The next morning was a symphony of exotic birdsong. Rama, Sita, and Laksmana awoke with the realization of sending their faithful and beloved Sumantra back to Ayodhya. Guha, the hunter king, approached Rama after the morning worship.Rama inquired, “Is there a vessel which the three of us may use to cross the Ganga?” Guha bowed slightly and acknowledged Rama’s request by ordering his best craft to be made ready for the departure of his respected guests.
The colours and royal majesty of the boat soon appeared and Rama and Laksmana gathered their few belongings and weapons to load onto the awaiting craft.Sumantra watched silently with tears welling up in his eyes.” Is there no other way? I can be of great use to you. I am loyal and true,” he said between sobs and sighs of sorrow.
Rama smiled, “You are, indeed, a loyal man.That is why I must ask you to return home to my father and deliver the news that our journey into the forest is blessed and that Sita and his sons are content and happy in their exile.” Rama embraced Sumantra and reassured the older man his duty was fulfilled in leaving the trio to venture forth alone.As his dharma (right decision) became clear to the sarathy (charioteer), he summoned his courage and readied his horses. Rama reminded him to send blessings to the king and all the royal family, and Sumantra departed with obvious sadness and despair.
The departure from Guha was no less sorrowful.” As a final request,” Rama said, “I must fashion my hair in jata, the way of the rsi, and require sap to achieve this end.”Guha provided the sap and both Rama and Laksmana used it to put their hair in jata. Blessings were exchanged and Rama thanked the hunter king for his kindness and reminded him to always follow dharma. Then the magnificent boat set off and the royal travelers moved deeper into the forest.
Disembarking on the other side of the river Rama, Sita, and Laksmana experienced the exquisite and wondrous beauty of the forest. Despite this enchantment with their surroundings they walked anxiously together with Sita between the two armed princes. A meal was found in the way of fresh mangoes and talk turned to the feelings of uneasiness and dread. Rama announced clearly, “There is no need to feel worried; so long as we are good and true this should not be a place of fear.” And with that, they resumed walking and the air of apprehension seemed to be lifted. The forest welcomed them as if it had heard the traveler’s intentions and knew it had nothing to fear.
After another day of traveling, they came upon a hermitage of rsis.” This must be the asrama of Bharadvaja,” remarked Laksmana.Rama smiled.This was of course true and soon the wise rsi could be seen. They approached and prostrated to Bharadvaja as they introduced themselves. The Brahman knew of Rama and spoke to them, “Ksatriyas of Ayodhya, you are welcome in this place. Please stay here with me until your fourteen years have passed.” Rama considered this offer and despite the enticing proposition, he politely refused. He did however, agree to spend the night and continue the journey the next day.
Bharadvaja provided directions through the forest and to the asrama of Valmiki.Rama, Laksmana, and Sita were blessed by the great rsi and spoke with him at length.Rama stated, “This place is deep enough into the forest.We are safe here and can make this our home for the next fourteen years.”Laksmana and Rama collected wood and supplies to build their own shelter. Laksmana requested, “Rama you sit, I will do the building.It will be the best you’ve ever seen.”With that, Laksmana build a shelter perfect for the three of them to live and they performed a blessing over their new home.They were all very pleased and spent their first night peacefully in their dwelling at the beginning of their forest exile.
In Dasaratha’s palace, there was still much distress and despair. Their beloved prince was gone to the depths of the forest, the brave Laksmana was gone too, and the fair and delicate Sita was not to be seen for fourteen long years.This truth was made even more apparent on the return of Sumantra who was back at the palace, alone. The subjects of Ayodhya, the people of the palace, and even the king himself felt the reality of Kaikeyi’s boon. Sumantra recounted the journey of Rama into exile on the aging king’s request. Dasaratha said feebly with a smile, “Perhaps, it would be best if I went to him; to visit Rama would quiet my mind and ease my soul. “This thought seemed to invigorate him and he grew louder and more excited. Kausalya and Sumitra were there by his side to quiet him.The old king lapsed into tears once again and apologized profusely to Kausalya, “I have taken your son from you. Please forgive me, please forgive me! “His vigor diminished and soon his apologies melted into sobs and the sobs to sighs. The king fell into a restless sleep with his two faithful wives by his side.
The king’s past nights, although restless, had been spent with Kausalya.Tonight was not unlike any other.Dasaratha was avoiding his grief of the loss of his son by retreating to his mind and the memories of the past. “Tonight I remember the times of my youth,” said Dasaratha to Kausalya, “and I must tell you of a day; one full of rain before the monsoon season, when I was hunting in the great forest.”
“On this day,” continued Dasaratha, “I had trekked great lengths and was deep in the forest as a shower of rain fell down upon the trees and dense foliage where I was hiding.Like many others, this hunt was a chance for me to exercise my hunting ability by making a kill without even seeing my prey. In the hunt, my senses were so keen that I did not need to rely on my sight; this was something of which I was very proud. From my vantage point deep in the trees, I heard an elephant make its way to a pool of water to wash itself and listened carefully as it lapped up water with its trunk. Silently, I took careful aim; letting my senses guide me. I aimed for the heart and with one shot heard the effect and the trumpeting of the dying beast echoed in my ears.As I listened closer, I realized the sound was not what I expected.There was no elephant’s call but the shocking screams of a dying man; I was aghast. The man called out, ‘Who has done this? Why do I, an innocent rsi, feel this arrow pierce my breast like a wild beast? Show yourself to me! Show yourself to me!’ I left my hiding place to see a young rsi contorted with pain and staining the cold white sand with his blood.
I explained myself to the dying holy man. His compassion was great but insisted I resume his task of collecting water for his old, blind parents so they would not be deserted and dying of thirst.I agreed shaking with regret and sadness and filled the container of water from the pool.The rsi struggled to ask, ‘Pull the arrow from my chest; the pain is too great, the torture too slow.I forgive you warrior prince and so end my suffering by bringing my death at once.’Upon removing the arrow, the rsi perished and I traveled to his home to fulfill my promise.
The rsi’s parents were waiting his return and I stared at the couple unsure of what words my lips must utter. ‘Why do you linger, my son?’ asked the blind old man. I choked back my sorrow and explained the events leading to the death of the poor man’s child. The parents requested they be brought to their son’s body and I obliged them. They sought to see him one last time and reached to trace the position of his lifeless body. Their sorrow was great and the father remained strong enough to perform his son’s last rites. When the pyre was burning, the old man spoke again, ‘Since your courage was great and you returned to speak the truth I will not curse your death in torment and fire. Although, the pain you have caused I curse upon you. Your most beloved child will also be taken from you, and before you leave this world you too will suffer the loss of sight as have I. ‘With that the man turned to his wife and before I could stop them they entered the flames of their son’s funeral pyre.” Kausalya gasped, “You have never told me about this curse.”
“I did not remember until the day Rama left,” answered the king. “As while he rode away my sight went with him and I have been, these past five days, in sightless darkness.”
“I know,” he sighed, “my time is near and I will not even be here to console your grief of the loss of our son.”Dasaratha lapsed into sobs of apologies once again and Kausalya stayed with him, his head in her lap, until he was no longer awake and retired to her own chambers. Thus, another sleepless night began.
The next morning Dasaratha’s attendants began their morning routine and went to awaken their tormented king.He could not be woken and in shock the servants realized that this night had been his last and that all breath had left him. The news traveled quickly to his queens and soon Sumitra and Kausalya were weeping at his side. The silence in the streets was proof enough that the tragedy of the king’s death was common knowledge and sorrow had swept the land. Kaikeyi’s son Bharata was sent for by the swiftest messenger, under oath not to speak of the king’s death or Rama’s exile. The mourning began and the body of Dasaratha was preserved with oils until his last rites could be performed by Bharata, his son. That night no one in
Ayodhya was untouched by grief; no soul found an hour of restful sleep.
As the messenger rode to Bharata, the prince awoke from a prophetic nightmare.Upon waking, he consulted his brother Satrughna and both agreed the signs were not encouraging. “The most unsettling,” Bharata explained, “was father, with long white hair and garlands of flowers, being pulled by a mule-cart. “Both men agreed that this would indicate a bad omen for the life of he who was seen to be drawn in a mule-cart; no sooner had their words been spoken then the messenger from Ayodhya arrived. After brief words with the messenger Bharata and Satrughna hastily collected themselves and all their anxiety to depart to the father’s palace with thoughts of bad omens and dread.
In Ayodhya, the streets were silent and the palace hung heavy with gloom.The princes, still unaware, were disheartened and confused. Bharata searched for his parents and found his mother, Kaikeyi, in her chambers. Upon a few brief formalities the prince asked to see his father. Kaikeyi replied, “Dasaratha has died.”This knowledge was agonizing Bharata and he collapsed to the floor weeping for his father.Before long Kaikeyi raised Bharata up and said, “Do not weep there is also great joy in this time of sadness.” Bharata could not believe what his mother was saying.Kaikeyi continued, “Bharata, my son, you will soon become king.”
Bharata looked speechless at his mother and withdrew; her eyes burned with evil like coals in a glowing fire. Shocked, Bharata regained control of his voice and demanded, “I must speak to Rama. Where is my beloved brother for him to hear the treacherous words his mother speaks?”
Kaikeyi smiled malevolently, “The king banished Rama to the forest before he died.” The pain was too much for Bharata to bear.His body shook and his knees grew weak and again the prince collapsed to the floor in grief. He looked up at Kaikeyi questioningly and felt her wickedness mounting as she explained how she exploited her boons from Dasaratha to send Rama to exile and make Bharata king.
Kausalya, Vasishta, and many of the people of Ayodhya doubted Bharata and his intentions.This pained Bharata since his loyalty was to Rama and his own rage was directed at Kaikeyi. Vasishta approached Bharata and spoke, “Now that you have arrived you have obligations. Your father’s last rites must be performed; the duty falls to you. “The prince resumed his sorrow at the thought of this and on the great guru’s request followed him out of the room.
Later that evening the flames of the funeral pyre of the great king, Dasaratha, blazed; although no one came too near the wisps of light stung.Mourning and distress was felt far and wide, and nowhere as strong as inside the palace walls. Bharata and Satrughna, Kausalya and Sumitra comforted each other and the love of this family was strengthened.
When a few days of mourning had past the two young princes were together discussing their father, their lives, their grief, and Rama. To them it had happened all at once; the death of their father, the loss of their brother and for Bharata the shame and resentment of his mother.As they left their apartments they saw a hideous sight. It was the joyous, smiling Manthara in glorious finery from her hump to feet. Satrughna, inspired by misery and rage, sprang out at Manthara and dragged her into the hall. Her jewels and finery speckled the palace floor and her shrieks echoed between the walls. Servants, women of the harem, and other palace dwellers rushed to the noise and saw Manthara’s plight. No one rushed to assist her as Satrughna violently struck her and blood ran red from her mouth and nose. Only when Kaikeyi entered the hall did anything change. Kaikeyi begged her son to stop Satrughna from killing her maid. Kaikeyi screamed, “Bharata, what would Rama think?” To which Bharata ordered a disappointed Satrughna to leave Manthara be and said, “For you to speak of Rama does us all great injustice and pain. It is because of my great and noble brother that I do not have your blood on my sword!Satrughna, it is not dharmic to kill a woman. “And with his words, many a person was convinced that Bharata was as virtuous as his brother Rama and things such as these spread faster than the sunlight of a cloudless dawn throughout Ayodhya.
Despite his change in popularity and the dire need for a new king, Bharata was determined to crown Rama and only Rama. The very next day he announced to the people of Ayodhya, “There will be a new king,” he paused for the cheering of his name to die away, “and I will not be satisfied until the crown is upon Rama’s head.” The crowd was elated at the sound of Rama’s name and the cheering commenced in an echoing din as the names of Bharata and Rama were shouted through the streets of Ayodhya. As the city cheered Bharata readied the army and all the necessary tools for a coronation. He was so determined to see Rama as king Bharata would bring the coronation to him.
Crowds swarmed the royal parade as it started off towards the forest.It was a slow moving but joyous procession. A week passed on the same path Rama and his company traveled in two days. First, they met the hunter king who observed the army and readied his own forces to fight to protect Rama. Guha and Bharata conversed and Guha was convinced that Rama was safe and Bharata was virtuous. The kind king assisted the substantial outfit in crossing the river and directed them on the path of Rama. Bharata followed the trail and his excitement was mounting to see his brothers and Sita.
Now deeper in the forest, the company was tired, yet in good spirits. The asrama of Bharadvaja was fast approaching and Bharata took Satrughna and Vasishta to greet the rsi. Suspicion slowly caressed the heart of the Brahmin. Bharata’s noble face and his unadulterated words proved his intentions and removed all doubt. Bharadvaja extended an invitation to the princes and their followers to stay the night in his asrama. It proved to be a spectacular display of spirituality and magic courtesy of the rsi. The crowd was entertained with food and fancy that none would likely ever see again. They set off the next morning to find Rama, the future king of Ayodhya.
The longest portion of the journey was over. The travelers anticipated that very soon they would find the location of Rama, Sita, and Laksmana. Their feelings were correct and soon a wisp of smoke could be seen rising from the trees. Scouts were sent on ahead to ascertain the path to take through the forest. The one discovered led straight to the site of Rama’s dwelling. The parade followed the path, led by the scouts, and soon Laksmana saw the army approaching.Rama saw it too and spoke, “It must be our father coming to visit his exiled sons.”But there was no royal white umbrella. Laksmana was anxious and began to doubt Bharata’s intentions. Rama convinced his younger brother that such talk was foolish, and soon his statement was verified as Bharata and Satrughna reached the cottage.
Bharata wept at the sight of his brother and embraced Rama with a sigh of relief. “You must return to the palace,” said Bharata. “There you can restore happiness and dharma in Ayodhya.”
“Oh dear brother,” replied Rama, “that is not dharma. My path led me here and here I will stay for fourteen years.”
“But the people need you now,” answered Bharata more desperate than before.Rama just smiled as Bharata begged his return.
“There is no need for me to dishonor our father’s name in not fulfilling his orders,” Rama spoke after a pause, “so long as he is king Ayodhya will be well taken care of.” At this Bharata begin to weep.Through his tears he tried to speak and explained that poor Dasaratha had died of a broken heart five days after Rama left for the forest. Rama was overcome with grief. The queens had arrived up the path to the cottage and saw their poor son’s despair. Kausalya touched Rama’s arm and said quietly, “You must offer him tarpana.”Rama nodded and collected himself to worship the memory of his father and perform the blessing of holy water.
The next day all the travelers had arrived to the clearing and Bharata resumed his request for Rama’s coronation.Rama remained silent, but always with a faint smile. When Bharata paused Rama decided to share with him an unknown truth. Rama began in a strong voice so that all around could hear, “Father once told me of a promise he made. This promise was to your grandfather in return for marriage to Kaikeyi.Dasaratha granted that one day Kaikeyi’s father would have his grandson take the throne of Ayodhya. It is dharmic that we honor the promise of our father.”A murmur spread through the hushed crowd. Bharata gasped and began to realize that there would be no way of convincing Rama to return to the throne now.However, before he left the city Bharata made sure to prepare for any situation that would arise. He searched his baggage and produced a pair of wooden sandals.Rama looked at them amused. Bharata set them on the ground in front of Rama.
“Brother, will you step into these padukas,” said Bharata.Rama grinned and stepped in and out of the sandals.Bharata picked the newly christened sandals off the ground. Bharata announced, “These padukas will rule Ayodhya. It will always be Rama’s kingdom. Until his return in fourteen years, I will rule by these sandals and live like Rama eating berries and with my hair in jata. When the time has passed Rama will resume the throne and if he does not return in fourteen years, I will end my own life.” The crowds cheered and Rama smiled knowingly at his brother; Bharata would be a fine ruler of Ayodhya.
Back to the city traveled the princes, queens, armies, and crowds. At the palace Bharata, kind and virtuous, erected a lesser seat for himself and kept the padukas seated on the throne. The people were joyous and the city was alive once more. But trouble was not over for all these good people. In a land far from the forest and across the water an evil resided. The evil was the same that had possessed Kaikeyi and burned much stronger here. It was restless in the heart in which it dwelt; Ravana had a sleepless night and he did not even know of the coming threat that was the blue prince from Ayodhya.