There are innumerable Vaikuntha planets, and in each planet there is a predominating deity who is an expansion of Vishnu. He has three expansions, and then there are the quadruple expansions, and then there are servants and devotees. In this way the Vaikuntha planets are full of activity. The top of Vaikuntha, before one reaches Goloka, the gateway to Goloka is Ayodhya. In Ayodhya is Lord Sri Rama, and Laxmana, Bharata, Satrughna, Sumantra, Dashratha, Kaushalya, all these characters we find in Ramayana are eternal citizens of this Ayodhya.
Shri Rama Avatar
And from this planet Lord Rama expands into His Rama-avatar, through milk ocean Vishnu, Ksirodakasayi Vishnu. In every Treta-yuga there is Rama-avatar. One may think, "Oh that must be boring. Every time the same activity." But it is never boring. How many times have we heard these Ramayana stories, but still when someone is reading Ramayana, everyone comes. To hear is not boring, so to experience it can't be boring at all. That is the proof. Ramayana has been heard generations and generations. In all countries. In Indonesia they have their Ramayana. In Malaysia they have their Ramayana. In Thailand, even in Jamaica and Africa. Just a little bit different for every culture. Indonesian Ravana is a big crocodile, and they carry him on sticks. In Bangkok, Thailand all the roads are names Rama 1, Rama 2, Rama 5 etc. So the purpose of the avatar is described in Brahma-samhita:
lilayatena bhuvanani jayaty ajasram
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami.
Dashratha's desire for a childRama appeared in the Iksvaku dynasty. He is known as Iksvaku Kuladhana. Kula means "dynasty" and dhana means "property" or "valuable jewel." So he is the jewel of the Iksvaku dynasty. Dashratha was known as such because he could fight in ten directions simultaneously. Dashratha was such a great fighter that sometimes Indra would summon for him when there was a fight with the demons. So Dashratha would go to the heavenly planets and fight with the demons. And these demons were so expert with maya, they would create darkness, expand into various forms etc. So Dashratha would fight in ten directions, and when you looked at his ratha, his chariot, it would look as though there were ten kings and ten chariots fighting simultaneously. Dasa means "ten" and ratha means "chariot". That is how he got the name Dashratha. So Dashratha was famous for fighting for demigods and righteous kings. And he married Kaushalya. From Kaushalya, only one daughter was born. She was named Shanti, or "peace." But Dashratha had no peace, because he only had one daughter, and that daughter would only get married and go to another dynasty. The Vedic system is that when a woman marries, she belongs to the husband's gotra or family line. So if Shanti married to another dynasty, she would belong to it. What about the Iksvaku dynasty? Dashratha was so worried. Then he married Sumitra. At least Kaushalya had a daughter, but Sumitra had no child. Then Dashratha was getting old. He gave up the idea of producing dynasties. As he was getting older he saw that some less powerful kings were doing small yajnas, so he did big yajnas.
They were trying to get their name known, because once Dashratha died Kosala would be broken. The kingdom of Kosala started all the way from what they now call the Dalai lama's line. From up in the north, in Tibet, all the way down to the river Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. So this was Kosala, practically it was the whole of India, not the democratic India but the Vedic India. So he was very worried that this kingdom will be broken to pieces and some small-timers will become emperors. Then Vasistha advised him to go to Kaikeya. This kingdom was right on the border of Afghanistan. They now call it the Sind region. Kaikeyi was the only daughter of the king of Kaikeya. The king's name was also Kaikeya. And when Dashratha came for marriage negotiation, Kaikeya told him, "You have two queens, and they both have no children. Now you will marry my daughter, but what will happen to her if the other wives have children?" Dashratha replied, "I don't think they will have children because they have had none up to now.
Dashratha's promise to father of Kaikeyi
I am also getting old. They're not going to get any child. Only Kaikeyi will get a child." So Kaikeya said, "That's all right, but you must give this in writing." There is a system in the ksatriya marriage known as kanya-sulka. Sulka means "will". When you accept a virgin in marriage, you must give in writing what properties she will enjoy as your wife if you are a ksatriya. This is kanya-sulka, the "will of dowry." So Dashratha wrote kanya-sulka. He said, "Whoever is born to Kaikeyi will enjoy my kingdom, even if my other wives produce children later." This kanya-sulka was known to three people. Of course, now we all know it, but at that time only three people knew it. Vasistha knew it,Dashratha knew it, and Kaikeya knew it. It was kept a secret, because otherwise they would blame Dashratha, "What is this? He is giving the kingdom to a younger woman." So this kanya-sulka was kept secret. But at the time of the marriage, due to great attachment, Kaikeya told his daughter this secret, that whoever is your son will rule this kingdom. Kaikeyi kept this at heart. Once Vasistha advised Dashratha to perform asvamedha-yajna. He was telling him, "If you perform asvamedha-yajna, then all the demigods will personally come to accept the oblations." There are two kinds of offering oblations to the yajna. One is that Agni will take the oblations and offer it to the different destinations. Another is that the devas will personally come in the sacrificial arena. They will stand in the sky holding their hands open, and when you offer in their name in the fire then the harvest will get up from the fire and go into their hands. And they will eat it right there in front of everyone,.
These types of sacrifices are considered first-class, because the devas have come in person. So Dashratha should perform asvamedha, and all the devas will come. And then Dashratha will tell them, "You have your kingdom only because of my fighting. So why don't you continue my dynasty and give me blessings that I can get some son?" That was the plan. There was a big arrangement for asvamedha-yajna, and wherever Dashratha's horse went, no-one objected. Asvamedha-yajna means that you have to select a horse with certain lakshanas or qualities. The ears have to be a certain way, the nose a certain way. There has to be a black part behind the tail. The hooves have to be a certain shape, 35 degrees bent. There is a whole description in karma-khanda. So you have to find out that horse, and after finding it you have to tie a golden leaf on his head. There it will be written, "This horse belongs to King Dashratha. He will perform asvamedha-yajna, so everyone should donate liberally. And whoever stops this horse will have to meet the army of King Dashratha." So this horse will go around the whole world, and if any king dares to stop the horse there will be one army which is following about 100 metres behind the horse. They will have to meet that army. This army would consist of the best fighters in the army, all the generals, and if one can defeat that then more army would be sent. In this way the challenger would have to fight and prove that he is the emperor. So asvamedha-yajna was already started, and then when the yajna was going on, Sumantra (the minister of Dashratha) came to Dashratha and said, "I remember one incident when Sanat-kumara came to our assembly, when you were a prince." At that time Dashratha was not married, and Sanat-kumara was visiting Dashratha's father, Aja.
Predictions of Sanath Kumaras
Sanath-kumara made some predictions. "Maharaja Dashratha will become very famous throughout the three worlds, and he will perform a putra-kamesti yajna, a sacrifice for getting a son. So in this sacrifice, the yajna-purusha, the personification of fire, will come there and give him some sweet rice. And out of this sweet rice Dashratha will get the Supreme Lord as his sons." This was predicted by Sanat-kumara. At that time Dashratha was just an unmarried prince, a brahmacari. So Sumantra was a very old man and he suddenly remembered this. He came to Dashratha and said, "You are doing asvamedha for getting a son, but Sanat-kumara told you that you should do putra-kamesti." So then there was confusion over which yajna should be performed. In Treta-yuga everything was yajna. For material benefits, for spiritual realization, for anything tretayam yajato makhaih. Makha means "yajna". Now Dashratha got confused. So he went to Vasistha's house and prostrated himself before him. "Guru maharaja, we have spent 60% of the treasury, and now we come to know that this is not the proper yajna, that there is another yajna. How am I supposed to do this?" So then Vasistha said, "Oh yes, I remember too now. Sanat-kumara said this. It is not a very expensive yajna, but the purohit, the priest who performs the yajna must be a very special person. That is the difficulty. That person must have not seen a woman until the time of his marriage. He should not have even known what a woman is. Such a great personality must perform the yajna. Then only can the putra-kamesti be performed with the purnahoti and we will get a son." Then Dashratha said, "You must tell me where this person is." Vasistha was a walking encyclopedia, because he had been there three lifetimes with the same remembrance. There is no-one in this world who knows better than Vasistha. So Vasistha said, "Yes, there is a person like that." Dashratha said, "Who is this person? He has never seen a woman or known what a woman is until marriage? At least he must have known about his mother! What kind of a person is he, that he has never heard of a woman yet he has taken birth?"
Pictorial representation of Bal Kand