Author of the Ramayana
Thousands of years ago there lived a hunter who lived by robbing and looting. He lived in a jungle with his wife and children and no traveller who passed through the jungle was safe. If need be he never hesitated to kill innocent pilgrims to achieve his object.
One day Sage Narada passed through the forest. As usual, the hunter was on the look out for victims and as soon as he saw a sage approaching joyously singing and playing on his vina, the vilain thought he would make the best of the chance to get rich. He jumped down from the branch of a tree where he was hiding and landed with a thud before the sage. Flashing his sword he threatened, “Give me all that you possess. Otherwise I will kill you.”
Narada was the son of Brahma himself and he was never afraid of any one. He saw God in all and loved all. He looked kindly into the eyes of the hunter and said, “Why do you want to kill me? I have never harmed you.”
The robber replied, “It is not because of anything you did that I want to kill you. I want your wealth to maintain my wife and children. If you obstruct me in getting them I will kill you.”
Narada was not perturbed by his threatening attitude. He said, “Very well, my boy, you may do as you please. But kindly tell me one thing. You say that you are committing all this sin for the sake of your wife and children. They who are sharing the wealth earned by you, will they share the sins that you are earning too?
The robber was nonplussed. He never thought of the matter in this light before. He replied, “Of course, they will have to. Why else should I commit sins for their sake?”
Narada shook his head in disagreement and said, “No, they will not. If you have any doubt, go and ask your wife and children.” The robber was suspicious that Narada might be playing a trick on him to escape. He sternly said, “No, I won’t leave you and go. You are just trying to hoodwink me and escape.”
Narada laughed at his suspicions and assured, “No, my son, I promise you that I won’t escape. I will surely wait for you till you return. If you don’t believe me, tie me up to one of these trees and go to your house.”
The robber tightly bound Narada to a nearby tree and hurried to his home. Ever since the sage asked him the strange question he was disturbed in mind. Had he been ruining himself through sinful activities, to no gain whatsoever?
He went home and called out his wife and all the children. He said, “My dears, you know how I had been earning wealth by robbing and killing, to maintain you all. You have been sharing all that I earned. Won’t you be sharing the sins earned by me also?”
The wife and children were horrified at the suggestion. They said, “We are your dependents and it is your duty to maintain us. We never asked you to commit sins for the purpose of obtaining wealth. If you choose to commit sins, it is your own look out. How are we concerned with it? You alone will have to bear the result of your sins.”
Suddenly the eyes of the robber were opened. He realised that he was accumulating terrible sins from which there was no escape. Why should he lead a sinful life for these ungrateful people?
He ran back to where Narada was and hastily untying the bonds, fell at his feet. Deep in grief, he begged, “Mahatma, in ignorance I have committed many sins. Please tell me how I can redeem myself. I have no more desire to lead this life of sin. Pray, save me.”
Narada rejoiced at the hunter’s transformation. He lifted the robber to his feet and told him, “Fear not, my son. There is one name, the Taraka, which redeems even the greatest of sinners. Repeat the name with all your mind and soul in it. All your sins will be washed away soon.” He then whispered in his ears the sacred name, “Rama” and asked the robber to repeat it.
The whole of his life was spent in doing and saying only harsh things. So, try as he might, the robber could not utter the word “Rama”. But Narada was too kind to leave him thus. So he tried another method. He slowly uttered the word “Ma ra”, which means death. This time the robber was happy to utter this word! He began reciting it repeatedly. “Ma- ra, Ma-ra, And he started repeating the syllables in quick succession… “Ma -ra, Ma-ra, Ma, Ra, Ma, Ra, Ma, Ra-Ma, Ra-ma, Rama, Rama
Thus after a time, without his realising it, the robber was repeating the Taraka, the holy name of Lord Rama. He was captivated by the charm of the sacred name and he went on repeating the name forgetful of his surroundings. He sat like that continuously, without moving and without opening his eyes and years passed away. Seeing him sitting like an immovable stone, ants, worms and insects crawled fearlessly near him and on him and built their homes and nests. The anthills grew and grew until they covered him fully and he could not even be seen.
This undisturbed tapas (austerity) washed off all his sins and at last he gained a vision of the Lord. Overflowing with great joy and bliss, he rose from his seat shedding off the anthills around him. Because he rose from the anthills – “Valmika”, in Sanskrit – he came to be called Valmiki.
After that Valmiki lived on the banks of the Ganges in an ashram of his own. One day, while he was returning from the river after the morning bath, he saw a couple of Krouncha birds flying joyously in the sky, engaged in their love play. He was charmed by the innocent joy of the birds and continued to look at them in blissful rapture. Just then an arrow struck the male bird in the heart, and he fell down bleeding and piteously crying. Seeing her mate gone, the female bird arose in great grief and flew round and round his body, moaning and wailing. The bird’s grief was so pitiable, that the kindly sage’s heart was touched. Tears flowed of his eyes and he felt all the misery of the small bird in his own heart. He looked around and saw a hunter crouching nearby. In infinite mercy and sorrow, Valmiki cried out,
“A future, O hunter, none you will have for killing the Krouncha in the midst of love”
Then he suddenly stopped surprised at his own words. For it was not his usual way of speaking…. these words contained a rhythm and a melody. He realised that it was a poem that came out of his heart’s anguish, the first poem that he ever composed. In fact, it was the first shloka (sacred verse) in the history of the world, for no one wrote down any poetry before then.
He later wrote the Ramayana, the story of Rama, in beautiful melodious metre. It is still sung reverentially by some Hindus every day, even though thousands of years have passed since it was first composed. Valmiki is acclaimed as the ‘Adi Kavi’, the first poet and is gratefully remembered by all Hindu poets when they begin composition of a new work