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Entering into Exile
Thousands had gathered in the quadrangle of the Palace. Their grief was immeasurable. Meanwhile, the Minister went in, and aroused the Emperor who had fallen unconscious on the floor. He made him sit up, and placed him in position. He communicated to him the news that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana had come to have audience with him. Rama had already stood near his father, speaking words of soothing love. When Dasaratha saw Sita and Lakshmana, his grief knew no bounds. He embraced Rama closely and fell on the floor. Anguish choked his throat; he pressed his hands on his chest and tried to suppress the agony. Sita and Lakshmana could not look on at the suffering Emperor.
Lakshmana saw Kaikeyi, standing by with an air of authority; his eyes became red with rage; he looked daggers at her as if he would kill her on the spot. But he controlled his anger, and cooled his emotion, watching the serenely calm face of Rama. At that time, Kaikeyi said, "Rama! You are plunging your father in deeper grief! The sooner you leave and reach the forest, the quicker will your father be relieved from anxiety. Do not delay any longer! Prostrate before your father, and go." These words so devoid of elementary kindness seemed to split the heart of Dasaratha. Dasaratha suddenly shouted, "Demoness! Evil spirit! How hard and adamantine are your words" and fell in a faint. Just at that moment, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana fell at his feet. Rama said, "Father! Bless us and permit us to leave. This is a time fit for rejoicing, not pining and grieving. Over-attachment brings infamy in its train." Rama pleaded that he should be courageous and give up the delusion that makes him dote on him. Rama clasped his father's feet, and then knelt on his knees, caressing and consoling.
Dasaratha opened his eyes and looked full at his beloved son. He sat up with great difficulty and holding both hands of Rama in his, he said, "O my darling Son! Listen to my words! You are possessed of self-control and discrimination. You know what is right; it is proper that you should do only the right thing. Now, it is not right when one person does wrong, for another to suffer from its consequences, isn't it? The play of Fate is unpredictable, it is a riddle beyond solution."
The Emperor began to pile argument on argument in his innocence and love, to dissuade Rama from his resolve to proceed to the forest.
Rama was known to Dasaratha, the father, as a Master of the Codes of
Morality, and as a strict adherent of these Codes; he was skilled in justifying
his acts; he was unafraid of the consequences of his resolve. Dasaratha
read from the face of Rama who stood before him that he had come ready
to take leave of him for the journey into exile. When he saw Sita too
before him, he called her near and when she knelt by his side, he stroked
her head softly, and described to her the travails of forest life. He
told her that the best course for her would be to stay back, either with
her parents-in-law, or with her own parents. His words came through groans
of unbearable sorrow. He gnashed his teeth in rage, when his eyes fell
upon Kaikeyi; all the while, he was fuming and fretting within himself,
unable to contain his grief.
Dasaratha could well understand and appreciate the yearning of Sita. He extolled her virtues with genuine enthusiasm, for the edification of Kaikeyi, standing before him. Meanwhile, the wives of Royal ministers, and the wives of Royal Preceptors who were in the room gathered around Sita, and, in their turn, they too described the hardship inherent in forest life. The Court Preceptor's spouse sought a cleverer ruse to dissuade her. She said, "Sita! You have not been required to leave and go into the forest. It is your task to remain here and comfort the parents of your husband who are sunk in sorrow. You are half of Rama, aren't you? So, this half must stay in order to alleviate the sorrow that the departure of the other half is causing them. Moreover since you are half of the eldest son, the Heir to the Throne, you have the right to rule over the Empire. If Rama moves into the forest and lives there to honour the word of his father, stay and rule over the realm and uphold the renown of Rama, filling his parents with delight. As the wife of Rama, this is the correct step you should take; this is your legitimate duty."
These words were spoken as soft and sweet as the whispering of autumn moonbeams into the ears of chakravaka birds; but they made Sita reel in misery. She was so overcome that no reply came from her.
During this interval, Kaikeyi had secured hermit's robes of fibre as
well as rosaries of tulsi; she held them before Rama and said, "The
Emperor holds you as dear as his very life. So, he is bringing down eternal
infamy on his head, unwilling to let you go. His affection for you is
clouding the righteousness of the course. He will not utter the words,
'Go into the forest', at any time, under any circumstance. It is fruitless
to await his agreement and his permission. So, decide on any one of these
two steps: Are you courting infamy and dishonour and staying to rule over
the Empire? Or, are you leaving for the forest and bringing eternal glory
to the Ikshvaku Dynasty? Decide and act."
At this juncture, Vasishta, the Royal Preceptor, arrived at the scene; he stood aghast, taking in the situation at a glance. He fell foul of Queen Kaikeyi. He declared that Sita need not wear the garment of fibre. He asserted that Kaikeyi had asked for and had been granted two boons only - Bharatha to be crowned and Rama sent into the forest. He said that Sita could go into the forest with all regal paraphernalia and every requisite for a comfortable sojourn there.
At this, Rama unwound the garment he had placed over her dress. But,
Sita came forward and fell at the feet of the Sage. She said, "Master!
Of course, my wearing that garment is not the direct consequence of mother
Kaikeyi's desire. Can I not follow the ways of my Lord? Would it be proper
for me, would it bring credit for me, if I live in the forest bedecked
in jewels and costly silken garments, when my Lord is wearing the garment
of a hermit? It would be extremely absurd for a dutiful wife to adopt
this attitude, wouldn't it be? Therefore, give me permission to put on
these garments, so that I may maintain the wife's code of conduct and
carry out my duty."
When Vasishta was expounding rules of political morality, Kaikeyi was visibly affected by fear. But she was not unaware of the fact that Sita would not desire to exercise regal authority and power. However long Vasishta elaborated on her rights and claims, Sita refused to pay attention to them; she was yearning for the chance to wear the fibre-garment of the hermit in preference to the robes of Imperial Splendour. The wife of the Royal Preceptor felt that Sita would never retract from her resolve; so, she and others took the garment and wound it round her, in correct hermitage style.
Meanwhile, Lakshmana too wore the same sylvan garments, as Rama had on.
Rama decided that there should be no more delay. The three prostrated
reverently before Dasaratha, who fainted away at the sight of his sons
in their ascetic attire. They prostrated also before Kaikeyi who was standing
nearby. They fell at the feet of sage Vasishta and of his Consort. And
they started towards the forest.
Meanwhile, Rama turned again towards the mass of citizens, and with palms folded, he spoke a few words to them. "My dear people, you are as dear to me as my very life. Our Sovereign Ruler has sent me to protect and foster the forest region. Do not entertain any animosity against him for this reason. Guard him and pray for him at all times. Adhere to his commands; make him happy and be happy yourselves. Your love for me should not lead you to dislike the King. Never wish ill for him. Those only are dear to me who work for the happiness of the King, after I leave for the forest. Those are the people who are really devoted to me, who do what I really like. Fulfil this desire of mine; honour these words of mine; make me happy. My dear people! Being separated from me, my mother Queen Kausalya will naturally be immersed in grief. Every mother in a similar situation will have unbearable agony. But, I plead with you, since you are intelligent and full of sympathy "do your best to alleviate her sorrow and comfort her."
Then he called Minister Sumanthra near, and said, "O Sumanthra! Proceed now to Father. Advise him and quieten him. That is the task on which you have to busy yourself." Sumanthra was overcome with grief; he stood silent, with tears streaming down his cheeks. He could not restrain his sorrow; he sobbed and wept aloud. Other Ministers who were standing around him, as well as the Aides in attendance, attempted to bring him round into a state of calmness and courage. But they were too sad to stand there. So, they went into the Palace, in accordance with the directive given by Rama. The entire city was sunk deep in a vast sea of sorrow.
Meanwhile, Dasaratha recovered from his faint and became conscious of what had happened. He lamented "Rama! Rama!" and tried to raise himself up. But, heavy with grief, he fell on the floor again. When he rose, he tried to walk, but could not; he moved falteringly around.
At that moment, Sumanthra entered the room, and endeavoured to hold him and console him. But, with huge outbursts of anguish surging in him, how could he convey consolation to his master? However, he remembered Rama's order to that effect; and, so he dutifully swallowed the sorrow that was overwhelming his heart and sat by the side of the Emperor with tears still flowing in streams. He could not utter any word for a long time.
Dasaratha opened his eyes; he saw Sumanthra by his side; exclaiming in uncontrollable grief "Rama!", he fell into the lap of the old minister and poured out his sobs. Then, he rose and groaned, "Sumanthra! Rama has gone into the forest; yet, my life has not gone out of this body! What can my life gain by sticking to this body?" Then, getting a little calmer, he said, "Here! Hasten behind Rama! Take a fast chariot and go. My daughter-in-law can never bear the heat of the sun. She will soon have blisters on those lotus petal soles! Go! Go with the chariot!"