Princess of the Kekaya kingdom, Kaikeyi knows from early childhood that she has no value in a world of men. She is “but a dowry of fifty fine horses”, destined not to rule, but to be wife and mother in a world where both queens and mothers are expendable and replaceable. Denied a structured education, ignored and unseen, Kaikeyi blames the sages for her unequal world: “The sages had made it clear: it was the gods’ will that women should be left to tasks more suited to them to keep our fragile bodies and delicate minds safe.”
The choice is a luxury that women of Kaikeyi’s Bharat do not have. Her only valid role is to make a good political alliance for her father’s kingdom, a duty she fulfils when she marries Dasharath, the King of Ayodhya, to be his third wife, the one he hopes would finally bear him an heir. Women in this world exist only in relation to men.
She learns how to wield weapons and to ride a chariot, and goes into battle with her husband as his charioteer, saving his life, slaying his enemy, and winning two “boons” from him. As queen, she makes interventions and initiates what comes to be known as the Women’s Council, working outside of the political system, attempting to provide redressal, support and opportunities to women.
(Excerpt from the review by Saloni Sharma of “Kaikeyi”, the ‘evil’ queen in the epic Ramayana, from the newly released book authored by Vaishnavi Patel.)