Journey to the Sea

an online magazine devoted to the study of myth

Song of Kaikeyi

By Randy Hoyt

The Ramayana, an ancient epic poem, is one of the great mythological and spiritual works of India. It has had a profound impact on literature and culture throughout India and around the world; it still holds an important place in the Hindu canon today. The great stories from the Ramayana — Rama’s exile, the abduction of his wife Sita, his alliance with the monkey army, and the battle in Lanka — begin when King Dasaratha relunctantly grants Kaikeyi’s wish, fulfilling a promise he made to her long before the opening of the Ramayana. Kaikeyi describes, late in the Ramayana, her acts of bravery and courage that prompted Dasaratha’s promise.

My poem Song of Kaikeyi recasts the essence of her tale into epic verse, with small expansions and minor modifications to details. It was published in The Mythic Circle 30 and republished here with an audio version I recorded.

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The Demons with their fortresses on high
Looked down from there with jealously and rage.
Conspiring how to inflict their wrath on Men.
They locked the heavens, pushed away the clouds,
Consuming fields and flocks in stifling drought,
Destroying joy and hope throughout the land.

Stirred up by hunger, thirst, and fear the Men
Decided it was time to take a stand.
A massive force came from the neighboring towns
From Sindh, Kekaya, Mithila, and more,
Fully arrayed across the parched plain
To rally around the standard of the King.

Assembled thus they implored the Gods for aide,
To join their side and fight with them for rain.
Their prayer was heard and answered and came forth
The mighty Indra, warrior of the Gods
For battle armed from his heavenly throne
With all the heavenly host following behind.

Dasaratha the first-born of the King
Among all Men most fearless, brave, and strong
(After this war a mighty king he’d make)
Arrayed himself with armor made of bronze
Received by his ancestors from the Gods
And gathered up his arrows, bow, and spear.

A girl inside his chariot he found
With hands upon the reins, prepared for war
She’d stowed away with men from Kekaya
Though young already beautiful and strong
In shimmering armor woven of green silk
She was Kaikeyi the princess nine years old.

She drove the chariot to the sky with skill
And mastery over those horses fiery red
From steady car Dasaratha let fly
His arrows that struck down the enemy hoardes
With javelin, with arrow, sword, and spear
The Demons tried but failed to harm these two.

A star fell from the heavens which they caught
And hurled it at the car, knocked loose a wheel
And brought great pain upon that mighty lord
Kaikeyi caught him, rescued him from death
With one hand kept the chariot upright
Retreating from the fray safely to land.

She bandanged up his wounds, stayed by his side
Night after night and nursed him back to health.
On waking he proposed and she agreed.
The future couple embraced. He granted her
Two of her heart’s desires knowing not
Years later those desires would cause his death.