Ramayana – Rama’s story is known as the ‘Adikavya’ which we can translate as ‘the first poem’ and was composed during the lifetime of Shri Rama by his contemporary, Rishi Valmiki. Valmiki is rightly called as ‘Adi Kavi’ – the first poet. This mammoth work of Rishi Valmiki contains 24000 verses. Since the poem narrates the biography and life of Shri Rama it is referred to as Itihasa (meaning – as it happened).
Did Rishi Valmiki know Shri Rama’s story? What was the trigger for him to write the Ramayana? These are the questions which arise in some of our minds. Well, that is the interesting story I have chosen to narrate today as an offering to Shri Rama on the occasion of His Pran Pratishta at the Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya.
Rishi Valmiki was living with his pupils at his Ashram near the River Tamasa. River Tamasa is a tributary of River Ganga and it flows through the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. One day Rishi Narada happened to come to this Ashram. There, he observed that Rishi Valmiki was absorbed in deep thought. Rishi Narada asked him as to what his mind was pre-occupied with.
Rishi Valmiki replied, “O Maharishi, I am very eager to know something. Is there a person in the present world who possesses virtuousness, bravery, righteousness and gratitude, and is truthful and principled? One who possesses blemish-less character, concern for all living beings, who is scholarly, competent and whose appearance is delightful to the eyes? One who has control over his own self and has won over anger, exudes radiance, always free from envy and spite and whose wrath is dreaded even by the divine beings?”
Rishi Valmiki paused for a moment and continued. “Is it even possible for a single individual to possess all these qualities I have listed? This is the curious thought which has been in my mind for many days now. You, being a visitor to all three worlds, are capable of knowing if such a person exists”.
Rishi Narada smiled. He was thrilled by this question of Rishi Valmiki for he knew of such a hero having all these qualities and more.
“Sure, I know of such a man who possesses all the qualities you mentioned and more” said Rishi Narada. “He is none other than King Rama of the Ikshvaku clan, who rules from Ayodhya”. He then proceeded to describe Rama’s sterling qualities to Rishi Valmiki.
Rishi Valmiki was greatly enthused at this reply of Rishi Narada. Seeing his enthusiasm, Rishi Narada then gave a brief summary of Rama’s story much to the delight of Rishi Valmiki. He narrated it all, right from Shri Rama’s birth, his marriage with Sita, his exile in the forest, Sita’s abduction, his friendship with Vanaras, his going to Lanka and killing Ravana until his coronation at Ayodhya as the King.
Rishi Narada then took leave of Rishi Valmiki and went his way.
About an hour after Rishi Narada left, Rishi Valmiki proceeded to the river Tamasa to offer his afternoon prayers, accompanied by his pupil named Bharadwaja. He chose a beautiful spot where the water was as clear as glass. Instructing Bharadwaja to place the water pot there and taking the tree bark from him for performing his austerities, Valmiki looked around, enjoying blissfully the surroundings.
The beautiful trees heavily laden with fruits and flowers, the thick canopy of their leaves, the streaks of sunlight illuminating the place through the leaves when they moved now and then, the grass spread like a jade carpet, the little white flowers in the plants around bobbing in the gentle breeze and the beautiful rippling sound of the Tamasa flowing interspersed with the soft chirping of birds, made the atmosphere so serene. The Rishi was adoring the abundance generously gifted by Mother earth.
All this while, however, his inner mind was immersed in the story of Rama as narrated by Rishi Narada.
Rishi Valmiki then noticed a pair of Krauncha birds (a type of crane) on a branch of a tree. They were a male and female bird apparently deeply in love with each other. He watched them with amusement as they were making cooing noises in the most charming manner and playing with each other. All of a sudden, the male bird was hit by a sharp arrow which came flying from somewhere and the next moment, the bird fell dead. The sweet song of the female bird turned into a distressing wail, traumatised as she was, seeing her mate fall dead. The joyous ambience had turned into one of deep sorrow in just a moment.
Valmiki saw a Nishada (hunter) behind a tree who had committed this heinous act. Though hunting is the profession of the hunter, to kill a living being when it is deeply in love was unacceptable. Valmiki could not control his emotions and out came some words from his mouth cursing the hunter.
मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वमगमः शाश्वतीः समाः। यत्क्रौञ्चमिथुनादेकमवधीः काममोहितम्॥
MA NishAda PratishthAm Tvamagamah ShashwatIh SamAh
YatkraunchamithunA dekamavadhIh KAmamOhitam ॥
Meaning: O Hunter! May you permanently have no peace of mind for you have mercilessly killed a crane when it was in love with its partner.
Rishi Valmiki was himself surprised at his utterance and that too, that the words were arranged in a particular order of four verses with eight syllables each, like a rhyme. His disciple Bharadwaja was also taken by surprise, for he had never heard such a beautiful arrangement of words. He immediately memorised the verse. But the Rishi was feeling uneasy that being a realised soul, he had still given into his emotions and unnecessarily cursed a person, thereby reducing the power of his penances.
Then, offering their obeisance to Lord Surya, the Rishi with Bharadwaja returned to the Ashrama, but with the feeling of uneasiness, still persisting in his heart.
A while later Rishi Valmiki was surprised to see Lord Brahma entering his Ashrama. Feeling greatly honoured, he offered Him a suitable seat and offered his respects as per the protocol. However, the Rishi’s mind was lingering with the incident of his cursing the hunter and he couldn’t help mutter to himself in Lord Brahma’s presence, of how he had lost his control over his emotions and uttered a curse. He also repeated the couplet which he had uttered.
Brahma smiled and said “I have willed it to be uttered in that form from your mouth. So do not dwell upon this anymore. Instead use the same metrical structure to narrate the entire story of Shri Rama’s life on this earth as you have heard from Narada. The detailed account of the entire story and whatever was spoken and thought by all the characters, including that of the Rakshasas will all be revealed to you by my grace. No description or words of yours in this work of yours will be false. So go ahead and render the beautiful story of Rama”. Lord Brahma then conferred Rishi Valmiki with Yogic power to ‘see’ in his mind’s eye the entire story of Shri Rama as it had happened.
He further said, “As long as mountains stand on the surface of the earth and rivers flow on the earth, this story of Rama composed by you in beautiful verses shall continue to be popular and be sung.”
Rishi Valmiki, as per the instructions of Lord Brahma, sat with a pure mind in deep meditation and sang the twenty-four thousand verses as he could see them happen. We should note that Shri Rama’s story is also filled with repeated incidents of separations bringing sorrow. But the sorrows are followed by joys which is all life is about.
Rishi Valmiki’s work is one of its kind that he is compared to a beautiful cuckoo cooing in the sweetest voice the syllables “Rama Rama” sitting on the branches of a tree of poetry.
True to Lord Brahma’s words, this beautiful narration of Rama’s journey – Rama’s Ayanam, the Ramayanam, continues to be evergreen and flourish drawing people of all ages right from kids to old people even to this day. And certainly, it will continue to do so forever and ever and ever.
- The metric arrangement which accidentally came out of Rishi Valmiki’s mouth is called the “Anushtup Chandas” with four verses of eight syllables each.
- The first syllable of each of the thousand verses of the Ramayana, when conjoined, form the Gayatri Mantra.
- The story of Rishi Valmiki being a hunter and getting transformed into a poet is not mentioned anywhere in Valmiki Ramayana.
- The dimensions and size of Ayodhya city, and the various flora and fauna with names of the trees, animals, birds etc. in every place are all clearly mentioned in the Valmiki Ramayana.
- The names of ancestors of Shri Rama and Sita Mata upto many generations before are given in the Valmiki Ramayana.
- There are various re-tellings of Ramayana in various languages but all have Valmiki Ramayana as their source. The re-tellings have slight changes in certain incidents due to various factors including the societal conditions which prevailed in the respective time periods when it was retold. However, it is always nice to know the original. So, with this story, I hope to kindle your interest to read the Ramayana in its original form.
Jai Shri Ram!!