Kausalya clung to the King's body and cried: "I shall go with the King to Yama's abode. How can I live without my son and without my husband?"
The elders and officers of the palace managed to separate her from the dead
King and take her away. Then they discussed about the funeral rites. They could not be performed immediately, for Rama and Lakshmana had gone to the forest and Bharata and Satrughna were far away in their uncle's place. It was decided to send for Bharata and to keep the body immersed in oil till his arrival.
The great monarch's remains were thus kept waiting for Bharata's arrival. Ayodhya, the city of splendor, was sunk in darkness and lamentation. Crowds of women met here and there and reviled Kaikeyi. There was anxiety in men's hearts. The crown prince had gone to the forest. Bharata too was far away. Anarchy was feared, for no one in those days could imagine a people going on without a king.
After the long night had passed, the ministers, officers and elders assembled in the hall in the morning. Markandeya, Vamadeva, Kashyapa, Katyayana, Gautama, Jabali and other learned men, with Sumantra and the other ministers, bowed to Vasishtha and said:
"Sir, the night we have passed was like a century. The King is no more. Rama and Lakshmana are in the forest. Bharata and Satrughna are in far off Kekaya in their grandfather's house. Someone must forthwith be asked to take up the responsibility of rule. A land without a king cannot survive. Order will disappear, son will not obey father, nor wife her husband. The rains will hold back. Thieves and robbers will range at will. There will be no mutual trust among people. Neither agriculture nor trade can flourish. Without a king, the land must lose its prosperity. The springs of charity will dry up. Festivals and services will cease to be performed in temples. There will be no expounding of Shastras or epics, nor any listeners. People will no more sleep with doors open. Culture will decline and soon disappear. Penances, vows, enjoyments, learning, all depend on the king's protection. The beauty of women will vanish. The sense of security will be lost. Men will eat one another up as, fish do. Cruelty and misery will grow apace and lay waste the land. For good to prosper and evil to be restrained, a king is essential."
Thus Valmiki describes at length the dangers of anarchy through the mouths of leaders in that assembly.
"It looks as if a great darkness has enveloped the land," they said. "Dharma is in danger. Let us forthwith secure a king."
Vasishtha sent for tried messengers and said to them: "Start at once. Go straight and swift to Kekaya. See that you wear no sign of sorrow on your face or show it in your behavior. Bharata should not know that the King is dead. Tell him simply that the family preceptor and ministers want his presence at once in Ayodhya and bring him along with you with all the speed you may. Tell him nothing about Rama and Sita going to the forest or the King's death on account of grief. To avoid all suspicion, take with you the usual gifts of jewels and precious garments for presentation to the King of Kekaya." From this we can understand the meaning of what the Shastras and Kural say about Truth. Truthfulness should be such that it needlessly hurts no being in the world. The test for right conduct including truthfulness is harmlessness. This does not mean that truth is underrated.
Soon the messengers were provisioned and equipped for the long journey and furnished with gifts of honor. Mounted on swift and sturdy horses, they sped past rivers and forests, up hill and down dale, and reached Kekaya, which was somewhere to the west of the modern Punjab, and found themselves in Rajagriha, its capital, where the Ikshvaku princes were residing in the palace of their maternal uncle. They decided to wait on the princes the next morning.
The night the messengers arrived, Bharata had evil dreams and woke up in the morning filled with anxiety as to what they might portend. His face showed the state of his mind. His companions tried to entertain him with dance and mirth to make him forget his cares, but did not succeed.
We still do not know all the secrets of nature and the telepathy of affection. Maybe, Dasaratha's mental anguish and death throes reached Bharata across space and caused him his bad dreams. He said to himself: "It seems to me that death is approaching my brother Rama or Lakshmana or myself. They say that an early morning dream does not fail to be fulfilled. And mine has been a terrible dream. I am full of fear. I know not what to do."
Just then the messengers were announced. The King of Kekaya and his son Yudhajit received the envoys with due courtesy.
They paid their respects to the King and that princes, then turned to Bharata and said:
"The priests and ministers send you their blessings and request you to return at once to Ayodhya. They want us to convey to you that the need for your presence there is most urgent. Please touch for acceptance these garments and jewels to be given to your uncle and to the King as gifts from the palace of Ayodhya."
Bharata questioned the messengers after the welfare of all at home. The manner of his inquiry suggests that he had an uneasy premonition that his mother's headstrong and ambitious nature might have had something to do with this hasty summons home. "And is my mother, the haughty and irascible Queen Kaikeyi who believes herself all-wise and must always have her way, is she in good health?"
The messengers must have been at their wits' end for an answer. The best they could make was: "O tiger among men, all are well whose welfare is dear to you. Lakshmi, the goddess of sovereignty, whose abode is the lotus, woos you. Get into your chariot without loss of time." There was an enigmatic thought in this greeting, for according to them Bharata was to be installed on the throne.
The prince took leave of his uncle and grandfather for returning home and preparations were made for his departure. The old king and Yudhajit collected rare and valuable things of their country to be sent as gifts to King Dasaratha and Prince Rama of Ayodhya. Bharata and Satrughna mounted their chariots and started with a big retinue towards Ayodhya. They travelled fast, unmindful of fatigue, and by forced marches reached Ayodhya on the morning of the eighth day.
As he approached the city, Bharata's mind was filled with misgiving. Nothing seemed to be as it was before, and the air seemed heavy with disaster. He asked the charioteer: "Why does the city wear such a strange look? I do not see the usual crowds of people going in and coming out in the gardens outside the city. One used to see young men and women with bright, cheerful faces. But now they all seem sad."
Bharata's chariot entered the city through the Victory Gate. The streets, houses and temples were bare and unadorned. The faces of the people looked drawn and famished.
"Why are the musical instruments silent?" he asked. "Why are the citizens not decked with flowers and sandal paste? These are all bad signs. I cannot repress my anxiety."
Inauspicious omens were seen everywhere. Bharata concluded that some great misfortune had overtaken the city and that was the reason why he had been so hastily sent for. He entered Dasaratha's palace. The King was not to be seen. His anxiety increased.
He then entered Kaikeyi's palace. When she saw her son after a long absence, she jumped from her golden couch to embrace him. He bent down and touched her feet. She kissed his head and welcomed him with maternal blessings.
"Did you have a good journey?" she asked. "Are your uncle and grandfather well? Tell me all about them."
He answered: "The journey took seven days. All our people at Kekaya are happy and well. Grandfather and uncle send you their love. They have sent rich gifts for you, but these will arrive later. I have come in advance. The envoys hurried me, saying there was urgent work demanding my presence here. What is all this about? I went to the King's palace to pay him my respects. He was not to be found there and here too his couch is empty. Perhaps he is with one of my senior mothers. I must go and see him and tender my respects."
When Bharata, innocent of heart and unaware of what had happened, said this, the foolish queen intoxicated with a new sense of power answered: "My child, your father had his full share of the blessings of this life. His fame was great. He performed all the sacrifices enjoined by tradition. He was a refuge for the good. He has now entered the higher world and joined the gods."
On hearing this, Bharata fell down uttering a cry, his long arms stretched out on the ground. Rising, he looked at his father's empty bed and sobbed like a destitute orphan. The mighty hero threw his god-like frame on the earth and wept like a child in uncontrolled grief.
Looking at her son, who lay on the ground like a big tree fallen to the axe, Kaikeyi said: "Arise, O King. Stand up. It is not right for a king thus to mourn and roll on the ground. Honor and glory are waiting for your acceptance. You are to uphold the dharma and perform sacrifices in the way of your royal fathers. Your intelligence shines like the noonday sun. No misfortune dare come near you. Son, strong of limb and brave-hearted, stand up."
Bharata's mind was immaculate, spotless. He did not see all that Kaikeyi had put in this her appeal!
After lamenting long, he got up and said: "When I went to my uncle's house I had hoped that Rama's installation as Yuvaraja would come off soon and that on my return I would see the great festive ceremonies. How differently have things turned out! How am I to bear this calamity? No more shall I see my father's 'face. What did he die of? How did he get the illness? And I was not by his side when he lay sick! It was given to Rama to tend him in his last moments. How affectionate the King was towards me! If some dust settled on my body, he would wipe it with his hand. And how soft and pleasing was his touch! And it was not given me to serve him in his need. But mother where is Rama? Hereafter he is both father and preceptor to me. I must see him at once and kiss his feet. He is now my sole refuge. What was my father's last message to me? I want his very words."
Kaikeyi's answer had to be consistent both with truth and her designs. She was pulled in contrary directions by her culture and her ambition. She found words which conveyed that the King did not think of Bharata in his last moments. She also wished to prepare him for the rest of the news. She said: "Your father breathed his last crying, 'Ha, Rama, Ha, Lakshmana, Ha, Janaki.' These were his last words." He died saying: "It is not given me to live to see Rama, Lakshmana and Sita return. Happy they who will see their return."
Listening to this, Bharata gathered that Rama and Lakshmana too were absent from the Kings side. His grief increased and he asked Kaikeyi: "Where were they? What business took them away from our father's side during his last moments?"
Hoping to pacify him, Kaikeyi said: "My son, Rama put on the garments of an ascetic and, taking Lakshmana and Sita with him, went to the Dandaka forest."
Bharata's amazement now knew no bounds. He asked: "I understand nothing of what you are saying. What sin did Rama commit that he should undertake such expiation? Did be rob any Brahmana or cause bodily hurt to any innocent person or desire somebody else's wife? Why did he have to go to the forest? Who laid on him this penance?"
In those days people went of their own will or were sent to the forest as a purifying punishment for such and other heinous crimes. Now Kaikeyi shaken out of silence by this tempest of questions came out with the truth foolishly hoping for the best.
"Rama committed no crime. He neither robbed nor harmed anyone. And it was not in Rama's nature to cast eyes of desire at other people's wives. What happened was that, seeing that preparations were afoot for installing him as crown prince and regent, I approached the King for your sake and secured the fulfillment of two boons he had long ago granted to me. I asked that the kingdom should go to you and that Rama should be exiled to the forest. Bound by his past promise, the King agreed. Rama has therefore gone to the forest with Sita and Lakshmana.
Unable to bear this separation, your father expired of grief. Do not waste yourself in vain lamentations now. Think now what you should do. You know dharma. Your duty is to accept the burden of kingship. I did all this for your sake and you should accept the fruit of my action in the spirit in which I acted. The city and kingdom have come into your possession without your wanting or working for it. Following the injunctions of Vasishtha and other learned men, perform duly your father's obsequies and then prepare for the coronation. You are a Kshatriya. You have inherited your father's kingdom. Attend to what has fallen to you as your duty."