By Swami Harshananda
Ancient mythology traces all the kings of Bhāratavarṣa (India) into two primeval races known as The Suryavaṅśa ,The Candravaṅśa.Since Ikṣvāku and Raghu were the most outstanding emperors of the Suryavaṅśa, the race has also been known by their names as Ikṣvākuvamśa or Raghuvamśa. But the best of all the kings of this race was Rāma or Śrī Rāma. He was considered and worshiped as an incarnation of Lord Viṣṇu himself. Daśaratha was the father of Rāma. Daśaratha was the son of another great king of this lineage, Aja. Daśaratha was wrongly personified as a weak king, highly infatuated for his wife Kaikeyī and a doting father in the Ayodhyākānda of the Rāmāyana of Vālmīki. In real sense, he was a great hero and a good ruler in his younger days. The very word ‘Daśaratha’ literally means, ‘one who could drive his ratha or chariot in daśa or ten directions’, is enough proof of his valour. As per the description of the Rāmāyana, Daśaratha was a good and noble king who had ruled his kingdom righteously.
Family of King Daśaratha
King Daśaratha was the king of Kosal with its capital at Ayodhyā and had three queens:
- Kauśalyā - She was the daughter of king Bhānumanta.
- Sumitrā - She was the daughter of king Śurasena.
- Kaikeyī - She was the daughter of the king Aśvapati Kekaya.
A cabinet of eight distinguished ministers, under the able guidance of Sumantra, assisted him in administration. He had a daughter called Sāntādevī but had no male issues. Sāntādevi had been adopted by the king Romapāda as his daughter and had been married to the sage Rṣyaśṛṅga. On the advice of the royal preceptor Vasiṣṭha, Daśaratha performed the Putra-kāmeṣṭi sacrifice with Rṣyaśṛṅga as the head-priest and was blessed with four sons ,who were:
- Rāma - From Kausalyā
- Bharata - From Kaikeyī
- Lakṣmaṇa - From Sumitrā
- Satrughna - From Sumitrā
Raising of Four Princes
The four princes grew up into fine young men under the able tutelage of the highly competent sage Vasiṣṭha. Once, the sage Viśvāmitra arrived at the court of Daśaratha and requested him to send Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa with him to guard the sacrifice which he was conducting against the ruinous attacks of the demons Mārīca and Subāhu. Though Daśaratha was unwilling at first, he later on acceded to the request of the sage and send his two sons. After some heroic exploits and excellent training in the arts of war and peace under Viśvāmitra, the youths arrived at the capital Mithilā of the king Janaka. When the Śivadhanus, the mythical bow of god Śiva, was broken by Rāma, to win the hand of princess Sītā, Janaka’s daughter, Daśaratha arrived soon at Mithilā with his entourage and took part in the marriage of Rāma and Sitā, and also of the other three princes with suitable brides. As he was getting old, he decided to enthrone Rāma as the Yuvarāja (crown- prince). When the preparations were in an advanced stage, Kaikeyī under the wicked spell of her malicious maid Mantharā demanded the fulfillment of the two boons Daśaratha had given her long back. These boons were:
- Making her son Bharata the king
- Banishing Rāma to the forest for fourteen years
He was unable either to change her mind or to accede to her demand, the mortally shocked Daśaratha passed away. Meanwhile Rāma, along with his wife Sitā and brother Lakṣmaṇa had already left for the forest as per Kaikeyī’s words, conveying the ‘order’ of the king and father Daśaratha. Daśaratha is said to have met this tragic end due to the curse of a sage-couple whose only son he had killed by mistake, long back, in his youth.
- He accepted the proposal of sage Viśvāmitra on the intervention of Vasiṣṭha
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore