Manthara (Sanskrit: मंथरा; lit: "humpbacked") in the Hindu epic Ramayana is the maid who convinced Queen Kaikeyi that the throne of maharaja belonged to her son Bharata and that her step-son—crown-prince Rama (the hero of the Ramayana)—should be exiled from the kingdom.
Manthara is said to be hunch-backed, ugly & antagonistic in appearance. Manthara, it appears, is an expert talker and a cunning woman who can manipulate her way to get what she wants.
Appearance in other versions
The Telugu version Sri Ranganatha Ramayanam mentioned a small story involving young Rama and Manthara in Balakanda. When Rama was playing with a ball and a stick, suddenly Manthara threw the ball far away from Rama. In anger, Rama struck her on the knee with the stick and her knee was broken. This message was conveyed to king Dasharatha by Kaikeyi. The king decides to send Rama and his other sons to school. This incident makes the king think about his responsibility of educating his sons, so that they can learn and become wise. Manthara had developed a kind of antagonism towards Rama and was waiting for an opportunity to take revenge against him. It is also said that during Rama's childhood Kaikeyi loved Rama more than Bharata and spend more time with him. This made Manthara jealous of Rama.
Poisoning Kaikeyi's mind
As family servant of Kaikeyi, Manthara lived with her from the time of her birth. When she hears that King Dasharatha is planning to make his eldest son, Rama, prince regent (rather than Bharata, his child by Kaikeyi), she flies into a rage and reports the news to Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi is initially pleased and hands Manthara a pearl necklace.
Manthara reminds Kaikeyi of the two boons Dasharatha had given her when she had once saved his life in a celestial battle. Kaikeyi had kept these boons for later and Manthara declares that this is the right time to ask for them. She advises Kaikeyi to lie in her room wearing soiled clothes and no ornaments. She should weep and cry, pretending anger. When Dasharatha would come to console her, she should immediately ask for the boons. The first boon would be that Bharata would be made the king. The second boon would be that Rama should be sent into the forest for exile for fourteen years. Manthara reckons that the fourteen-year banishment would be long enough for Bharata to consolidate his position in the Empire and weave his way into people's hearts.
Rebuked by Shatrughna
Manthara appears only once in the Ramayana after Rama's banishment. Having been rewarded by Kaikeyi with costly clothing and jewels, she is walking in the palace gardens when Bharata and his half-brother Shatrughna come upon her. Seeing her, Shatrughna flies into a violent rage over Rama's banishment and assaults her murderously. Kaikeyi begs Bharata to save her, which he does, telling Shatrughna that it is a sin to kill a woman and that Rama would be furious with them both if he does such a thing. He relents and the brothers leave, while Kaikeyi attempts to comfort Manthara.
Portrayal in film and television
In Ramanand Sagar's highly successful television series Ramayan, Manthara is played by veteran character actress Lalita Pawar. In this TV series, it is shown that when Rama returns to Ayodhya after exile, he goes to meet Manthara, who has been imprisoned in a dark room. Seeing Rama, Manthara falls into his feet and apologizes for all her sins on which Rama forgives her.