“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)
कामार्तस्तु महातेजाः पिता दशरथस्स्वयम्।।
कैकेय्याः प्रियकामार्थं तं रामं नाभ्यषेचयत्।
kāmārtastu mahātejāḥ pitā daśarathassvayam।।
kaikeyyāḥ priyakāmārthaṃ taṃ rāmaṃ nābhyaṣecayat।
“On the occasion of Diwali, I always remember the Ramayana story. Though the holiday is presented in the modern day as the ‘festival of lights,’ with a sort of secular aura, I know the origins. The Ramayana is everything to me; it resonated with me from the very first time I heard it.
“I must say, the story is well-coordinated. I understand that people take it to be a historical record, one beautifully composed in the Sanskrit language by Maharishi Valmiki. Such a renounced person, who received his initiated name based on the ant-hill surrounding him after years of deep dhyana, would never waste his time on fictional accounts.
“There was no money to be made on a book-publication deal. There were not movie and merchandising rights to consider for the future. There was not a name to be made in the publishing world, where a paying audience would eagerly anticipate the next installment in the series.
“Rather, Valmiki wrote about the person whose name he had meditated on for years. It was a record of history, but also a glorification of the person whose features are transcendental. God is both nirguna and saguna; the distinction is based only on the point of view or the level of understanding.
“Within that grand presentation, everything starts out fairly well. There is an abundance of peace and prosperity. Practically everyone living in Ayodhya is happy. God is at the center of their lives. Shri Rama is the beloved prince regent. King Dasharatha protects everyone, though there are various classes based on occupation.
“The sudden twist, the act-break, if you will, is the reversal of fortune for Rama. The avatara of Vishnu suddenly has to leave the kingdom. He turns into an outcaste, but not due to any misdeed or omission in responsibility. Rather, it is the betrayal of the king’s youngest wife.
“Kaikeyi takes advantage of a situation. She previously received any two boons of her choosing, offered generously by her husband. She chose the time of Rama’s installation to test the word of the king. She asked that Bharata, her son, be made the next king instead of Rama. She also asked that Rama be sent away for fourteen years, unable to return in between that time.
“Based on the events which followed, we know the outcome. Dasharatha sided with Kaikeyi. This was her cherished desire, as later described by Rama’s wife. I am wondering how Dasharatha could justify such a decision.
“Basically, the king went against the entire city. The counsellors, the priests, the preceptors, the other queens, the son, the average citizen – everyone loved Rama so much that they had already started preparing for His installation as the next king. How was Dasharatha able to carry through on such an unpopular decision?”
As we know from the accounts and descriptions of the event, not everyone was pleased with the king. Though he chose to remain loyal to duty and honor, there was a price to pay. To follow dharma meant to inflict harm on a blameless person.
Kaikeyi’s desires did not necessarily break the law. It was not like she asked someone to be sent to prison. People voluntarily chose the life of asceticism, such as with Vishvamitra Muni. Though the forests were generally devoid of human population, some sages did reside there.
Making the decision easier was Rama’s acceptance of the proposal. There was not a hint of resistance. There was not even a bad word uttered towards the wicked queen. That was saved for Bharata, upon his arrival and awareness of the tragic situation.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is so kind that He tries to maintain the reputation of those who are loyal to Him. For Dasharatha, everything rested upon honesty. If he were not true to his word, then he would be considered a poor leader, not worthy to appear in the line of Ikshvakus.
Shri Rama upheld that reputation, even if it was to His detriment. Though the people were upset, they did not revolt. They still respected the king, though he did not remain in the world for long. Rama would one day return, and the welcome ceremony would be so magnificent that it continues to be celebrated to this day, on the occasion known as Diwali.
The Kaikeyi incident provides valuable insight into the demeanor and compassion of the Supreme Lord. He is the same in gain and loss. He is not affected by what others do to Him. For the devotees, He is so grateful that He never breaks their intimate connection to Him.
With lights festival demonstrating,
Diwali occasion celebrating.
But started when queen to betray,
Request to her husband’s dismay.
That Rama now of kingdom bereft,
From departure king’s life force left.
But son in demeanor and compassion the same,
Anticipated day of return eventually came.