Birth of Kaikeyi
For many years, Ashwapati, the king of the Kekaya Kingdom did not have any children. He confided in his father and together they sought the guidance of the royal priest, who advised them to serve the sages living in Rishi Varsha, which was surrounded by Aryavartha or Aryavarsha and Sthreevarsha.
Ashwapati and his father went to Rishi Varsha and diligently served the sages there. Among them one of the sages was pleased with their service and prayed to Lord Surya to bless Ashwapati with children. The Sun God appeared before them and blessed Ashwapati with a son and a daughter.
Soon after, Ashwapati’s wife could conceive and gave birth to twins, the boy was named Yudhajit and the girl was called Kaikeyi. They became the prince and princess of the Kekaya Kingdom.
Early Life of Kaikeyi
The only sister to seven brothers, Kaikeyi was raised with no maternal influence in her childhood home. Ashwapati had banished his wife because of a boon, which allowed him to comprehend the language of birds. However, this came with a caution that if he ever revealed the content of bird- speak to anyone, even his own mother, that he would lose his life. One day, Ashwapati along with his queen were taking a stroll in the garden when he heard an amusing conversation between a pair of swans, which made him let out a hearty laugh. Intrigued by his sudden mirth, the queen persisted to know what the conversation was about. She knew the danger that she was putting the king in by her constant persistence and when Ashwapati realized that his wife cared little for his life or well being, he banished her to her parents' home.
At a young age, Kaikeya was separated from her mother and was thus raised by her wet nurse, Manthara, who accompanied her to Ayodhya as a trusted maid upon her marriage to Dasharatha. Manthara was a cunning and manipulative woman, who schemed constantly to further her own position at the Court. And since her position depended on Kaikeyi's status at Court, Manthara lost no opportunity to feed young Kaikeyi's insecurity and jealousy of Kausalya, who was Dasharatha's first wife.
Dasharatha had married Kaikeyi when his first wife, Kausalya could not bear children and when Kaikeyi also could not, he married Sumitra, the princess of Kashi, but she too remained barren for many years. But the curse was lifted when the three queens produced sons, Kausalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata and Sumitra gave birth to the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughna.
Boons of Kaikeyi
Once, King Dasharatha had to go for a military campaign against Sambarasura, who was a mutual enemy of both Lord Indra and Dasharatha. Manthara managed to convince him to take Kaikeyi along with him as a charioteer.
During a ferocious battle between the two armies, Dasharatha’s chariot broke and Sambarasura’s arrow pierced the armour and lodged in his chest. He got seriously injured and Kaikeyi quickly came to his aid. She repaired the broken wheel and drove the chariot away from the combat zone. Touched by her courage and quick response, the king offered her two boons.
Several years rolled by and Kaikeyi never demanded the two boons granted to her. It was when Kausalya’s son Rama was set to be crowned king, Manthara’s years of sowing the seeds of discord in Kaikeyi’s heart finally reared its ugly head. She fuelled Kaikeyi’s insecurity by telling that the throne was supposed to be Bharata’s birthright and if Rama became king, she would lose her status in Court. Kaikeyi thus demanded the two boons from Dashratha, the first one being, crowning her son Bharata as the king and the second one was to exile Rama for 14 years.
Dasharatha was heartbroken and even tried to reason with the queen but eventually had to oblige and grant her the two boons. After exiling Rama, a grief stricken Dasharatha died soon after within 6 days and everyone at court blamed Kaikeyi for the king’s death. Bharata refused to be crowned as the king of Ayodhya and refused to call Kaikeyi his mother.
Burdened with guilt and self pity, Kaikeyi soon realised her mistake and repented sending her most beloved son away for 14 years. After Rama's return, she apologized to him for her sins.