This is a story from the Valmiki Ramayana.
Dasaratha, who was the emperor of Kosala, died a painful death separated from his four sons- Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna. It is indeed ironic that a powerful emperor who had not one, but four valiant, handsome and righteous sons, did not have even one of them near him, while he passed away.
On the sixth night after Rama left Ayodhya, the devastated King Dasaratha could not have a wink of sleep. It was past midnight and the King lay wide awake, his heart full of grief at the injustice he had done to his beloved Rama. His mind was looking back at all the events in his life and he suddenly remembered this incident. He asked Kausalya to come nearer and started narrating the incident to her.Dasaratha said, “When a person does good things, he reaps good things and the same way, when he does bad things, he reaps its effect. By the time one realises this principle, it is too late to make amends. I am also a victim of this cycle and I want to relate to you an incident which happened when I was a young prince.” Dasaratha then shared his story with Kausalya.
When Dasaratha was a young prince, he was a master archer and had learnt a difficult technique in archery by name “Shabdavedi”. By mastering Shabdavedi, he could, by listening to the sound made by any animal, kill it with his arrow aimed from a distance. Dasaratha was very proud of his achievement and it helped him in his hunting.
One day during the rainy season, Dasaratha went to the banks of the Sarayu, to hunt. It was raining and it was exciting for him to hunt in the rain. As he stood near the Sarayu, he could hear the noise made by an elephant drinking water with its trunk. Since Dasaratha was well versed in Shabdavedi, he shot an arrow in the direction from which the sound came. After a moment, much to the dismay of Dasaratha, a human voice cried in pain and someone said, “Who has done me to death? Why should I be hunted like an animal? Who is this shameless man who has done this heinous crime?” A horrified Dasaratha rushed to the spot to see a young man lying along the banks of the river, with mud and blood smeared on his body. Beside him was a pot half filled with water.
Dasaratha at once realised the grave mistake he had committed. He had mistaken the sound of the pot being filled up with the river water to be that of an elephant drinking water. The young man looked at Dasaratha and said, “You are a prince! And yet, you have hunted me like an animal? I was going to carry water to my old parents who are both blind. They are totally dependent on me and now you have hunted me, who was their only support….” Shravan Kumar, the young man, was now speaking with great difficulty due to the pain he was suffering on account of the arrow which was embedded on his chest. He continued, “My parents will be helpless without me and they do not even know that I am dying.” Shravan stopped talking, writhing in pain. Dasaratha, overcome with emotion, fell at the feet of the young man pleading with him to be forgiven.
The man could not be pacified and after a while, told Dasaratha to take the pot full of water to his parents who were waiting with thirst at the ashrama which was some distance away from the river. He also said, “O Prince! Please tell my father what you have done and please ask for forgiveness as he may curse you in his anger. Please also remove this arrow from my chest so that I may die in peace.” A reluctant Dasaratha obeyed Shravan and removed the arrow from his chest after which Shravan died almost immediately. Then, with a heavy heart, he proceeded to the ashrama with the pot of water in his hands.
The old couple were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their son at the doorway of the ashrama. Hearing Dasaratha’s footsteps, they were impatient as their son had gone a long time back to fetch them water. So, mistaking Dasaratha for Shravan, they called out to him in endearing words to give them water without delay.
Dasaratha, mustering enough courage, broke the tragic news to them. The couple were shocked beyond words. After a long moment of silence, Shravan’s father spoke, “If you hadn’t admitted your guilt, my anger would have caused your head to explode. Lead us to our son.”
Dasaratha witnessed heart-rending scenes as the couple mourned their son and performed his last rites. Still unable to reconcile with what had happened, Shravan’s father turned to Dasaratha and cursed him, “I’m suffering the pain of separation from my son on account of your thoughtless action! I CURSE YOU THEREFORE TO SUFFER A DEATH SIMILAR TO MINE! YOU WILL DIE WHEN YOUR SON IS SEPERATED FROM YOU!!” Saying thus, the couple entered the fire which had been created for the last rites of their son.
As he ended the story, Dasaratha’s eyes were flowing with tears. Kausalya too wept as she was too stunned to react. Dasaratha lay,lamenting his fate, and his life ebbed out that tragic night. The Sun of the Ikshwaku clan had set.
This is the story of The Curse On Dasaratha.