Kaikeyi – The ‘Evil’ Queen???

Kaikeyi – the most misunderstood woman in Ramayana was one of the characters that always fascinated me. Despite her complexities, she is an interesting character that stands out in the epic. She is considered to be one of the women whose actions led to the events of the epic. She is also portrayed as the proverbial step-mother and is seen as the jealous wife and an over-zealous mother.

kaikeyi- The warrior princess

kaikeyi- The warrior princess

I often wondered, was Kaikeyi really the evil queen she was made out to be? I do not mean to defame the popular version but offering a feminist’s gaze at a legend that is written by, and dominated by men.

To begin with, i believe Kaikeyi’s personality is worth examining and perhaps provides a strong clue to her motivations which later led to her insisting on the exile of her stepson from Ayodhya. Kaikeyi was a princess of the kingdom Kaikeya and was very strong-willed. As a young girl and the only sister to seven brothers, Kaikeyi grew up without a maternal influence in her childhood. That’s because her father, the King, had banished her mother from Kaikeya after realizing that his wife’s nature was not conducive to a happy family life. She obviously harboured a sense of insecurity from the male community, who she thought were capricious. While wanting to keep up with her brothers, she trained herself to become a warrior princess.

King Dasharath had married her only when his first two queens, Kaushalya and Sumitra, were not able to conceive. She realized that her purpose in the kingdom was to bear a child. For that matter, any wise and intelligent woman would feel humiliated by such motives. Also as a result of being the youngest of three wives, she was somewhat insecure in her heart, in that she feared that the king did not love her as much as he loved his other queens. Having said that I should also mention that polygamy was common those days but was solely a pro-male phenomenon. It did not reflect a woman’s point of view nor it tried to find out how distressed a woman can feel in the presence of co-wives.

Coming back to Kaikeyi, she was said to have accompanied Dasharath to a war against a demon. During the war, when Dasharath was supposed to have been injured, she drove his chariot out of the battleground, nursed him and got him back on his feet, fit to fight the war. King Dasharath was very impressed by her heroism, and granted her two boons, which she kept for a better day. So, later on, when Dasaratha appointed Rama as his successor, Kaikeyi used her strengths to her advantage and thought of a way to get herself and her son ahead of everyone else – she requested that Rama be exiled, and that Bharata be promoted in his place. Of course this hideous act made her the quintessential villain in the ancient epic and even to society at large, I wonder how many other people in her situation would have reacted. I guess not very differently.

Some versions also say that she did all this under the instructions of Rama himself! According to this version, Rama confessed to Kaikeyi, that he was Lord Vishnu on earth and he needed to go to the forests to eliminate many a demon and Ravana as part of his duty on earth. For this, could she do something to help him? He also warned her of the implications, and the stigma that would be associated to her name. Kaikeyi, being an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu thought a stigma on her name was a relatively small sacrifice to be made. It is said that after her death, Kaikeyi found a place at Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Vishnu.

We do not know the truth in these versions. However, in most instances a powerful and assertive woman, no matter what her motives are – have always been viewed by the society as villainous, domineering and wicked, whether in history or mythology.

If there is some truth in the story of Ramayana, I would say that Rama’s exile was destined and pre-ordained. The quintessential step-mother was a figment of an author’s imagination or at best just a catalyst, who has been bearing the brunt of it all, since ages!

(Photo courtesy: Ravi V‘s blog A Free Mind)

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by H S Eswara on January 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    My dear Sohini,
    Nice reading an alternative persepctive of Kaikeyi. I appreciate your unique ways of looking at things. Your analysis that ‘Rama’s exile was destined and pre-ordained,’ meets with my own position that the events in our own lives are destined and pre-ordained. My line of thinking is quite in tune with my age: I will be completing my 75th year on Feb 2.
    With best wishes,
    Affectionately,
    HS Eswara

    Reply

  2. Posted by Soho on January 12, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Dear Sir, Thanks a lot for your appreciation of the piece. 75 is a wonderful occasion to celebrate and I pray that you keep inspiring and blessing me for many more years. 🙂

    Reply

  3. Posted by Pritha Mitra on January 13, 2014 at 4:33 am

    This was quite an interesting take. Liked the off beat approach. Looking forward to more of your writings.

    Reply

    • Posted by Sohini Bagchi on January 13, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks Pritha. Always wanted to explore characters that are conveniently ignored or misunderstood in popular writings. Sure I’ll come up with more posts.

      Reply

  4. Kaikeyi portrayed in the Exiled prince is very very different from any of the earlier takes. It would be good to visit this blog post reading that character 🙂

    Reply

    • Posted by Sohini Bagchi on January 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm

      Thanks Ravi for the suggestion you have provided the readers. I’m touched! I should grab a copy of your book and read soon. There’s always a lot to learn from you 🙂

      Reply

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