Bharata is a fictional character in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. Bharata is the second oldest son of King Dasratha and his second and favorite wife, Kaikeyi. He is the younger brother of Rama, and the older brother of Laksmana and Satrughna. They are the ruling family of the Iksvaku clan, living in the city of Ayodhya (Sattar 56). His appearances in the story are mainly confined to three major parts.
Early in the Ramayana, Bharata, with Satrughna, is sent to live with his uncle and grandfather (on his mother’s side) in the kingdom of the Kekeyas. Here, he is educated and pampered (Sattar 105). It is during this time that King Dasratha decides to anoint Rama as his heir to the throne. Upon seeing the riches and glamour being produced to celebrate this, Kaikeyi is approached by her handmaiden (of unknown birth and origins), the hunchback Manthara. Manthara is able to convince Kaikeyi that Rama will not share the throne, and most likely exile or kill Bharata and his mother to secure power (Sattar 112-115). Kaikeyi reminds the king of two boons he promised her after she cared for him after a battle, to be used in the future. She asks that Rama be exiled to the forest for 14 years, and for Bharata to be anointed as heir to the throne. King Dasratha, due to following dharma and keeping his word, is forced to grant her wishes. Rama is exiled, and word is sent to bring Bharata back to Ayodhya. King Dasratha dies of heartbreak before Bharata returns home. His mother informs him of what has happened, and how she did it, but Bharata is furious with her, and declares her banished. Bharata performs the funeral rites for his father, and mourns for 10 days (Sattar 168).
In his second part, having no interest in the throne, Bharata seeks out Rama in exile to bring him home to be king. He marches with all his armies, to approach Rama in a manner befitting a king (Richman 2001:51). Upon meeting, Rama gives as much advice on statesmanship as he can to his brother, and is later heartbroken at the news of his fathers passing, but chooses to follow dharma and fulfill his father’s orders to remain in exile for 14 years. Rama removes his sandals and presents them to Bharata, who declares that he will take them back to Ayodhya to serve as inspiration for his kingdom, as he acts as a regent until the exile is over. He declares that he will live an ascetic life as Rama is, matting his hair and wearing animal hides, and eating only roots and fruit, for 14 years (Sattar 191). He returns to Ayodhya only to place Rama’s sandals on the throne, and moves the court to the city of Nardigrama, as he will not take a throne that he does not believe is his (Sattar 193).
In the third and final of Bharata’s parts, Rama sends Hanuman to inform Bharata that they are coming home after the 14-year exile, and to tell him of their adventures. Hanuman remarks that Bharata looks like an emaciated renouncer, but glows like a great Rsi (Sattar 500). Rama states that if Bharata shows any sign of not wanting to give up the throne, he will refuse it (Goldman 52). After ruling for 14 years, Bharata briefly considers not turning the kingdom over to his brother. However, when Rama returns, Bharata touches his feet, put his sandals on for him, and returns the kingdom to his older brother (Sattar 503).
As Rama is considered the avatara of Visnu, Bharata and his younger brothers are considered to be one quarter of Visnu. Bharata specifically is Visnu’s essence of valour. Bharata, like his brothers, was endowed with all the virtues (Goldman 159). He is prudent, all-knowing, and far-sighted, but modest (Sattar 57). While Rama is a famed archer and warrior (Sattar 56), he acknowledges Bharata’s abilities when he remarks to Laksmana (when Bharata brings his army to visit them in the forest, making Laksmana think they are under attack from Bharata) that his younger brother would not need an army to kill them (Sattar 178). The brothers love and care for each other greatly, but there is a deep bond between Bharata and Satrughna. Bharata loves Satrughna “more than the breath of life itself, while Satrughna loved him just as much” (Goldman 160). Satrughna cares for and protects Bharata in a similar fashion to the relationship between Laksmana and Rama.
Bharata’s character can be called one of dharma and propriety. In the Ramnami sect of devotional worship, Bharata’s parts in the Ramayana are considered examples of the proper ways to worship Rama (Richman 1991:242). Bharata follows his duties regardless of his feelings, as demonstrated when Rama refuses to accept his brothers offer to return and serve as king (a duty Bharata did not feel was rightfully his own), or when he follows Rama’s orders sending him and Laksmana into battle (and almost certainly to their deaths), remarking “To die in battle is the dharma of the kshatriya” (Richman 2001:258). However, Bharata is not wholly perfect. Despite his propriety and virtuous nature, he insults his father and king over his exile of Rama, and is abusive towards his mother over her part in it (Richman 1991:183).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Sattar, Arshia (1996) Valmiki’s Ramayana. Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield.
Goldman, Robert P. (1984) The Ramayana of Valmiki Volume 1: Balakanda. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Richman, Paula (1991) Many Ramayanas. Oxford, England: University of California Press.
Richman, Paula (2001) Questioning Ramayanas. Oxford, England: University of California Press.
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Article written by: Ryland Schinbein (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.