Kaikeyi’s confidence that the throne would pass to her son, though unusual, could have two reasons: as she declares above, the dharma that governs kingship in Ayodhya determines that, in time, Bharata too would be king. But the other reason seems more compelling.

When Dasharatha asked for Kaikeyi’s hand in marriage, her father gave his permission on one condition. Seeing that Dasharatha was much older than his daughter and knowing that he had at least one other wife, Ashvapati asked that Kaikeyi’s son succeed Dasharatha as ruler of Kosala. Dasharatha agreed and his marriage to Kaikeyi was solemnised.

With all this behind her, we could argue that Kaikeyi was entirely justified in her demand that Bharata be made king, even without the boons that she had up her sleeve. She could simply have reminded Dasharatha of the promise he had made to her father. But there is a further argument from dharma that justifies Kaikeyi’s behaviour. Kaikeyi was, in fact, fulfilling her dharma as a mother by attempting to secure her son’s future in a royal family that had three other contenders to kingship.

We are used to seeing Kaikeyi as the villain of Rama’s story, persuaded that her greed for power is what led...

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