Two Competing Responsibilities For King Dasharatha

[Sita-Rama]“Being under the control of passion and lust, Rama’s father, Maharaja Dasharatha, wanted to fulfill Kaikeyi’s cherished desire, thus he did not go through with Rama’s installation ceremony.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.12)

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कामार्तस्तु महातेजाः पिता दशरथस्स्वयम्।।
कैकेय्याः प्रियकामार्थं तं रामं नाभ्यषेचयत्।

kāmārtastu mahātejāḥ pitā daśarathassvayam।।
kaikeyyāḥ priyakāmārthaṃ taṃ rāmaṃ nābhyaṣecayat।

1. Leader of the people

King Dasharatha of Ramayana fame was not elected to the post. There was no vox populi. No requirement to sway public opinion. No flooding the television and radio airways with negative advertisements. No false promises to multiple special interest groups, hoping to gain their support.

In fact, Dasharatha received his name from the ability to defend, which is required for a kshatriya. From Vedic culture descends the varnashrama system. Four divisions of occupation for the proper functioning of society.

चातुर्-वर्ण्यं मया सृष्टं
तस्य कर्तारम् अपि मां
विद्ध्य् अकर्तारम् अव्ययम्

cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ
tasya kartāram api māṁ
viddhy akartāram avyayam

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Kshatriyas are the second division. The root definition of the Sanskrit word is, “one who protects against injury.” The primary purpose of government is to protect property and innocent life. Failing in these two departments the government is a failure.

Dasharatha could defend against attackers penetrating in ten directions simultaneously. This is a remarkable ability, and so it is no wonder that the demigods, the suras in the heavenly realm, would often call upon Dasharatha for assistance.

In Ayodhya he was the leader of the people. Another fit and qualified ruler in a dynasty of kings descending from the sun-god, Vivasvan. Dasharatha was in a line of kings known as Ikshvakus. The famous King Raghu also previously appeared within the line.

2. A man of trust and honor

In addition to protecting from injury, a kshatriya should be trustworthy. Since there are no elections, there is no harm from being honest. In modern day politics, if you slip up, if you mistakenly speak the truth about a situation, the entire world could align against you. Therefore, most professional politicians deliver their speeches by reading off a teleprompter; i.e. prepared remarks.

Dasharatha did not have to worry about such issues. In the area of honesty, he was self-policing. The scrutiny from within was enough to keep the king in line with dharma. The last thing he wanted was to be proven a liar.

[Dasharatha and Kaikeyi]And so in these competing responsibilities, Dasharatha ran into trouble. While engaged in battle one time, his youngest wife happened to be with him. Kaikeyi essentially saved him by directing the chariot out of harm’s way.

As a saintly person, Dasharatha was so pleased and grateful. He offered Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing. The queen had no malice or ill-intent, so she did not immediately take advantage of the favor. She waited until later, after one of her devious servants planted the seed of jealousy in the queen’s mind.

Kaikeyi wanted Bharata to be made the next king. This went against protocol and also the impending plans. Dasharatha’s eldest son, Rama, born to another queen, Kausalya, was on track to take over. Everyone in the kingdom agreed.

Kaikeyi remembered the boons. She placed the king in a bind. Be a proper leader or be shown to be a liar. The decision was so painful. Rama made everything easy. He voluntarily left the kingdom. Bharata would take over. No reason for anyone’s reputation to take a hit.

The incident highlights the difficulties with following dharma to the letter. Nuance and subtlety, the considerations based on time and circumstance, the concern for the population at large compared to the personal interest – the decisions are not straightforward.

[Sita-Rama]There were no ill-feelings from Rama’s side, but His wife, Sita Devi, never forgot. She later described Dasharatha to be a victim of his desires, kama, in making the decision to favor Kaikeyi. There is the saying, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” But since the king was conscious of Rama while quitting the body, he achieved the best end to life regardless.

In Closing:

Leader of Ayodhya in good standing,
Alertness to ten directions commanding.

Also true to his word,
Such was Kaikeyi heard.

That advantage of promises taking,
Otherwise Dasharatha a liar making.

Responsibilities in this world conflicting,
King liberated despite conditions restricting.

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