One day, King Dasharatha noticed a white hair while adjusting his crown. Thoughtful as he was, he decided that it was a good time to relegate all his stately duties and appoint Ram, the son of his first queen Kaushalya, as the crown prince of Kosala. He presented this idea before the head priest, Vashishtha. Since Ram was capable on all count and had proved his mettle, Vashistha approved it without a second thought. A formal announcement was made in this regard. It was music for ears of the people of Ayodhya.
When everyone was rejoicing, Manthara, maid of third queen Kaikeyi, was upset. She thought that Bharat, son of Kaikeyi, was left out. She also felt that after Ram’s coronation, stature of Queen was in danger. She, counseled Kaikeyi to oppose the decision and ask for Bharat's coronation as the prince of Ayodhya. She also forewarned that if Ram would become Prince, She would end up serving Kaushalya as her maid! Kaikeyi fell in her trap and believed her words worthy of consideration. Manthara was quick to seize the opportunity and reminded Kaikeyi to seek two boons from King Dasharatha.
When Dasharatha came to her palatial suite, Kaikeyi asked her two promises: Bharat to be crowned as Prince of Ayodhya and Ram be sent to forest for 14 years in exile as a hermit. In the past, Kaikeyi had saved King’s life and therefore King promised her two boons. Now it was Dasharatha’s turn to honor his promise. What followed was inevitable. Ram agreed to exile to fulfill his father’s promise, and along with his wife Sita, who in spite of forewarned about hardship of forest life decided to join him. Ram's younger brother Laxman, who refused to part with Ram, also set out to the forest for 14 years in exile.
For the people of Ayodhya, it was unbearable. The palace took deserted look. Instead of pomp of coronation, doom persisted everywhere. Ram, Sita and Laxman left Ayodhya in hermit's guise accompanied by charioteer Sumant. People of Ayodhya followed them. In the evening, when everybody was resting, Ram ordered Sumant to sneak out of sight of people of Ayodhya. They reached to the banks of Ganges, where Nishadraj greeted them. Ram forcibly sent reluctant Sumant back to Ayodhya.
Ram let Boatman Kevat wash his feet and take them across Ganga. Their journey in the central Indian forest continued until they reached Prayag, confluence of holy Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. There, they met Sage Bhardwaj and Sage Valmiki. Valmiki advised Ram to stay in Chitrakoot for his remaining period of exile.
Sumant returned to Ayodhya empty-handed. Dasharatha's last hope of Ram coming back became futile. He became unconscious and in that state, recalled the curse given by blind parents of Shravan. When Dasharatha was hunting in the forest, he mistakenly shot an arrow and killed Shravan, assuming him as a deer. Dasharatha realized his folly and beg an apology to his thirsty parents but they were exasperated as Shravan was their only support in old age. They cursed that Dasharatha would also meet with similar fate. Dasharatha left for heavenly abode in a similar state longing for his son Ram.
Bharat was summoned from his maternal place for enthroning as King of Ayodhya. Bharat rejected the offer at once and decided to meet and convince Ram. Besides Queens, people of Ayodhya joined to see Ram, Sita and Laxman. Sage Vashishtha informed Ram about Dasharatha’s death. Ram performed final rituals for Dasharatha. Bharat repented on Kaikeyi’s misdeed and proposed that he and Shatrughna would face exile while Ram is crowned as King of Ayodhya. Ram remained adamant on his decision. King Janak, ruler of Mithila and Sita's father tried to convince Ram but of no avail.
Ram gave his sandals to Bharat and ordered him to serve the people of Ayodhya until he finishes his exile. With heavy heart, Bharat returned back to Ayodhya, where he took over as the King but kept the sandals (paduka) of Ram on the thorn. Ram, Sita and Laxman continued their exile in the forest.