Now Bharata understood everything and realised the enormity of the harm wrought by his mother.
Overwhelmed by grief and near, he could not control himself. At the thought of what she had done and the eternal infamy she had incurred, his grief grew wild and he hurled cruel words at her.
"What have you done?" he cried. "Did you ever hope to make me accept the kingdom? Deprived of such a father and such a brother, am I likely to care for power? After causing the death of the King and the banishment of Rama, you ask me to take their place and rule the land. This is like pouring oil into the fire of my grief. How unfortunate was my father to have chosen you for a wife! Kausalya and Sumitra will also die of grief. Oh, how could you bring yourself to do this to Rama who was so devoted to you? Revered mother Kausalya treated you like her own blood-sister. How could you think of plotting against her beloved son? And did you not know how much I loved Rama? Greed destroyed your understanding. How else could you so foolishly plan for my happiness? Even the great King relied on Rama and Lakshmana. How could you believe that in their absence I could rule the kingdom? And, even if I could, would I agree? Never will your wish be fulfilled through my cooperation. I can no longer regard you as my mother. I cut myself off from all relation with you and decline to regard you as my mother. How could you ever think of setting aside rule and custom and getting a younger son crowned? Would not the world revile us for all time? The general law of kings and the tradition of our family cannot be violated. I will not carry out your wish. I shall go to the forest and bring Rama back. I shall set the crown on his head and rejoice in being his loyal servant."
To understand Bharata's feelings, we should keep in mind his innate noble nature, his love for Rama, his grief for his father and the sense of guilt and shame that for his sake his mother had done this grievous wrong. We should not weigh his words in dry air and a chemical balance. In such contexts, poetry flashes fire. One sees it both in Valmiki and Kamban.
Bharata raised his voice and spoke again: "Banish Rama indeed! It is you that ought to be banished, cruel woman, who have forsaken the path of dharma. So far as you are concerned you may take it that I am dead, for I would rather be dead than be son to a murderess! Murderess of your husband! You are not the daughter of the good King Asvapati. You are a Rakshasi. To what hell should you go, you, who banished the only child of mother Kausalya? What punishment would be too great for the grief you have caused her? Kamadhenu, the cow-mother, had hundreds of thousands of children, yet she shed tears at the sight of the suffering of two bulls yoked to a plough and her tears scalded Indra on his throne in high Heaven. And Kausalya's only child you sent to the forest, hoping thus that you and I could be made happy! I shall do the obsequies and go to the forest and fall at the feet of Rama and bring him to his kingdom. And then, to cleanse myself of the sin and the shame you have brought on me, I shall lead the life of an ascetic in the Dandaka forest. What a flood of sorrow have you let loose on the earth? By what penitence, by what self- mortification, can you redeem yourself? I shall go myself at once to Rama and get rid of my guilt by restoring the kingdom to him."
Finding no relief for his anguish by angry words, sighing like a young elephant newly captured, hot tears-falling from his eyes, he felt he could bear no longer the sight of his mother and rushed to Kausalya's apartment, there to find a better place to give vent to his sorrow.
Thus did Kaikeyi's castle in the air go up in smoke. She lay down on the floor and wept. The most painful of all reflexions is that of a crime perpetrated in vain.
Among the characters in the Ramayana, Bharata is the perfect embodiment of virtue. In the villages of the North, the people celebrate an annual festival for the episode of the meeting of Rama and Bharata at Chitrakuta, which they consider the most sanctifying part of the Ramayana epic. There have been through the ages great and noble souls whose virtue shines eternally in the midst of the sordid self-seeking of a sinful world, as a beacon light to seekers of the right path, and as a token of the god in man.
Soon the news of Bharata's arrival spread throughout the palace. Kausalya, still laboring under her grief, heard this, and was glad and told Sumitra, "Come, let us go and meet Bharata." Hardly had they taken a couple of steps when they saw
Bharata himself rushing wildly towards them to plead for mercy.
Kausalya's first thought when she heard of Bharata's arrival was that he had hastened back to assume the fortune which had come to him. Had not the elders and ministers, led by Vasishtha, decided to send for Bharata so that he might perform his father's obsequies and be crowned king? Hence, seeing Bharata, Kausalya, her heart desolate with her loss of husband and son, said in a low voice: "Bharata, the kingship is waiting secured for your sake by Kaikeyi. You need not fear any let or hindrance from us. Take it, and may all happiness be yours. Only one boon I crave of you to let me join your father on the funeral pyre."
These words were like stinging poison in Bharata's ears. He fell at her feet and clung to them, unable to speak.
Kausalya said again: "Oh Bharata, at least take me where Rama is in the forest."
Unable to bear all these piteous words of Kausalya and unable to speak, Bharata fell into a swoon. After a while he sat up and said: "Mother, why do you thus torture me who am innocent? You know I was far away and knew nothing of the wicked things going on here. Do you not know the love I bear for Rama? Would I ever do such a thing to him? May all the sins of the world descend on me if I had the least notion of the evil brewing here! I had nothing to do with it. I have no desire to reap its fruit."
He raised his hands and recited all the horrible sins that one could commit and invoked on himself the punishments due to them if he had any part in the plot.
In those days as now it was hard for a son to prove that he knew nothing of a scheme carried out by his mother for his benefit. Bharata could only swear his innocence again and again. He cared nothing for kingdom or wealth or power and it was a terrible torment to him that Kausalya should think him capable of greed for them at the expense of his brother. Indeed such a thought was hardly less cruel and unjust than Rama's exile! He could never accept the crown which was his beloved brother's birthright.
His passionate sincerity convinced Kausalya of the injustice of her suspicions, and her heart went out to him. Tenderly she raised him from the ground and took his head on her lap and caressed him as though he were Rama himself.
"My dear son, my grief is doubled by seeing the pain raging in your innocent heart. What shall we do child? We are the playthings of fate. May the reward of goodness come to you in this world and the next!"
Kausalya had not believed Bharata privy to the plot, but she feared that he would condone it and yield to the temptation of its results. Now she was convinced that Bharata's heart was completely free from stain. Though her own son had gone to the forest, she was pleased that such another son had come to her in his place.
Here, Kamban beautifully sings how Kausalya shed tears of joy over Bharata and embraced him imagining that Rama himself had returned from the forest. Kausalya said amidst her sobs: "Many were your ancestors who attained fame. You have surpassed them all in glory by renouncing the kingship that has come to you. You are indeed king among kings."
The Kausalya and Bharata portrayed by Kamban embody a culture. May these heroic figures and that culture live forever in the land of Bharata!
The obsequies of the dead King were duly performed. Vasishtha and other learned men and elders offered grave shastric consolation to Bharata and Satrughna. Fourteen days after the King's demise, the ministers called the Assembly and addressed Bharata thus:
"The King has gone to the world above. Rama and Lakshmana are in the forest. The land is now without a king. It is right that you should assume the rule at our request. The preparations for the coronation are all complete. The citizens and ministers are awaiting your acceptance. This is your kingdom lawfully descended from your ancestors, It is for you to be anointed and rule righteously over us."
Bharata went with folded hands round the materials gathered for the coronation and said in grave tones to the assembled elders:
"I do not consider it proper that you should ask me thus to accept the kingdom. According to the custom of our house, the throne belongs to the eldest son. With all respect to you, I have decided to go to the forest and bring Rama back to Ayodhya with Lakshmana and see that Rama is crowned. Please get ready the men and materials for this purpose. Prepare the road for the journey. Let laborers be mobilised for it. It is my final and irrevocable decision not to accept the crown."
Listening to the prince's words, the whole assembly was beside itself with joy. They applauded Bharata's suggestion. The army and a big retinue were got ready to accompany the prince to the forest. Quickly an army of workers with their tools went forward to prepare the road.
Men who knew the forest, pioneers who could dig wells and canals, builders of rafts and boats, carpenters and engineers, worked enthusiastically, because they were engaged in getting beloved Rama back. Culverts were built, trees felled, a broad road for the prince and his retinue was soon laid. Ups and downs were levelled, marshes drained, resting-places for the army and facilities for drinking water and all other conveniences were soon made ready.
Though thus preparations were made for Bharata's journey to the forest, Vasishtha and the other ministers formally summoned the Assembly again. They did not give up their desire to get Bharata to agree to be crowned. They sent messengers to Bharata palace and invited him to the Hall. They approached him with music playing on many instruments. All this pained him.
He stopped the musicians and sent the messengers back and told Satrughna: "Why should they still persist in tormenting me when I have refused the kingdom? This is the result of our mother's intrigue. My father has gone to Heaven leaving me to bear all this alone. The land needs a king; without one it drifts like a rudderless and derelict ship. We must soon get Rama back."
The Assembly sat eagerly looking for the entrance of the blameless prince. He entered the Hall as the full moon rises in the sky He bowed to the elders and sat down.
Vasishtha said: "This kingdom has been given to you by your father and your brother Rama. Accept it and protect us according to ancient custom."
Bharata's heart was far away with Rama. Tears fell from his yes. The young prince wept aloud in the midst of the royal Assembly and in a voice struggling with tears, he addressed words of respectful reproach to the preceptors:
"How can you ask one of my race and upbringing to usurp what belongs to another far nobler and more worthy than I? Can any son of Dasaratha possibly dream of such iniquity? This kingdom and I, and all else in it belong to Rama. He is the eldest son, the noblest among us, a lover of dharma, an equal to Dilipa and Nahusha of old. He is the rightful king. He is fit to be sovereign in the three worlds. Standing here I pay my homage to Rama there in the forest. He is the King, not I."
The Assembly burst into tears of joy when they heard Bharata speak thus.
And Bharata continued: "If I am unable to persuade King Rama to agree, I shall stay there performing penance. It is your duty, O Elders, to use every means to bring Rama back. I shall do all I can to make Rama come back to Ayodhya and make him King."
He then ordered Sumantra who was standing near him to hasten the preparations for going to the forest. The city rejoiced in anticipation of Rama's return, for all felt sure that nothing could resist the force of Bharata's dutiful love.