“Did I go to the forest willingly and obediently, like Lord Rama, O Swami?” cried Thirukkolur Penpillai.
Lord Rama is the creator and the protector of the entire universe, the one who supports the life of innumerable beings, the ultimate Lord Sriman Narayana Himself! Just as a father takes care of his children, with no partiality, the Lord cares compassionately for the welfare of his children- all the living beings of this universe.
To show us, by his own example, how to lead an ideal life and the best qualities for a human, the Lord himself appeared as a human on earth. Such an avataram of Lord Narayana is Prince Rama, a blessing of the great King Dasharatha and Queen Kaushalya. Righteousness, justice, virtue, honesty were innate qualities of Rama. He followed principles of dharma thoroughly, such as:
1. PitrvAkya paripalanam - obedience to the words of Parents
2. Sahodaratvam - brotherhood
3. Eka patni vratam - true monogamy
4. SharanAgati tattvam - total surrender
5. Sausheelyam - good conduct
Pleased with the flawless qualities of his son Rama, King Dasharatha decided to declare him King. He desired to perform the Pattabhishekam (coronation) ceremony for Prince Rama. This decision required the approval of his courtiers and his subjects. He summoned them all and announced the idea.
Everyone was extremely delighted and praised Prince Rama, highly appreciating his character. “We could not desire for a better person to rule this kingdom and carry your legacy, O king! All hail to prince Rama! All hail to the future King of Ayodhya!” Citizens and ministers alike were thrilled and agreed unanimously with the decision of King Dasharatha.
King Dasharatha’s eyes filled with happy tears hearing the unending love and praise of his son. He summoned prince Rama. “Dearest Rama, I have decided to perform the Pattabhishekam ceremony for you very soon. Take the guidance of Kulaguru Sage Vasishta to prepare yourself with the required vrathams (vows) and anushtanams (austerities) on the eve of the ceremony.”
Prince Rama obediently agreed to his father’s instructions, received his blessings and proceeded for the same. Following this, King Dasharatha also summoned Sage Vasishta and his (the king’s) trusted friend and courtier Sumantra to begin the arrangements for the grand event.
With his heart brimming with happiness, King Dasharatha proceeded towards the room of his favourite queen, Kaikeyi. But the events in Queen Kaikeyi’s room took a different turn!
Queen Kaikeyi had a maid named Manthara, a hunchback woman, with whom she was very close. She brought Kaikeyi the news of Rama’s Pattabhishekam. Kaikeyi, delighted, rewarded her with a pearl necklace. But Manthara flung the necklace on the floor in displeasure! She began manipulating Kaikeyi and poisoned her thoughts.
Once upon a time King Dasharatha had promised two boons to Kaikeyi. Manthara persuaded Kaikeyi to ask the King for those two boons now.
The first boon was to give the throne to her son Prince Bharata, and the second was to send Prince Rama to the forest in exile for 14 years. Initially hesitant, Kaikeyi was later convinced to demand the boons from the king.
“O King, remember when you gave your word to grant me two boons? I want you to fulfill them now!” Kaikeyi had stated her wish for not only snatching the throne away from Prince Rama, but sending him away on exile for not one, not two, but fourteen years!
The king was completely shattered as if struck by heavy lightning! What had just happened! One moment the king was elated and thrilled, thinking he had fulfilled his purpose, and the next, he was hit by a huge wave of shock, disappointment and grief! “Why do you wish to exile such a gem of a son? My dear son is praised by the whole kingdom for his ideal qualities and character! How can I order him to leave the empire?”
The great King was reduced to tears of pain. “Kaikeyi, Bharata shall ascend to the throne, I am sure Rama’s heart does not yearn for it and he would surely give it up for his younger brother. But why the exile! He has not committed any wrong to any living being! Oh, this is too cruel, Kaikeyi!” He cried and pleaded to Kaikeyi repeatedly. Seeing no avail, he fell onto the ground, losing his consciousness.
Kaikeyi expected this reaction from the king, and immediately summoned Prince Rama. Soon, he arrived at her room and was severely grieved at the state of his father. “What has happened to my dear father, O mother? Is he ill? He was well this morning.” Kaikeyi replied “Rama, your father promised to grant me two boons a long time ago. I asked him to fulfill them now, but he hesitates to do so. As his son, it is your duty to convince him and help him keep his word.”
“Kindly state your wishes, mother”, replied Rama, calm as still waters. “My son Bharata shall be given the throne with the Pattabhishekam ceremony and you, Rama, shall go live in the forests for fourteen years in exile”, Kaikeyi declared sternly.
Prince Rama’s face remained as calm and bright as a lotus with his constant smile, as valiant as ever. His state of mind remained unchanged, whether he was to sit on the throne, or to sit under a tree in the forest. Royal palace life, or a nomad’s life in the forest did not sway his emotions. He did not discriminate between gain and loss, happiness and sorrow.
“As you say, Mother. I shall pay heed to my father’s words and spend fourteen years of my life in the forests.” Rama’s reply was divinely peaceful. “Promise me you shall take care of Father”, he said, and proceeded to prepare for his journey.
Meanwhile, Prince Rama’s inseparable wife Seeta and his dear younger brother Lakshmana were also getting ready to accompany their Lord even before him! They got rid of their royal attires, ornaments and jewelry, and guised themselves in clothes made of tree bark, appropriate for a life in exile. Thus, Rama, Seeta and Lakshmana left behind the royal palace, their home, to go live in the forests (Vanavaasam).
A forlorn Penpillai concludes the story by saying, “Alas, I am unable to handle happiness and sorrow, pleasure and misery equally! I remain an immature child, and that is why I am unworthy of living in this blessed place!”.
The younger brother of Lord Rama Himself, Rama-anuja, replied “Very well said, dear child. What you have described is indeed true.” He silently recalled for a moment through meditation, the day of leaving for Vanavaasam, and rejoiced in his heart of hearts, thinking of the golden Ramavatara days!