CHENNAI: The Ramayana, one of the two great epics of Hindu mythology, is chock-a-block full of interesting characters, which are interpreted differently in different versions. While the ubiquitous story of Rama versus Ravana and the triumph of good over evil runs through each of them, very few succeed in doing justice to the minor characters in the story, many of whom remain obscure and overlooked. One such character is Bharata, eldest of Rama’s younger brothers, who ruled in his stead for the 14 years of the Rama’s exile. City Express talks to Thiruppur Krishnan, a Tamil scholar, who has authored a new book called Apoorva Ramayanam, to shed light on the fate of this ‘misunderstood’ brother.
“Bharata is the paradigm of the misunderstood brother,” says Krishnan.”After his mother Kaikeyi’s invocation of her two boons from King Dasharatha — that Rama should be exiled for 14 years and that Bharata must become the ruler instead — the king disowned both of them from his family as a penance for what he perceived was their cunningness.
However, Bharata had no part to play in it as he had gone to his uncle’s kingdom and did not even know of his mother’s intentions,” he says. This effectively deprived Bharata, despite no fault of his, of the chance to do his father’s last rites after Dasharatha’s death, which was eventually done by the youngest brother, Shatrughnan.
“This perception was believed by everyone else, except Rama. Bharata, despite this ostracisation, chose to rule in Rama’s name, placing his sandals on the throne. He also vowed that if Rama failed to return after 14 years, he would immolate himself on a pyre,” says Krishnan. This feeling of being misunderstood is perpetuated by Bharata himself when 14 years later, upon his return to Ayodhya, Rama sends Hanuman ahead to inform Bharata of his arrival and to prevent him from immolating himself. “But once Rama reached Ayodhya, Bharata, with tears in his eyes, asked Rama whether it was because he suspected that Bharata would not relinquish the kingdom that he had sent Hanuman before himself,” explains Krishnan.
The scholar adds that throughout the length and breadth of India, while there are many temples to Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman, there are very few dedicated to Bharata. “Rama told Bharata that there shall be no separate temples for the latter and nor shall there be an idol for him in any temple, because by ruling in Rama’s stead for 14 years, Bharata had become a part of him. Bharatarajyam was equal to Ramarajyam, hence they need not be worshipped separately.” The exception is one temple among the Naalambalam in Kerala, four temples dedicated to each brother.
The legend goes that after his return, Rama propitiated Dasharatha’s spirit and asked two boons of him; to reinstate Kaikeyi and Bharata in the family, so that they may finally get to do the last rites. “By then, it was ordained that this was all part of Ramavataram, and that Bharata and Kaikeyi were merely tools in the larger scheme of things. So, Dasharatha’s spirit agreed,” says Krishnan.
He adds that Bharata is said to be the first among all the other brothers of Rama. “Lakshmana got to spend all his time at Rama’s side, right from childhood. Even Sita was not with Rama for his entire lifetime. Shatrughnan on the other hand, got to perform the last rites of their father. It was only Bharata who received nothing for his devotion to Rama. For this, he is said to be first among the brothers, hence being rewarded by being worshipped as part of Rama himself.”