Sri Rama along with his consort Seeta and brother Lakshmana went to the forest in exile for 14 years to keep up the promise king Dasaratha, his father had made to his wife, Kaikeyi. Unable to bear the seperation from his son, Dasaratha breathed his last. At the unusual turn of events, Guru Vashishta urgently summoned Bharata who had gone to visit his maternal uncle. Bharata returned to Ayodhya only to find the city of joy absolutely silent. People looked lost and sad. Strange! The situation in the palace was no better. He quickly made his way to his mother, Kaikeyi’s chamber. On enquiring, she narrated everything to him, and finally said, “the throne awaits you, my dear son. Get ready for your pattabhisheka!”
Bharata was stunned. He was overwhelmed with grief and pain. In a fit of anger, he totally disowned his mother. Because of her, he had lost his father. His brother Rama whom he loved, adored and worshipped had been sent to the forest, along with Seeta and Lakshmana. He wept bitterly and cried his heart out at the feet of Rama’s mother, Kausalya. The gracious mother of Rama was sad and grief-stricken at the loss of her husband and seperation from her son; but felt happy to see the devotion and loyalty that Bharata had towards his elder brother, Rama.
After the final rites of his father, Bharata was called upon by Guru Vashishta to ascend the throne and take up the responsibilities of the kingdom. In the royal assembly, Bharata with tears in his eyes, yet, surely and firmly, told everyone, that Sri Rama alone was the rightful heir to the throne and there was absolutely no question of him becoming the king. He pleaded innocence and said that he had nothing to do with his mother’s devious plans. He requested everyone to accompany him to the forest to convince Rama to return to Ayodhya. He made all the necessary arrangements to crown Rama as the King of Ayodhya in the forest itself and bring him back! Kaikeyi understood the devotion and reverence Bharata had for Rama, and repented sincerely for her wrong doings.
Bharata and his brother Shatrughna, Sage Vashishta, the queen mothers and the people of Ayodhya proceeded to the forest, and reached Chitrakoota where Rama, Seeta and Lakshmana had settled down. The moment Bharata saw Rama, he ran forward and fell at his brother’s feet, weeping profusely for all the hardships that Rama had to undergo in the forest. He totally blamed himself for it. Unable to reconcile with what had happened, he was just inconsolable. Rama tenderly lifted him up and held him in a tight embrace. That hug was enough to pacify, console and calm down Bharata’s agitated mind. Yet, in his mind was the fear whether Rama would accept his proposal and return to Ayodhya.
Next day, an assembly was arranged in the forest. Along with the others, King Janaka was also present. All eyes were on Bharata. Every one was anxious to see the outcome of the meeting. Bharata put forth his humble request and tried to convince Rama to return. When Rama did not yield, he respectfully pleaded, later he gently argued and even lovingly debated with Rama! Sri Rama was equally firm on his decision to keep up his words. All those present were overwhelmed at the love and affection that Rama and Bharata had for each other. Guru Vashishta and King Janaka put forth their views on the duties and responsibilities of a King. Kaikeyi stepped forward and unconditionally withdrew the demand she had made. But for Rama, there was no question of going back on his words.
Not losing hopes, Bharata pleaded, “How can I ever sit on the throne that belongs to you, dear brother? You alone are the rightful heir to the kingdom and can handle its huge responsibility, I simply cannot.” He even told Rama that he would substitute for him and stay in the forest for 14 years on his behalf, and that Rama should go back to Ayodhya. The Lord understood Bharata’s feelings. Rama replied, “Alright! I accept the kingdom from you. As the King of Ayodhya, I now declare you as king-in-charge. You will rule and look after the kingdom for 14 years on my behalf. After the completion of the exile term, I promise to come and take back the kingdom from you.”
Bharata was sweetly adamant! He said, “O! Rajendra, give me your PADUKAS, which shall be worshipped in the kingdom. I shall serve both – your padukas and the people till you return. In your absence, they shall adorn the throne in your place, not me! I shall as a mere sevak of yours, execute and discharge my duties and responsibilities towards the people of the kingdom as best as I can, keeping in mind your honour, dignity and glory (paduke dehi rajendra, rajyaya tava pujithe; tayo sevam karomyeva, yavath agamanam tava ~ Adhyatma Ramayana).”
Rama’s heart melted in the warmth of Bharata’s love and devotion, his steadfastness and loyalty. Overwhelmed with joy, the Lord exclaimed, “Bharata, I am indeed fortunate and blessed to have a brother like you!”. The Lord agreed to Bharata’s loving insistence and readily handed over his Padukas to him, with an assurance that he will be back in Ayodhya exactly after 14 years. Still not satisfied, Bharata added that the very next moment, after 14 years, if he failed to see the divinely charming face of Sri Rama, he would consign himself to flames. Rama assured him that he would be back exactly after 14 years.
Carrying Sri Rama’s Padukas reverentially on his head, and the Lord’s loving assurance in his heart, Bharata returned to Ayodhya along with the others. The people of Ayodhya witnessed a unique and grand PADUKA PATTABHISHEKA! Sri Rama’s Padukas adorned the throne. Ayodhya without Rama was unthinkable for Bharata. He stayed in Nandigram on the outskirts of Ayodhya. He gave up all the royal luxuries and lived a life of tapas, and discharged his duties from there, ably supported by Shatrughna. With Bharata in-charge and for full 14 years, SRI RAMA’S PADUKAS ruled over the kingdom of Ayodhya! As promised, exactly after 14 years, the Lord came back from exile. With a great sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, Bharata handed over the kingdom to its rightful heir. Bharata’s kingdom was verily at Lord Sri Rama’s lotus feet!!
“O Rama, clarify this doubt of mine. Which is greater? Your lotus FEET or your blessed PADUKAS? The rishis who worshipped your FEET gained your abode; but to Bharata who worshipped your PADUKAS you gave Yourself!”~ Thyagaraja Swami
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