Kaikeyi, who had looked upon Rama as her own son, was enmeshed in Manthara's arguments and became helpless.
"Indeed, I am afraid," she said. "Tell me what we should do. Am I to be a servant to Kausalya? Never, Bharata must be crowned. You are quite right. And Rama must be sent to forest. But how shall we get all this done? Tell me. You are clever and know the way."
And she clung to Manthara. In Kaikeyi's eyes at that time Manthara's crooked frame appeared handsome. This is not a joke; it is a subtle psychological phenomenon, "This is indeed strange, Kaikeyi," said Manthara. "Is it for me to tell you how this could be brought about? Have you really forgotten? Or, are you only pretending? But if you want me to say it, I shall do so. Listen."
And then she paused. Kaikeyi, all impatient, cried: "Tell me, tell me. Somehow Bharata must be crowned and Rama's coronation must be stopped."
"Very well," said Manthara, "I shall tell you. Do not be impatient. You remember how your husband Dasaratha, long ago, fought against Sambara in the South? And you were with him, were you not? Your husband went, did be not, to help Indra? Sambara of Vaijayanti was too powerful for Indra, who sought Dasaratha's help. Did not Dasaratha get wounded in battle and lose consciousness? Then, you drove his chariot skilfully out of the battlefield, gently removed the arrows from his body and revived him and saved his life. Have you forgotten all this? And what did be tell you then? He told you in gratitude: 'Ask me for two boons. I shall give you anything you want.' Then you answered: 'I shall ask for my boons later. I want nothing now.' Then he promised, did he not, 'You will have your two gifts whenever you want them'? You told me all this long ago yourself. You may have forgotten it, but I have not. The time has arrived to get him to redeem his promise. Demand that he should crown Bharata instead of Rama. This will be the first of two gifts he promised. For the second gift, ask that Rama be sent to the forest for fourteen years. Do not be frightened. Do not fear to ask. Do not think it sinful to demand this. Do what I tell you. It is only if Rama is sent into the forest that his hold on the people will relax and disappear in course of time and your son's position will be secure. Go now and lie down in the sulking room. Throw away your fine dress and your jewels, wear an old sari and stretch yourself on the floor. When the King enters the room, do not speak to him. Do not even look at him. I am sure he cannot endure your sorrow. You will then have your way with him. The King will try to get round you. Do not yield. He will offer many alternatives. Accept none of them. Insist on the two boons. Be firm. Bound by his promise the King will finally come round. I know how passionately he loves you. He would give up his life for your sake. To please you he would jump into fire. Do what I tell you. Do not be afraid. Unless Rama is sent to the forest, your wish will not be fulfilled. Rama must be sent away. Only then the position you get for Bharata will be real and lasting. Remember this and mind you do not weaken."
Listening to this exhortation, Kaikeyi's face shone with hope. "What a brain you have, Manthara," exclaimed Kaikeyi. "You have been the saving of me." And she jumped about in joy like a filly.
Manthara repeated again and again that Rama must be sent to the forest. "Do not delay. What needs to be done, do at once. It is no good strengthening the tank-bund after the waters have flown out. Remember what I have told you. Everything depends on your firmness. Victory is yours if you do not yield."
Kaikeyi assured Manthara of her firmness and forthwith entered the sulking room, removed her jewels and scattered them on he floor, changed her clothes and stretched herself on the floor. Then, assuming a broken voice, she said:
"Manthara, you will yourself carry the news to my father Kekaya. You will yourself tell him one of two things: either that Bharata is to be crowned or that
Kaikeyi is dead. My dear, dear Manthara!"
Kaikeyi in her anger believed that Dasaratha had really been treacherous to her. Even then, stretched on the ground divesting herself of all ornaments and putting on a face of grief and anger, she looked inexpressibly beautiful. So great was her beauty.
The sinful thought had found lodgment in her mind and her whole nature was transformed. The fear that she would lead a slave's life, and that even Bharata's life was in peril, had got hold of her. For the first time in her life she cast aside the sense of shame and sin and hardened her heart. Heaving heavy sighs, perspiring, and with eyes closed, Kaikeyi, beautiful like a Naga goddess, unbraided her hair and lay on the floor with dishevelled tresses and sprawling like a bird shot down by a hunter. The flowers and shining jewels, which once adorned her person, lay scattered in the dark room like stars in the midnight sky.
Having dismissed the Assembly and given orders for the due celebration of the coronation ceremony, Dasaratha, relieved of care and wishing to relax, sought the apartments of his favorite consort. He had decided on the coronation of Rama after receiving the approval of all those who had a right to be consulted and he felt happy and free, as after laying down a heavy burden.
He entered Kaikeyi's chamber to tell her the happy news and spend in pleasant talk the night before the coronation. The junior queen's residence was a beautiful palace with lovely gardens and tanks, birds playing in the water and peacocks dancing with tails spread out and trees resplendent with bright flowers. In Dasaratha's happy mood it appeared unusually beautiful that night.
Like the full moon rising brightly before an eclipse, without knowing of the eclipse that lies in wait for her, the poor old King entered Kaikeyi's dwelling with a beaming face. The incense pots and drinks were in their usual places but he did not see the Queen whom he was eager to meet.
Of all his consorts Kaikeyi was the one whose company he sought for joyous relaxation from all cares of state, for she never interfered in public affairs, and always waited for him at the entrance and welcomed him with a warm embrace. But, today, she was nowhere to be found.
The King was perplexed. He went around and looked in vain for her in all her favorite haunts thinking that she was playing a sweet game of hide and seeks. He did not find her. This sort of thing had never happened before! He asked a maidservant where the Queen was. Folding her hands in reverence, the girl said: "Lord, the Queen is angry. She is in the inner chamber."
The surprised King entered the room. And he saw a sight which amazed and distressed him, for there she lay on the bare floor, with draggled robes and disheveled hair, like one in mortal pain. She seemed too full of anguish even to look at him as he entered.
The poor guileless King, all unconscious of having given any cause for offence, behaved with the doting fondness of an old husband and seating himself by her on the floor stroked her hair and strove to console her with loving words and caresses:
"What has come over you? Are you ill? Do you feel any pain? Have I not the best doctors in the land? I shall send for them at once. They can cure any malady. Do not be afraid."
Kaikeyi sighed heavily, but would not speak.
The King proceeded: "Was anyone in the palace guilty of discourteous behavior? Tell me and I shall punish him. Did anyone slight you or was there anything you wanted which I neglected to give you? Tell me."
In this way, he mentioned faults that might have occurred in the running of a big house and asked her what the matter was and why she was upset. Kaikeyi paid no attention to his questions and was mute like one possessed.
The King begged her more importunately: "State your wish. It shall be done. Do you want anyone punished? I shall punish him. Do you want anyone freed from punishment? I shall free him, even if he be a murderer. You know my absolute authority, I can give and I can take, as I please. Anything, to anyone, I can do what I wish. Ask me anything and it shall be done at once."
Kaikeyi sat up. The King was pleased. And she began: "No one slighted or dishonored me. But there is something which you can do and you must do it for my sake. Give me your word that you will fulfil my desire. Then I shall tell you what it is."
Hearing this, the unsuspecting old man was filled with joy. Possessing absolute powers, he had no doubt that he could fulfil her wishes whatever they were, and so boldly and joyously he said: "Well, Kaikeyi, tell me your wish. It shall be done. I swear it. I swear it on all I love most on you, the dearest among women, and on Rama, dearest to me among men! I swear in the name of Rama: Whatever you desire, I shall do, I promise, I swear."
Guileful wickedness and trustful misfortune were reaching the climax in their unequal encounter. The King's swearing in the name of Rama filled Kaikeyi with supreme delight. She was now sure that she had won, for the King would never break a promise coupled with that beloved name.
"Do you promise? Very well!" she exclaimed. "Swear again in the name of Rama that you will do what I wish without fail. Swear it!"
The King said: "My beloved queen, I promise. I swear it on Rama. Whatever you wish I shall do. This is my sworn word."
At this stage, as she thought of the tremendousness of her intended request, Kaikeyi's heart misgave her and she feared that on hearing it her horror- stricken husband would exclaim: 'God forbid! No oath or promise is strong enough to justify so heinous a sin!' and recoil from her with abhorrence.
She stood erect and with folded hands, turning in the four directions, invoked in a solemn voice the heavenly powers to witness and confirm the oath: "Oh, Ye Gods! You have heard and witnessed the promise given to me by my husband. Sun, Moon and Planets, you are my holy witnesses. Ye, Five Elements! You have heard the promise. He who has never broken his word, my husband, has sworn to do my wish. Bear witness to this."
Dasaratha was looking at her with hungry, joyous eyes. She knew her man and she began boldly: "Do you remember, King, how, when long ago in the field of battle you were about to lose your life, I drove your chariot in the dark night, took you out of the battlefield, removed the arrows from your body and comforted and revived you? When you came out of your faint, you said something, did you not? You said: 'You have restored to me the life which my foes had taken from me. I shall give you any two gifts you ask.' Then I said: 'I want nothing now. It is joy enough now for me that you are alive. I shall ask for my gifts later.' Do you remember this?"
The King answered: "Yes, I do remember this. Ask for your two gifts. You shall have them now."
Kaikeyi said: "Remember you have made a vow. You have given a pledge. You have sworn in the name of Rama. The gods and the five elements have witnessed your promise. I shall state my wishes. Your ancestors never broke their word. Prove yourself their worthy descendant by being true to the word you have given. With the preparations now afoot for the coronation, crown my son Bharata. This is my first wish. The second boon that I demand is, send your son Rama to live in the Dandaka forest for fourteen years. Remember your solemn vow that you cannot break. The good fame of your great dynasty is in your hands."