Kaikeyi stood resolute in her chariot near the clearing along the line of bushes, her demeanour admirably calm. As her father’s horse drew near, she reached across and dragged Dashrath’s prone body into the chariot. She didn’t turn to look at her father, who had also been pierced by many arrows. She picked up the reins and whipped the four horses tethered to her chariot.

‘Hyaah!’ screamed Kaikeyi, as she charged into the bushes. Thorns tore mercilessly into the sides of the horses, ripping skin and even some flesh off the hapless animals. But Kaikeyi only kept whipping them harder and harder. Bloodied and tired, the horses soon broke through to the other side, onto clear land.

Kaikeyi finally pulled the reins and looked back. Riding furiously on the other side of the field of thorns, her father and his bodyguards were being chased by a group of mounted soldiers from Raavan’s army. Kaikeyi understood immediately what her father was trying to do. He was leading Raavan’s soldiers away from her.

The sun had nearly reached its zenith now. It was close to midday.

Kaikeyi cursed. Damn you, Lord Surya! How could you allow this to happen to your most fervent devotee?

She kneeled beside her unconscious husband, ripped off a large piece of her angvastram, and tied it firmly around a deep wound on his chest, which was losing blood at an alarming rate. Having staunched the blood flow somewhat, she stood and picked up the reins. She desperately wanted to cry but this was not the time. She had to save her husband first. She needed her wits about her.

She looked at the horses. Blood was pouring down their sides in torrents, and specks of flesh hung limply where the skin had been ripped off. They were panting frantically, exhausted by the effort of having pulled the chariot through the dense field of thorns. But she couldn’t allow them any respite. Not yet.

‘Forgive me,’ whispered Kaikeyi, as she raised her whip.

The leather hummed through the air and lashed the horses cruelly. Neighing for mercy, they refused to move. Kaikeyi cracked her whip again and the horses edged forward.

‘MOVE!’ screamed Kaikeyi as she whipped the horses ruthlessly, again and again, forcing them to pick up a desperate but fearsome momentum.

She had to save her husband.

Suddenly an arrow whizzed past her and crashed into the front board of the chariot with frightening intensity. Kaikeyi spun around in alarm. One of Raavan’s cavalrymen had broken off from his group and was in pursuit.

Kaikeyi turned back and whipped her horses harder. ‘FASTER! FASTER!’

Even as she whipped her horses into delirious frenzy, Kaikeyi had the presence of mind to shift slightly and use her body to shield her husband.

Even Raavans demons would be chivalrous enough not to attack an unarmed woman.

She was wrong.

She heard the arrow’s threatening hum before it slammed into her back with vicious force. Its shock was so massive that it threw her forward as her head flung back. Her eyes beheld the sky as Kaikeyi screamed in agony. But she recovered immediately, the adrenaline pumping furiously through her body, compelling her to focus.

‘FASTER!’ she screamed, as she whipped the horses ferociously.

Another arrow whizzed by her ears, missing the back of her head by a tiny whisker. Kaikeyi cast a quick look at her husband’s immobile body bouncing furiously as the chariot tore through the uneven countryside.


She heard another arrow approach, and within a flash it slammed into her right hand, slicing through the forefinger cleanly; it bounced away like a pebble thrown to the side. The whip fell from her suddenly-loosened grip. Her mind was ready for further injuries now, her body equipped for pain. She didn’t scream. She didn’t cry.

She bent quickly and picked up the whip with her left hand, transferring the reins to her bloodied right hand. She resumed the whipping with mechanical precision.


She heard the dreaded whizz of another arrow. She steeled herself for another hit; instead, she now heard a scream of agony from behind her. A quick side glance revealed her injured foe; the arrow had buried itself deep into his right eye. What she also perceived was a band of horsemen moving in; her father and his faithful bodyguards. A flurry of arrows ensured that the Lankan attacker toppled off his animal, even as his leg got entangled in the stirrup. Raavan’s soldier was dragged for many metres by his still galloping horse, his head smashing repeatedly against the rocks strewn on the path.

Kaikeyi looked ahead once again. She did not have the time to savour the brutal death of the man who’d injured her. Dashrath must be saved.

The rhythmic whipping continued ceaselessly.



Nilanjana was patting the baby’s back insistently. He still wasn’t breathing.

‘Come on! Breathe!’

Kaushalya watched anxiously as she lay exhausted from the abnormally long labour. She tried to prop herself up on her elbows. ‘What’s wrong? What’s the matter with my boy?’

‘Get the queen to rest, will you?’ Nilanjana admonished the attendant who was peering over her shoulder.

Rushing over, the attendant put her hand on the queen’s shoulder and attempted to coax her to lie down. A severely weakened Kaushalya, however, refused to submit. ‘Give him to me!’

‘Your Highness...’ whispered Nilanjana as tears welled up in her eyes.

‘Give him to me!’

‘I don’t think that...’


Nilanjana hurried over to her side and placed the lifeless baby next to Kaushalya. The queen held her motionless son close to her bosom. Almost instantly the baby moved and intuitively gripped Kaushalya’s long hair.

‘Ram!’ said Kaushalya loudly.

With a loud and vigorous cry, Ram sucked in his first breath in this, his current worldly life.

‘Ram!’ cried Kaushalya once again, as tears streamed down her cheeks.

Ram continued to bawl with robust gusto, holding on to his mother’s hair as firmly as his tiny hands would permit. He opened his mouth and suckled reflexively.

Nilanjana felt as if a dam had burst and began to bawl like a child. Her mistress had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. The prince had been born!

Despite her evident delirium, Nilanjana did not forget her training. She looked to the far corner of the room at the prahar lamp to record the exact time of birth. She knew that the royal astrologer would need that information.

She held her breath as she noticed the time.

Lord Rudra, be merciful!

It was exactly midday.


‘What does this mean?’ asked Nilanjana.

The astrologer sat still.

The sun was poised to sink into the horizon and both Kaushalya and Ram were sound asleep. Nilanjana had finally walked into the chamber of the royal astrologer to discuss Ram’s future.

‘You’d said that if he was born before midday then history would remember him as one of the greatest,’ said Nilanjana. ‘And that if he was born after midday, he’d suffer misfortune and not know personal happiness.’

‘Are you sure he was born exactly at midday?’ asked the astrologer. ‘Not before? Not after?’

‘Of course I’m sure! Exactly at noon.’

The astrologer inhaled deeply and became contemplative once again.

‘What does this mean?’ asked Nilanjana. ‘What will his future be like? Will he be great or will he suffer misfortune?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you mean you don’t know?’

‘I mean I don’t know!’ said the astrologer, unable to contain his irritation.

Nilanjana looked out of the window, towards the exquisite royal gardens that rolled endlessly over many acres. The palace was perched atop a hill which also was the highest point in Ayodhya. As she gazed vacantly at the waters beyond the city walls, she knew what needed to be done. It was really up to her to record the time of birth, and she didn’t have to record it as midday. How would anyone be any the wiser? She’d made her decision: Ram was born a minute before midday.

She turned to the astrologer. ‘You will remain quiet about the actual time of birth.’

She needn’t have exercised any caution. The astrologer, who also belonged to Kaushalya’s parental kingdom, didn’t need any convincing. His loyalties were as clear as Nilanjana’s.

‘Of course.’

Excerpted with permission from The Scion of Ikshvaku, Amish, Westland.