King Dasa-ratha of the Kosalas, who keeps his court at Ayodhya, has four sons, though not all by the same mother. According to legend, the god Vishnu, in answer to King Dasa-ratha’s supplications, gave a divine liquor to all of the king’s wives so that they might bring forth sons, each of whom is partly an incarnation of Vishnu. Of the sons, Rama is the handsomest and strongest of all, his mother having drunk more of the magic beverage than any of Dasa-ratha’s other wives.
When Rama has grown to manhood he hears of Sita, the beautiful, talented, and virtuous daughter of King Janak and the earth mother. King Janak is the possessor of a wondrous bow, a mighty weapon that had belonged to the gods, and King Janak resolves that whoever can bend the bow shall have Sita for his wife. The king knows that no ordinary mortal can possibly accomplish the feat.
Rama and his brothers travel to the court of King Janak and are granted permission to try to draw the mighty bow. Rama bends the bow with ease; indeed, his strength is so great that the weapon snaps in two. King Janak promises that Sita shall be Rama’s bride and that each of Rama’s half brothers shall also have a noble bride from among the people of his kingdom.
Sita thus becomes the wife of Rama, and her sister Urmila marries Lakshman, Rama’s favorite brother. Mandavi and Sruta-kriti, cousins of Sita, become the wives of Bharat and Satrughna, the other half brothers of Rama. When all return to Ayodhya, Dasa-ratha, fearing that rivalries among his children might create unhappiness and tragedy in his house, sends Bharat and Satrughna to live with their mothers’ people.
Years pass, and King Dasa-ratha grows old. Wishing to have the time and opportunity to prepare himself for the next life, he proposes that Rama, his favorite son, should become regent. The king’s council and the populace rejoice at the proposal, and plans are made to invest Rama with the regency and place him on the Kosala throne. Before the preparations can been completed, however, Manthara, a maid to Queen Kaikeyi, one of King Dasa-ratha’s wives, advises her mistress that Rama’s succession to the throne should be prevented and that Bharat, Queen Kaikeyi’s son, should become regent. The queen is influenced by this poor advice, and she remembers that her husband has promised her two boons. When King Dasa-ratha comes to her, she asks that he fulfill the boons by making Bharat regent and by sending Rama into exile for fourteen years. King Dasa-ratha is sad, but he has given his word and must honor his promises. A dutiful son, Rama accepts his father’s decision and prepares to go into exile. He expects to go alone, but his wife, Sita, and his brother Lakshman prepare to go with him to share his lonely and uncomfortable life in the dismal Dandak forest. The Kosala people mourn his departure and...
(The entire section is 1164 words.)