Rama arrived at the palace to meet his father Dashratha and his step-mother Kaikeyi. Together with Lakshmana, he rode across the three outer courtyards of the grand palace in his chariot and then walked down two more courtyards. Finally Rama went inside into the private chambers by himself. Dasharatha was sitting with Kaikeyi; Rama respectfully touched their feet, but Dasharatha could barely utter Ram and could say no more.
His throat was parched, eyes tearful and his breathing heavy. He could not even look up at Rama. Rama was shocked and startled upon seeing the great King in this pitiful condition. He asked Kaikeyi what had happened to Dasharatha – “Is he ill”?, “Has anything happened to Bharat or Shatrughna?”, “Have I unknowingly done something to upset him?”, “I have never seen him like this” were questions that Rama came up with instantly.
Valmiki says, “The shameless Kaikeyi replied thus, thinking of her own interests – “The King is neither ill nor angry. But he is not able to speak his mind out of fear for you. It is a simple matter. He has promised me something and now he wants to go back on the promise. He is somehow trying to wriggle out of his agreement. But that is pointless. Now you must abide by whatever he has promised. If you agree to do so without thinking whether it is good for you or not then I will tell you what he is unable to say”.”
It upset Rama that Kaikeyi thought it necessary to bind him with one more promise. Where was the question of him breaking Dasharatha’s word? He was ready to do anything for Dasharatha – Jump into fire or consume the deadliest poison.
“I vow that I will do as per the king’s wishes,” said Rama to reassure her. Kaikeyi then told Rama how she had got the two boons as a reward for saving Dasharatha’s life in a battle and now her ask was that Bharat be made Yuvraj and Rama be sent off into exile. “You are bound by your father’s promise and as per that you must go into the forest for fourteen years and live the life of an ascetic.” Kaikeyi’s ask was akin to a death sentence. The same words had earlier struck Dasharatha like lightning and he was yet to recover from the shock, but when delivered on Rama with no sign of distress, no sorrow, no anger at all, it broke him altogether.
Without batting an eyelid Rama said to Kaikeyi, “So be it. In order to keep the King’s promise I shall go into the forest and live as an ascetic”. The king had made a promise and for the Raghuvanshi Kings breaking a promise was out of question. It would be against dharma. It could shake the very foundations of society and for someone whose highest priority was people’s well-being and his own interest had the least priority, the choice was crystal clear – Dharma must be upheld.
For Rama, the fact that the whole thing was grossly unfair to him was immaterial. Rama accepted this ghastly turn in his life with perfect equanimity. Not only that, his immediate concern was on how this would impact others. Rama consoled Dasharatha and said that Dasharatha had every right to ask anything of him. “There is no greater dharma than serving one’s father and abiding by his wishes.” Rama’s next concern was that the transition of power must be swift and smooth. So he told Kaikeyi that messengers would be sent immediately to get Bharat from his uncle’s place. But Kaikeyi managed to stoop even lower. “You seem to be quite keen,” she said, “to go into the forest so why don’t you get on with it.”
Dasharatha could not take it anymore. He exclaimed, “How shameful! What terrible torture” and collapsed. In this pivotal conversation that turned Rama’s life upside down because of Dasharatha’s word, Dasharatha does not actually say anything.
Even now, despite what she had done, Rama held no grudges against Kaikeyi. He respectfully touched Dasharatha and Kaikeyi’s feet; and took leave. “Indeed I shall go today itself,” Rama said. “All I have to do before that is take my mother Kausalya’s leave and console Sita.” When Rama came out of the palace he declined the use of the royal parasol and his grand chariot. These privileges were no longer his. A most remarkable display of being truly unattached to worldly things. There was no change at all between the Rama that had stepped into the palace as a soon-to-be Yuvraj and the Rama that stepped out after hearing the ghastly pronouncement. He was unshaken, calm, steadfast and radiant as always.