Reading Guide. Persuaded by Manthara, Kaikeyi does indeed demand that Dasharatha send Rama into exile while making their son Bharata his heir.
Image: The illustration combines two scenes in one frame: on the left you see Kaikeyi lying on the ground; on the right you see that Dasharatha has joined Kaikeyi in the "anger room." This illustrated edition of the Ramayana is online at the British Museum.
Source. The verse portion comes from Ramayana, The Epic of Rama, Prince of India, condensed into English verse by Romesh Dutt (1899) — try reading the poetry out loud and/or listen to the audio while you read! The prose portion comes from Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [700 words]
Thither flew the stricken monarch; on the bare and unswept ground,
Trembling with tumultuous passion, was the Queen Kaikeyi found;
On the cold uncovered pavement sorrowing lay the weeping wife,
Young wife of an ancient husband, dearer than his heart and life!
Like a bright and blossoming creeper rudely severed from the earth,
Like a fallen fair Apsara, beauteous nymph of heavenly birth,
Like a female forest-ranger bleeding from the hunter's dart,
Whom her mate the forest-monarch soothes with soft endearing art,
Lay the queen in tears of anguish! And with sweet and gentle word
To the lotus-eyed lady softly spake her loving lord.
"Wherefore thus, my Queen and Empress, sorrow-laden is thy heart?
Who with daring slight or insult seeks to cause thy bosom smart?
"If some unknown ailment pains thee, evil spirit of the air,
Skilled physicians wait upon thee, priests with incantations fair;
"If from human foe some insult, wipe thy tears and doom his fate:
Rich reward or royal vengeance shall upon thy mandate wait!"
~ ~ ~
So it came to pass that in the mourning chamber Kaikeyi spake to Dasharatha and said, “Now grant me the two boons as thou didst vow to do, or I shall die this night.”
Said the Maharajah, “Speak thy wishes, and they will be granted. May I never achieve bliss if thy desires are not fulfilled.”
Kaikeyi said, “Let royal deeds redeem royal words. The first boon I ask is that my son Bharata be installed as Yuvarajah; the second is that Rama be banished for fourteen years to live in the jungle as a devotee clad in a robe of bark.”
When Dasharatha heard these awful words, he swooned and fell prone like to a tempest-smitten tree. At length he recovered his senses and, opening his eyes, said, “Have I dreamed a fearsome dream? Do demons torture me? Is my mind clouded with madness?”
Hushed and trembling, he gazed upon Kaikeyi as a startled deer gazes at a tigress. He was as helpless as a serpent which hath been mantra-charmed, and for a time he sobbed aloud.
At length, wrath possessed him and, red-eyed and loud-voiced, he reproached her, saying, “Traitress, wouldst thou bring ruin to my family? Rama hath never wronged thee; why dost thou seek to injure him? O Kaikeyi, whom I have loved and taken to my bosom, thou hast crept into my house like a poisonous snake to accomplish my ruin. It is death to me to part with my brave and noble Rama, now that I am old and feeble. Have pity on me and ask for other boons.”
Said Kaikeyi, coldly and bitterly, “If thou wilt break thy vow now to one who saved thy life, all men will despise thee, and I will drink poison this very night.”
Dasharatha was made silent a time.
Then he spoke with tears and said, “Beautiful art thou, O Kaikeyi. Thou hast taken captive my heart. How can this evil desire dwell in thy bosom and darken it with guile? Thou hast entrapped me with the bait of thy beauty. Can a father dishonor his well-loved son? Rather would I enter hell than send Rama into exile. How can I look upon his face again? How can I suffer to behold him parting with gentle Sita? Oh! I have drunk of sweet wine mingled with poison. Have pity on me, O Kaikeyi! I fall at thy feet. I would that Yama would snatch me off in this hour.”
Said Kaikeyi, “If thou dost honor truth, thou wilt grant the boons I crave, but if thou wouldst rather break thine oath, let me drink poison now.”
Dasharatha cried in his grief, “O shadow-robed Night, decked with stars, arrest the hours that pass by, or else give my heart release! Cover with thy darksome mantle my sorrow and my shame, and hide this deed of crime from the knowledge of mankind. Let me perish ere the dawn; may the sun never rise to shine upon my sin-smeared life.”
So he lamented through the night, and unto Kaikeyi he said, “I grant the boons, but I reject thee for ever and thy son Bharata also.”