Ramayana: The Death of Dasaratha

You have probably heard the Sanskrit word karma. The word means "action" in Sanskrit, and it refers to the cycle of actions and reactions that constitute our existence. All actions have consequences, and our actions in turn are the consequences of past actions. You can read more about karma at Wikipedia; it is a vital component of both Hinduism and Buddhism. In this part of the story, Dasaratha realizes the tragic events of his life are a result (karma) of a long-ago hunting accident.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Ramayana unit. Story source: Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).

The Death of Dasaratha

Rama, Sita and Lakshmana Depart

Rumours of what had happened were passing through the city, and the people gazed with sorrow on Rama, his bride and his brother, and some said: "The Maharajah is possessed by demons." Others said: "Let us desert the city and follow Rama. Then Bharata will have none left to rule over."

Rama entered the palace with his wife and brother, and stood before the Maharajah with folded hands.

Dasaratha lamented and said: "A woman hath deceived me. She concealed her wicked designs in her heart as a fire is concealed by ashes. . . . The evening is late; tarry therefore with thy mother and me until day breaks."

Said Rama: "Kaikeyi commanded me to depart this day to the jungle, and I promised to obey. . . When fourteen years have gone past, we shall return again and honour thee."

The Maharajah and his counsellors desired to send the royal army and the huntsmen and much grain and treasure to the jungle with Rama, although Kaikeyi protested loudly, but Rama refused to have soldiers and followers, and asked for the raiment of bark which he must wear and for the spade with which to dig roots and the basket to carry them.

The shameless Kaikeyi then went away and returned with three dresses of bark. Rama and Lakshmana immediately cast off their royal garments and all their ornaments, and assumed the rough attire of devotees. But Sita, who from childhood had been clad in silk, wept and said: "How can I wear raiment of bark? I cannot use such attire."

All the women shed tears at these words, and Dasaratha said: "Kaikeyi's command is binding on Rama only, and his wife and brother may assume any garments they desire."

So the robe of bark was taken away from Sita; it was not permitted that she should be put to shame.

Then Rama and Sita and Lakshmana took leave of all those who were in the palace, and, amidst lamentation and wailing, took their departure from the palace. They were conveyed to the frontier of the kingdom in a chariot, and many people followed them from the city, resolved to share exile with Rama. The night was spent on the banks of the Tamasa, and all slept save Rama alone. As soon as dawn came, he awakened Sita and Lakshmana and the charioteer, and together they departed ere the slumbering multitude were aware. The exiles thereafter parted with the charioteer and, crossing the river Tamasa, journeyed on till they saw the sacred Ganges, in which the gods are wont to bathe, and on whose banks many sages had chosen hermitages.

When the people awoke and found that those whom they loved and honoured had hastened away, they returned with hearts full of sorrow to the mourning city of Ayodhya.

A Story from Dasaratha's Past

Now the Maharajah Dasaratha was doomed to die a sorrowful death. Be it known that in his youth, when he loved to go a-hunting, he heard in the jungle depths one evening a gurgling of water,and thought an elephant or a deer had come to drink from a hidden stream. He drew his bow; he aimed at the sound and discharged an arrow. . . . A human voice uttered a cry of agony. . . . Breaking through the tangled jungle growth, Dasaratha discovered that he had mortally wounded a young hermit who had come to draw water for his aged parents. The poor victim forgave the king and counselled him, saying: "Hasten to my sire and inform him of my fate, lest his curse should consume thee as a fire consumes a withered tree." Then he expired.

Dismayed and sorrowing deeply, Dasaratha went towards the dwelling of the boy's parents, who were blind and old. He heard the father cry: "Ah! why hast thou lingered, my son? I am athirst, and thy mother longs for thee."

In broken accents the king informed the lonesome parents of their son's death. The sire lamented aloud, and said: "Oh! Lead me to my son. Let me embrace him for the last time."

Dasaratha conducted the weeping parents to the spot where the lad lay lifeless and stained with blood. The sire clasped the body and cried: "Oh! Wilt thou not speak and greet me, my son? Thou liest on the ground; thou dost not answer me when I call. Alas! thou canst not love me any longer. . . . Thy mother is here. Oh! Thou who wert dutiful and kind, speak but one tender word to her and to me. . . . Who will now read to us each morning the holy books? Who will now find roots and fruits to feed us? . . . Oh! Tarry with us yet a little longer, my son. Wait for us ere thou dost depart to the Kingdom of Death — stay but one day longer, and on the morrow thy father and mother will go with thee on the weary and darksome path of no returning. . . . How can we live now that our child and protector is taken from us?"

So the blind old hermit lamented. Then he spake to the king and said: "I had but this one child, and thou hast made me childless. Now slay me also, because Death is blunted and unable to hurt me any more. . . . A father cannot feel greater agony than when he sorrows for a beloved son. This peculiar sharp sorrow thou wilt yet know, O king. As I weep now, and as I am hastened to death, mourning for my son, so wilt thou suffer in like manner, sorrowing for a dearly-beloved and righteous son. Thy death, O Dasaratha, will cleanse thee of this crime."

Having spoken thus, the hermit built the funeral pyre for the dead boy, and when it was lit, he and his wife leapt amidst the flames and entered the Kingdom of Death.

The Demise of Dasaratha

After Rama had departed from Ayodhya, his mother, Kausalya, reproached Dasaratha, saying: "Thou wouldst not break thy promise to Kaikeyi, but thou didst break thy promise made to thy counsellors that Rama should be thy successor."

The Maharajah was bowed down with grief and cried: "Oh! Forgive me, Kausalya, because my heart is breaking while I mourn for my beloved son. Oh! Do not wound me again, I pray thee."

Kausalya wept and said: "Alas! My grief hath made me speak cruelly to thee."

In the middle of the second night after Rama had departed, Dasaratha awoke and cried: "O Kausalya, I am dying with grief. Mine eyes have grown blind with weeping. Take my hand in thine and speak unto me. Oh! Bitterly I grieve now that I cannot look upon Rama ere I die. Happy are they whose eyes behold him . . . My heart beats feebly." . . .

When he had spoken thus, Dasaratha fell back and was silent. Kausalya, mother of Rama, and Sumitra, mother of Lakshmana, knelt beside him, and they swooned when his spirit fled.

Image source: Dasaratha's Funeral

(1100 words)

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