Over the next twelve years, Rama and Sita live happily in Ayodhya. Rama increases in his virtue and wisdom; he has a deep understanding of every person he meets, and moves among his people as an equal. He is the master of his anger, and only remembers the good that others do for him. Rama's relationship with Sita is one of devotion and tenderness.
Their joy is increased when King Dasaratha decides to name Rama as his heir apparent. Dasaratha is growing older, and he wants the joy of seeing his beloved son ascend the throne. All the ministers and citizens unanimously cheer this decision, and the king begins the preparations for the ceremony. Rama and Sita begin the ritual purifications, fasting and cleansing themselves.
But at the same time as this joyous occasion is being planned, Queen Kaikeyi's mind is poisoned. The youngest wife of King Dasaratha, she loves Rama just as everyone else in the kingdom does. However, her old maid Manthara hates Rama, and decides to convince Kaikeyi that horrible things will happen if Rama is crowned. Manthara says that Rama will advance the interests of his own mother, Kausalya, and may even kill Kaikeyi and her son Bharata. If Kaikeyi wants to protect her child, she must make sure that Rama never becomes the heir apparent. Kaikeyi is terrified at the thought, and Manthara takes advantage of her fear by hatching a plan. Years before, King Dasaratha granted Kaikeyi two wishes after she saved his life during a battle with the Asuras. Manthara tells Kaikeyi to use these two favors now: one favor will send Rama into the forest for fourteen years, and another will bring Kaikeyi's son Bharata to the throne in place of Rama. Out of her terror, Kaikeyi agrees to this plan.
When Dasaratha comes to see Kaikeyi, his youngest and favorite wife, he finds her hysterical, weeping and tearing her clothes. When she explains that he must exile Rama and bring Bharata to the throne, Dasaratha is aghast. He loves Rama and knows that he will die if he is parted from his son; moreover, the coronation is the next day! He begs Kaikeyi to change her mind, but she refuses to relent and Dasaratha knows that he cannot break his word, even if it kills him.
The next day, Rama cuts through the crowds of celebrants outside the palace to see his father. Dasaratha is only able to whisper his son Rama's name and weep uncontrollably, but Kaikeyi coldly explains the situation, telling Rama that he must not only forfeit his crown, but also go into exile in the wilderness. Rama accepts this news calmly, showing concern only that his father is in such a terrible state. He agrees to do what Kaikeyi asks of him.
However, even Rama has difficultly bringing this awful news to his mother Kausalya. Her son is her greatest joy; her husband Dasaratha does not love her, and she was barren for years before giving birth to Rama. His exile from the kingdom will rob her of the person closest to her. In tears, she begs him not to go, and Lakshmana forcefully declares that Rama should not be punished for a wicked woman's greed - why, Lakshmana will kill Kaikeyi himself! Rama refuses either violence or grief, and explains that the hand of fate must be moving Kaikeyi to do this. His mother Kausalya accepts this explanation, and offers him a blessing.
Rama then breaks the news to Sita, who demands to accompany him into the forest. He tells her she should remain here, but she insists that her rightful place is with her husband, and Rama finally permits her to come. Lakshmana also says he will come with Rama; Rama tells him he must look after the women in his life, but Lakshmana says that his wife Urmila and his mothers will look after each other. Lakshmana says he must hunt for Rama in the wilderness and take care of him, and Rama allows Lakshmana to accompany him.
To the terrible grief of the court, the king, and all the people of Ayodhya, the three head into exile. The people of Ayodhya follow Rama's coach out of the city, and the young prince and his companions must flee under the cover of night lest the people force Rama to return to the city. Back in Ayodhya, Dasaratha loses all his strength and collapses in his wife Kausalya's arms. The two become closer than they have been in years, mourning the loss of Rama.
Guha, king of the hunters, hosts Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana for a night before they head deeper into the wilderness. The forest is a desolate place, filled with dangerous animals and lacking any protection from the elements. The three companions were only allowed to bring a few weapons and a single garment each; the forest is a forbidding place at first. Still, they try to make the best of it, settling down for the night on a bed of leaves. They meet the rishi Bharadvaja, who offers to let them stay at his asrama. However, Rama explains that they need to find a more desolate place, so that the people of Ayodhya do not drag him back to the city. Bharadvaja sends them on to an isolated but beautiful place called Chitrakuta. The three settle down in this lovely place and build a shelter.
In Ayodhya, Dasaratha confesses an old curse to Kausalya; he accidentally killed a young rishi one day, and was cursed by the rishi's parents to suffer the loss of a son. Six days after Rama leaves the palace, Dasaratha dies of a broken heart.
Bharata, the new king, is summoned from his maternal grandfather's kingdom. He returns to Ayodhya along with his brother Shatrughna, but puzzles at the desolation and silence in the city. When his mother Kaikeyi explains that she has banished Rama and made sure that he will be crowned prince, he explodes with rage. He never wanted to rule, and he never wanted to betray his brother in this way. Moreover, he is stricken with guilt at the death of his father. He sets out with the court into the wilderness to find Rama, so that he can accept the throne from Bharata and perform the necessary funeral rites for his father.
Guha meets Bharata's army with suspicion, but relents when Bharata explains that he wants to give the kingdom back to his brother Rama. Guha marvels at the loyalty of the brothers, and sends them on after Rama's party. Bharata's great company arrives at Chitrakuta; Lakshmana prepares to fight, but Rama assures him that their brother Bharata would never harm them, and goes forth to meet the group.
Bharata explains the state of things in Ayodhya, and Rama breaks down weeping upon hearing of the death of Dasaratha. He performs the necessary funeral ritual for his father in a nearby stream. After this, Bharata begs his brother to come back to Ayodhya and rule. This is what the people what; this is what their father wanted before his death; this is the rightful role of the oldest son; this is the best situation for their mothers. Rama explains that it is both his duty and his fate to carry out his father's last command; as terrible as it may seem, he is certain that his exile in the wilderness will ultimately have beneficial effects. He points out that this is fate, and no one can stand against one's fate. Rama tells Bharata that he must rule Ayodhya, at least until Rama returns from the wilderness in fourteen years. His guru Vasishta also tries to convince Rama to return, citing his authority as spiritual teacher. Rama replies that Vasishta is wise, and so he must understand that Rama cannot break the word he gave his father. Vasishta falls silent.
Seeing that his cause is lost, Bharata begs Rama to bless a pair of shoes; Bharata places these shoes on the throne of Ayodhya, so that it will be as if Rama is ruling there. Bharata refuses to sit on this then and lives in a small village like an ascetic, but performs the duties of a king, insuring the prosperity of Ayodhya until the return of Rama.
Book Two of the Ramayana emphasizes the importance of keeping one's world. Rama accepts the order to relinquish the throne to Bharata and go into exile, because refusing to do so would mean breaking his father's word. This would be a terrible thing, because it is the integrity of a king's word is what makes him fit to rule.
This incident also exemplifies Rama's unique and heroic character. Rama would be justified in violently overthrowing Bharata or plotting his death; after all, Rama is the rightful ruler of Ayodhya, and he would just be restoring order by doing this. (In the other great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, this is exactly what happens, and the tragedy of revenge is a major element of Greek drama.) It could be that Kaikeyi has trapped herself in a self-fulfilling prophecy, guaranteeing the death of herself and her son by betraying Rama in this cruel way. But this is when the reader truly sees Rama's greatness. He accepts this unfair turn of events with equanimity, calming his brother Lakshmana and his mother Kausalya when they urge him to resist this decision. Even though his parents grieve terribly, he does not stray from his duty. Though it may seem cold and cruel to the modern reader, Rama is actually being an exemplar of virtue because he does not let his personal sympathies get in the way of his duty, his dharma.
It should also be noted that Rama's exile in the wilderness is not an idyllic pastoral situation. The jungle is full of dangerous animals and biting insects, and Rama is not allowed to take any supplies with him, save a single garment of tree bark and his weapons. Rama is also not allowed to be near civilization, but instead must eke out an existence in the wild. This is a terrible situation to cope with for fourteen years, and Rama has a number of chances to return to Ayodhya and take on the much more comfortable duties of kingship. However, he refuses all these opportunities, explaining that it is his duty and his fate to serve out his time in the wilderness.
This book also demonstrates Sita's devotion to her husband, which is one of the reasons she is so revered in India. Despite the fact that she is a delicate princess who is unused to the difficulties of living in the wilderness, she refuses to abandon her husband in his time of misfortune. Just as young men are told to be like Rama, young women are told to be like Sita. Sita stands as a counterpoint to the villainous Kaikeyi, who is willing to sacrifice her husband's happiness in order to get what she wants, cannily capitalizing on his affection and his debts to her.
This section also raises the possibility that it is the hand of fate is at work in these cruel events. At first, it seems like Dasaratha is suffering needlessly by sending away Rama, but then it becomes clear that this painful act is fulfilling an old curse that was laid upon him. In this way, Dasaratha is working out his karma, the negativity that has accumulated around him. Additionally, Rama continually suggests that his exile is fated to be and that he should not struggle against it because good may still come of it.