Three Queens of TRETAYUGA

  • By Sreekumari Ramachandran
  • August 28, 2023
  • Know about the thoughts and qualities of the three Queens of King Dasaratha.

King Dasaratha, the famous king of the royal dynasty of Ikshwaaku Vamsha, was famed for his sense of justice and righteousness. With the help of his ministers, Srishti, Jayantha, Vijaya, Sidhaartha, Raashtravardhana, Ashoka, Dharmapaala and Sumanthra, he ruled his land. He had three consorts, namely Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumithra. Rama, Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shatrughna were his sons.


Kausalya – The Epitome of Virtue 

Kausalya, the daughter of Sukaushala, was a jewel of a woman. Blessed with all that was auspicious, her name became synonymous with virtue and purity. When no heir to the throne of Ayodhya was born to Dasaratha, Sumithra and Kausalya, his consorts, persuaded him to marry the much younger Kaikeyi. As a devoted wife, Kausalya knew her responsibilities and duties. She took it as her duty to bow before any desire in the heart of her husband. She urged her husband to accept the condition put forth by King Aswapathi (Kaikeyi’s father), according to which, the son born to his daughter should be the heir to the throne. 


It was Kausalya’s firm belief that no son born in the royal family of Ayodhya would ever be deficient in virtue. Her priority was always the security of the kingdom and the welfare of the people. 


She could not even bear the thought of her dear Rama being banished to the forest. Yet she spoke only about the essence of virtue to her son. “My son, shouldn’t the father and the mother be considered equally? A wife is one half of her husband, and I am part of King Dasaratha. When you speak about obeying the words of your father, they form only one half of the command. If it is to be complete, my half also has to speak. If I refuse to approve of it, it will no longer be an order. You are someone who evaluates virtue in its entirety. Still, I too banish you to the forest, as I see my husband as equal to God.”


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal.


There was only one reason that made her speak thus, swallowing her sobs—she wanted to save her son from feeling distraught. She embraced him, and with her palms on his head, blessed and emboldened him. 


“You have abdicated the throne. Now your mother will not try to make you go back on your decision. You are firm-minded and valorous. Life in the forest will not be difficult for you. So keep to your ideals and fulfil your father’s command.” 


The firm and strong words of his mother brought consolation to Rama’s mind. But she continued to ensure that his mind was at peace when he left for the forest. 


“Fourteen years will pass by quickly. Do not trouble your mind with thoughts of what happens here. I will be here, looking after your father and waiting for your return. Complete what you have to do and come back safely. May the blessings of the gods be with you.” 


These words uttered by Kausalya illuminate the age-old convention of speaking auspicious words to one who is about to set out on a long journey.


Kausalya was, by nature, simple, straightforward and compassionate. When Bharatha came back, she saw him as her own Rama. She made Bharatha, who was crying his heart out on her lap, rise and dried his tears.


On that occasion, what came from her was pure philosophy. “Bharatha, my son, be brave. Don’t grieve over the past; it is of no use. When times are bad and the situations play false with you, unusual things happen. What do we gain by putting the blame on someone else? Don’t blame anyone. I am fated to live with the burden of this grief. It cannot be changed. I have to bear it. But you are young like the rising sun in the morning. Remember that!” 


Bharatha made Kausalya and Sumithra promise that they would not commit Sati and immolate themselves in the funeral pyre of his father. But he did not make Kaikeyi make such a promise. Did he think that if his mother performed Sati, it would be good for the family?


Kausalya deciphered that possible thought in the young man’s mind and rose to the occasion. She requested Kaikeyi not to commit Sati. She substantiated her request by stating that one person’s death will not put out the fire of sorrow in the others. She also reminded Kaikeyi that death was not a solution for anything. She exhibited the maturity and purity of heart to dissolve whatever rancour she might have entertained in her mind about Kaikeyi—the cause of the death of her husband who stuck fast to his word, as well as for the banishment of her son to the forest. 


Kausalya was rich, with a thousand villages given to her by her father. She had the income and the confidence to lead an independent life and provide for those who depended on her. And she revealed to Bharatha that her heart was sculpted out of stone—as sharp and strong as diamond! 


Kausalya remains the picture of virtue, reminding us that a woman’s life becomes fruitful when she shows others how to stand firm while facing catastrophes in life. her mother to her ancestral house as he could not tolerate her obstinate nature. So the child was brought up by a servant named Manthara. She grew up with seven brothers, as the only sister. She excelled in weapon-craft and horse-riding. When barely ten, she saved her brothers from the claws of a tiger, thus proving herself to be a tigress. From then onwards, she too went to fight in battles along with her brothers. She was most attached to Yudhajith, her twin brother. 


Kaikeyi—A Toy in the Hands of Fate 

Kaikeyi was blessed with an illustrious lineage, valorous nature, exalted education, fortitude, the courage of the warrior clan, and artistic skill. Still, she was fated to be hated and shunned. She was born as the darling daughter of King Ashwapathi of Kekaya. But she was denied the love of her mother. The King had sent her mother to her ancestral house as he could not tolerate her obstinate nature. So the child was brought up by a servant named Manthara. She grew up with seven brothers, as the only sister. She excelled in weapon-craft and horse-riding. When barely ten, she saved her brothers from the claws of a tiger, thus proving herself to be a tigress. From then onwards, she too went to fight in battles along with her brothers. She was most attached to Yudhajith, her twin brother.


Kaikeyi was merely twelve years old when her father gave her in marriage to the middle-aged King Nemi/Dasharath. But she was not aware of the condition her father had placed before the King—that the son born to her should be the heir to the throne of Ayodhya. She was happy to be loved and treated almost like a daughter by her husband. The two other wives of her husband also treated her with great affection. 


Nemi, the son of Aja, came to be known as Dasaratha thanks to Kaikeyi who had controlled his chariot while he was confronting a demon named Shambarasura. When her husband was wounded she took the chariot away in a trice and saved his life by offering medical aid. Suddenly, the Asura assumed ten different forms and attacked the king from ten different directions. The skilful charioteer Kaikeyi drove the chariot, swerving it in all the directions, thereby enabling the King to fight and kill the Asura. When the chariot was used accordingly, the linchpin of its axle was unclutched. Sensing danger, she pushed the linchpin in place and pressed it strongly with her tender palm, saving the chariot from an accident. Kaikeyi was only eighteen at that time.


As the three worlds showered praise on Nemi and called him Dasaratha, no one gave any thought to Kaikeyi who had been instrumental for his victory. Her husband offered her boons at that time but she humbly stated that what she had done was nothing but the duty of a wife, and that she would claim the boons some other time. Still, in the Ramayana, Kaikeyi is depicted as jealous and selfish.


When the sons of Dasaratha reached home with their wives, it was Kaikeyi who welcomed them ceremoniously with great joy, sprinkling grains on their heads and holding the auspicious lamp to their faces, thereby removing any chance of an evil eye falling on them. When Manthara came crying loudly to her on hearing about the decision to conduct Rama’s coronation, what Kaikeyi enquired of her was whether Dasaratha, her son Rama, Kausalya or Sumithra had met with any mishap. When Manthara tried to inject venom into her by informing her that the King was trying to cheat Bharatha of his right and offer the throne to Rama, she calmly replied, “He would never do it. My eldest son Rama would never do anything to harm Bharatha.” She added, “The land will be blessed when Rama becomes the King.” As Manthara accused Kausalya of plotting against Bharatha, Kaikeyi shouted at her, “Stop! My elder sister will never be a conspirator.” Still Manthara succeeded in filling Kaikeyi’s heart with venom—a successful plot enacted by fate against Kaikeyi. 


Kaikeyi had sworn never to be obstinate like her mother. But forgetting all that, she let out a storm of protest in Ayodhya. When her own life as well as those of many others got shattered in that fury, she was aghast. She could hardly bear the sorrow at the death of Dasaratha. She could not face the harsh, angry words of her son Bharatha. She was unable to face Kausalya and Sumithra. If Sumithra had not given her the right advice at the right time, she would have ended her life on the funeral pyre of her husband.


Kaikeyi, who had invited the wrath and hatred of all on herself by listening to the words of Manthara, soon withdrew into a self-made prison of silence.


Repentance might cleanse one of the stain of sinful deeds but what one brings on oneself by thoughtless actions can never be resolved. This is the lesson that Kaikeyi’s life teaches us. 


Kausalya and Sumithra did not show any rancour but the people of Ayodhya never pardoned Kaikeyi. It was Rama, on his return from the forest who brought some solace to the burning heart of Kaikeyi. When Rama prostrated at her feet, Kaikeyi burst into tears. “Mother, please do not think that you have wronged anyone. I know that you are blameless and loving. My banishment to the forest was predestined to bring about the end of the evil Ravana and the other Rakshasas. You were blessed to be the tool to ensure that.” Then as Lakshmana, Bharatha and Seetha prostrated at her feet, her mind attained calm, just like the sky from where the dark clouds had disappeared. Still, even to this day the world continues to calumniate Kaikeyi—a plaything in the hands of fate. 


Sumithra—The Idol of Humility 

Her mind was sharp like a flame. She was the essence of optimism, deep reverence and selfconfidence. She spoke very rarely, yet she was most intelligent. She was aged in wisdom. These were some of the epithets most suited for Sumithra. She knew that she had not found a place in the heart of her husband, King Dasaratha, like the Queen consort Kausalya or the favourite Kaikeyi. Still, she was never found wanting in her devotion to her husband. When the auspicious Paayasa from the Yaga performed to beget sons was distributed among his three wives, Dasaratha gave the fourth part too to Sumithra, who had never made any demands of him. That was a show of repentance from the King, her husband. Towards the end of his life, it was the presence of Sumithra that offered him some solace.


Sumithra had the wisdom and the insight to know the real nature of Rama. Hence she did not have to consider whether she should allow her son, Lakshmana, to accompany Rama to the forest. “Lakshmana, I am fortunate and blessed to have given birth to a son so devoted to his brother. I am proud of you. You are destined to keep the virtue of Soorya Vamsha (Solar Dynasty). Follow your elder brother to the forest with courage. Consider Rama as your preceptor and father and serve him accordingly. Worship Seetha as your mother. The presence of Rama will transform the forest into Ayodhya. May you be blessed with all that is virtuous. I will remain here, serving Kausalya Devi and your honoured father. Your Urmila will remain with us as our own daughter.” These words that she addressed to her son speak of her exalted position. 


When Rama was informed that he was to be anointed as the heir to the throne, he told Lakshmana, “Get ready in royal attire. You have to share all my responsibilities, happiness, fame and fortune.” Listening to these words, Sumithra shed tears of joy and addressed him, “Rama, I am overjoyed to see this relationship that has developed between you and Lakshmana. My son needs no greater status than that of being your servant.” 


Sumithra was always self-controlled and never openly expressed her emotions. She had the confidence to meet any calamity. While she herself was broken at the absence of her son, she comforted Kausalya who was grieving for Rama thus, “Respected elder sister, don’t lose heart. Tears solve nothing. You are blessed to have given birth to Rama. Your son has left for the forest to safeguard the honour of our King. He is to be honoured for having given up the throne and the sceptre for keeping his father’s word. He is following the path of his ancestors. His name will shine as long as the world lasts. Hence, my dear sister, dry your tears.”


As Kausalya continued to weep, Sumithra embraced her and consoled her saying, “Rama is not an ordinary mortal. He has the spark of the gods in him. The rays of the sun will not harm him. The air will soothe his frame with the gentle breeze. The cool rays of the moon will caress his body as he sleeps. Give up all distressing thoughts about your son. Any enemy will have to bow before Rama. Our son Rama has a duty assigned to him by the world. To fulfil that, he has to be in the forest. After fourteen years he will come back victorious with all duties fulfilled. He will adorn the throne of Ayodhya. Please remember that Rama is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and Seetha, of Goddess Lakshmi. The name and fame of the Soorya Vamsha will become everlasting through Rama. Dear sister, wait for the time when Rama comes back with the glory of the full moon and embraces you. Now you should be comforting the other ladies in the palace. Fill them with life and enthusiasm. Please do not trouble your mind for Rama. He is the embodiment of all virtues. There is none, now and never will be, like him on earth.” Sumithra also reminded Kausalya of the promise that she had given her son that she will be there to embrace him in welcome on his return after fourteen years. 


When Kaikeyi got ready to immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, it was Sumithra who dissuaded her by talking to her about her human duties. She was wise enough to know that Kaikeyi was just a tool in the hands of fate.


Thus Sumithra, the consort of Dasaratha, though self-effacing in humility, must be equated and honoured with the learned Gargi or the venerable and wise Maithreyi.


Author Sreekumari Ramachandran   is a trained dancer and an accomplished singer, she is an excellent orator and a columnist. She has served as a member of the Exe. Committee of Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy. She has also served as a jury member of the Kerala State Film Award Committee, Mathrubhumi-Medimix Film Award Committee, and Filmfare Award Committee.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 15 August 2023 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.

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