtue even at the cost of his own desires and happiness. Suffering intense pain, he is prepared to abandon his beloved son for the sake of truthfulness. My dear mother, it is he who is always your shelter and means of happiness in both this and the other world. You should therefore remain by his side and serve him. Pray grant Me leave to go to the forest. I shall never accept the rulership of the earth through unrighteousness.”

Rāma stopped speaking and approached the anguished Lakṣman, who was still incensed with His father and Kaikeyi. Lakṣman stood with His eyes open wide in rage, like an infuriated elephant. Rāma gently restrained His devoted brother. “Control now Your anger and grief, O Lakṣman. Take courage and overlook this seeming offense to Myself. Experience instead the joy of assisting Our father to increase his virtue by implementing his pledge. Gentle brother, please send back all the items gathered for My consecration today. Reassure My mother and help Me prepare for My departure.”

Rāma placed His hand on Lakṣman’s shoulder. He was pained to see His brother’s distress, but He had no intention of challenging His father. He had to vindicate the king’s honor. As long as He remained in Ayodhya the king would suffer the pain of seeing his truthfulness questioned. Only when Rāma had left for the forest, clad in deerskins and wearing matted locks, would Kaikeyi be satisfied and the king’s word redeemed.

Lakṣman looked at the ground. He was burning with the thought of the terrible injustice about to be done to His brother, but He could not possibly defy Rāma’s desire. Rāma put His arm around Lakṣman’s shoulder and spoke reassuringly. “All this should be seen as the will of Providence, which can never be flouted. No blame should be attached to Kaikeyi, for it was Providence alone who moved her to make her request to Our father. How could she have ever decided to send Me away? She has always treated Me exactly as has My own mother, Kaushalya. Surely she was prompted by Providence to say to the king those terrible words, giving him such grief. I know her to be gentle and kind. She would never, like a vulgar woman, utter words intended to torment both Myself and Our father.”

Rāma felt no anger towards Kaikeyi and He did not want her to be blamed for what was, after all, a divine arrangement. He continued, “That which cannot be foreseen or understood must be accepted as the will of Providence alone. What man can ever contend with destiny? Joy and sorrow, gain and loss, birth and death—all of these come one after another by the arrangement of Providence or destiny. None can avoid them nor can anyone alter the strong course of destiny. When even the best laid plans go awry without any apparent cause, it is undoubtedly the work of Providence.”

Rāma smiled at Lakṣman whom He knew had spoken only out of love. He asked Him not to lament for that which was unavoidable, decreed by some unseen destiny. Lakṣman should not censure either Their father or Kaikeyi, as they were moved by superior forces. Rāma then asked that the sacred waters gathered for His installation be instead used to anoint Him at the inauguration of His vow of asceticism. He looked at His younger brother with affection. “Beloved Lakṣman, I will soon depart, for this is surely My destiny.”

Lakṣman stood with His head bent low, pondering His brother’s words. His mood swung between distress at Rāma’s impending exile and delight at His brother’s steadfast adherence to virtue. But He was still not fully convinced that it was right for Rāma to leave. Furrowing his brows, He hissed like an angry cobra in a hole. His frowning face appeared like that of a furious lion and was difficult to gaze upon. Violently shaking His head and arms, He said to Rāma, “Your steady devotion to duty is unequalled, O Rāma, but carefully consider its result in this case. By accepting the words of that wicked couple You are prepared to do something that is condemned by all people. I am surprised that You do not suspect the motives of Our father and Kaikeyi. If there were any truth in this story about the boons granted by the king, then why did Kaikeyi not seek their fulfillment long ago?”

Lakṣman accused the king of conspiring with Kaikeyi. Daśaratha must have surely lost his senses under the influence of lust. Along with the covetous Kaikeyi he had made a sinful plan, quite opposed to any morality. He concluded that the king’s authority was therefore fit to be rejected. “Please forgive my intolerance, O Raghava, but I cannot accept Your present piety, which impels You to take as fate this evil turn of events. Nor can I accept that destiny is supreme.”

Lakṣman was a heroic and powerful warrior. His face turned crimson as he went on. Why should one acquiesce to a painful fate as if he is helpless? Only those who are cowardly and weak would trust in destiny alone, Lakṣman argued. The valiant always remain firm of mind. They never become disheartened when their purposes are thwarted by fate. Rather, they exert themselves with all power. Lakṣman stood before Rāma with His bow held high. “Today You shall see Me rushing at the enemy like an uncontrollable king of elephants! Not even all the gods united together will prevent Your consecration today. Those who support Your exile will find themselves either deprived of life or sent to the forest. I will dash the hopes of Our father and Kaikeyi. Anyone opposing Me will find no shelter in destiny as My fierce strength ruthlessly cuts him down!”

Lakṣman drew His sword and cleaved the air. He gave full vent to his rage. The right time for Rāma to retire to the forest had certainly not arrived. He should rule the globe for thousands of years. Only when His own sons were ready to take His place should He leave for the forest. That was the proper course of virtue. Lakṣman seemed about to consume the earth as He spoke.

“If You fear censure for the seemingly sinful act of rejecting father’s order, You should not worry. I shall personally guard You in every way and forcibly repel all those who object to Your accepting this kingdom, even as the coastline holds back the ocean! O Rāma, allow Yourself to be installed today. I alone am able to prevent any impediments to the ceremony. These arms of Mine are not meant simply to add to My attractiveness, nor is this bow a mere ornament, nor are My sword and quivers of arrows hanging on My body as badges of honor. All these are meant for crushing the enemy. Today You will see arrows released like incessant showers of rain. You will witness My sword flashing like lightning as it cuts down all those who stand before Me. The earth will be thickly covered with the arms, legs and heads of heroes. Hewn down by My sword, enemies will drop like so many meteors falling from the sky! While I stand on the battlefield with uplifted weapons how can any man alive be proud of his strength? Today I shall demonstrate the king’s helplessness and establish Your unopposed sovereignty! Tell Me which of Your enemies should this day be deprived of life, fame and relations? Instruct Me how to proceed so that this wide earth will be brought under Your control. O glorious lord of our race, I am here to do Your bidding alone.”

Rāma wiped away His brother’s angry tears. He knew Lakṣman was only speaking out his devotion to Him. Lakṣman knew that ultimately He had to follow Rāma. He knew Rāma could not possibly act against religion or morality. Nevertheless, in His pain He expressed His powerful feelings. Rāma perfectly understood Lakṣman’s mind and He comforted Him. “O gentle brother, You should know I am firmly obedient to My superiors’ command. This is the path trodden by the righteous. Be firm and control Your grief and anger. That will be the most pleasing to Me.”

Kaushalya realized her son was unshakeable in His determination to obey His father’s order. Tears streamed down her face. Who could believe this was happening? Rāma, the dearest son of the emperor, was being exiled to the dangerous jungle. How could that pious-minded and gentle boy live in such a fearful place? Destiny was surely supreme in a world where one like Rāma must retire to the forest. Kaushalya trembled with grief. She held her son’s head. “It is well known how a cow will follow her roaming calf. In the same way I shall follow You wherever You may go, for separation from You, my dearest son, will kill me.”

Rāma addressed His mother with love. “Betrayed by Kaikeyi and seeing Me leave for the forest, My father will surely not survive if he is also abandoned by you, O godly queen. It is sheer cruelty for a woman to desert her worthy husband. That should never even be contemplated, for it is always condemned. So long as the king lives you should render him service, for this is the eternal moral code. For a married woman the husband is her deity and her lord.”

Rāma knew His mother was fully aware of her religious duty, which she would never abandon. He spoke only to give her strength and reassurance. The queen listened in silence as Rāma, invoking the ancient religious codes, described the fate of a woman who does not serve her worthy husband. Even if she is devoted to fasts and sacred observances, she will become tainted by sin and suffer the reactions. On the other hand, a woman who devotedly serves her husband, even without any other religious practices, will reach the highest heaven.

Rāma folded His palms. “Therefore, O queen, remain devoted to the king and ensure that he does not suffer excessive grief. Leading a holy life, bide the time until I return. When you finally see Me duly installed as king and dedicated to your service, you shall achieve all that you desire.”

Although dismayed at the prospect of losing her son for fourteen years, the pious Kaushalya nevertheless felt delighted to hear His admonition. It was clear she could not change His carefully considered resolution to depart. Blinded by her tears she said, “Go then with my blessings, O heroic son. May good betide You always. My misery will end only when You again return from the forest and offer me words of consolation. If only that time were already arrived! Leave now with a steady mind, dear Rāma. Following in the footsteps of the righteous, repay Your debt to your father.”

Still in the grip of sorrow, Kaushalya began to worship the gods in order to invoke divine blessings for her son. Praying to each of the principal deities and asking that they guard Rāma from all dangers, she offered oblations of ghee into the sacred fire. As she finished her prayers, Rāma bowed before her and held her feet for some time, while she wept softly. Embracing Him tightly, Kaushalya said, “Please leave in peace, my child, and accomplish Your purpose. When at last I see You returned, as one would see the full moon appearing above the horizon, all my sorrow will be gone. Only when I see You ascend Your father’s throne, wearing the crown and clad in royal robes, will my heart’s desire be fulfilled. May all the gods protect you as you sojourn in the dreadful forest. Depart now, O Raghava, I wish you well!”

Rāma took leave of the grieving Kaushalya, who followed after Him with her eyes. He went out of her apartments feeling agony. Lakṣman, who had resigned himself to accept Rāma’s determination to depart, followed close behind.