[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Ramayana unit. Story source: Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913).
The Wicked Manthara
Ugly and misshapen was Manthara; she was short-necked, flat-breasted, and had legs like a crane; she was big-bellied and humpbacked. When Rama was a child, she had offended him and he smote her, and ever afterwards she regarded him with fierce enmity.
Manthara and Queen Kaikeyi
Said Kaikeyi: "Why do you hate Rama? He is the eldest son of the chief queen, and Bharata could not become Yuvarajah without the consent of Kausalya's son, who honours me as he honours his own mother."
Manthara fumed with wonder and indignation at these words; then she said: "What madness hath blinded thee? What folly maketh thee heedless of the gulf of sorrow which awaiteth thee and thy son? I am older than thou art, and have seen dark deeds committed in royal houses. Can Bharata become the slave of Rama? Well I know that jealous Rama will drive thy lordly son into exile and mayhap slay him. . . . Arise, thou heedless queen, and save Bharata lest he be sent to wander alone in the fearsome jungle. Speak thy mandate to the Maharajah, whose heart hath been captivated by thy beauty. . . . Any other woman but thee would rather die than suffer a rival wife to triumph over her."
Said Kaikeyi, whose heart began to burn with jealous anger: "How can I prevail upon Dasaratha to exalt my son and send Rama into exile?"
Then the hunchback reminded Bharata's mother that she had been promised two boons by her husband. In time past, Dasaratha had gone to help Indra to wage war against the demons. He was grievously wounded and would have died, but Kaikeyi cured him. So he vowed to grant her two boons, and she said: "When I have need of two favours, I will remind thee of thy promise.
Manthara spake to the queen mother of Bharata, saying: "Now go to the mourning chamber and feign sorrow and anger. The Maharajah will seek thee out, and when he findeth thee, demand of him the two boons which he promised aforetime."
Queen Kaikeyi and King Dasaratha
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 Dasaratha 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."
Dasaratha 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 dishonour 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 [the god of death] would snatch me off in this hour."
Said Kaikeyi: "If thou dost honour truth, thou wilt grant the boons I crave, but if thou wouldst rather break thine oath, let me drink poison now."
Dasaratha 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."
Next: Rama's Exile