To add to the joy of wedding, King Dasharath announced that Ram, his eldest son, would succeed him to the throne of Ayodhya. Everyone, including the queens, the ministers, and the citizens of Ayodhya were overjoyed with this news. The auspicious day for this noble ceremony was decided accordingly.
Manthara provokes Kaikeyi:
But there was a corner in the palace where this news caused a different reaction. Instead of joy and merriment, the chamber of queen Kaikeyi was tense. The maid-servant of queen Kaikeyi -- Manthara by name - was trying to convince the queen how great injustice had been done to her and her son -- Bharat. Instead of Ram, her son was the right successor to the throne.
Queen Kaikeyi was puzzled. Her love for Ram and Bharat knew no distinction; to her, her own son Bharat and Ram were equal. In fact, she was overjoyed that Ram would be the next king and Bharat would get opportunity to serve his elder brother. She thought Ram to be the proper choice because of his decent character, nobility, intelligence, bravery, and also because Ram was the son of the eldest queen.
Reflecting thus, the queen said to her maid, "O Manthara, why raise this unnecessary controversy on this auspicious and opportune time? Are you not aware of my immense and equal love for both Ram and Bharat? Moreover, Bharat also has no objection and is loyal to Ram."
But Manthara was in a different mood. Boldly she replied, "O honorable queen, pardon me for crossing my limits of modesty, but I must say what I feel to be just and correct towards my Lady and her son Bharat. If Ram becomes the king, your son Bharat would never get an opportunity to occupy the cherished throne of Ayodhya. As a mother, should you not help him fulfill his ambition? And have you forgotten the past two boons the king - your husband - Dasharath has conferred upon you!"
The Story of Two Boons
Manthara was correct in reminding Kaikeyi about the two boons king Dasharath had promised to her in the past. The circumstances were as follows:
Once in his youth, king Dasharath was engaged in a ferocious battle with a powerful enemy. Queen Kaikeyi, who was young, brave, and very bold had insisted to accompany her husband in this battle. Both, the king and the queen, were in the same chariot when a major breakdown occurred as one wheel of their chariot got damaged.
As such, life of the king was in great peril and danger. But the bold and brave queen was quick to throw her life for her husband's safety. She managed to control the chariot and supported the wheel with her arm! Her arm was bleeding and there was intense pain, but she endured it. Her presence of mind and sacrifice resulted in not only saving the life of her husband but also his winning the battle.
So pleased was the king with Kaikeyi that he said, "O my beloved, today you have not only saved my life but also have set an example of bravery and presence of mind on the battle field. You have shown that women are not inferior in any way in the matter of bravery and sacrifice. I grant you two boons; ask for any two things or desires and I will fulfill the same for you. Whatever you shall ask I will give it to you. I promise."
With due regards for her husband, the queen told that she would seek her boons later in her life if and when she required anything. And King Dasharath had agreed to this condition.
Thus, Manthara reminded the queen of those almost forgotten promises the king had made to her. She told the queen it was the most opportune time to claim those two promises NOW. And without any delay also suggested what should Kaikeyi demand:
The weakness of human nature is very nicely described in the original text. How a small ambition and love for the son takes control of the mind of Kaikeyi that leads to major upheaval later in her own life, and in the lives of her near and dear ones. She would become a widow! As the tragic separation from his most loved son Ram was sure to take the life-force away from the heart of the king Dasharath.
We must remember the first episode -- story of Shravan -- where the old father of dying Shravan, mortally wounded by the arrow of the king, had put the curse on Dasharath: "I send a curse to you, O king, that you shall also die experiencing the pain and suffering of separation from your son."