Chromolithograph of Dasharatha being asked to banish Rama by Kaikeyi and Manthara | Chitrashala Press | Wikimedia Commons
Chromolithograph of Dasharatha being asked to banish Rama by Kaikeyi and Manthara | Chitrashala Press | Wikimedia Commons
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Milord, the honourable court is urged to prosecute Queen Kaikeyi’s retainer and confidante, Manthara, u/s 115/116/120-B/124-A of the IPC. Queen Kaikeyi was the favourite consort of Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya and the father of Rama. Manthara’s appearance was hunchbacked, ugly and inimical. Her name had an uncanny resemblance to her ‘hunchback’ appearance, although her name also meant ‘conspirator’ or ‘conniver’.

While she did enjoy the perks of being a guest, she lived as though it was her own house. Her only job was to give company to Queen Kaikeyi.

It is pertinent to point out that Manthara’s physical infirmity and age came in the way of rendering appropriate service to Queen Kaikeyi. Ayodhya did not need her presence but for being a companion to the queen. However, she behaved most impertinently and engaged in spewing venom against Ayodhya’s political establishment.

Manthara succeeded in causing fissures in the royal family, leading to immense harm to the State of Ayodhya as well as its citizens.

Manthara not only conspired against Rama but also eventually became the cause of King Dasharatha’s untimely demise. One cannot overlook her role in abetting and aiding Queen Kaikeyi in the banishment of Rama. The fact that she had grudged against Rama from his childhood indicated her perverted mind. A person of ordinary prudence would rather enjoy the pranks of a child instead of harbouring a grudge against him.

We believe that Manthara was not merely seeking for Bharata’s anointment, but she also aimed for a prominent role for herself in the future political dispensation of Ayodhya under Bharata. Therefore, we cannot brush aside her action which she claimed to have taken for her love for Bharata. She cleverly manipulated Kaikeyi and succeeded in her twofold mission, the king’s death and the banishment of Rama.

Queen Kaikeyi relied solely on Manthara. Little wonder, she manoeuvered a pivotal role for herself. It is a different matter that Bharata and Shatrughna’s righteous reaction ruined her dubious plan.

Manthara deserves suitable punishment for conspiring against the state. Additionally, she is also an offender for the abetment of King Dasharatha’s death. Treason is a grave offence and entails the death penalty.

She, through the use of words, created disaffection for the rightful crown prince. Going by the rules of primogeniture, Rama, being the firstborn of the king, was the rightful heir of the kingdom. This, however, couldn’t happen owing to unconstitutional executive actions such as boons that took away from the basic structure of the constitutional vision of the kingdom. Even if succession can depend upon appointment and not solely based on primogeniture, it is questionable if obligations are well established and do not include such premises.


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Deposition of Manthara 

The case lodged against me is wholly misconceived, uncalled for and untended. I am indeed living in Ayodhya. I concede that I enjoyed Ayodhya’s hospitability, but it is wrong to claim that my loyalty should have been towards Ayodhya. My presence in Ayodhya is limited to representing Queen Kaikeyi’s family. I was loyal to her in particular and her kingdom in general.

I took care of Queen Kaikeyi since her childhood. My duty included taking care of her interests and her children too. I did exactly that.

Let me point out here that King Dasharatha promised Queen Kaikeyi and her son a prominent role in the establishment of Ayodhya. Kaikeyi is not an ordinary wife. She is a warrior who fought shoulder to shoulder with King Dasharatha in many battles, in particular, during a fierce military campaign against Samhasura, a demon.

It is laughable to suggest that a disabled and an old maidservant could have prevailed upon a highly educated and powerful queen if she did not harbour a similar hidden desire in her heart.

In any case, I merely persuaded Kaikeyi to demand the royal throne for Bharata. The demands to annul Rama’s anointment and his banishment for 14 years to the forests were necessary. How else could the kingdom thwart away the emergence of a rival centre of power? I believed that Rama’s habitation in the forest could establish the writ of Aryans as Rama is undoubtedly a skilled and great warrior. I did not want Sita and Lakshmana to accompany Rama. It was their choice. No one can hold me responsible for his wife and brother’s decision.

A king should be strong enough to fulfil a promise. It is easy to give a pledge but very difficult to honour it. But Dasharatha, a sovereign, could not handle that. There was no conspiracy. The king made the promises, and the queen asked him to honour them. Where is the plot in it? The prosecution itself does not allege that either the queen or I were averse to Rama’s anointment. My reaction can be assigned to spontaneity and not betrayal.

If the court scrutinises the prosecution’s story minutely, it will come to the conclusion that every ordinary citizen in Ayodhya, apart from Queen Kaikeyi and I, was aware of Rama’s anointment.

Why doesn’t anyone see Rama’s proposed ascension to the throne as Queen Kausalya’s conspiracy? There is no evidence to demonstrate Queen Kaikeyi and I met to execute such a plan which is a basic requirement to justify the allegation of criminal conspiracy in the law.

My loyalties exist primarily for Queen Kaikeyi. Therefore, one cannot say that I committed any treason. I am not a legal citizen of Ayodhya. The State of Kaikeya sent me to look after Queen Kaikeyi and her son’s best interests. I did that to the best of my disposal and understanding.

The State of Ayodhya is framing me for looking after the interests of my queen and her child. Notwithstanding King Dasharatha’s reservations, no one would have prosecuted against me, if only he hadn’t died.

I urge this court to acquit me of all the charges framed against me. The employees of the palace and the citizens of Ayodhya have already tortured me on account of the same.


Also read: Indians know all about Draupadi and Sita, but ignore what was done to Subhadra in Mahabharata


Kaikeyi’s deposition

….

My actions impressed King Dasharatha, and he gifted me two boons as an appreciation of my affection, courage and timely assistance. I knew it came from gratitude rather than love and so I paid the prize scant attention. I could not think of anything I needed then, and said, ‘I will claim my boons when the need arises, my king.’ Meanwhile, I had become his favourite wife and practically gained ascendancy over Kausalya, the senior-most queen.

Life is not a bed of roses, and it solicits us to make the toughest of choices. In my opinion, it makes me a brave woman for fighting for my son. Who can know better what is best for a child than his mother? A mother will cross hurdles for the comfort of her child, even if it means sacrificing her own family. I sincerely hope that the court sees how I used the boons for my son, and not once did I ask anything for myself, even though I acted upon Manthara’s words. Had I been power-hungry, I would have stolen the kingdom in my name. Had I wished my son to inherit the throne, as King Dasharatha had promised to my father at the time of my marriage with him, wouldn’t I have banished the eldest queen Kausalya and his son Rama to the forests long before? There are a thousand ways to get rid of someone if one wishes to. All I wanted was for my son to get his rights to be the rightful heir of Ayodhya.

I am aware that posterity will not remember me lovingly. Everyone needed a fall guy and that was me. I am the woman her son refused to call mother anymore for he held my maternal love accountable for the banishment of Rama. My son, Bharata— was my weakness and love—but he even went on to declare that my name will never be given to any woman for I am the evil creature who used womanly wiles to destroy the tranquility in the state. As far as Manthara is concerned, I know she would become synonymous with malice but at least she wouldn’t be forgotten for her nefarious role.

This excerpt from Ramayana Revisited: An Epic Through A Legal Prism by Anil Maheshwari and Vipul Maheshwari has been published with permission from Bloomsbury India.

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