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The Departure

When Rama set out for the forest, the citizens of Ayodhya insisted on accompanying him.

When Rama, Lakshman and Sita were leaving for the forest, a broken-hearted Dashrath pleaded with Rama not to honour the promise he had made to Kaikayee and to refuse to go into exile. Rama said that it was his duty as a son to honour a promise made by his father, and that he would never let his father break his word. This shows the importance a promise carried, and how a person with a high moral character would suffer anything, but would not break it. Kaushalya then pleaded with Rama to let her join him, but Rama refused, and said that a wife should stay with her husband. He asked his mother to look after his father who was broken-hearted and would need her by his side at this time.

Along with Dashrath, the citizens of Ayodhya too pleaded with Rama not to leave, and when Rama did not relent, they stated that they too would accompany Rama into exile for fourteen years, and would live with him in the forest. Rama tried to talk them out of it, but they refused to listen and followed him along with cries of "Dhik twam Dashratham", or "Shame on you, Dashrath!"

This shows the freedom and the power of the public in that era, and shows that democracy existed in its own form centuries ago in India. No major decision was ever taken without first consulting with the people and courtiers. Even when Dashrath made the decision of crowning Rama king, he made the decision in consultation with his ministers and courtiers, and the decision had the hearty approval of his subjects.

Thus shouting slogans against Dashrath and declaring their love for Rama, the people of Ayodhya followed Rama, Lakshman and Sita out of the boundaries of Ayodhya. When night fell, the procession halted to take a rest. Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Sumant, who was escorting the three to the forest, pretended to be asleep. Seeing them sleep, the people too decided to call it a night and soon fell into deep slumber. Rama, Lakshman, Sita and Sumant then quietly slipped out. They kept on going until they reached the banks of a river. They approached a boatman, who recognised them immediately. He begged Rama to wash his feet before stepping into the boat, saying, "When you touched a stone with the dust of your feet, it turned into a woman! (Ahilya). My boat is simple, and made of wood. If it turns into a woman, what will I do to earn a living?"

Rama willingly obliged, washed his feet and stepped into the boat. Sumant took their leave at this stage, and the three crossed the river. When they reached the other side, Rama was distraught since he had no means to repay the boatman. The boatman stated that simply giving him the opportunity to serve Rama was payment enough.

It needs to be remembered that the Ramayana was written by various people, and the two most prominent versions are by Valmiki and by Tulsidas. Valmiki wrote of Rama as a human being and a ruler much loved by his people, while Tulsidas wrote of him as a God, to be worshiped.

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