What was the age of Rama at the time of being sent on the 14 year exile into the forest, Vanavasa?
We have already mentioned in our work that the age of Rama was 25 when He went on Vanavasa, exile. Then why this question here?
There is ambiguity in the minds of a few, about Rama’s age at the time of exile.
Some scholars have opined that He was around 17 years of age. In order to amply clarify that His age was indeed 25, we address the reasoning for the ambiguity.
The notion of 17 years for Rama comes from a verse in the Aranya Kanda uttered by Kausalya after she hears the news of Rama’s exile.
Kausalya laments to Rama how she has never seen happiness as she has always been overlooked by King Dasaratha, in favour of Queen Kaikeyi. She cries how she was waiting for the day when Rama would become King so that her troubles would be over and she could walk with her head held high.
The meaning of this verse is,
dasha saptacha varshani – seventeen years
tava jatasya – after your birth
raghava – Raghava, another name for Rama
asitani – sitting down, waiting, lying low
prakankshantya – with the hope of
Maya – by me
dukha – Troubles
parikshayam – Disappear
Significance of “Birth”
Here, a few have taken the word jatasya’s literal meaning, namely “birth” and thereby have gone on to assert that Rama was 17 years of age when He was asked to go on exile into the forest.
Most scholars however have explained that this term Jatasya, should be taken to mean the event of thread ceremony, Yagnopavitham, Upanayanam and not physical birth. For, the yagnopavitham ceremony itself is clearly related with second birth, knowledge birth, of a person. This is also popularly referred to as becoming a Dvija meaning twice born.
Those who undergo the thread ceremony, Upanayana, are considered to have been twice born, Dvija. This ceremony was not restricted to Brahmins alone as is popularly believed. Typically it is performed when a child is between 7 and 8 years of age.
It is but natural that Kausalya as a mother would have eagerly waited from the day of Rama’s Upanayana, His second birth, for Him to acquire necessary skills and ascend the throne.
From this perspective, we can see that Rama was 25 years old on the eve of the coronation from 8 years at the time of Upanayana + 17 years of Kausalya’s wait.
One of the prominent scholars to have voiced this explanation is the distinguished scholar, Vidwan N.Ranganatha Sharma from Karnataka , who has translated the Valmiki Ramayana into Kannada, published as 8 volumes.
Vidwan N.Ranganatha Sharma himself quotes yet another predecessor and prominent scholar, Vidwan Narayanadhwari and his work Sri Ramotsva Ratnakara as reference.
All this goes to show that this is not a recent explanation of convenience but a well accepted interpretation of Kausalya’s lament, over years.
A tighter corroboration comes from a verse in the Aranya Kanda.
While on exile in the Dandaka forest, Surpanaka’s proposal of love is spurned by Rama and Lakshmana. The insulted Surpanaka beseeches her brother Ravana to seek revenge since the brothers Khar and Dushan, who had responded to her request, had been vanquished by Rama.
Ravana approaches Mareecha, from his clan and asks him for help in avenging Surpanaka’s insult. Mareecha then recounts to Ravana how he had suffered defeat at the hands of Rama even when Rama was a boy.
Mareecha narrates how when he was terrorizing and disturbing the Yagna of Rishi Vishwamitra, the Rishi had approached King Dasaratha for help. Rishi Vishwamitra had asked King Dasaratha to send Rama with him to the forest to safeguard the Rishi.
Mareecha describes how King Dasaratha offered the help of his army instead of agreeing to send Rama. Mareecha quotes Dasaratha in this verse.
balo dvadasha varsho – boy who is twelve years of age
ayam – this, boy in this case
a krita astrah cha – not proficient with weapons too
Raghavaha – Rama
Kamam tu – if desired, if need be
mama yat sainyam – whatever army is there of mine
maya saha gamishyati – will come along with me
Here, King Dasaratha himself is saying that Rama was 12 years old when Vishwamitra seeks to take Him to the forest.
King Dasaratha finally concedes and sends Rama to the forest with Rishi Vishwamitra. After vanquishing the Rakshasa who were disturbing the Rishi, Rama was then taken by Rishi Vishwamitra to Mithila, King Janaka’s kingdom, where Sita’s Swayamvara contest was being held.
Rama wins Sita’s hand in marriage at this Swayamvara contest.
Thus when Rama married Sita, He was 12 years old.
Some cite the Bala Kanda verse which is a dialogue between Dasaratha and Rishi Vishwamitra, to say that Rama was not 12 but 16 years old when He went with Rishi Vishwamitra.
When Vishwamitra seeks to take Rama with him to the forest to safeguard the Rishi from the Rakshasa, Dasaratha says,
The phrase “una shodasa varshah” means under 16 years of age.
This has led to the assumption that Rama was just about 16 during this incident.
However, given the quote in Aranya Kanda of Mareecha where he explicitly says that Rama was only 12 years old, this statement of “under 16” does not seem in anyway to violate Mareecha’s statement.
One may question then why did Dasaratha use the phrase “under 16 years of age”.
Here we have to look into the context of the conversation. It is about going to war with the Rakshasa. It was a norm that until one was 16 one was not considered proficient and physically fit to go into war.
This would have caused Dasaratha to cite 16 years, saying that Rama’s age then of ‘under 16’ defied the norm. It is much like how we group children as under 16 in sports or other contests.
One can therefore with fair amount of certainty state that Rama’s age was 12 when He went with Rishi Viswamitra into the forest and when He married Sita.
Further reason to accord 12 years to Rama at the time of going to the forest with Valmiki and 25 years at the time of going on exile with Sita, comes in the form of Sita’s statement much later.
Sita’s Confirmation of Rama’s Age
Sita too confirms this age of Rama and herself when Ravana in the guise of a hermit comes to her dwelling in the Dandaka forest to abduct her.
In response to Ravana’s query as to who she was, Sita narrates as to how she was the daughter of Janaka, how she was married to Rama, how she lived in Ayodhya for 12 years after marriage, how in the 13th year of her marriage, her husband Rama was sent on exile just as He was to be coronated.
mama bharta mahateja – my husband, the great resplendent
vayasa pancha vimshakah – of age five and twenty i.e.twenty-five years
ashta dasha hi varshani – eight and ten, i.e. eighteen, years only
mama janmani – from my birth
ganyate – it added up to
Valmiki Ramayana, Sloka 3-47-10b, 11a
Sita here, clearly says that Rama was 25 years old and she was just 18 when they left on exile into the forest. Along with her statement that she and Rama had lived in the Ayodhya palace for 12 years after their marriage, it also leads to the conclusion that Sita was around 6 years old when she married Rama.
These verses from the Ramayana appearing at different instances and different contexts but corroborating each other clearly place the age of Rama at the time of exile into the forest as 25 years. The dates arrived at using Archaeo-Astronomy are in compliance with this elapse time too.