The Ramayana

The Ramayana 3. Two Promises Revived Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day, Dasaratha realizes that he's growing old. He decides to retire before he loses his faculties, and summons a minister to gather all his officials at the assembly hall. Dasaratha mentions a few people to be omitted from this summons, including Janaka, Bharatha, and Bharatha's maternal grandfather. When everyone is assembled, Dasaratha speaks about his advancing age and the necessity of naming Rama his successor. He lists Rama's virtues and asks for the assembly's blessing. The assembly shouts with joy. Dasaratha decides that Rama should be crowned the next day.
Dasaratha prepares to set himself up to remain dutiful to the end. This time, he's trying to behave dutifully to his subjects by naming a successor to the crown who's well liked and will be a good and honest ruler. Rama is still evidently a crowd favorite, which suggests that Dasaratha's assessment of Rama's character isn't clouded by fatherly love—apparently Rama truly is as good as Dasaratha says.
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Dasaratha gives orders for the city to prepare and sends for Rama. He tells Rama that he's crowning him as his successor, and Rama accepts this gracefully. Dasaratha instructs Rama on how to properly rule, and then sends Rama away. Soon after, however, Dasaratha summons Rama again. Dasaratha explains to his son that he's having dreams and premonitions and wants Rama to be crowned immediately. Rama listens politely, and Dasaratha says that Rama should be crowned while Bharatha is away at his grandfather's palace. Dasaratha fears that Bharatha will question why he's not crowned king, but will likely happily accept Rama as king if there's no room to argue.
Dasaratha's speech to Rama regarding how to properly rule sets up this exact conversation as a motif that repeats throughout the story when there are transfers of power. This shows that Rama truly does take everything he's told into consideration; he goes on to actually use and promote what he learns as a child and a young man. Dasaratha's fear of his dreams suggests that the dreams and premonitions that people have in the story are more than just dreams, which further cements the idea that the supernatural world is closely tied to the real one.
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The narrator says that Dasaratha's fear was valid. Kooni, a hunchbacked companion of Bharatha's mother, Kaikeyi, is perturbed at the fact that Rama is going to be crowned. She wakens Kaikeyi and begins to suggest that Kaikeyi is only Dasaratha's favorite because she's beautiful. Kooni explains that Dasaratha is going to crown Rama king, and Kaikeyi is thrilled. She explains to Kooni that Rama is like her own son. Kooni, distraught, tells Kaikeyi that when Kaikeyi married Dasaratha, Dasaratha promised Kaikeyi's father to make Kaikeyi's son king. Kooni insists that when Rama is king, he'll send Kaikeyi away.
Kaikeyi demonstrates first that she truly is a good woman: she likes Rama and thinks that he'll be a fantastic king, and her feelings aren't hurt at all that Dasaratha didn't crown Bharatha. Kooni's motivations are very unclear at this point. It doesn't seem as though she's going to get anything out of this aside from satisfaction that Rama doesn't become king. She primarily acts as a necessary antagonist to ensure that Rama faces certain struggles.
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Kaikeyi remains indifferent to Kooni and insists that Rama will be a kind king. Kooni, however, says that Rama will surely try to behead Bharatha, and will make Kaikeyi a handmaid to his own mother. This sends Kaikeyi into a full-blown panic, and Kooni suggests that Kaikeyi demand Dasaratha make good on his two promised boons to Kaikeyi.
Kooni finally gets a rise out of Kaikeyi when she manages to convince her that Rama will behave selfishly, and convinces Kaikeyi to behave selfishly to counter this. This sets up selfishness in direct opposition to goodness and aligns it with ideas of evil.
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Later that night, Dasaratha goes to find Kaikeyi, but a maid tells him that she's in the part of the house reserved for those who need to work out a bad mood. Dasaratha is grumpy to have to seek Kaikeyi there, but goes anyway. He finds her sprawled on the floor and asks her if she's sick. Kaikeyi speaks as though the entire world is out to annoy her, and refuses Dasaratha's request that she sit on a couch with him. Finally, he sits on a low stool next to her.
Kaikeyi behaves very similar to how Sita behaved when she first fell in love with Rama. This continues to develop the idea that women are at the mercy of their emotions, and that being this way makes them more prone to drama and selfishness. On the other hand, Dasaratha shows how selfish he is not. Though he's an old man, he gets down on her level to comfort her.
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Kaikeyi asks Dasaratha to swear to make good on the boons he promised her years ago. This makes Dasaratha uneasy, and Kaikeyi reminds Dasaratha of how she revived him on the battlefield, and in thanks, Dasaratha promised her two boons, to be redeemed at a later date. Dasaratha is filled with dread. Kaikeyi asks Dasaratha to banish Rama to the forest for 14 years and crown Bharatha king instead.
Like the gods who granted Ravana boons, Dasaratha cannot get out of granting Kaikeyi these requests without upsetting the order of the universe. Dasaratha, essentially, must remain good and dutiful, even in the face of his wife's destructive request.
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Dasaratha feels ill and calls Kaikeyi a demon. He stays with her all night and tries to talk her out of banishing Rama, but she won't budge.
Dasaratha's word choice recalls Viswamithra's counsel about demonic women. It suggests that Kaikeyi is less of woman for behaving in this way.
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The next morning, people begin to wonder where Dasaratha is. Rama is dressed for the coronation, and Dasaratha's chief minister finally decides to find the king. When the minister enters the room, he's startled to see Dasaratha look so unwell. Kaikeyi asks for Rama. When Rama arrives, Dasaratha nearly faints. Kaikeyi explains what happened and tells Rama that it's his duty to follow his father's wishes. Rama thinks for a moment and agrees to do as his father asks, stating that he has no interest in being king, but only wishes that Dasaratha had told him this directly. Rama asks Kaikeyi to tell Dasaratha that he's not bothered by his father's decision, but Kaikeyi tells him to leave immediately.
In the face of such a surprising upset, Rama shows his family and the reader that he's nothing if not true, good, and obedient to a fault. Despite the fact that Dasaratha in particular is so distraught over this turn of events, Rama's banishment is part of his destiny. This recalls Viswamithra's wisdom again, saying that Rama will need to leave in order to flourish. Interestingly too, Kaikeyi seems to be very aware of this fact, as she's insistent upon reminding Rama of his duty and the necessity of being obedient in this situation that she herself created.
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When Rama arrives at the assembly hall, he explains the situation to Kausalya. She breaks down in tears, and Rama explains that he feels blessed to follow Dasaratha's orders. He encourages Kausalya to stay with Dasaratha rather than follow him to the forest. Kausalya goes to her husband to try to convince him to change his mind, but realizes it's impossible.
Again, Rama sees this turn of events as an opportunity to remain dutiful to his father and follow the cosmic order. This is indicative of Rama's divine origins, as those who are merely human struggle with this in a way that Rama seems to be incapable of doing.
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Kausalya wails loudly, attracting the attention of the high priest. He joins Dasaratha and his wives and asks Kaikeyi for an explanation. She airily asks that the priest announce that there's a change in the arrangements. The priest demands a full explanation, and Kaikeyi explains that Rama surrendered the throne to Bharatha and will live in the forest for 14 years, but that the king and Kausalya are refusing to accept this.
Though she knows she's behaving poorly, Kaikeyi is truly an agent of fate as she insists that Rama leave Ayodhya and live in the forest. This again shows the limits of human perception: none of the humans here seem remotely aware of the consequences of Kaikeyi's actions, let alone that they're going to end in good.
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The priest revives Dasaratha, who asks if Kaikeyi has changed her mind. The priest implores Kaikeyi to change her mind, but she refuses. The priest accuses Kaikeyi of using her status for her own benefit, knowing that Rama would honorably obey. In a sudden outburst, Dasaratha calls Kaikeyi a devil and asks if Rama is gone. Kausalya tells Dasaratha that he can't hold Rama back now, but Dasaratha insists that he'll die if Rama leaves.
The priest recognizes that Rama's honest nature will possibly be his downfall, as he remains insistent that individuals follow through with their promises even if it hurts him personally. Kausalya has finally realized that agreeing with Rama is the only way forward; Dasaratha, however, remains overcome with emotion.
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Dasaratha desperately tries to take back his promise to Kaikeyi and disowns her and Bharatha. The priest goes to talk to Rama, and Dasaratha explains that the priest will be unsuccessful in holding Rama back: years ago, Dasaratha accidently shot and killed a young boy, and the boy's parents cursed Dasaratha to someday suffer a similar fate.
Dasaratha's emotion takes on a new tenor: this ill fate is something he deserves because of past actions. This shows too that curses from normal humans aren't just words. Like curses from gods and sages, they have real-world consequences.
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When the news begins to spread that Rama won't be king, everyone in the city cries. Lakshmana becomes very angry, dresses for battle, and walks through the streets, vowing to kill anyone who opposes Rama's claim to the throne. Rama confronts Lakshmana and tells him to stop his angry nonsense, explaining that it's fate that he should be banished. Lakshmana insists that he'll overpower fate, but Rama replies that going to the forest will be a privilege. Lakshmana finally relents.
Lakshmana shows that he's exceptionally loyal to Rama over anything else. Rama demonstrates his levelheaded nature and his belief in following his father's wishes. He also demonstrates qualities that denote him as a hero by talking Lakshmana out of behaving rashly and with unnecessary violence. By insisting that Lakshmana come to Rama's way of thinking, Rama insures that Lakshmana will also be heroic.
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Rama bids his stepmother Sumithra goodbye. A servant brings clothes made of tree bark, and Lakshmana orders tree bark clothes for himself and insists on following Rama. Rama goes to tell Sita goodbye, but finds her dressed in bark as well. She insists on joining her husband, and Rama finally agrees.
Both Lakshmana and Sita show Rama how dutiful they are to him. For Sita in particular, insisting on going with him to the forest is one of the ways that she demonstrates her marital fidelity and the strength of her relationship with Rama.
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When Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana emerge from the palace in their tree bark clothes, the crowd cries and curses Kaikeyi. The priest attempts to stop Rama a final time, but Rama resists and begins his march out of the city. The crowd matches Rama's every step until Sathrugna arrives with a chariot. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana get in, but are still confined to a walking pace due to the crowd. When they reach the river to camp for the night, the crowd falls asleep. Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana sneak off, and Sathrugna heads back to the city.
Sathrugna is loyal to his siblings and sister-in-law as well, but performs his loyalty and duty by remaining behind instead of following. The crowd's reaction to Rama's departure reminds the reader again of how beloved Rama is to his would-be subjects. It makes this event poignant and tragic, but it also suggests that these people will remain dutiful to Rama and wait for him to return.
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Dasaratha remains lucid. Sathrugna enters his father's chamber and tells him that Rama crossed the river, and when he hears this Dasaratha dies instantly. Dasaratha's officials send for Bharatha to return to Ayodhya immediately. When Bharatha reaches the city, he notices that the streets are empty. When he enters the palace he can't find his father, but soon finds Kaikeyi. When Bharatha asks after his father and brothers, Kaikeyi explains what happened. Bharatha is extremely angry, and tells Kaikeyi he'll spare her life only because Rama would be upset if he killed her.
The success of Kaikeyi's plan hinged on Bharatha being happy that she'd done this, but Bharatha proves that he's more honorable than his mother is. Even though Bharatha and Rama are relative equals, Bharatha's reasoning for not killing Kaikeyi shows that he uses Rama as a role model for good behavior. It also, however, suggests that Bharatha believes he no longer has to be dutiful to his mother now that she's behaved so poorly.
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Bharatha goes to Kausalya and cries, convincing Kausalya that he had nothing to do with Kaikeyi's plan. Ministers fetch Bharatha so he can perform Dasaratha's funeral rites, though when Bharatha is about to light the funeral pyre, the minister remembers that Dasaratha disowned Bharatha. Sathrugna is tasked with lighting the pyre, and Bharatha locks himself away for five days to mourn.
The fact that Bharatha doesn't challenge Sathrugna for the privilege of lighting Dasaratha's funeral pyre shows that even though he's been recently disowned, Bharatha remains loyal and dutiful to his father's wishes. He's been unwillingly included in Kaikeyi's plan, but as an inherently good character, he's going to make the best of it.
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After five days, officials ask Bharatha to become king. Bharatha refuses and sets out with an army to find Rama. They find him quickly, and Lakshmana wants to kill Bharatha until they realize that Bharatha is wearing the same tree bark garb that they are. Rama and Lakshmana welcome Bharatha, and Rama cries when he hears that Dasaratha died. Rama and Bharatha engage in a philosophical debate over who should be king. The gods watch the debate, fearing that if Rama agrees to return, Vishnu's incarnation will be for naught. Finally, Bharatha agrees to rule as a regent and asks for Rama's sandals to leave on the throne. He promises to burn himself alive if Rama doesn't return immediately after 14 years.
The narrator's mention of the fearful, watching gods suggests that Rama does indeed have the ability to choose whether or not to follow his destiny. However, Rama is able to convince Bharatha to rule because Rama is the perfect hero and must follow his destiny. Bharatha's final act of the chapter situates him again as an exceptionally loyal character. He remains dutiful to Rama and Rama's claim to the throne, even if Kaikeyi didn't.
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