For the next twelve years Rama and Sita lived happily in Ayodhya. Rama was loved by all. He was a joy to his father, Dasharatha, whose heart nearly burst with pride when he beheld his son. As Dasharatha was growing older, he summoned his ministers seeking their opinion about crowning Rama as prince of Ayodhya. They unanimously welcomed the suggestion. Then Dasharatha announced the decision and gave orders for the coronation of Rama. During this time, Bharata and his favorite brother, Shatrughna, had gone to see their maternal grandfather and were absent from Ayodhya.
Kaikeyi, Bharata’s mother, was in the palace rejoicing with the other queens, sharing the happy news of Rama’s coronation. She loved Rama as her own son; but her wicked maid, Manthara, was unhappy. Manthara wanted Bharata to be the king so she devised a heinous plan to thwart Ramas coronation. As soon as the plan was set firmly in her mind, she rushed to Kaikeyi to tell her.
“What a fool you are!” Manthara said to Kaikeyi, “The king has always loved you more than the other queens. But the moment Rama is crowned, Kausalya will become all powerful and she will make you her slave.”
Manthara repeatedly gave her poisoned suggestions, clouding Kaikeyis mind and heart with suspicion and doubt. Kaikeyi, confused and distraught, finally agreed to Mantharas plan.
“But what can I do to change it?” asked Kaikeyi with a puzzled mind.
Manthara was clever enough to chalk out her plan all the way. She had been waiting for Kaikeyi to ask her advice.
“You may recall that long ago when Dasharatha was badly wounded in the battle field, while fighting with the Asuras, you saved Dasraratha’s life by swiftly driving his chariot to safety? At that time Dasharatha offered you two boons. You said you would ask for the boons some other time.”
Kaikeyi readily remembered.
Manthara continued, “Now the time has come to demand those boons. Ask Dasharatha for your first boon to make Bharat the king of Kosal and for the second boon to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years.”
Kakeyi was a noble-hearted queen, now trapped by Manthara. She agreed to do what Manthara said. Both of them knew that Dasharatha would never fall back on his words.
The night before the coronation, Dasharatha came to Kakeyi to share his happiness at seeing Rama the crown prince of Kosala. But Kakeyi was missing from her apartment. She was in her “anger room”. When Dasharatha came to her anger room to inquire, he found his beloved queen lying on the floor with her hair loose and her ornaments cast away.
Dasharatha gently took Kakeyi’s head on his lap and asked in a caressing voice, “What is wrong?”
But Kakeyi angrily shook herself free and firmly said; “You have promised me two boons. Now please grant me these two boons. Let Bharata be crowned as king and not Rama. Rama should be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years.”
Dasharatha could hardly believe his ears. Unable to bear what he had heard, he fell down unconscious. When he returned to his senses, he cried out in helpless anger, “What has come over you? What harm has Rama done to you? Please ask for anything else but these.”
Kakeyi stood firm and refused to yield. Dasharatha fainted and lay on the floor the rest of the night. The next morning, Sumantra, the minister, came to inform Dasharatha that all the preparations for the coronation were ready. But Dasharatha was not in a position to speak to anyone. Kakeyi asked Sumantra to call Rama immediately. When Rama arrived, Dasharatha was sobbing uncontrollably and could only utter “Rama! Rama!”
Rama was alarmed and looked at Kakeyi with surprise, “Did I do anything wrong, mother? I have never seen my father like this before.”
“He has something unpleasant to tell you, Rama,” replied Kakeyi. “Long ago your father had offered me two boons. Now I demand it.” Then Kakeyi told Rama about the boons.
“Is that all mother?” asked Rama with a smile. “Please take it that your boons are granted. Call for Bharata. I shall start for the forest today.”
Rama did his pranams to his revered father, Dasharatha, and to his stepmother, Kakeyi, and then left the room. Dasharatha was in shock. He painfully asked his attendants to move him to Kaushalya’s apartment. He was waiting for death to ease his pain.
The news of Rama’s exile spread like a fire. Lakshmana was furious with his father’s decision. Rama simply replied, “Is it worthwhile to sacrifice your principle for the sake of this small kingdom?”
Tears sprang from Lakshmana’s eyes and he said in a low voice, “If you must go to the forest, take me along with you.” Rama agreed.
Then Rama proceeded to Sita and asked her to stay behind. “Look after my mother, Kausalya, in my absence.”
Sita begged, “Have pity on me. A wife’s position is always beside her husband. Don’t leave me behind. Ill die without you.” At last Rama permitted Sita to follow him.
Urmila, Lakshamans wife, also wanted to go with Lakshmana to the forest. But Lakshmana explained to her the life that he plans to lead for the protection of Rama and Sita.
“If you accompany me, Urmila,” Lakshmana said, “I may not be able to fulfill my duties. Please take care of our grieved family members.” So Urmila stayed behind on Lakshmana’s request.
By that evening Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left Ayodhya on a chariot driven by Sumatra. They were dressed like mendicants (Rishis). The people of Ayodhya ran behind the chariot crying loudly for Rama. By nightfall they all reached the bank of the river, Tamasa. Early the next morning Rama awoke and told Sumantra, “The people of Ayodhya love us very much but we have to be on our own. We must lead the life of a hermit, as I promised. Let us continue our journey before they wake up.”
So, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, driven by Sumantra, continued their journey alone. After travelling the entire day they reached the bank of the Ganges and decided to spend the night under a tree near a village of hunters. The chieftain, Guha, came and offered them all the comforts of his house. But Rama replied, “Thank you Guha, I appreciate your offer as a good friend but by accepting your hospitality I will break my promise. Please allow us to sleep here as the hermits do.”
Next morning the three, Rama, Lakshmana and Sita, said goodbye to Sumantra and Guha and got into a boat to cross the river, Ganges. Rama addressed Sumantra, “Return to Ayodhya and console my father.”
By the time Sumantra reached Ayodhya Dasharatha was dead, crying until his last breath, “Rama, Rama, Rama!” Vasishtha sent a messenger to Bharata asking him to return to Ayodhya without disclosing the details.
Bharata immediately returned with Shatrughna. As he entered the city of Ayodhya, he realized that something was terribly wrong. The city was strangely silent. He went straight to his mother, Kaikeyi. She looked pale. Bharat impatiently asked, “Where is father?” He was stunned by the news. Slowly he learned about Ramas exile for fourteen years and Dasharathas demise with the departure of Rama.
Bharata could not believe that his mother was the cause of the disaster. Kakyei tried to make Bharata understand that she did it all for him. But Bharata turned away from her with disgust and said, “Dont you know how much I love Rama? This kingdom is worth nothing in his absence. I am ashamed to call you my mother. You are heartless. You killed my father and banished my beloved brother. I will not have anything to do with you for as long as I live.” Then Bharata left for Kaushalyas apartment. Kakyei realized the mistake she made.
Kaushalya received Bharata with love and affection. Addressing Bharata she said, “Bharata, the kingdom is waiting for you. No one will oppose you for ascending the throne. Now that your father is gone, I would also like to go to the forest and live with Rama.”
Bharata could not contain himself any further. He burst into tears and promised Kaushalya to bring Rama back to Ayodhya as quickly as possible. He understood the throne rightfully belonged to Rama. After completing the funeral rites for Dasharatha, Bharata started for Chitrakut where Rama was staying. Bharata halted the army at a respectful distance and walked alone to meet Rama. Seeing Rama, Bharata fell at his feet begging forgiveness for all the wrong doings.
When Rama asked, “How is father?” Bharat began to cry and broke the sad news; “Our father has left for heaven. At the time of his death, he constantly took your name and never recovered from the shock of your departure.” Rama collapsed. When he came to senses he went to river, Mandakini, to offer prayers for his departed father.
The next day, Bharata asked Rama to return to Ayodhya and rule the kingdom. But Rama firmly replied, “I cannot possibly disobey my father. You rule the kingdom and I shall carry out my pledge. I will come back home only after fourteen years.”
When Bharata realized Ramas firmness in fulfilling his promises, he begged Rama to give him his sandals. Bharata told Rama the sandals will represent Rama and he would carry out the duties of the kingdom only as Ramas representative. Rama gracefully agreed. Bharata carried the sandals to Ayodhya with great reverence. After reaching the capital, he placed the sandals on the throne and ruled the kingdom in Ramas name. He left the palace and lived like a hermit, as Rama did, counting the days of Ramas return.
When Bharata left, Rama went to visit Sage Agastha. Agastha asked Rama to move to Panchavati on the bank of Godavari River. It was a beautiful place. Rama planned to stay at Panchavati for some time. So, Lakshamana quickly put up an elegant hut and they all settled down.