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RKD: 1.10: Sad Farewells

It was time for Rāma and His two companions to say Their farewells. Holding Their weapons and followed by Sītā, the brothers made Their way towards Daśaratha’s palace. As They passed along the road many men crowded around to watch Them. Plunged in sorrow at seeing their beloved prince leaving, they lamented in various ways.

“Here passes the same Rāma who before would move regally in state, followed by a huge retinue,” said the people. “Now He walks with only Sītā and Lakṣman as His companions. Although used to every luxury, He is going to the terrible forest in obedience to His father’s word.”

Some citizens censured the king, whom they felt had been gripped by some evil spirit. How could he send his dearest son into exile? Rāma’s qualities were evident to all; his compassion, learning, gentleness, sense control and mental peace—all were ever visible in that noble prince.

The citizens could not face the prospect of Rāma’s departure. They felt pain, just as a tree with all its fruits and flowers is hurt when its root is damaged, and they spoke out in public places. “We will give up our homes and villages and go with the pious Rāma to the forest. Let us share with Him all His joys and sorrows. Let Kaikeyi rule over a deserted kingdom, bereft of its people.”

Everyone feared the prospect of Kaikeyi becoming powerful as the mother of the king. They angrily cursed her again and again. All of them would go with Rāma. They would abandon the city, leaving its houses to be filled with dust and overrun by mice. The forest would become a city and Ayodhya a forest. They would drive out from the forest all the fierce animals and snakes, sending them to live in Ayodhya with Kaikeyi as their protector.

The two brothers heard the laments of the people, but they kept Their minds under strict control. Smiling gently and glancing with affection at the citizens, They walked together like a pair of powerful lions. They entered Daśaratha’s palace and saw Sumantra, who stood with folded hands and a disconsolate face. Rāma asked him to announce Their arrival to the king. When Sumantra went before Daśaratha he found the king distracted by grief, heaving deep sighs, his eyes red from weeping. The devoted and faithful Sumantra regarded his master to be like the eclipsed sun or a fire covered by ashes. Bowing at the king’s feet, Sumantra said, “The illustrious Rāma has distributed all His wealth to His dependents and the Brahmins, and He now stands at your door awaiting your permission to depart for the forest.”

Ordering his minister to show Rāma in, the king also asked that all his wives be present. Sumantra brought the queens, who arrived accompanied by numerous maidservants. He then brought Rāma and Lakṣman before Their father. As Rāma entered the room, Daśaratha ran impulsively towards Him; but being stricken with sorrow, he fell senseless to the floor. Rāma and Lakṣman rushed to assist Their unconscious father. All the ladies threw up their arms and gave out a wail which mixed with the tinkling of their ornaments. A commotion filled the room, with cries of “Alas! Alas! O Rāma!” Kaikeyi alone remained unmoved.

Rāma and Lakṣman, both crying, lifted Their father and placed him gently on a couch. As the king returned to consciousness, Rāma regained His composure and, with folded hands, said, “I have come to take leave of you, father. Please grant Me your permission to go to the forest. Also allow Lakṣman and Sītā, whom I could not deter even with great effort, to accompany Me. O great king, please give up your grief and look favorably upon Us, for We wish now to depart.”

Rāma calmly awaited His father’s permission. The king spoke with difficulty. “As a result of a promise made to Kaikeyi I have lost my good sense. Therefore, my dear Rāma, take me captive and rule over this kingdom.”

Fixed in righteousness, Rāma replied, “May you rule the earth for another thousand years. I have no desire for sovereignty. After a mere fourteen years have passed I shall return and once more take hold of your feet, having redeemed your pledge, O ruler of men!”

Daśaratha was mortified, but he saw Kaikeyi urging him on with covert gestures. Bound by the fetters of truth he spoke to his son, granting him permission to leave. “Please leave with an undisturbed mind, O Rāma, and may Your journey be a safe and happy one.”

The king was devastated. He could see that Rāma’s decision to depart was firm and not to be reversed. Rāma was devoted to piety and truth. Daśaratha requested Him to remain for just one night, so that he and Kaushalya might see Him a little longer. He wanted to offer Rāma all enjoyable things on that last day. Trembling with grief the king said, “I swear to You that I never wanted this to happen. I have been obliged by Kaikeyi, who has abandoned virtue after long concealing her evil intentions. Your willingness to accept even this terrible order, simply to save me from sin, proves beyond doubt Your greatness. O gentle Rāma, I permit You to leave. Only, go tomorrow with my blessings.”

Hearing of His father’s request, Rāma became concerned. He did not wish to delay His departure any longer and said, “Who will offer Me tomorrow the delights I enjoy today? The time for My departure has come and I must now cast aside all thoughts of enjoyment. Let Me leave right away. Make over this vast kingdom, with all its riches, to Bharata. My resolution to live in the forest cannot be swayed. Your boons to Kaikeyi should now be implemented in full. I shall live with ascetics for fourteen years and the world should be given to Bharata.”

Rāma moved closer to His anguished father, who sat shaking his head. He asked the king to be firm and free from sorrow. Rāma assured His father that He had no desire at all for the kingdom, nor for any pleasures, nor even for life itself devoid of virtue. He only wished to execute the king’s command and prove him true to his word. Comforting the grieving monarch, Rāma said, “Since Kaikeyi said to Me, ‘Go to the forest, O Raghava,’ and I replied by saying, ‘I am going,’ I must now redeem that pledge. Please let Me leave. I cannot wait an instant longer.”

Rāma felt sorrow to see His father suffering such intense agony. Not wanting to increase His father’s pain, however, Rāma kept His own feelings in check and maintained a calm expression. He spoke gently, assuring His father that He would certainly enjoy His stay in the forest. He would sport happily with Sītā in the many delightful woods and groves. Protected by His own weapons and by Lakṣman, there would be no fear for Them from the beasts and Rākṣasas in the forest. When fourteen years had passed the king would find Them returned unharmed and ready to serve him again. Bharata alone could competently and righteously rule the globe in His absence.

Rāma added, “I shall never accept the kingdom by bringing infamy to you, O king. Indeed, I could renounce every pleasure, including My own dear wife, in order to satisfy your command. I shall only be happy the moment I enter the forest. You need not feel any pain for Me. Be peaceful, my lord, and allow Me to leave.”

Daśaratha, tormented by a burning agony, embraced Rāma tightly and then again fell unconscious, showing no signs of life. All the queens, along with their maidservants, cried loudly. Kaikeyi felt her purpose fulfilled and was rejoicing inwardly. Witnessing her silence, the king’s intimate friend Sumantra was furious. Beating his head, wringing his hands and grinding his teeth, he spoke scathingly to her, his eyes blazing with wrath.

“Here lies your husband, the support of the whole world, betrayed and forsaken by you, O queen. Surely there is nothing sacred for you. I consider you to be the murderess of your husband and the destroyer of your entire race. Do not despise your lord in this way, for his order is superior to that of even a million sons. Ignoring the time-honored rule of primogeniture, you seek to usurp Rāma’s rights and bring unbearable pain to the king.”

Tears flowed from the old minister’s eyes as he spoke. He told Kaikeyi to renounce her evil aim. If her son became the king, then no pious man would remain in the kingdom. What joy would she derive from ruling the empty earth, which was earned through sin? It was a great wonder that the earth did not split apart and swallow her, or that the great sages did not utter fiery curses to consume her on that very spot. Having served the king all his life, Sumantra felt every pain the king felt as if it were his own. As he addressed Kaikeyi he could hardly bring himself to look at her.

“The glorious king will never belie his promise to you. Do not force him to perform an act repugnant to himself and the whole world. Follow the desire of the king and become a protectress of the world. Let Rāma be installed on the throne. He will undoubtedly always remain favorable to you in every way. If, however, on your order He is sent to the forest, then your only gain will be unending infamy. Give up your misguided desire, O Kaikeyi, and live happily.”

Kaikeyi looked coolly at Sumantra, who stood before her with joined palms, and she made no reply. Her mind remained unmoved as she awaited the execution of her order. Seeing her resolve, Daśaratha, who had regained consciousness, sighed and said to Sumantra, “You should immediately order my army to make ready to depart. They should accompany Rāma to the forest. So too should wealthy merchants skilled at establishing networks of shops. Search out hunters who know the secrets of forests and send them with Rāma. Assemble thousands of capable servants and have them prepare to leave. Indeed, you should arrange for my entire treasury and my granary to be transported along with Rāma. He should not have to endure any austerity during the fourteen years of exile.”

As Daśaratha spoke Kaikeyi became alarmed. The king was going to divest the kingdom of all its wealth before her son was crowned. Dismayed and fearful, she turned towards Daśaratha and spoke, her mouth parched and her voice choked. “How can you bestow upon Bharata a kingdom stripped of its wealth? How then will He actually be the ruler of this world, as you have promised?”

The king turned angrily towards Kaikeyi. “After handing me a heavy burden to bear, you are now lashing me as I carry it, O hostile and vulgar woman! When asking for your boons you should have stipulated that Rāma could not take anything with Him to the forest. Abandoning all sense of righteousness, you have taken to a path leading only to grief. I cannot stay here with you any longer. Along with all the people of Ayodhya I shall follow Rāma to the forest!”

Rāma approached His father and said politely, “O great king, of what use to Me is an army and all your riches? I have renounced the kingdom; how then can I take its wealth? He who has parted with an elephant yet seeks to retain its tether is simply a fool. I am resolved to enter the forest and dwell there with the ascetics, wearing the barks of trees and living on whatever produce I can glean from day to day.”

Rāma wanted to act only in accord with the scriptural instructions regarding the vow of forest life. He told His father that one living in the forest should not do so in great opulence. Rāma asked that the king not bestow upon His brother a kingdom bereft of its riches. He would leave with only His weapons and a spade for digging roots. Turning to the king’s servants, Rāma said, “Bring Me the tree barks and I shall take off these royal garments and make ready to depart.”

His request so gladdened Kaikeyi that she personally fetched the Spartan forest clothes made from barks and grasses she had already prepared. Shamelessly handing them to Rāma, Lakṣman and Sītā, she said, “Put these on.” Rāma and Lakṣman quickly and adroitly changed into those clothes, but the beautiful Sītā was perplexed, unsure of how to wear them. Trying again and again to place the bark linen over Her other clothes, Sītā felt abashed. With Her eyes flooded with tears She said to Her husband, “How does one wear such dress, My lord?”

Rāma personally fastened the bark over Sītā’s silk dress. Seeing Her clad in forest apparel, Her many female servants began to wail piteously. “This noble princess has not been ordered to enter the forest!” they cried. “Dear Rāma, please let Her remain here with us so we may continue to serve Her and enjoy the blessing of seeing Her divine form. How can this gentle lady live like an ascetic in the forest? She does not deserve to suffer in this way!”

Although hearing their loving remonstrances, Rāma continued to tie on Sītā’s forest clothes as She desired. Suddenly Vasiṣṭha became overwhelmed with distress at seeing the gentle Sītā about to enter the forest. Feeling angered and weeping hot tears, he said to Kaikeyi, “O cruel woman, have you no shame? After deceiving the king and bringing disgrace to your family, are you still not satisfied? Will you stand by and watch as this high-born lady leaves for the forest, wearing the coarse garments you prepared? You did not ask that She be exiled along with Rāma! These tree barks are not meant for Her. Excellent garments and jewels should be brought by you for your daughter-in-law. She should proceed to the forest on first-class conveyances and accompanied by all Her servants.”

Vasiṣṭha loved Rāma and Sītā like his own children. He could not stand and watch as They departed while the hard-hearted Kaikeyi looked on gleefully. The sage spoke words which pierced Kaikeyi deeply. He explained that according to scripture the wife was her husband’s own self. They were one and the same person. As such Sītā should therefore rule over the kingdom, even if Rāma Himself could not. The forest would become the capital of the world. Indeed, the entire state of Kośala, along with all its people and the city of Ayodhya, would leave along with Rāma. The sage blazed with anger as he went on, appearing like a smokeless fire.

“Surely Bharata and His brother Shatrughna will also enter the forest, clad in barks. You may then rule over a desolate kingdom, peopled only by trees, which alone could not rise up and follow Rāma!”

Kaikeyi remained silent and looked at Rāma and Sītā, who were ready to leave. Sītā wished only to follow Her husband. Even upon hearing Vasiṣṭha’s words, She was not swayed in the least from Her purpose. She stood next to Rāma, covered from head to toe in the grass and bark clothes given by Kaikeyi. All the people present then loudly exclaimed, “Shame upon the powerless king who does nothing to stop this flagrant injustice!”

Hearing their cries the emperor became dispirited and lost interest in life. He turned to Kaikeyi and rebuked her for making Sītā wear forest garments, but the queen remained silent. Rāma came before His father, who sat with his head bent low, and asked his permission to leave. He requested the king to take special care of Kaushalya, whom he feared would suffer in his absence. Looking at his son clad in the dress of a hermit, the king fell unconscious. After being brought to his senses by his ministers, who gently sprinkled him with cool water, Daśaratha lamented loudly.

“I think in my past life I must have given terrible pain to other living beings and thus this pain is now being felt by me. Surely life will not leave one until the appointed time arrives. Otherwise, why does death not claim me now, who am tormented by Kaikeyi and beholding my dearest son wearing the robes of an ascetic?”

Crying out, “O Rāma!” the king broke off, choked with tears. With a great effort Daśaratha then managed to control his grief and, turning towards Sumantra, he said, “Fetch here the best of my chariots and take the glorious Rāma beyond this city. Since I see a virtuous and valiant son being exiled to the forest by His own father and mother, I can only conclude that this is the results of piety, as declared by the scriptures. Religion is undoubtedly difficult to divine.”

As Rāma and Sītā approached the chariot brought by Sumantra, Kaushalya came and tightly embraced Sītā, saying, “Wicked are those women who forsake their worthy husbands when fallen upon hard times. Even though such women have in the past been protected and afforded every happiness, they malign and even desert their husbands when misfortune arrives. Such women are heartless, untruthful, lusty and sinful by nature, being quickly estranged in times of trouble. Neither kindness nor education nor gift nor even marriage ties can capture the hearts of these women.”

Kaushalya loved Sītā as a daughter. She knew that Rāma’s gentle wife was entirely devoted to piety and she spoke to Her only out of motherly affection. She continued, “For virtuous women, who are truthful, pious, obedient to their elders and acting within the bounds of morality the husband is the most sacred object and is never abandoned. Although Rāma is being sent to the forest You should never neglect Him, dear Sītā. Whether wealthy or without any means whatsoever, He is always Your worshipable deity.”

Sītā was filled with joy to hear this advice, which was in accord with her life’s aim. Joining Her palms, She replied reverentially, “I shall surely do all that your honorable self instructs. I have always heard from you proper advice about how to serve My husband. Even in thought you should not compare Me to wicked women, for I am unable to deviate from virtue, even as moonlight cannot be parted from the moon. As a lute is useless without its strings or a chariot without its wheels, so a wife is destitute when separated from her worthy husband. Having learned from My elders all the duties incumbent upon a wife, and knowing the husband to be a veritable deity, how can I ever neglect Rāma, O venerable lady?”

Kaushalya’s heart was touched by Sītā’s reply and she shed tears born of both delight and agony, being moved by Sītā’s piety and at the same time anguished at the thought of Her imminent departure.

Rāma looked with affection at His mother. It was time for Him to leave. He feared Kaushalya would pine away after He left. Rāma stood before her with folded palms. “Please do not show My father sad expressions, heightening his grief. Fourteen years will pass quickly, even while you sleep. You will rise one morning to find Me returned with Sītā and Lakṣman, surrounded by friends and relatives.”

Rāma looked around at all the royal ladies standing there and said, “Please forgive any unkind words or acts which I may have said or done out of ignorance because we have lived closely together. Now I take leave of you all.”

A cry rose up from the ladies that resembled the cry of female cranes. Daśaratha’s palace, which had always been marked with the joyous sounds of music and festivities, was now filled with the sound of agonized wails.

Catching hold of Daśaratha’s feet, Rāma, Sītā and Lakṣman took their final leave of him and walked around him in respect. Numbed by grief, Rāma bowed to Kaushalya and climbed up onto the chariot, followed by Sītā. As Lakṣman followed Them, His own mother Sumitra came up to say good-bye. Embracing her son she said, “Serve well Your elder brother Rāma, my dear son. The eternal moral law states that the older brother is the refuge of the younger, whether in good times or bad. Never forget the duties of our race, O Lakṣman, which are to practice charity, perform sacrifices for the good of the people and to lay down one’s life on the field of battle.”

Blinded by tears, Sumitra allowed her son to mount the chariot as she called out, “Farewell, dear son, farewell! Always see Rāma as You do Your father Daśaratha, look upon Sītā as myself, your mother, and see the forest as Ayodhya!”

Sumantra took up the reins of the horses and urged them forward. The great golden chariot moved ahead with a thunderous rumbling. As it passed down the royal highway the people assembled were stunned with sorrow. Both old and young alike rushed towards the chariot as thirsty men would rush toward water in the desert. Clinging to the sides and the back of the chariot they looked up at Sumantra, calling out, “Hold fast the reins, O charioteer, and drive slowly. We wish to see Rāma a little longer.”

Rāma, anxious to be gone as quickly as possible, asked them to desist and told Sumantra to drive more swiftly. Ordered by Rāma, “Move on!” and at the same time told by the people who filled the road, “Stop!” Sumantra could do neither. With great difficulty the chariot pressed slowly forward.

Seeing Rāma leaving and his city plunged into despair, the king fell prostrate. Upon being brought back to consciousness, he got up and, along with Kaushalya, ran after the chariot. Rāma looked behind Him and saw them trying to make their way through the crowd. He was unable to bear the sight of His father and mother in such distress, but being bound by duty, He urged Sumantra ever forward. The charioteer was perplexed, hearing from behind the king calling out, “Come back!” and then being ordered by Rāma to drive quicker. Rāma said to him, “This pain should not be prolonged further. Make haste! If My father reprimands you when you return, you should simply say you could not hear him.”

Finally breaking free from the crowd, the chariot gathered speed and left the city. Daśaratha was still running along the road, his eyes fixed on the dust raised by the chariot’s wheels. Breathless and at last losing sight of the chariot in the distance, Daśaratha fell down on the road.

As he lay there Kaushalya and Kaikeyi came to raise him up. On seeing Kaikeyi, however, the king became inflamed with anger. “Do not touch me, O sinful woman!” he roared. “I never want to see you again. You are neither my wife nor relation and I have nothing more to say to you. I also reject those who serve and depend upon you. If your son is in any way pleased to receive the sovereignty, then I shall shun Him as well!”

Daśaratha gazed at the tracks of the chariot. He covered his face in shame, blaming himself for Rāma’s departure. With Kaushalya’s help, he slowly made his way back to the palace. As he passed along the road he saw the city marked by mourning, its shops closed, its streets deserted. Lamenting all the while, Daśaratha entered his palace as the sun goes behind a cloud. The great palace was silent and without movement, overlade with a heavy atmosphere of sorrow. Daśaratha went into Kaushalya’s apartments and, laying down upon a soft couch, cried out, “O Rāma, have You really deserted me? Alas! Only those who will endure these coming fourteen years will be happy, seeing again the face of my gentle son. I cannot tolerate life without that tiger among men. O wicked Kaikeyi, you may rule this kingdom as a widow!”

Kaushalya looked sadly upon her husband and said, “Having discharged her poison upon Rāma, the crooked Kaikeyi will now wander freely like a female serpent who has shed her skin. With Rāma exiled and her own son installed as king, surely she will cause further fear to me, even like a snake living in one’s own house. How shall I survive without Rāma?”

Thinking of Rāma and Sītā entering the forest, Kaushalya cried out in pain. How would they survive? Exactly at a time when they should have enjoyed the luxuries of life, They were banished and made to live like ascetics. When again would she see Them? Surely in some past life she had committed some grievous sin. For that reason she now suffered such terrible pain. She lamented loudly, “O Rāma! O Lakṣman! O Sītā! Where are You now? The fire of my grief tortures me today as the blazing sun scorches the earth in summer!”

Sumitra gently reassured Kaushalya, reminding her of the greatness of Rāma and Lakṣman. Controlling her own grief and sitting next to Kaushalya, she placed her arms around her co-wife. She spoke about Rāma, describing His qualities and immeasurable strength. Simply to prove His noble father to be perfectly truthful, He had renounced the throne and gone to the forest. This was the path of virtue followed always by cultured men. That path led only to regions of never-ending happiness. Kaushalya should therefore not pity her son.

Sumitra spoke softly. “Being ever attended by the loving Lakṣman and followed by His devoted wife, Rāma will feel no discomfort. Even the sun will withhold its scorching rays from Rāma’s body, seeing His boundless virtues. A gentle and soothing breeze will always blow softly on Rāma. At night when He lies down to sleep, the cooling rays of the moon will caress Him like a loving father.”

Sumitra stroked Kaushalya’s face. She spoke to assuage her own suffering as much as that of Kaushalya. She told Kaushalya not to worry. Rāma would surely be protected by the terrible weapons that Viśvāmitra gave Him. He would dwell fearlessly in the forest just as He would in His own palace. Sumitra concluded, “Knowing the power of that prince, I have no doubt we will see Him returned as soon as His term of exile is concluded. With Rāma as your son you should not grieve in the least, for your good fortune is very great indeed. Shed your sorrow now, O sinless lady, for all the people must be comforted by you at this time, pained as they are by Rāma’s separation.”

Comforted by Sumitra, Kaushalya felt relief and embraced her co-wife tightly. The two queens sat together for a long time, lost in thoughts of Rāma. Nearby the king lay almost unconscious on a couch, repeatedly murmuring Rāma’s name.