Kaikeyi - Part 2
மரபு விக்கி இருந்து
The unusual reaction
How would a loving son react when he sees his dear father – whom he saw only the previous night so bright and happy – lying on the floor, immobile? When Valmiki has painted such an elaborate picture depicting Rama making anxious enquiries about his father, enabling Kaikeyi to make use of the outpouring filial feelings and binds Rama with a promise from him to listen to her, why should Kamban not speak even a word on that? Why should Kamban’s Rama be silent about the pathetic condition in which the king is lying?
No. The Poet does not answer. He is so very careful not to mention anything on this aspect. Kamban cannot be taken lightly! His understanding of the human nature is exceedingly great as we have seen it time and again. It can in no circumstance be seen as failure to see things, as they should be seen. We are talking of the work of a gargantuan Poet strode the earth. It has to be understood that Kamban has wants to show the epic from an entirely different standpoint and is very silently and deliberately building up the events in a manner that a vigilant reader is able to get the message he wants to convey.
Just re-enact the scene again in the mind and observe the details. People are eagerly thronging the roads to see Rama going into the palace of Kaikeyi. There is happiness everywhere. Not a single soul, including Sumantra who was in the gynaeceum, knows what is in store. Rama enters in and catches sight of his father lying unconscious. Would not the inner-voice – and that is very common in the case of any individual – warn that there is something unusual and wrong here? Would Rama not have understood what had actually happened, when Kaikeyi utters ‘the commandments’ of the king, reversing his earlier decision, when the king is actually not conscious?
The situation itself is more than sufficient for anyone to read what has actually happened, without someone having to narrate. Rama’s keen sense of understanding the heart of the other person is so wide-awake and how can he miss the point? Dasaratha, if he so willingly had reversed his decision, would have been sitting there to announce it himself! The very fact that he is not conscious lets the secret out!
With this background, read the words of Rama again. ‘mannavan paNi anndraagil num paNi maruppanO yaan?’ he says. (Even) if it is not the order of the King, will I ever refuse to carry out your order? That is a deliberate construction, which gives out the heart of Rama confirming that he has sensed what has actually happened.
The conventional reading gives out the meaning that is rendered above. Let us punctuate it slightly differently. ‘mannavan paNi anndru; aagil num paNi maruppanO yaan?’ Insert a semicolon and see the effect. ‘Mother, I know that this is not the order of the king. This is your order. But then it doesn’t make a difference to me. It is equally binding on me. I accept what you order me to do.
This needs a little more elaboration. We have already substantiated the second reading given above. (See: ‘Father’s or mother’s words?’ and ‘Father’s or mother’s words? II) This point needs some further elaboration.
The elusive question
Kamban has, of course, preserved one of the main and basic premises of the epic of his forerunner, viz., Rama was keen on preserving the sathya of his father’s words. But he does not fail to stress in almost all the places that it was lays emphasis on the fact that it was Kaikeyi who was behind those words and in several places, he holds her directly responsible for the exile. Rama himself mentions it in more than one place. When he speaks to Bharata to convince him to return to Ayodhya, he explains his position: ‘thaai varam koLa thandhai Evalaal mEya nam kulath dharumam mEvinEn.’ I took it on myself to follow the path of our ancestors, by the boons of (my) mother because of which my father ordered me.
But there are several points that remain unanswered in the epic. One of them is, if Kaikeyi was so keen about his son becoming the successor, why did she not send word for Bharata, asking him to come back to Ayodhya, immediately on the death of Dasaratha? That is intriguing. It may be noticed in the words of Rama when he assures Kaikeyi that he would abide by what was told he specifically mentions this.
“(Nay) let the messengers proceed this very day on horses possessing a swift speed under orders of the king in order to bring Bharata from his maternal uncle’s home.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto XIX, Sloka 10). Rama once again sends word through Sumantra when he comes back to Ayodhya, reminding his parents to send word for Bharata to accept the throne.
Sastriyar raises this question too. He observes: “Then lest they should have forgotten it, when Sumantra came back, Rama had told him, ‘Tell father and mother to bring Bharata at once and not to delay his coronation.’ Kaikeyi did not do so. Kaikeyi who was mistress of everything and could have done something, for some reason that is not apparent did not send for Bharata at once. He was sent for only by Vasistha. Why did she not do so? What was in her mind? That question you might ask. I do not know how to give the answer but each one of you may answer it for himself or herself. It is a question which we cannot escape. It has always occurred to me.”
That is very strange indeed. A woman who was so eager to see her son enthroned, who worked against the will of great gurus, people and even her own husband – bringing an end to his life – who went out of the way to see Rama, a loving son moments ago, was driven to the jungle with the sole purpose of Bharata being enthroned, did not do anything to send word for him!
A few answers come to the mind. She might have anticipated public censure. She was already strongly criticised by Vasistha, Sumantra and all those who were close to the king. She knew that Rama having gone to the forest and Dasaratha having given up the ghost, these people were left with no other alternative but to call Bharata and that is the natural sequence and only option left open to them now!
Or, on the contrary, it might be due to the fact that she was herself not sure that Bharata would approve of what she did and would admonish her and she was playing for time for the natural thing to happen. We might find a clue in the scene where Bharata meets his mother, on reaching Ayodhya.
Strange kind of feelings
The reaction of Bharata was not something Kaikeyi anticipated. Strange that this mother failed to gauge the heart of her own son…
‘theeyavai yaavinum sirandha theeyaaL’ is the phrase that Kamban uses to describe Kaikeyi when she sought the boons. The best of all that is worst. It is an exposition of this phrase that we see in the scene when Bharata who travels through the empty roads of Ayodhya, with not even a single soul to inform him of what had happened and walks through the long corridors of the palace, confused at the eerie and unusual silence in the city as well as in the palace. He reaches the presence of Kaikeyi and falls at her feet. This is how Kaikeyi starts her conversation.
‘vandhu thaayai adyinil vaNangalum, sindhai aarath thazhuvinaL.’ She embraced Bharata who fell at her feet, to her heart’s content. ‘theedhu ilar endhai, ennayar, engai endraaL.’ How are my father, brothers and sisters? Are they well?
Most cruel and audacious indeed! Remember, the body of Dasaratha is still not cremated, though more than seven days have passed now and is preserved for the arrival of these children to perform the funeral rites. When even the body of her husband has not been cremated, this hard hearted lady is able to enquire about the welfare of her kith and kin in some distant land, without even showing a trace of anguish in her face.
The picture is deliberately worked to such fine and detailed finish to underline the depths to which characters of even good persons can sink, given the desires and greed. The information is given out to Bharata in bits and pieces. She evades a direct answer. ‘Where is my father?’ asks Bharata. Listen to what she says -
“Questioned thus, Kaikeyi replied as follows (strictly) in consonance with facts: - That high-souled monarch, the foremost among the wise, departed for the other world, crying, O Rama, O Sita, O Lakshmana! Bound by the laws of Time (according to which a living being meets his end at the appointed time) like a huge elephant bound with ropes, your father uttered the following parting words: - Only those men who (are able to behold Rama returned with Sita, as also the mighty-armed Lakshmana come back (to Ayodhya) will have their object accomplished.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto 72, Sloka 35-38)
So cool and casual! ‘Your father is a mortal after all. He is also bound by the laws of Time. What happens to all mortals happened to him as well. And when he went to the other world, he uttered the names of your brothers and your sister-in-law.‘ Kaikeyi talks in riddles, purposely delaying the information. She hopes to build up the same kind of anxiety that rose in the heart of Rama when he saw Dasaratha lying on the floor unconscious and then bind Bharata, as she had her with Rama earlier. But unfortunately the situation was quite different. Bharata was made of a different material, which even his own mother was not aware of! But that is reasonable. One has to remember that twelve years have passed ever since Bharata went to Kekaya, after the wedding at Mithila. That is probably one reason why Kaikeyi failed to gauge the feelings of this noble soul.
We need not go over the arguments that took place between the mother and her son. We have seen them when we discussed Bharata. Bharata, the strictest follower of the path of rectitude was not at all ready to listen to his mother. As Guha said, ‘If you can discard the kingdom that fell into your laps, given by your father who was forced by your mother, without your having to do anything, I am taken aback. Even a thousand Ramas would not equal your glory. ‘aayiram raamar nin kEzh aavarO theriyin amma.’
The lady who has so far been shown as audacious, arrogant, greedy and what not, falls into total silence from this point onwards – after being reprimanded by Bharata. She who could bind Dasaratha and she who could readily ease out Rama and left him to manage the repercussions himself, could not get the acceptance of her own son. ‘I would have killed her that very instance,’ says Bharata to Satrughna later, when trying to pacify and restrain Satrughna from kicking Manthara away from the crowd that went with Bharata to bring Rama back.
Satrughna saw Manthara in the crowd and that very moment – very similar to Lakshmana – showed his fiery temper and caught her with the intention of kicking her off. ‘munnayar murai keda mudiththa paaviyaich chinna binnam seydhu en sinaththaith theervenel.’ I would have cut her (Kaikeyi) down to pieces for what she did and killed her to quench my anger. ‘ennai en ayyan thurakkum endru alaal annai endru uNarndhilen ayya naan.’ I desisted from doing so not because I value her as my mother but because of the fear that if I do so Rama would disown me.
Is there a punishment severer than this for Kaikeyi to suffer? She stood witness to her son uttering these words. And she stood silent and unmoving when Bharata lashed out at her when introducing her to Guha (in Kamban and to Bharadwaja in Valmiki) with the choicest of unkind remarks ‘padar ellam padaiththaaLai,’ She is the one who is capable of creating newer and newer kinds of misery in this world. ‘pazhi vaLarkkum seviliyai,’ She is the nurse who nurtures, tends and grows (the baby known as) disrepute, infamy and calumny. (See: The mother of woes and nurse of infamy)
What else can than a person suffer more than humility, that too humiliation in the presence of a stranger, in the presences of all Gurus, public and the other queens, to be slighted like this by her own son, for whom she sought the entire kingdom! Nevertheless, the fact remains that Kaikeyi joined the party that set out to bring Rama back to Ayodhya. She was not invited to join and she could have very well remained at the palace, in protest of things going out of her hand and against her desire. ‘azhindhadhu kEkayan madandhai aasai pOi,’ says Kamban. ‘The desire of the daughter of the king of Kekaya died its natural death, with the people headed by Bharata moving to the jungle to bring him back.
Let’s listen to Sastriyar. “Now the question is, was Kaikeyi after this staggering blow and protest from her son, the same or did she change? There is evidence in the Poem, ladies and gentlemen, that Kaikeyi, hard-natured, hard-fibred, hard-hearted woman as she was, did repent and did reform herself and that is a fact which I would like to bring to your notice as a proof, if I may put it in that way, as a proof of the tremendous power of Rama’s moral character.”
The unbounded love of Rama
Both the Poets, Valmiki as well as Kamban do not explicitly show the reformed Kaikeyi but they nonetheless have given us sufficient number of clues for us to understand the evolution that is taking place in her heart. Rt. Hon’ble Srinivasa Sastriyar remarks: “Having known him*, having lived with him*, and having enjoyed his* affection and esteem for a time it was impossible even for Kaikeyi to go on in her career of unrighteousness.” (* Rama)
How are we to understand this reformation taking place in Kaikeyi and from which point onwards do we see the process starting? Sastriyar continues. “How does this appear? There are two or three signs. The Poet does not say so but you are led to infer the fact and infer it pretty confidently.”
Very true. It is not possible for even the most treacherous of souls to continue to remain unyielding and unchanging, especially so when that soul is blessed with the proximity of a powerful and magnetic personality as Rama. No. Those two attributes are not sufficient to describe Rama. Though a study of Rama is a long way to go as yet, it is apt to take into account his attitude towards Kaikeyi and see that it remains unchanging and unaffected throughout till the very end.
Rama maintains his respect, love and affection for ‘his mother’ and does not speak ill of her in any place, though the same cannot be said of Dasaratha. Sastriyar points out in only one place, overpowered by strong emotions Rama passes a bitter remark about Dasaratha. That is in Valmiki Ramayana. Both these versions however are uniform in their portrayal of Rama’s attitude towards Kaikeyi.
Take for instance his censure of Lakshmana for speaking unkindly of Kaikeyi. When Sumantra takes leave from them in the jungle, he asks for the messages to be conveyed to the king and the queens back in the palace from the three of them. When it was Lakshmana’s turn to speak, the Sesh naag in him rose up its hood once again.
‘King! Do you still call him king? Do you need a message for him? And how do you call him Sathyavaan? He who asked my brother to accept the crown only the previous day and grabbed it from him only to hand it over to his queen, how can he be called truthful any more?’ he fumes. ‘kaanagam patriya nal pudhalvan kaai uNa,’ Even while his good son has reached the forest and is surviving on leaves, roots and fruit, ‘pOnagam patriya poi il mannarkku,’ (inform that) ‘truthful king’ who has the heart to eat delicious royal food, ‘Unagam patriya uyirkodu innum pOi vaanagam patrilaa valimai kooru’ that we are strong enough and have not yet died.
‘When his son is surviving on vegetables, your King whom you call truthful, who handed over the land to the queen, is still able to eat the delicacies of the palace. Tell him that we are alive.’ Sarcasm and anger bubbles forth in every other word. ‘seeriya allana seppal,’ admonishes Rama. ‘Do not speak in this strain Lakshmana. Observe restraint and talk only that which is good.’ Lakshmana is agonised by what happened to Rama. Rama remains calm, collected and unruffled.
Valmiki shows Rama taking a promise from Bharata – no it cannot be called a promise, for Rama pleads with Bharata – for the safety of Kaikeyi.
The unbounded love of Rama II
‘If at all I am not punishing that wicked woman, it is not due to the fact that she is my mother; but because I am afraid of Dharma and because I am the son of Dasaratha,’ Bharata tells Rama at the commencement of their meeting.
“The sinful deed (in the shape of bringing about your exile) which was perpetrated by my mean mother for my sake when I was away, was not to my liking. (Therefore) be gracious to me. I am bound by fetters of morality (which forbids a warrior to lay his finger upon a woman); hence I do not kill on the spot with a severe punishment my mother of sinful deeds, who is deserving of punishment.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto CVI, Sloka 8, 9)
“Once more Rama plays a great part. He speaks for Kaikeyi most earnestly,” says Srinivasa Sastriyar. “For Rama is so exalted a character that even if a little stain had remained in Kaikeyi’s case, he would not have omitted to the duty of making pranamams to her. She was his mother like the others. He never forgot the duty that he owed to her. He never would have withheld from her the marks of reverence that he showed to Kausalya and to Sumitra.” He points out that Rama prostrated before all the three mothers, giving out a silent message to Bharata, ‘Look, I have no ill-feelings towards her and you have neither the reason nor the right to treat her poorly.’
Before they depart, Rama anxious as he is about the safety of Kaikeyi at the hands of Bharata, gives out a clear message to Bharata, very explicit and unmistakable. He sounds very differently now. His tone is firm and assertive. Indeed, he orders Bharata. “Take care of mother Kaikeyi; be not angry with her. You are (hereby) adjured to do so by me as well as by Sita, O delight of the Raghus.” (Ibid, Canto CXII, Sloka 27-28)
‘I charge you and swear to you, by me and by my wife Sita, treat Kaikeyi with respect and with consideration.’
The last Sloka in this particular canto, following the above assertion of Rama is noteworthy. “His mothers, whose throat was choked with tears through agony, could not even speak to him. Greeting all his mothers, the celebrated Sri Rama too re-entered his hut, weeping.” (Ibid, Sloka 31)
Note the plural, ‘mothers’. And note that Rama bade farewell to ‘all his mothers,’ including Kaikeyi. It is obvious then that when the Poet says ‘the mothers could not speak to him since their throat was choked with tears of agony,’ he includes Kaikeyi here. She shows signs of an internal change and the Poet indicates it suggestively.
The very fact that she accompanied Bharata and others who went to bring back Rama to Ayodhya testifies to that fact. “Kaikeyi has given proof that she has become a reformed character – she no longer is the Kaikeyi of old who brought King Dasaratha from the heights of his pride to the depths of misery,’ observes Sastriyar. “That is not the Kaikeyi now. The very fact that she joined this group and that she came along with Kausalya and Sumitra in the same carriage as the Poet says, shows that she also desired the return of Sri Rama.”
Two boons for Rama
Rama’s unblemished love and respect for Kaikeyi is seen throughout the epic. Let’s have a look at the scene just following the agni pravesa of Sita, when Dasaratha comes down from the heavens to vouch for her purity. I hasten to add that Rama, never for a moment suspected the purity of Sita. What he was concerned was that the world should realise her purity and he wanted to demonstrate it to the entire world. This is not the place to elaborate on this particular point. Suffice for now to mention that the agni pravesa has its own reasons.
Coming back to the meeting of father and the son. Dasaratha, who descended from the heavens, speaks to Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. The Poet beautifully builds up the drama and buoys up our souls in elation when Rama asks for two boons from Dasaratha now. An antidote to the original two boons that Kaikeyi asked for. ‘Kindly forgive my brother Bharata. Also please forgive my mother Kaikeyi.’
It may be recalled here that Dasaratha disowned Kaikeyi and Bharata as soon as Rama went on exile. ‘innE palavum pagarvaan,’ Dasaratha pleaded with Kaikeyi in so many words. ‘irangaadhaaLai nOkki,’ And then looking at that unsympathetic and unyielding woman (he said) ‘sonnEn’ I am declaring now. ‘ivaL en thaaram allaL.’ She is not my wife. ‘thuRandhEn.’ I renounce her. ‘mannE aagum ap bharadhan thanayum magan endru unnEn.’ I would not consider that Bharata who is going to be the King, as my son any more. ‘munivaa!’ O! Sage (my Master, Vasistha) ‘avanum aagaan urimaikku.’ He is not eligible to exercise his right to perform his duties as a son (to a dead father). That is, let him not light my funeral pyre.
One important deviation that Kamban makes is while in Valmiki’s version Bharata nevertheless performs all the funeral rites, it is Satrughna who does so in Kamba Ramayana.
Rama remembers this repudiation of Dasaratha and now he asks for two boons from his father. One to forgive his brother, as it was not his fault. “Be gracious to Kaikeyi and Bharata, O knower of what is right! You will remember that Kaikeyi was twitted by you in the words: I disown you with your son (Bharata). May that terrible curse not fall on (mother) Kaikeyi and her son my lord.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kanda, Canto CIX, Sloka 25, 26)
‘varadha kEL’ says Dasaratha. That is something striking indeed. When Rama is asking for boons, Dasaratha is addressing him as ‘varadha’ ‘giver of boons’. Listen to me O giver of boons! ‘maRu il baradhan annadhu peruga.’ Let Bharata the unblemished receive my pardon. Let him be my son and your brother as you ask for. ‘thaan mudiyinaip paRiththu,’ (But as far as the one who) took your crown by force ‘iv viradha vEdam udhaviya paavikku,’ and gave you this raiment of a sage (is concerned), on that sinful one ‘viLivu saradham neengaladhaam’ my anger would never diminish.
‘I accept what you say as far as Bharata is concerned. Let him be absolved. But I cannot pardon her. My anger would never be any lesser.’
History repeats itself! Dasaratha in the first instance accepted boon number one (of making Bharata the Prince Regent) of Kaikeyi and was not able to grant the second one (of sending Rama on exile) and begged with her times without number to reconsider her stand on the second boon. Now, he has so readily granted the first boon that Rama asked for and has point-blank rejected the second one!
But Rama persists.
Two boons for Rama II
‘My mother is faultless,’ continues Rama. ‘Un pizhaikkilaa uyir nedidhu aLikkum nILarasai’ It is the responsibility of the king to protect all living beings. ‘vaan pizhaikkum idhu mudhal enaadhu aaLvura madhiththu,’ It was I who did not realise that and accepted it without thinking of the consequences ‘yaan pizhaiththadhu allaal,’ (and therefore if at all there is any mistake) it I who committed it. ‘enai Indra em piraati thaaan pizhaiththadhu undo?’ And it was not a mistake of my mother, who bore me.
This verse contains a strange reasoning. ‘I did a mistake by accepting the kingship without realising that it is there for protection of people. Therefore, I am at fault and not my mother.’ If we have to go into its real meaning, it would necessitate an elaboration, which would not go with the present discussion. We will therefore take this up later. Dasaratha was convinced and he agreed to forgive Kaikeyi for what she did.
When Rama asked for these two boons, the celestials wondered at what was happening. ‘ev varangaLum kadandhavan ap poruL isaippa’ When Rama who is above all the boons explained thus, ‘thev varambu aRu kaanidai seluthinaatkku Indha av varangaLum iraNdu;’ The boons that were granted to her who sent him to the vast jungle were two in number. ‘avai aatrinaarkku Indha iv varangaLum iraNdu.’ The boons that are now granted to the one (who was affected by those two boons) are also two in number ‘endranar dhEvarum irangi’ so saying the celestials expressed their amazement.
Rama was very particular that Kaikeyi should not be subjected to the wrath of his father. As we mentioned earlier, the first thing Rama did when he reached Nandigrama from where Bharata was administering the State as the representative of Rama’s sandals, was to prostrate at the feet of Kaikeyi first. ‘kaikayan thanayai mundhak kaal uRap paNindhu’ Touching the feet of the daughter of Kekaya first, ‘mattrai moi kuzhal iruvar thaaLum muraimayin vaNangu sengaN ayyan,’ Rama the lotus eyed, prostrated before the other two mothers in (their proper) order.
Rama, not even for a single moment nursed ill feelings for Kaikeyi. She was his mother – more than Kausalya – before the exile, during the exile and after the exile. As for Kaikeyi, her audacity, her ego, her adamant attitude and all her folly vanished for good, right from the moment Bharata and others went to bring Rama back to Ayodhya. As we mentioned, Kaikeyi joined them willingly and travelled in the same carriage. The very same Kaikeyi who told Dasaratha, “If I behold Kausalya accepting greetings with joined palms (from the people of Ayodhya as the Prince Regent’s own mother) even for a single day, death will be surely preferable to me (than such an eyesore)” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto XII, Sloka 48) went to such an extent as to travel in the same carriage with Kausalya and Sumitra.
‘kaikeyi cha sumithra cha kausalya cha yashasvini’ says Valmiki. “Kaikeyi and Sumitra and the illustrious Kausalya too, who were highly gratified by the thought of bringing Sri Rama (back from the forest) drove in a splendid chariot each.” (Ibid, Canto LXXXIII, Sloka, 6)
“If Kaikeyi had so chosen and if she did not like Rama to be brought back, she might have stayed back. Surely somebody would have taken care of her. But she did not do so. She joined the party,’ observes Sastriyar.
That was the first sign of the evolution in this character.
The enhancer of Kaikeyi’s joy.
Kaikeyi willingly and whole-heartedly accompanied the team that went to bring back Rama. She also shed bitter tears when Rama firmly refused to do so. As we mentioned earlier, “His mothers, whose throat was choked with tears through agony, could not even speak to him. Greeting all his mothers, the celebrated Sri Rama too re-entered his hut, weeping.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Canto CXII, Sloka 31)
“These three are mentioned and therefore the plural is used and the plural therefore catches hold of everybody, will not omit Kaikeyi. She therefore was pleased that Rama should be brought back. She also rejoiced in that prospect,” says Sastriyar, referring to the scene when they started. The same holds good now when the Poet employs the plural ‘mothers’ and says that their throat was choked with tears. That is the second sign of the change of heart that the Poet shows us.
When Bharata renders the kingdom back to Rama, the Poet uses the epithet ‘kaikeyyaa Aanandhavardhan’ referring to Bharata. The enhancer of Kaikeyi’s joy. This is not usual for him to do so, as far as Bharata is concerned. He refers to Rama as ‘kausalya nandhavardhan’ and Lakshmana as ‘sumitra nandhavardhan’. However, this is the first time that the Poet refers to Bharata as Kaikeyi’s joy. Sastriyar points out that on an earlier occasion – only once in the entire epic – has this expression been used.
“Then I told you that I would mention where else this expression ‘kaikeyya Anandavardhana’ is used of Bharata,” he says. “Once before in the Ayodhya Kanda Rama, being followed by the grieving subjects of Ayodhya as he went to the forest, turned back to them and said, ‘Why are you following my dear people? Bharata is hereafter your king. Trust him. He will do the same thing that you expect me to do. He will be as good as my father was.’
“The love and high esteem that has been bestowed upon me by you (the inhabitants of Ayodhya) may for my pleasure be bestowed in a special measure on Bharata. For, Bharata, who enhances the delight of Kaikeyi and who is possessed of an excellent conduct will properly do things which are not only pleasing but conducive to your (best) interests too.” (Ibid, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto XLV, Sloka6, 7)
The same expression that was used by Rama, referring to Bharata as ‘Kaikeyi’s delight’, in his address to the people, telling them that Bharata would be the king (for that would delight Kaikeyi at that time) is used once again while Bharata renders the kingdom back to Rama. “Placing his joined palms on his head (as a token of submission) Bharata, the enhancer of Kaikeyi’s joy submitted (as follows) to his elder (half-) brother, Sri Rama, of unfailing prowess.” (Ibid, Yuddha Kanda, Canto CXXVIII, Sloka 1) This is followed by the Slokas whereby Bharata renders the kingdom back. That is indicative of the fact that Kaikeyi was also genuinely happy about the kingdom being handed back to Rama.
But if one weighs the love of Rama and that of Kaikeyi towards each other, without doubt Rama’s love shines bright and high as a beacon light. The reformation of Kaikeyi – as in the case of many other characters – lies to a large extent in the ‘tremendous power of Rama’s moral character.’
The fall and rise
What started as a very ordinary woman endowed with enchanting beauty, tasting power by being the most favoured queen of Dasaratha and did not hesitate to ill-treat others because of her pride and also adamant and audacious attitude had only one virtue in her, namely, her immeasurable love for Rama and she was fortunate to be considered as his own mother by Rama.
To sum up, her love for Rama was so strong that she didn’t listen to Manthara, her counsellor, until she was threatened of four things:
1. Rama, the born enemy of Bharata would banish the latter and might even go to the extent of putting him to death in order to ensure that there is no threat to his kingdom. Lakshmana would not have a problem because he was close to Rama and therefore his mother Sumitra was relatively safer.
This feeling of insecurity was behind her unyielding attitude, even at the risk of losing her husband, to press for the enthroning Bharata and exiling Rama. Her selfishness was so strong that she did not even inform Bharata of the death of his father and instead started enquiring about the welfare of her own kith and kin, when Bharata returned to Ayodhya.
The fact that Bharata was not prepared to accept the throne was a matter of rude shock for her. She was looking forward to her son feeling happy about her conniving to get the throne for him. But she miserably failed to gauge the heart of her own son. From that point onwards, the Poet shows signs of changes taking place deep in her heart and soon we see her joining all to bring Rama back. We see that she went of her own accord, without anyone asking her to accompany them. She went with them, though she could have chosen to remain at the palace. On the way she was subjected to terrible humiliation by Bharata in the presence of all. She suffered this punishment silently and without showing the agony that his son’s words would naturally have caused her.
When Rama told Bharata very firmly that he should undergo the exile for the prescribed number of years to maintain the sathya of his father, we found Kaikeyi as well, among others, weeping and shedding bitter tears at not being able to coax Rama to come back to Ayodhya. And, when Rama returned to Ayodhya, she was genuinely happy that Bharata rendered the kingdom back to Rama and that’s why the Poet calls Bharata as Kaikeyi nandhavardhan, for the first time. The only earlier instance when this epithet was used was by Rama.
Thus, once again Ramayana shows a very ordinary character rising to greater heights. A few more words on Kaikeyi before we move over to another odd character, Maricha.
She did a thankless job
Though the mind of Kaikeyi was polluted for a time with the advice of Manthara and she took a firm stand against Rama, even at such a critical time, her high regards for Rama did not vanish completely. Take for instance this piece of conversation between Bharata and Kaikeyi. Bharata is shocked to know of the exile of Rama for the first time and asks for the reason. ‘Why was my brother exiled? Did he steal, harass an innocent citizen or did he cast his glance on other woman? Why was this punishment meted out on him?’
“I hope no property of a Brahmana was (wantonly) seized by Sri Rama. I am sure no sinless man, whether wealthy or destitute was killed by him. Nor did the price long for another’s wife, I am sure. (If not) wherefore was my celebrated brother sent into exile to the Dandaka forest?” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto LXXII, Sloka 44, 45).
Even at such a time of having insisted on the exile of Rama and having sent him over there, Kaikeyi does not speak ill of him. “No property whatsoever of a Brahmana or anyone (else) was (wantonly) seized by Rama,” she answers, “nor was any innocent man, wealthy or destitute, killed by him. Nor did the celebrated Rama look on another’s wife even with sinless eyes.” (Ibid, Sloka 48)
Leave alone the question of Rama pining for another man’s wife. He did not even cast his eyes on another woman even without such intentions. He cannot do so. “That was the testimony she gave him,” observes Sastriyar, “Rama won’t even look at another woman.”
Kaikeyi, who was in no mood to observe any Dharma at that moment, was not able to speak ill of Rama even at such a time. Of course, it is also due to the strength of character of Rama that even Kaikeyi when her mind was at its lowest ebb could not indulge in casting aspersion on him.
Looking at it from another angle, somebody had to play this unpleasant role; someone had to don the garb of wickedness to bring the purpose of the avatar to fruition. There was no other character best suited to play this role other than Kaikeyi. She had all the advantages of being the most favoured queen. She had the tools required to achieve the turn of events, namely, the boons; and to top it all, to increase the pathos of the drama she loved Rama genuinely. ‘theeya mantharai iv urai cheppalum dhEvi thooya sindhayum thirndadhu,’ says Kamban. When Manthara told her thus, even the ‘pure heart’ of Kaikeyi got contaminated.
And then Kamban gives a beautiful interpretation. It was not due to Manthara’s advice alone that her mind went behind something wrong. ‘arakkar theemayum,’ says Kamban. ‘The effects of the sins of asuras,’ ‘allavar iyatriya aRamum,’ and the effects of good deeds of others ‘thurakka nal aruL thuRandhanaL,’ impelled her to set her goodness aside.
But don’t blame her, continues the Poet. ‘thoo mozhi madamaan irakkam inmai andrO’ Is it not due to her unsympathetic behaviour, ‘indru iv ulagangaL iraaman parakkum thol pugazh amudhinaip parugukindradhuvE’ that the people all over the world are able to taste the nectar of Rama’s name and fame?
Did Bharata respect Kaikeyi at all?
When we are about to pull the curtains down on Kaikeyi, I have to answer some valid questions -
Even before Bharata gets to know whatever Kaikeyi had done, he seems to have a bad impression of Kaikeyi. As per Valmiki Ramayana, when he asks about the health of his three mothers, he describes Kausalya as saintly, Sumitra as wise and Kaikeyi as haughty. Does that mean he had a bad impression of his own mother for long and so he did not have much respect for her? If that were so, Kaikeyi also should have been aware of that. Can you please elaborate on this scene?
The questions fall under two major heads. The first one is ‘Is it a fact that Bharata had scant respect for Kaikeyi even before he came to know of what she did?’ The second one is that, ‘If yes, did Kaikeyi think of doing something good for her son, with the intention of winning his love?’ Yes, the answer to the first question is true. Bharata does not seem to have high regards for Kaikeyi. It may be recalled here that Bharata was sent to Kekaya soon after the marriage in Mithila and it was after a period of 12 years that the decision to enthrone Rama was taken. That is to say, Bharata had lived away from the family for a long period of 12 years now. At the time of marriage, Rama was 16 and Bharata, who was just one day younger to him, was also 16 at that time. The impressions that he had collected of Kaikeyi in his boyhood must have been haunting him.
I quote the relevant portion from Valmiki that the reader has pointed out in his mail. This scene occurs when messengers from Ayodhya reach Kekaya to bring Bharata back. Here is what Bharata asks of his mothers. “And is the mother of the wise Sri Rama, the noble Kausalya, who is devoted to virtue, knows what is right and talks virtue, enjoying good health? Is my intermediate mother, Sumitra – who knows what is right and is the mother of Lakshmana and the valiant Satrughna – also free from ailment? Is my own mother, Kaikeyi, who always seeks to gain her own ends, is violent and given to wrath and accounts herself wise – also healthy and what message has she sent (for me)?” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Canto LXX, Sloka 8-10)
This portion of the drama is, however, absent in Kamban. Let us go according to the version of Valmiki and examine the questions of the reader in the light of what the Poet has shown us.
As we have mentioned in the very first instalment (See: Kaikeyi), Kaikeyi was right from the beginning very aggressive character. That aggressive outer was a mere shell to cover the sense of insecurity that she had at heart. (See: Insolent are really insecure and Insolent are really insecure II).