What is amazing about THE RAMAYANA is that any innocent word of a familiar phrase in any canto (sarga) or in any of the sections (kanda-s), is not only aptly chosen and well woven into the time, place and sequence of the story, but it is also capable of yielding a deeper meaning or a profound interpretation. What is needed is that we must look for it.
It may not be that VALMIKI maharishi invested such an inner meaning intentionally. The maharishi truthfully verbalized, without any exaggeration, what the RAMAYANA charactersthought and spoke. What is perhaps more true isthat the characters spoke in a simple, direct mannerbut underneath their expressions was a profound thought process.
The Ramayana refers to ‘The fourteen year exile period’ in different ways and in different places as nine plus five, seven plus seven and so on. Was it intentional?
For example, the numerical count of ‘fourteen’ years – stay in forest (vanavaasa)-has been mentioned by the different concerned and affected persons in a variety of ways, like nine and five years or seven plus seven years and so on. Was that intentional? Let us probe and see what we are able to make of it.
As we know, the fourteen-year period of RAMAS exile was MANTHARA’S idea (Ayodhya, sarga 9). It was she who drove home the point to KAIKEYI that, securing the kingdom for BHARATA was only half the battle. It was more important that RAMA be out of sight, so that he could be out of mind as well. Human beings remember only those they meet very often!
She, therefore, boldly proposed that RAMA should live in a far off forest for fourteen years. In MANTHARAre’S reckoning, that period would be adequate for BHARATA to consolidate his position and for RAMA’mSe mory to fade away from the people’s mind. Between the gth and the 40th chapters wherein RAMA left AYODHYA for the forest, in the company of SITA and LAKSHMANA, the period has been mentioned twenty-two times in all. Apart from MANTHARA and KAIKEYI, who, expectedly, laid stress on the period,five other characters spoke about it. RAMA mentioned it on eleven occasions, the maximum number by any person. Why did the same character resort to saying ‘fourteen’in one place and ‘nine plus five’ in another? RAMA too had split the period on three occasions! SITA chose the unique way of referring to it as ‘ten plus three plus one!’
MANTHARA started it and let us begin with her. Onthe very first occasion, she had no hesitation to say fourteen years (II: 9:20) because the period had to be extended enough, for BHARATA to gain his ground and for RAMA to be forgotten. She therefore rightly reverted to the same expression in sloka 31 where she ‘elaborated to KAIKEYI on her strategy: ‘your son would have dug himself in and can continue to rule for the rest of his life (II: 9:31). ’However, when she instructed KAIKEYI as to how she should broach it to DASARATHA, cleverly said, ‘nine plus five’ (II: 9:30) because ‘fourteen’ might strike as too long a period. He might become aghast and get into a state of coma and be quite unable to respond any further! For, DASARATHA never got tired of saying that he cannot survive beyond one muhurta without seeing RAMA (11: 11:7).MANTHARA’S ploy worked like a charm! Leave alone that, KAIKEYI asked for a banishment of only nine plus five years (II: 11:26)! DASARATHA heard it and did not register it as ‘fourteen’ years; he used the same expression ‘nine plus five’ (II: 12:22).When KAIKEYI spoke to RAMA, on behalf of DASARATHA (sarga 18), she smoothened it as it were, for RAMA. She said, ‘you must fulfil what your father has promised. You have to enter the forest and live there for nine plus five years in all.’ (II: 18:35). Immediately thereafter, she was seized with an apprehension that RAMA might very well say, ‘It is all right mother, I will go. But nine plus five years? It is a long period to be away from AYODHYA! Can that period be reduced?’ As if she had heard such an (imaginary) entreaty, and as if she had to be firm, though externally soft, she said in the subsequent sloka, ‘It is not nine plus five RAMA! Look carefully! It is only seven years and another odd spell of seven years in the safe shelter of DANDAKAARANYA! (II:18:37).
RAMA did not therefore draw a veil over the full period while internally reacting to it or while reporting to others. However, when his mother went into a shock that his exile looked like an unending period of further acute suffering and humiliation at the hands of KAIKEYI and her followers, he consoled her by adroitly playing on numbers and words. ‘Mother, it is only a six year spell followed by a fast moving eight year spell. The years would come and go at a fast trot (II:20:31). You will see, I shall complete these nine years and another five years playfully! (II: 24: 17)’. He expressed a similar sentiment to his father at the time of his departure (II: 34:29): ‘I shall enjoy my brief stay in the DANDAKARANYA and thereafter, I shall station myself at your feet for performing uninterrupted service to you.’ He had a special word again for his mother: ‘Mother, by the time you get up after a quiet sleep, these nine plus five years.
Sri Nrisimha Priya