As he entered his residence, he saw Queen Kausalyā, who was clad in white silk and had spent the night observing a vow. She had performed pūjā to Bhagavān Viṣṇu early in the morning and was performing a homa in Agni. Seeing her beloved son, Kausalyā rushed to him out of joy, just as a mare runs to her foal. Rāma, out of his modest nature and respect, told her with his hands joined, “Terrible sorrow awaits you, Sītā, and Lakṣmaṇa. I shall live in the uninhabited forest for fourteen years subsisting on honey, roots, and fruits like a muni. The king is bestowing the status of crown-prince upon Bharata and has exiled me to Daṇḍakāraṇya.” Kausalyā collapsed upon hearing this. Covered with dust, she felt miserable like a mare that had borne burden beyond its capacity.
Getting up, she cried, “O Rāghava! Had I not given birth to you, I would have grieved only for being a barren woman! There would have been no other sorrow. I have hardly experienced joy in my life, Rāma—and I have waited all along to derive pleasure out of my son’s welfare. I will now hear many spiteful remarks from the younger queens. Even when you were here, I have suffered immense humiliation; with you gone, it is certainly death for me. Even those who were serving me until now, will not do so out of fear of Kaikeyī’s son. All the vratas and tapas I performed for my son have gone waste like sowing a seed in salty soil. I wish I could join Death right away!”
As Rāma’s mother thus lamented, Lakṣmaṇa said, “I just don’t like this, mother! Why should Rāma go to the forest obeying a woman’s demand? The king, who is overcome by lust and succumbs to the temptations of senses, may utter anything. Will any dhārmic person banish without reason a god-like son, who is honest and self-disciplined and has compassion even for his enemies? A son well-versed in rāja-nīti should not listen to the words of this king, who though old behaves like an irascible child. Rāma! Before anybody hears about this, seize the kingdom with my assistance. No one can stop you as I stand guard with my bow like Death incarnate! If Ayodhyā goes against you, I will get rid of all its inhabitants with my sharp arrows. I will slay everyone who sides with Bharata! O devi, I truly love my brother from the bottom of my heart, I swear by my bow! If Rāma should enter the blazing fire or a dense forest, trust me, O mother, I would have done so before him. With my valour, I will rid you of your sorrow, devi, just as the Sun dispels darkness.”
Reduced to tears, Kausalyā said to Rāma, “O son! Listen to what Lakṣmaṇa says. If it appeals to you, please follow his advice. You should not pay heed to the adhārmic words of my co-wife. Aren’t my words as worthy of your regard as your father’s? Even to eat grass in your company is a blessing for me. If you go to the forest leaving me behind, I will starve myself to death.”
Rāma replied, “O Mother! I cannot transgress my father’s command. Don’t you know, in the past Sage Kaṇḍu killed a cow upon the behest of his father. In our family, the sons of Sagara met with a terrible death digging the earth upon the command of their father. Paraśu-rāma chopped off his mother Reṇukā’s head with an axe obeying his father’s instruction. I am merely treading the path paved by the past-masters.” He then said to Lakṣmaṇa, “Dear brother, I know your unparalleled love for me. Dharma is the highest virtue in the world and Satya resides in Dharma. Give up your ignoble idea! Trust dharma and follow my path!” Turning towards Kausalyā, he said, “I am leaving from here straight to the forest. Please don’t lament, O mother! I will come back upon the fulfilment of my vow!”
Addressing Lakṣmaṇa again, Rāma said, “Repressing your anger and grief for a moment, with a happy heart, cancel all arrangements made for my crowning with the same speed as you got them ready. It appears that Fate has ordained my exile and no one else appears to be responsible. Dominated by Fate, my younger mother, Kaikeyī has uttered such harsh words, for such is the power of daiva!”
Upon listening to Rāma’s words, Lakṣmaṇa oscillated between joy and sorrow. Knitting his eyebrows, the valorous one hissed like a snake. Flinging his hands around like an elephant waves its trunk, with an oblique glance, he said, “You seem to have lost your sense out of fear of violating dharma. How could a powerful kṣatriya like you attribute everything to Fate and Destiny, which is the refuge of the timid and the weak? Only the cowards, who have no skills to perform their deeds, attribute everything to Destiny. Today, the world will see me overpower Destiny. I shall kill the desire of our father and that wicked lady. You will rule the kingdom and your sons will rule after you. You will only retire to the forest life after ruling for a thousand years. Whoever is hostile to you will be bereft of his life, fame, and friends and I will ensure that the kingdom comes under your control! I am your servant!”
Wiping tears off Lakṣmaṇa’s face and calming him down, Rāma reiterated his firm resolve.
Unable to bear separation from her son, Kausalyā declared her decision, “How can my son subsist on raw roots, fruits, and scattered grains the forest? Can a cow but help following its calf wherever it goes? I will go with you, my son!”
Rāma replied, “Our father, deceived by Kaikeyī and with you and me gone, will not survive. Abandoning her husband is the vilest deed for a wife. So long as my father lives, you should tend to him and this is the sanātana-dharma! To a woman, her husband is her god and her lord as long as he lives. Bharata, a dhrāmic soul, will always follow your wishes. Ensure that the king does not suffer from separation from his son when I am gone. You must perform pūjā and serve the brāhmaṇas in my absence, on my behalf. Once I am back, you will enjoy the highest luxury.”
Now setting aside her grief with determination, Kausalyā blessed him with immense love. Wishing him a safe stay in the forest, the mother embraced him and smelled his head. She even went around Rāma in a pradakṣiṇa and repeatedly hugged him. Rāma too went in a pradakṣiṇa around her and prostrated at her feet. He then went ahead to Sītā’s palace.
Sītā had heard nothing about the happenings in the king’s palace. Rāma entered his own mansion which was well-decorated and filled with rejoicing folk; he felt embarrassed and a bit ashamed and hung his head low. Sītā, looking at her husband’s grief-stricken face, got up trembling. Rāma’s face was drained of colour, covered with perspiration, and betrayed deep sorrow. She variously asked him, What is the reason behind your agony amidst times of celebration? Rāma replied, “My revered father has exiled me to the forest for fourteen years, O Jānaki! As demanded through the two boons by Kaikeyī, Bharata will be anointed as the crown-prince. I came to bid you farewell as I am heading to the forest. Remember, when I am away, never praise me in the ear-shot of Bharata. Men in power do not like to hear another praised. Please don’t expect special favours from him, either. Once I am gone, you, as a brave woman must bear up sorrow cheerfully. Getting up early in the morning, perform pūjā to the devas. You should honour my father Daśaratha and mother Kausalyā as well as the other mothers. You should specially take care of Lakṣmaṇa and Śatrughna like your own brothers or sons. Never displease Bharata, for he is the king of the land and the clan. An enraged king may disown his own progeny! O lovely one, stay here observing dharma – this is my advice. I will leave now!”
Upon listening to Rāma’s words, Sītā said, “Ārya-putra! A man’s father, mother, brother, son, and daughter-in-law reap the fruits of their own puṇya, but a wife’s fortune is solely dependent on her husband. He is her ultimate refuge. If you are starting this day to the impenetrable jungle, I’ll walk ahead of you softening prickly grass and thorns. Give up your anger and kindly take me along with you; please know that I have not committed any pāpa! My father and mother have taught me how to conduct myself towards my husband in different situations, and I don’t need to be taught now. I will happily live in the forest just as in my father’s abode. I will not care for the wealth of the three worlds and serve you as a pativratā. I will subsist on fruits and roots, have no doubts! I will never cause you sorrow, I promise, Rāma. I wish to see all the rivers and mountains, ponds and forests, and I shall never be scared, having you as my guardian. With you by my side, even a hundred thousand years will pass by in pleasure. I do not wish to live in svarga without you, Rāma. I am resolved to die if I cannot be with you. Please heed to my request and make my dream come true. I will never be a burden to you!”
When Sītā spoke thus, Rāma, who knew the perils in the forest was not inclined to take her with him. Speaking soothing words in other to dissuade her, Rāma said, “Dear Sītā! You come from a noble family; staying back here, you can do perform your svadharma to your satisfaction. The forest is full of troubles. The frightful mountains and the roar of the lions in their lairs make the forest a scary place. You will need to sleep on a bed of leaves at night, though you are wearied though out the day. You may have to fast at times, must wear clothes made of tree-bark, and have matted hair. Many serpents and lizards plague the forest paths. Scorpions, worms, gnats, and mosquitoes bother one endlessly. The forest is not the place for you. The more I think of it, the more I see the infinite perils of the forest!”
In great grief and with a tear-stained face, Sītā said, “The troubles in the forest are blessings for me in your company, Rāma! Separated from you, it is better I die here. In the past, fortune tellers in my father’s place had prophesized that I would have to live in the forest and I have been looking forward to the day since then.” Unable to control herself, she said, “It appears that my father got a woman in a man’s guise as his son-in-law! You must know, O valiant one, I am like Sāvitrī who was devoted to her husband Satyavān. Do you wish to give me away to someone else, just like an actor in a drama does? Any fruit, leaf, or flower – in small or large quantities, that you offer to me with your own hands is like nectar to me. I will never long for my father or mother or my native home while I am in your company, O Rāghava! I cannot bear separation from your even for a moment!”
Taking her in his arms, Rāma reassured her, “I would not wish for svarga too, my lady, at the cost of your tears. Dear one, not knowing your heart, I tried to stop you from coming with me, though I can certainly take care of you. Come, follow me, be my companion – saha-dharma-carī bhava! Offer gems to brāhmaṇas and food to bhikṣus. Make haste, my lady!”
Sītā, extremely delighted, with full heart began giving away her possessions.
Listening to the conversation between the couple, Lakṣmaṇa expressed his resolve to walk ahead of them. Rāma then said, “If you accompany us to the forest, who will support Kausalyā and Sumitrā? The daughter of Aśvapati will certainly cause immense trouble to her co-wives once the kingdom is in her hands.”
Lakṣmaṇa, an expert at speech, replied, “Your brilliance will prevail upon Bharata and make him take good care of Kausalyā and Sumitrā. Moreover, Kausalyā is bestowed with a thousand villages and she can support a thousand citizens like me. With my bow and arrow ever vigilant and carrying a spade and a basket, I will walk ahead of you showing you the path! I will get you fruits, roots, and other wild produce every day. You may enjoy your time with Vaidehī on the hill-tops, while I serve you irrespective of you being awake or asleep!”
Supremely pleased with his words, Rāma said, “Go Lakṣmaṇa, take leave of all our friends. Go fetch the best of bows and armours.”
Rāma honoured Suyajña, Sage Vasiṣṭha’s son as well as many other brāhmaṇas and offered them a bounty of precious gems and wealth. Rāma and Sītā gave away all their belongings to people in the city as per each one’s taste.
To be continued...
[The critically constituted text and the critical edition published by the Oriental Institute, Vadodara is the primary source. In addition, the Kannada rendering of the epic by Mahāmahopādhyāya Sri. N. Ranganatha Sharma and the English translation by Sri. N. Raghunathan have been referred.]