I know many of us will do a double take reading this title, as when we hear of Kaikeyi, we invariably think of an evil stepmother who cruelly banished her stepson, & none other than Lord Ram, to a harsh life of exile for 14 years and took away his rights of accession to the throne in favor of her own son, Bharat.
What if I tell you that my own learning & analyzing of the epic, Ramayan, leads me to another conclusion, and one that points Kaikeyi as:
- Warrior Princess
- Able administrator & advisor
- Loving & resilient parent
- Hard taskmaster
- Visionary towards the highest benchmark of good governance – RAMRAJYA.
Now before you think what I am trying to arrive at, I have logic to support each argument I have mentioned; however before that, for the uninitiated, let me give a little background on the character study we are doing on Kitabi Keeda today – Kaikeyi.
Background as we popularly know: Kaikeyi was one of the three wives of Ayodhya’s King Dashrath, and mother to Bharat. The other two queens of Dashrath were Kaushalya – who gave birth to Ram, & Sumitra – who gave birth to twins Laxman & Shatrughna. Kaikeyi was known to be the favourite queen of Dashrath & loved all the 4 sons of the empire, but she especially loved Ram the most. However, as fate would have it, Kaikeyi’s wet nurse, Manthara, gradually instigated her that her own born Bharat should succeed Dashrath as the King of Ayodhya & not Ram who was the legal heir by birth. Kaikeyi got swayed by Manthara’s poisonous words & “infamously” used her popularity & love with Dashrath to make two promises that changed the course of history forever:
- Bharat’s accession to the throne of Ayodhya
- Ram’s exile from Ayodhya for 14 years.
Dashrath had to comply by these wishes as he had once promised them to Kaikeyi when in a war she had saved his life.
This resulted in what we know today as Ramayan.
In one instant Kaikeyi became a fallen, greedy woman; an evil incarnate of stepmother (which by the way is a very European folkore notion, as mothers are hardly classified as evil stepmoms in Vedas; case in point – Yashodha, Satyavati, Rohini etc)…
So after jogging your memory to what is today the popularly known version of Kaikeyi’s role in Ramayan, let me present this history from the research & analysis I have done over the years:
Kaikeyi – the story of a Resilient & Visionary Parent
Note: Before we proceed any further, let us for a moment keep aside that we are talking about Gods or a particular faith/religion, as if we read any article with this halo effect, we tend to get intimidated & are unable to relate to events on an analytical basis. Kitabi Keeda is purely doing this study to analyse situations as related in history & apply it to modern day learning.
Background as per KK research & analysis – Kaikeyi was born to King Ashwapati & was the only sister amongst seven brothers. She grew up without any maternal influence, & possibilities of these are twofold –
1.) her mother may have passed away when she was young
2.)there is a slight mention of a possible marital discord & separation between Ashwapati & his wife
Growing up amongst 7 brothers & a father, Kaikeyi was not a typical princess of that era. She had to compete with her male siblings in every arena; hence unlike many princesses she perfected the art of warfare along with her brothers. She was also a very gifted individual with shrewd & sharp observation skills, & hence used to take keen interest in her father’s administrative work and learnt from him the art of managing an empire. It is recorded in Ramayan that Kaikeyi used to accompany her father & brothers in warfare, dressed in armour & artillery, thereby propounding the theory that Kaikeyi was a gifted lady who was beyond the roles of other girls of her age & stature.
It is in one of these wars that Dashrath met Kaikeyi, & naturally her beauty, sharpness, wit, intelligence & warfare skills attracted him beyond anything. Dashrath was in absolute awe & instantly in love, as he had never seen such a dynamic lady in his lifetime. He asked Ashwapati for Kaikeyi’s hand in marriage & the betrothal was solemnised.
Dashrath & Kaikeyi had a very happy marriage; in fact she was his favourite Queen amongst all his wives. The reason for this is very simple; while Dashrath’s other queens were there to fulfill their roles of wives & mother to his children, Kaikeyi was just so much more. In Kaikeyi he actually had a companion & not only a wife. She fought wars alongside him, indulged in discussions on militia & administrative strategies for the Kingdom, was most beautiful amongst all his queens, was graceful, pragmatic, yet given her young age playful & cheerful, easily making her the favorite for Dashrath. It is also said that having never seen female company in her own home, Kaikeyi craved for a mother or older sister like figure & hence was extremely warm to Dashrath’s two older queens, Kaushalya & Sumitra. She gave them all respect & in return used to crave attention & love from them, which she always received in plenty.
One instance to establish Kaikeyi as a warrior is when she accompanies Dashrath to a war & saves his life by famously holding the wheel of his chariot with her bare hands, while Dasrath finishes the war. Had she not held the damaged chariot wheel in her hand, Dashrath would have been vulnerable to be mortally wounded by the enemy. Impressed at her bravery & strength, Dashrath grants her two promises that she can ask him to keep any time & promises that he will honour them at any cost.
These instances go on to prove Kaikeyi to be a smart, diplomatic, pragmatic & sensitive lady who knew how to keep everyone happy.
Once the 3 queens gave birth to their sons; Kaushalya – Ram; Sumitra – Laxman & Shatrughana; Kaikeyi – Bharat; the Kingdom became one happy family.
It is quoted that Ram was Kaikeyi’s favourite son amongst all the children. She loved him even more than her own son Bharat. Ram’s being firstborn & after a long wait was obviously one reason why he was showered with maximum love, but it was his enigmatic personality even as a child that made Kaikeyi love him the most amongst all the children.
Ram was resilient, practical, obedient, pragmatic, intelligent & caring child, thus showing Kaikeyi that he had all qualities in him to become of the greatest administrators known to mankind. It is recorded in Ramayan that when the children go to gurukul to attain education, Kaikeyi worries that all the three children will be taken care of by Ram very well, but who will take care of Ram himself. Such was her confidence in Ram & such was her affection for Ram.
As Ram grew & came of age, everyday Kaikeyi would see the potential in the young prince to become a legend, a benchmark of good administration, a man to be held in reverence for millennia to come.
However, one thing worried her the most; Ram was also the most protected, loved and indulged son, of not only his parents, but the whole Kingdom. This overprotective halo around Ram disturbed her. She could see this becoming the biggest impediment in Ram’s path to attain the knowledge & skill required to be a legend in good governance.
Of course, Ram could still rule Ayodhya & be the best that the Kingdom ever had, but so could Bharat. Ram, however, was meant for greater achievements, given his potential.
Ram had to travel; he had to get out of his protective environment & face hardships head on; he had to learn of the World outside Ayodhya & what it was made of; he had to encounter certain kingdoms and learn from them while setting things in order; & the first person he had to learn from was the Asura monarch – Raavan;
Raavan was known for his intelligence, military skills, administrative skills, & was an ruler par excellence. He was a learned man & had the intelligence of 10 maharishis in 1 brain (thereby earning him the title Dashanan – or one with 10 heads); however he was also an arrogant & short-tempered man who despite his intelligence was a slave to his ego. Kaikeyi & Ram both knew that not only could Ram learn the art of administration from Raavan; but he in turn could also teach the latter the value of virtues like resilience, humility, sacrificial nature that Ram brought with him.
Ram also had to make allies with far-flung strong nations on his own steam, which could not be done by being in Ayodhya alone.
Ram had to travel & make his own decisions & take his own learning if he had to establish a system of governance that only he had the potential to start. Travel is the biggest teacher for anyone to become independent & gain an unknown perspective that shapes one’s personality. Without understanding the length & breadth of the land, one cannot rule it to the best effect and make revolutionary changes, that millennia can look upto as an example for years to come.
The biggest problem now lay before Kaikeyi was, that not only did everyone love Ram, but also Dashrath & the other queens would simply not let Ram go on a dangerous adventure on his own into unknown territory & face the demons for himself. Call it the overprotectiveness of parents, but does it not happen in our day to day lives, that parents wish to protect their child of every harm to such an extent that they forget that there are certain hard lessons that a child can learn by making his/her own mistakes. If a child falls & does not learn to pick himself up, he will always need support; however if a child falls & is left to find his/her own way, they will find out a way to get up on their own.
But this was just not an issue of falling & picking oneself up; this was the task of going into an unknown territory & charting your own way. Ram understood this need & so did Kaikeyi, but she knew no one will listen to her logic & everyone was waiting for Ram to succeed to Ayodhya’s throne as soon as possible.
There is an instance described in Ramayan, where Lord Vishnu (whose human manifestation is the form of Ram) visits Kaikeyi in her dreams & asks her to take the hard step of banishing Ram to a life of exile, as that is ordained. Kaikeyi is very reluctant initially, as she loves Ram too, but Vishnu reasons with her that his manifestation Ram has come on Earth for a reason & if he does not go through what is ordained as his “leela” (doing), humanity will never understand a very crucial aspect of life that is given in the form of Ramayan.
Now let us apply logic of this World to it. Vedas have always propounded that God or Evil are not external forces but entities within you. We all have God & Devil in us…it’s a matter of who we want to listen to that makes a thing called “conscience”. What Kaikeyi is experiencing here is an internal battle with herself, where her maternal love is not wanting to let go of Ram, where her own insecurity at being judged is stopping her from suggesting Ram’s exile from Ayodhya, where she also wants Ram to be protected; on the other hand a part of her conscience is telling her to let go of Ram if she wants to see him become the legend that millennia to come can follow; to not be worried of petty issues like how she will be judged in this birth, & think of the welfare of humanity as a whole; to rise above her own happiness & think of the benefit Ram will give to society by establishing RAMRAJYA – the highest benchmark of good administration; else millennia to come will take RAVANRAAJ as the benchmark of last known good, yet materialistic governance & hence will fall in a trap of ego, whim, anger, arrogance & take irrational decisions. The humanity needed to have the example of both forms of administrations & take their own call on which to follow.
Finally Kaikeyi’s rational conscience wins & she stages the whole drama of Ram’s exile & Bharat accession to Ayodhya’s throne.
What she gets in return is her beloved husband’s death out of sorrow & depression; her own son’s anger; her sister like queens’ rejection; a whole kingdom’s disgust as she sees her favorite child going away to attain a path of greater good by going through innumerable hardships.
She maintains a shrewd & cold demeanor, while inwardly she is the parent who does not let self-emotion & selfish love get in the way of what Ram became & how humanity benefitted from it in the long run.
Ram came back in all glory after 14 years of exile; his experience made him richer as an individual & after accessing the throne of Ayodhya, he established the highest benchmark of good governance known to humanity – THE RAMRAJYA!!!
Bharat always governed Ayodhya in Ram’s absence as a temporary ruler, and never once thought of taking away the throne for himself; who instilled this feeling of selflessness and respect in Bharat for Ram? Obviously his mother, Kaikeyi.
Please do not forget that if Ram is considered a legend to the power of Lord today, it would not have been possible without the vision of Kaikeyi – the visionary parent who sacrificed her own happiness, and has taken everyone’s hate in her stride, to help establish RAMRAJYA.
If you pore through history, almost all great legends & revolutionaries have travelled far & wide to attain the richness of knowledge that benefitted humanity on whole. Gautam Buddha, Adi Shankaracharya, Chankya, and to quote a very recent example, Che Guevara, have been travellers & revolutionaries; maybe not in same breadth, but just the same. Travel opens your mind to uncharted & unknown territories, it is upto you if you can learn from it or not.
Kaikeyi sacrificed so much to bring forth this learning to us; Ram established a system of governance that is revered to this day; now it is up to us to value that learning & build ourselves a better society or move on thinking of the whole chapter to be a fairytale and dismiss it J J
This is Kitabi Keeda’s own study of Kaikeyi’s character, backed by the logic that the epic provides and which is open to analysis & interpretations.