The story of Rama, an avatar of Lord Narayana, is universally known as the Ramayana. Almost all versions of the Ramayana begin with description of the kingdom of Kosala, its king Dasaratha, his three wives—Kausalya , Sumitra and Kaikeyi. The epic praises Dasaratha’s kingdom as the richest, without any wants for anyone. Yet dasaratha was sad because he had no children.

The fist chapter, Balakandam of the Ramayana then highlights the Putrakameshti Yaga, performed by Dasaratha for begetting a male progeny and the birth of his four sons- Rama, Lakshmana, Satrughana and Bharata.

But the history of Kosala prior to this event reveals that Dasaratha had a daughter. The Vasishtha Ramayana, also known as Jnana Ramayana, which is one version of the Ramayana written by Valmiki, in its Adi parva, refers to the ancestry of Dasaratha, his birth and how he became a king in the solar dynasty. This reveals an unknown story in the known purana about Dasaratha’s youth, marriage and how he became the father of a female child. Adbhuta Ramayana and Adhyatama Ramayana also refer to this subject.

The Solar Dynasty

Aja was the 38th king in the solar dynasty. He was ruling the kingdom of Kosala on the southern banks of the Sarayu River in the northern part of India. Ayodhya was his capital. Northern Kosala, on the northern bank of the Sarayu, was ruled by another king, who also hailed from another branch of the Solar Dynasty.

Aja was a king who spent most of his time earthly pleasures. His wife was Indumati. She was an apsaras (celestial woman) who was born on this earth on account of a curse. Once, while aja was spending his time pleasantly with his wife in the garden of his palace, sage Narada was traversing the sky. A flower garland adorning his veena fell on Indumati. It redeemed Indumati from the curse. She regained her form as on apsaras and vanished from the earth forever, taking leave of aja.

The grief-stricken king wanted to follow her and he wore the garland. But he could not vanish like her. Unable to bear the separation from his beloved wife, he ran into the palace and committed suicide.

Dasaratha’s Early Days

Aja’s son was only eight months old when aja died. Sumantra was the most intelligent minister in the kingdom and Vasistha was the rajguru (guru of the king). Vasishtha requested Sumantra to rule the kingdom on behalf of aja’s son. He then left the child in the care of a great guru, marudanva, who was an adept in all sastras, including archery. The little boy had the privilege of drinking the milk of Nandini, the divine cow. Marudanva brought up the child as a wise man and a strong warrior.

The child was Dasaratha and became the ruler of southern Kosala when he attained the age of 18. He became a powerful king. He could drive his chariot in ten directions – the eight traditional directions and upwards and downwards and thus came to be known as Dasaratha. The kind of northern Kosala agreed to rule under his patronage. He had a beautiful daughter, Kausalya, whom Dasaratha wanted to marry. The king agreed. But he did not know that he and Dasaratha were closely related, coming from the same clan (gotra).

Ravana’s Fear

Ravana, the demon king of Lanka was a contemporary of Dasaratha. He was a great Shiva Bhakta. Once he went to Kailas and played the Sama Veda on his veena. Siva was pleased and blessed him with many powers.

On his way back from Kailas, Ravana went to Brahmaloka to pay respects to his great grandfather, Brahma. The latter was delighted to see his great grandson and granted him boons and gave him the powerful weapon, the Brahmastra. When ravana wanted to live for ever, Brahma replied that it was not possible and said his death would be at the hands of a divine son to be born to Dasaratha and Kausalya.

Ravan became furious and decided to kill Kausalya even before her marriage. But his wife Mandodari, pleaded with him not to commit stree hati (the sin of killing a woman). She suggested that Ravana could prevent that marriage by separating Kausalya from Dasaratha. Ravana agreed to this proposal and sent a few asuras (demons) to kidnap Kausalya, put her in a box and float it in the currents of the Sarayu River so that she would not have a chance to survive. Thus the sin of killing a woman would not fall on him and he could also prevent the marriage of Dasaratha and Kausalya, he reasoned.

At midnight one day, Dasaratha was crossing the Sarayu after the conquest. He saw a box being thrown into the river by some persons from a hillock. Dasaratha jumped out from his boat and fought with those persons. They were the asuras sent by Ravana and they used magical tactics. So Dasaratha could not defeat them. Meanwhile, the box was floating away fast. Dasaratha surmised that there must be somebody inside and jumped into the water to save that person.

The box continued the far journey and when the Sarayu mingled with the Ganga, it began floating in the Ganga. Dasaratha, who was swimming fast, became tired. Jatayu, the king of eagles, who was flying past, saw and rescued him. He tended to Dasaratha’s wounds and made him get back his strength.

When Dasaratha narrated the tale of the box, Jatayu took him on his back and flew away, searching for the box. They located it in the midst of water weeds in an island near the estuary of Ganga. When they reached the spot, Narada, who knew about the whole story, also came there. They all opened the box and found Kausalya in an unconscious state. Through Narada’s power she regained consciousness. Dasaratha’s joy knew no bounds.

Narada said it was the right time for the marriage of Dasaratha and Kausalya. He sought the presence of the Devas at the spot and performed the marriage. Narada, Jatayu and the devas blessed the marriage. Thereafter, Jatayu took Dasaratha and Kausalya on his back to Ayodhya, where the marriage ceremonies were again performed elaborately with fanfare and the blessings of Vasishtha and Sumantra.

Cause for the Handicap

Kausalya soon attained motherhood. She gave birth to a female child which unfortunately had a handicap in its leg. The child was named Shantai. The palace doctors tried their best to remove the handicap but failed. Vashishtha consoled Dasaratha and Kausalya. He said that the handicap was due to the marriage between close cousins (Dasaratha and Kausalya belonged to he same gotra) and she would become normal if given in adoption to a divine couple.

Accordingly, Dasaratha and Kausalya gave the child in adoption to ROmapada, the king of Angadesa. With due care and treatment, Shantai’s disability vanished. Romapada performed her marriage with Rishyasringa Maharishi.

It was after Shantai was given in adoption that Dasaratha got married to Sumitra and Kaikeyi with the hope of getting healthy children. As he had no issue even after that, he arranged for the Putrakameshti Yaga on the advice of the sages. It was Rishyasringa who performed the Yaga and enabled Dasaratha to beget four sons.

This unknown story in the Ramayana highlights that Shantai was Sri Rama’s elder sister. It also brings to light that the ancient wisdom on the ill effect of consanguine marriages.

It is significant that Sri Sharada Peetham at Sringeri is located on a mountain associated with the Ramayana. It was here that Rishyasringa lived.

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