This is a very important story about a very great ancient Indian. He wrote the first and greatest poetic history in the world. The word Adi means first. In modern languages, the word Kavi means poet, but in ancient Vedic sanskrit it means more than poet. It means a rishi or a seer as well.
He may not have been a brahman like Vasishtha. He was not a raja (king) like Viswamitra. He was possibly born as an Adivasi (the first residents of India). There are people who say that he was a Bhil, and those who say that he was a Kirata. To the followers of the Valmiki religion, he is the Eternal God himself. The Uttarakanda of the Ramayana refers to him as Brahmarshi, Bhargava son of Bhrgu and gives his name as Praceta and in some places says that he is the son of Varuna.
Valmiki wrote the Ramayana, the story of Sri Rama. Sri Rama was a perfect son, a perfect brother, a perfect husband, a perfect friend, a perfect king and a perfect master. He was even a perfect enemy. Centuries of people, across many lands, have fallen in love with Sri Rama, and they have told and retold the story so many times in so many different ways. So many books have been written about the Rama and the Ramayana and so many movies have been made about it.
The love and purity of Valmiki’s heart is reflected so beautifully in all his descriptions of Sri Rama and every person or event that poetry touches. Even the villain of the story, Ravana, makes only one mistake, carrying away Sita, and even that when he is misinformed by his sister.
Valmiki was a friend of Sri Rama. When Rama’s step-mother is momentarily misguided into wishing for his exile, Sri Rama, Lakshmana and Sita visit Valmiki on their 14 year journey through the forests of Ancient India. That is when Valmiki learned the first part of the story.
Later, at the end of his exile, when the people of Ayodhya behaved in such a way that Sri Rama was forced to send the Sita to the forest, he asked his brother Lakshmana, to leave her in a place where he knew that Valmiki would find her. He knew that Sita was going to be a mother soon, and he trusted Valmiki to be the one who raised his children and looked after his wife. This is when Valmiki learned the second part of the story.
Valmiki then wrote the Ramayana, in Anushthup Chandas (A kind of muscial Rythm called a Metre). He taught all tha members of his hermitage the Ramayana, but the ones who learnt it best were Rama’s own sons Lava and Kusa. They sang it so well, that the asrama-vasis (residents of the hermitage) gave them gifts of bark and drinking water pots and whatever other little gifts they owned.
Anushtup Chandas (Metre) had already been used by Kanva Maharshi for the Veda Mantras. But Valmiki was the first to use it for poetry. The shlokas or poetic verses came out of his very soul, when his heart was broken, by the miserable cries of a female krauncha bird, whose mate was killed by a nishada hunter. Out of his Shoka (sorrow) was born the Shloka or a Verse.
Shlokas or Verses are not the same as Mantras or Chants. Sri Rama’s name itself is the perfect Mantram. The Vedas are full of many mantras that you can chant as you meditate. (It is risky to mispronounce them). There is a story that Valmiki himself meditated on the Rama Mantram. Shlokas are poetic verses, that are beautiful and enjoyable.
Valmiki’s Time and Place:
When Vyasa wrote the Srimad Bhagavatam, he said that since others had told the Ramayana so beautifully it was enough for him to just give a brief outline.
So we know that The Ramayana of Valmiki was earlier to the Bhagavatam of Veda Vyasa. We also know that Vyasa’s great-grand father Vasishtha was Rama’s teacher and that Valmiki was Rama’s friend. So Valmiki was younger than Vasishtha, Kanva and Viswamitra who wrote the Vedic Mantras. In the Uttarakanda of the Ramayana, Lakshmana tells Sita that Brahmarshi Valmiki is a friend of Dasaratha. The Uttarakanda also tells us that Lakshmana dropped Sita Devi near Valimki’s Asrama which was on the banks of the Tamasa river. The Ayodhyakanda tells us that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana spent a night on the Tamasa River on the first night of their residence in the forest. Some people think that the Tamasa river is now called the Tons river that flows through Mau. (In sanskrit, the word tamas means darkness). After that Rama, Sita and Lakshmana crossed the Kosala border, the Vedasruthi waters, went south, crossed the river Gomati and the Syandika river and they crossed the Ganga again.
The first verse: composed in the history of ancient India. It was composed on the banks of the Tamasa river. Here it is in English script with its meaning.
“mA niShAda pratiShThA.n tvamagamaH shAshvatI.n samAH |
yatkrauJNchamithunAdekamavadhIH kAmamohitam.h ||
(bAlakANDa 2.15) O Hunter! Since you killed one of the pair of Krauncha birds in love, you shall never attain fame!” http://valmiki.iitk.ac.in/index.php?id=audiodisplay1
If you would like to read the Ramayana for yourself, here is a link to a word by word translation of the Valmiki Ramayana. http://valmiki.iitk.ac.in/index.php?id=translation
Could Valmiki have been exposed to Tamil Sangam Literature?
Abstract : (Summary of this post)
- Valmiki Maharshi and Agastya Maharshi were contemporaries of Sri Rama (श्री राम). They were friends of Dasaratha as well as friends and well-wishers of Sri Rama and Sita Devi (सीता देवी).
- Agastya is connected to the starting of the Sangam Literature.
- Agastya’s time has been calculated as around 4000 BCE by Sri Abhyankar K.D.
- Though much less famous than Agastya’s asrams, there are also some sacred Valmiki Ashram Locationsin South India. Valmiki may have travelled South, with Sitamma and the children and had some discussions with Agastya.
Agastya’s date and connection to Sangam Literature and Period :
I have summarised this article http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/dec252005/2174.pdfpublished by K.D. Abhyankar in Current Science at this link : Agastya – Canopus. I reproduce some ideas here but you can read my summary or Sri Abhyankar’s article for more details.
- The nakshatram Canopus was named Agastya after the Rishi Agastya.
- This was so because he was the first sanskrit northerner to sight it.
- He sighted it as soon as he crossed the Vindhyas.
- Agastya (Canopus) was visible in the north of the Vindhyas only after 5200 BC and in Kurukshetra (Delhi) only from 3100 BC assuming that for a star to be visible its meridian altitude has to be at least 5°.
- Agastya (Canopus) was visible in the north of the Vindhyas only after 4000 BC assuming that for a star to be visible its meridian altitude has to be at least 4°.
- Agastya Rishi’s Vindhya Crossing was between 4000 BC and 5000 BC.
- Agastya started the first Sangam.
- The last Sangam ended around 0 BC.
- Each Pandyan king ruled for 20 years.
- There were 89, 59 and 49 Pandyan kings in each of the Sangams.
- (89+59 + 49) * 20 = 3940 years
Conclusion : Agastya’s time was 4000 BC
Valmiki and the South :
- Valmiki writes like an explorer of the National Geographic Society.
- He describes locations, ways, flora and fauna and so on. (See : Kabandha asks Sri Rama to go West to Pampa. Flora and Fauna description.)
- Sri Rama’s children, Lava and Kusa were born in the Valmiki Ashram at Bithoor near Kanpur.
- Valmiki’s Ramayanam was completed till the incident of Sri Rama’s Coronation, Sundarakanda, by the time of the Aswamedha Yajna. (Parts of the balakanda and the entire uttarakanda were completed later either by Valmiki or by his student Bharadwaja, perhaps).
Did Valmiki Maharshi travel to the south with Sitamma and the children during the period of composition of the Ramayanam?
- This would explain his Ashrams, in the south as well as the places associated with Sitamma and the children. eg Avani, Kolar, Karnataka. (See : Avani, Travelogue, )
- Sitamma and Sri Rama halted only at Kishkinda to meet Tara and others after the Ramayana war as per Valmiki’s Ramayanam.
- So, while Valmiki travelled the country to describe the places accurately, he may have taken the queen Sita Devi the young princes and his students, to the South., as well as to the north. I heard there is a Valmiki Ashram near Amritsar.
Did Agastya and Valmiki discuss literature, writing etc?
- This is not written down as such anywhere., but they knew each other.. and writers do talk and share ideas.
- In the Tamil book “Vanmeegarum Thamizhum” by late Thiru. Narayana Iyengar, Editor of Senthamizh, published by Madurai Tamil Sangam, the author explores various ideas that might connect Sangam Literature and Sanskrit Literature of the period.
- I do not agree with many of the ideas of this elder and respected scholar., but I do think that at least some people will surely find this translation provided by his grandson,(himself an editor at The Hindu), interesting, informative and above all thought provoking. Isko Dekho!
Copyright Notice : Authorship and Photography: All Rights Reserved : Satya Sarada Kandula. Photograph taken at Lakshman Jhula Mandir in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand.