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Chapter 10 (b)
The Two Boons

The Emperor was crushed by the cruel bolts that rained on him. Was it a dream! Could it be true! Was it Kaikeyi who asked for these boons? Or, was it a blood-thirsty monster? Could it be a terrible hallucination of his? Was it a vile trick played by some horrid illness? He could not gauge! So, he cried, "Kaika! Is it you, there? Or is it some ogress who has assumed your form? Tell me first who you are". Like a person who has lost control of his limbs, he tottered unable to mouth the words he wished to speak. He rolled listlessly from side to side like mad, his eyes looking wildly all around. Suddenly, sparks flew from his eyes as he gazed at Kaikeyi. He exclaimed in terrible anger, "Vile woman! What exactly is your aim? Is it to uproot the entire royal line? What injury has my dear son Rama done to you? He loves you even more than he does his own mother. How could your heart agree to send my Rama into thick dark jungle? It took you so long to be a Princess; now, I find you are a venomous cobra; I allowed you to infest my home, out of sheer ignorance. How could such a sinful idea enter your head, when Rama, the very breath of my life, is being acclaimed by every being that breathes? If imperative, I am prepared to give up the empire or even my life; but, I cannot give up Rama; no. You crave that your son be hailed as Emperor. Well; have him so. I shall hie to the forest, with Kausalya, Sumitra and others, taking my Rama with me. But, I can never send Rama alone into the jungle. That is impossible. Give up this atrociously sinful desire. Give up the hatred of Rama that you have cultivated. Kaika! Tell me frankly do you really desire that these things take place? Or, is all this merely a stratagem to find out whether I have affection towards your son, Bharata? If so, you can ask that Bharata be crowned Yuvaraja; but there is no meaning in asking that Rama be exiled into the forest. Such a desire should not be entertained or expressed lightly. Kaika! Rama is the first-born son. He is the repository of all virtues. The years of his reign will be most glorious; you have told me often that you are looking forward to the time when such golden dreams will come true. And, now you want that this self-same Rama should be sent into the forest! What is the deeper meaning of this request? Are you joking with me? If it is all a joke, why this scene in the Hall of Anger? Why this rolling on the hard stone floor? Jokes too have limits beyond which they become pitifully cruel. I cannot entertain the idea, even as a joke. No. I can never be separated from Rama. Kaika! You have been behaving like an intelligent woman all these years. But now, your intelligence has become crooked and wicked. Such perversions are always harbingers of self-destruction. It is a heinous sin to injure the good. Of course, the good will not be affected by these tactics; the stratagems of the wicked will only promote the fame and glory of the good. They might appear hard to bear, only for some little time".

"Your wicked plans appear to me to be fraught with disaster to the Ikshvaku dynasty itself. For, until this moment, you have never spoken an unpleasant word or thought of an inauspicious act. I find it impossible to believe that it is the same one who is asking me such things today! Kaika! you were all along afraid of transgressing the Codes of moral law; you were anxious to win the Grace of God by means of each little thought, word and deed. Where has that fear of unrighteousness gone now? What have you done with that devotion to God that kept you on the path of righteousness?"

"What is the gain you look for when you want Rama to be sent to the forest for fourteen years? His body is soft and tender, like the petal of a freshly blossomed flower; he is most charming to behold. Rama is so enticingly beautiful. Of what profit is it for you if he suffers unbearable pangs of pain in the forest? In this palace, there are many thousand attendants and maids. Can any one of them point a finger at him and say, that he is faulty in any respect? Well. Leave alone our palace. Can you bring from the capital city any single person, can you name anyone who blames Rama? He has discovered many in misery and relieved them with gifts and riches; he has shown great consideration for them. He has noticed many that are homeless and provided them with houses. By his love and care, he has won the affection of all people. That you should harbour hate against such a lovable son strikes me dumb; I cannot find words to describe your devilish cruelty."

"There are many who exploit their own subjects, and act only to foster their own selfish interests; such demons are appearing in good numbers today. But, in your eyes, due perhaps to the age, or your own past sins, persons who assuage the wrongs done to the poor and the distressed and foster their advancement, those who directly inquire into their difficulties and problems and afford relief, such good men appear bad, deserving exile and punishment!"

"Every one in this empire relishes listening to the virtues of Rama and takes great delight in recounting his goodness. While they feel exhausted in the fields, farmers and labourers sing songs on Rama and his charms, to make their tasks lighter; when I came to know of this, I was filled with joy. How can your heart agree to inflict on such a compassionate soul this excruciating sentence? This very evening, when I placed before a gathering of sages, elders, ministers, leading citizens, scholars and many experts in statecraft, the proposal for the Coronation of Rama, no one raised a note of dissatisfaction or dissent. On the other hand, they praised Rama in countless ways, and declared that it was the fruit of the merit that they had accumulated in many past lives that they could now secure as Heir-apparent and lord a spiritual hero who had mastered his senses, an embodiment of selfless activity, intelligent detachment and unflinching loyalty to Truth; they indicated their joy by continuous Jay Jays. Is this treasure of my love, this favourite of my people, whom you seek to send into the forest? Whatever you may say, this is certain. I will not send my Rama into the forest. And listen to this also. The coronation of Rama shall take place tomorrow; it cannot be cancelled". Dasaratha announced this, in an outburst of pride and courage.

At this, Kaikeyi assumed a terrific mien and retorted: "Maharaja! Remember, a few moments ago, you vowed under many oaths that you will grant me the boons I ask. And, now you are going back on your word. Now, who is dragging the glory of the Ikshvaku Line in the dust, you or me? Ponder over this. It is the pride of the Ikshvaku Line that no one of that dynasty shall go back on his word once it is given. You are now soiling that fair fame. Without weighing the pros and cons, you promised to grant without fail the boons I wanted. The mistake, if any, is yours, not mine. You gave me the boons; then, you promised to grant them today. You are the very person who gave your word twice. Consider your honour, your status, your dignity, when you deny the very words you spoke then and now."

"It may be common usage for rulers to injure and insult the weak, and act contrary to promises solemnly made. But, it cannot promote self-respect. Those who break their promises and cheat women are savages, not sovereigns. When rulers slide into this savagery, the subjects will naturally resent and revolt; the kingdom will fast become demon-dom!"

"All these years, you have striven to acquire honour and renown; and you have won them to a large extent. Now the infamy of breaking the plighted word is on your head, not on mine. Recollect the careers of the kings of old. Take good care that you do not act counter to your vows and oaths. Ponder well. You are proceeding along a path that is atrociously bad! Beware! You are moving against the dictates of Dharma. Well. Were you as intelligent as you are reputed to be, you should have first ascertained fully the nature of the boons I wanted before you gave the promise. You did not look before and after; you were enchanted by my words and you gave word that they shall be granted. And now, you blame me when I ask you to fulfill that promise! Consider how seriously you are mistaken in this! How foolish you proclaim yourself to be! You accuse me for having given up my fear of the unrighteous act, my devotion to the Divine, and my courting this reprehensible cruelty. But, what about you? You are acclaimed as Dharmavratha (a strict adherent of the vow to be righteous in word, thought and deed), and Daiva-samaana (equal to a God); what name can you claim now when you are going back on your oath? Pronounce judgement on yourself. The cleverness that dives and discovers the faults of those before you isn't commendable; if one dives into one's own faults and failings and is vigilant that they do not lead him astray into wrong and sin, that way of using of intelligence is commendable. Kings and rulers are highly intelligent; they are taken to be all-knowing. If such as you do not benefit by self-examination, but are concerned only with selfish interests, what right have you to blame us as selfish and narrow-minded? You granted the boons; it is a fact. You took an oath; it is a fact. You broke the oath; you went back on the given word, it is a fact. Reflect within yourself whether these three are true or not. You are deluded by attachment to the son; you were enslaved by fondness for the wife. So, you dump your promise into the waters! I am not the culprit; it is you who have done wrong. For, it is natural for a mother to be attached to her son. Every woman who is a mother will yearn that her son must rise to a position of the highest authority, that of the Monarch of the Realm. It is the prompting of Nature. It is her bounden duty to see that her plan is unassailed by others; it is only natural that she plans in advance to counteract all possible assailments. I am only carrying out my natural duties and responsibilities, remember; there is nothing unnatural or wrong in my conduct."

"When Rama is crowned as Heir-Apparent, his mother Kausalya, will become the Rajamatha, the Queen-Mother. My son will stand with folded arms, awaiting the command of Rama, ready to run errands for him. He will fall at the feet of Rama, while reporting to him about the task he has accomplished for him; maybe, he will be reprimanded. No; I cannot be a witness to such scenes; I will be so humiliated that I cannot live a day longer. Better far to drink poison now and die than look on at the shameful condition of my son. I am declaring this, as a solemn oath, taken in the name of my son Bharatha, whom I value as much as my breath. I shall not be satisfied with anything less than exiling Rama to the forest."

With these agonizingly harsh words, Kaikeyi fell on the floor, and started sobbing and groaning in a fit of heartrending sorrow.

Dasaratha beat his head in despair. He said, "Kaika! Has anyone advised you that this calamity will benefit you? Or, has some evil spirit possessed you, and forced you to utter these desires? What is this absurdity, this ridiculous madness, sending Rama into the forest and crowning Bharatha? Why not wish well for me, your husband, for Bharatha, your son, and this Kingdom of Ayodhya? Give up this desire fraught with certain calamity. Think deeply over the consequences. Or else, you and I, and your son, all three, will become targets for the direst infamy. It will not end with that. The entire kingdom will be ruined, and many more tragedies are bound to take place. Mean, degraded woman! Can we ever believe that Bharatha will agree to get himself crowned, even if I now accept your request and promise to do so? Bharatha is a true adherent of Dharma; he is intelligent and a model of rectitude. He will not agree either to exiling Rama into the forest or to himself becoming the Heir-Apparent. Not he alone, but, the Ministers, the Courtiers, the Vassals, the Allies, the Sages, the Commons, the Citizens - every one will oppose your desire. How can you be happy when so many are unhappy?"

"Consider the situation you are responsible for! The elders and sages endorsed it; they were all of one mind. This evening, at the Grand Assembly of Citizens, I announced that I shall celebrate the Coronation of Rama. If I act counter to that Announcement, I will be counted as a coward who runs back from the battlefield at the sight of the enemy. All arrangements have been completed for the Coronation. All have been informed about the Festival. The people have started preparing the City for the Celebration; the streets are already packed with happy throngs, with faces shining in expectant joy. At this moment, if I send Rama into the forest, will not the people laugh at me, saying, 'What! This man has finished three chapters - the Coronation, the Rulership of the Realm and the Exile - all in one single night!' In what manner can I explain my action to them, after what I had publicly declared in the midst of the mammoth gathering of the populace? How harshly the people will blame me, feeling that their king is such a big fool. I ruled over them all these long years and won their applause as a consistent adherent of Dharma, as an embodiment of high virtues and as a redoubtable hero, brave and full of courage. But now, how can I bear the dishonour of being talked about as a fool, who plunged into this low level of conduct?"

Dasaratha spoke in this strain, reminding her of the hard blow that his fair name and unblemished fame will receive if he acts according to her desire. Nevertheless, Kaikeyi transformed herself into a Demoness of Destruction, and brushed aside Dasaratha's importunities, as if they were empty words and she did not attach any value to them. She refused to yield or loosen her hold. On the other hand, her grip became tighter every moment, her greed more deep-rooted. She spoke quite contrary to the appeals of the Maharaja and insisted on reminding him only of the promise from which he threatened to resile. So, Dasaratha said, "Kaika! If it happens that Rama goes to the forest, I will not be able to live a moment longer. And, I need not tell you what will happen to Kausalya. She will draw her last breath that very moment. And, Sita? She will be mortally shocked; she cannot live even for a second away from Rama. Will the people look upon all this with equanimity? When the great hero, the paragon of wisdom, Rama, is being sent as an exile into the forest, can Lakshmana keep quiet? Why detail a thousand things? The very next moment, Lakshmana will cast off his body. This is the bare truth. Thus, our Kingdom will have to suffer all these catastrophes and calamities. You too are aware of this string of tragedies; but, I cannot understand why you are attempting, with eyes open, to win a widow's role? O, wicked, vile soul! I was deceived by your charms; it was like cutting one's own throat while charmed by a sword of gold. I drank the cup of milk, unaware that it had poison in it. You cheated me, with many a winsome trick. At last, you have planned to consign to the dust my dynasty itself. Shame on me! What a fool I am! I secured this son, after performing a scriptural Yaga (Sacrifice); Divine Grace gave Him unto me. Am I to barter away his fortune and his future for the paltry pleasure a women gave me? Is this worthy of His Majesty Emperor Dasaratha? Will not the meanest being in my kingdom hurl stones at me, in derision? Alas! Is this to be the fate of Dasaratha in his last days? I clasped a thing round my own neck, not realizing that it was a rope that strangles. I never knew that it was the Deity of Death with whom I dallied and diverted myself so long. Alas! I flirted with Death and fondled it on my breast. I treated her as my favourite, comrade and companion. It is surely the weight of my sins recoiling on me now. Or else, was there anywhere, at any time, a father, who, for the sake of a woman's bed drives his son into the fearful forest, as an exile?"

"Ah! What strange behaviour is this, of a human being! I am unable to believe this, in spite of everything. Kaika! Change your foolish thought. Rama will not go against any word of mine. The mere report of these happenings is enough. He will prepare himself to move into the forest! He will not even ask the question, why are you anxious to send me into the jungle! He is of such sterling virtue. Why mention only Rama! No one of my sons will disobey any of my commands."

"Bharatha will be disgusted when he hears of your plan. He may even ignore the fact that you are his mother and behave quite inexplicably. He may be ready for any dire step. Rama is his very life, his vital breaths, all the five put together. He may do something to defeat your pet desire. That is to say, he may exile himself into the forest and ask that Rama be crowned. He is of that stamp of goodness and rectitude. I am wondering at your crooked intellect, which cannot grasp the workings of Bharatha's mind. Kaika! Wicked designs are precursors of self destruction, as the saying goes. This design has entered your head, presaging your ruination, remember. You are bringing on the fair name of the Ikshvaku Royal family an indelible blot; you are plunging so many into fathomless depths of grief; you are bringing about their end. Can so many lives be hurt for the sake of this fell desire? What happiness do you hope to have, after perpetrating all this?"

"Even if you do achieve your goal, will that be Ananda? Can you call it so? O Shame! Those who exult over the sorrows of others are in truth sinners of the darkest hue, of demonic brood. Those who strive to cause joy to others, those who yearn that others be happy, they are the holy ones. You are a Queen; you are a Princess, of Royalty born; yet, you are not conscious of this elementary truth. You are a disgrace to royal blood. One final word! Rama is my very life. Without him, I cannot hold on to life. No! I cannot continue to live. He will not disappoint you; so, though I may not order him by word of my own mouth to go into the forest, he may, on hearing of my oath and your desire, himself proceed thereto, in order to make my word valid; he will brook no delay or debate. As soon as I hear news of that event, know that I draw my last breath. Lakshmana, Sita, and Kausalya may, in all likelihood, follow Rama. Kausalya cannot exist alive, apart from Rama. Sita will not stay away from Rama. Lakshmana cannot walk except along the footsteps of Rama. Urmila too may proceed along with Lakshmana into exile. There will be none here then, to perform the funeral rites of this body, and days will elapse to get Bharatha and Sathrughna from the Kekaya Kingdom. Till then, this will have to lie without the ceremonial. Perhaps, the people will rise against me for having descended to this low level of wickedness and condemn my body to be thrown as carrion for crows and vultures, since it does not deserve decent disposal. Perhaps, no; for, my subjects will wait until Bharatha arrives, embalming the corpse by some means or other. Bharatha will never agree to accept the throne and be King. Under such circumstances, he is not entitled to touch the body or perform the funeral rites. Come! At least, promise me that you will have my funeral rites performed by him", he pleaded. He said, "Of course, I am sure you are ready to promise me so; for, you are after the Ananda you hope to derive from a widow's life. What is it that you hope for, tell me, O vile viper! You have turned into a demon, at last! Are you undermining and laying under the earth, the Raghu Clan, this Royal Line? Is this the upsurge of your basic nature? Or, is it some mysterious Divine fate that dogs your thought and forces you to act against your will in this strange way? I find it beyond me to gauge the secret."

While Dasaratha was being tortured in mind like this, the night rolled on into its third quarter. He groaned like a man in great pain afflicted with some mortal illness. He was caught in the coils of agony.

Dasaratha tried his best, now, to win the affections of Kaikeyi and persuade her to accept the Coronation of Rama; he began to flatter her, in honeyed words. "O, Queen! You are the very embodiment of auspiciousness and prosperity. I treated you so long as my very breath. You too fostered and guarded me as if I was your very heart. Come, let us spend the remaining years without giving room for scandals about differences between us; let us be peaceful and happy during the rest of our allotted lives. O, Charming Princess! I will not live many years more. Throughout my life, I was famed as a steady adherent of Truth, and all men honoured me on that account. I have sworn at the public gathering that Rama will be crowned tomorrow as Heir-apparent. Consider how my subjects will despise me, if the function does not take place! Consider how they will cast insults at me! You saved me that day, during the battle between the Gods and the Demons. Are you giving me up now, when something worse is threatening me? This is not just or proper. Well, I shall endow on you this entire kingdom as dowry. Crown Rama, yourself, tomorrow. Bharatha too will be very happy if you do this. Not merely he; ministers, sages, elders, scholars, common citizens, the entire populace will appreciate and thank you for this. Your fame will last eternally on this earth. Instead, if you create obstacles in the way of Rama's Coronation, the whole world will castigate and condemn you. Even your son will find fault with you and fall foul of you. Your cruel fancy will bring ruin on you; besides, it will cover this royal line with shame. You will become the target of the 'Fie' that the smallest of the land will fling at you. Reflect over these possibilities! Earn eternal renown; stop the stratagem to prevent the coronation. Crown Rama with your own hands, tomorrow!"

Dasaratha described the joy she could derive from this generous act in sweet enticing words, artfully put together. He hoped to enrapture her at the prospect of herself crowning the Heir-apparent; but, Kaikeyi interrupted him, and said, "King! Your words strike me as strange and meaningless. You are trying to slide back from the promise made on oath; to cover up your sin, you are spinning fascinating yarns! No. A thousand such tricks will not induce me to change my stand. You said, on your own, 'Ask the boons you desire; I shall grant them', and, now instead of acting on that promise, you exhibit a fine bunch of sighs and groans. This does not become you. You are, by your own conduct, undermining your reputation and honour. I am not in the least responsible for this distress of yours. Recollect the pronouncements of those who are masters of Dharma, that Sathya (Truth) is the Parama (Highest) Dharma (Principle of Righteousness). I, too, have based my request for the promised boons on the same principle of Dharma. And as befits a follower of Dharma, you, too, agreed and said, 'Right! They shall be granted'. Nevertheless, you have started imputing motives to me, that I am thrusting you into unrighteousness, that I am set upon committing an unpardonable sin, that I am attempting to bring lasting infamy on your name! This is most improper; it is thoroughly unjustifiable."

"I am absolutely innocent of any wrong, in this affair. You made the solemn promise without a thought on the past or the future, and, when that promise had to be put into action, you suddenly become confused and desperate. The fault is yours, not mine. Those who promise and are not willing to act accordingly, are sinners of great magnitude. Act as the promise directs you to; then, the Truth you have maintained will itself wash off any related sin. Don't you remember? In the past, Emperor Sibi sliced flesh from his own body as food for an eagle pursuing a dove for prey! So too, Emperor Alarka had pledged his word that he would give whatever was asked from him; he was a king of unique splendour. And to keep up his promise, he plucked and gave a Brahmin his own two eyes! Look at the Ocean. It is the Lord of all the Rivers; yet, bound by Its Vow, It limits Itself between the shores, instead of transgressing them. Why repeat a thousand examples? For all things, for all men, Truth is the highest authority; the highest ideal. Truth is Brahman. Truth is the Primeval Sound. It is Dharma. Truth alone undergoes no change or diminution. Royal Majesties like you should not give up the Imperishable for the sake of the perishable. Hold fast to the promise you made, and ensure lasting fame and glory for yourself. That is the right thing to do. Do not yield to delusive attachments to the son, deceptive sympathy for women; do not over-rule the dictates of political idealism and royal obligation. Do not tarnish the Ikshvaku Dynasty with irredeemable dishonour!"

"Don't play otherwise; call Rama to your side and tell him to get ready to proceed to the forest, and set on foot preparations to call Bharatha from where he is now to this City. Instruct the Minister concerned to attend to these matters without delay. See! The eastern sky is getting bright. These two boons must be realized before dawn. However long you argue, I will be content with no less. If, on the other hand, you are adamant and you consummate the Coronation of Rama, I am determined to end my life in full view of the thickly packed Assembly. This is my vow; this shall happen." [See for the story of Vâmana, S.B. Canto 8: Withdrawal of the Cosmic Creations, Chapters 17, 18, 19 and 20].

Dasaratha watched Kaikeyi raging and swearing, angry and fearful; he could neither demonstrate the rage that was surging within him, nor could he suppress it. He was like Emperor Bali who promised three feet of land to God (in the form of Vamana) but, discovered that he could not fulfill that promise, for Vamana measured the entire earth with one foot, the entire sky with another foot, and stood asking for the third foot of land, that had been gifted to Him!   Dasaratha dreaded the curse that awaited him, for breaking the rules of Dharma. His eyes were dimmed with doubt and despair. His head became heavy on the shoulders. He fell on the floor, were he stood. At last, mustering up some courage, he shouted, "O Sinful Woman! If the Coronation of Rama is cancelled, my death is a certainty. After that, you can rule over this kingdom, as a widow, as freely as you wish". Giving vent to his anger in this strain, Dasaratha cried out, "Alas! Rama! Has it come to this that I have to send you, with my own consent, into the forest? No, I will not send you. I will rather give up my life; I cannot keep alive a moment, apart from you. O, vicious demon! How could your heart entertain the plan of sending my lovely and tender Rama into the thick dark wild jungle? Horrid Fury! What a Monster have you become!" And, with that, Dasaratha swooned, and soon lost consciousness.

Night was melting before the brightening dawn. The Nine Instruments of Music at the palace gate heralded the Day of Joy. The roads started getting the showers of rosewater. The air was thick with fragrance and festive noise. The sky was charged with hope and excitement. The constellation Pushya rose as the Star of the day. The sage Vasishta proceeded with his group of disciples to the Sarayu River for the ceremonial bath, and returned from there, with the Consecrated Water necessary for the Coronation Ablutions. He passed along the Royal road where the citizens had gathered to witness the sacred articles; the palace-guards cleared the way for the holy group. At last, they entered the Royal Palace through the richly decorated Main Gate.

Even at that early hour, the open spaces inside the palace were filled with priests, vassal rulers, representatives of the people of the Realm, and elders. They occupied the seats allotted to them. The rhythm of Vedic Hymns recited by scholars along the streets echoed from the skies. Meanwhile, Vasishta beckoned Sumanthra, the Minister, and said, "Go; the auspicious hour fixed for the rite of Coronation is approaching; many preliminary rituals have to be attended to; go and inform the Maharaja that his presence is urgently needed. Convey the message that Vasishta is waiting for his arrival."

Sumanthra being an old faithful, had the freedom to enter any of the inner apartments of the palace; so, he hurried into the chambers of Queen Kaikeyi, in search of the Emperor. Entering the Hall, where the Royal beds were, Sumanthra was shocked out of his wits. He was aghast at the sight of the Emperor fallen on the floor! Are my eyes seeing aright, he wondered; he lost his moorings. He went near the King, and said, "King! This morning must find you like the sea at moonrise, heaving with ecstasy. I cannot understand why you are lying prostrate on the ground. The auspicious hour is approaching. The great sages, learned in Vedic Lore, are ready in their roles, awaiting your arrival at the Hall of Ceremonies. Rise and wear royal robes and jewels, and come into the Hall, accompanied by the Queens, in lustrous imperial splendour. The sage Vasishta bade me hither and bring you into the holy precincts of the Throne."

Listening to his importunities, Dasaratha could not restrain the outbursts of his grief. He wept aloud, and spoke to the Minister between sobs thus: "Sumanthra! Your adulation pierces my heart." Sumanthra could not take a step forward, nor could he move a step backward. He stood transfixed, where he was. He prayed with folded palms, "Maharaja! why this turn of events? At a time when you have to be immersed in Ananda, why this grief, this piteous weeping? What is the reason behind all this? It is beyond my understanding."

When Sumanthra stood hopeless, sunk in sorrow, Kaikeyi intervened and said. "O Best of Ministers! The Emperor spent the entire night without sleep, in anxiety about Rama. If you can go immediately and bring Rama with you here, the mystery will be unravelled. I am telling you this; do not misunderstand me but bring Rama here quickly."

Sumanthra took her instructions as the commands of the Sovereign; he hastened to the Residence of Rama. At the entrance of that palace, he saw on both sides long lines of attendants and maids, carrying huge plates containing gifts of silk, brocade, jewels and gems, garlands and bouquets, scents and sweets. It was a delight for the eye, but Sumanthra did not stop to cast a look at them. When he hurried into the palace, he felt something precious lacking in all this festivity; he was overwhelmed and nonplussed. The joy that he had felt earlier had turned into sorrow.

Riding in his chariot towards Rama's Palace he had noticed how the hundreds of thousands of loyal subjects who filled the streets talked among themselves that he was on his way to bring Rama into the Coronation Hall, for the ceremony. He saw their faces blooming in joyous expectation; they scarce winked their eyes, lest they miss some incident or facet of joy. At last, Sumanthra stepped into the Palace of the Prince. He could walk straight, without any question asked, into all sections of that seven-storied mansion. As a fish dives noiselessly through the depths of a flooded river, Sumanthra glided through the corridors and halls of that Palace!  





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