– Ramayan: Book 1: Canto I – Valmiki

Before we go into the story of the Ramayana, let us listen to the story of the sage Valmiki, who was the author. It is said that he was born of Brahmin parents, who abandoned him in the forest, at birth. He was found and brought up by a hunter and thus became a hunter and a robber by profession. He was known as Ratnakar. He was a wild and savage man and knew nothing of culture or civilisation. All those who went into the forest, had to go in fear of their lives, for he was known to be ruthless. He lived with his wife and brood of children in the depths of the forest and had never gone near a town.

One day he saw a man approaching him. With the ferocity of a wild animal, he pounced on him with a view to kill and rob him of his money. He was surprised to find that the man did not show any signs of fear but stood absolutely still. He was quite intrigued by this strange behaviour. He had only seen two types of animals before, in his life – those who turned tail and ran away as soon as they saw him and those who bared their teeth and pounced on him. It was the first time that he saw a creature who looked at him fearlessly, with eyes filled with compassion. Love and compassion were emotions to which he was an utter stranger, and for a minute he faltered in his tracks, his upraised arm holding a brutal knife freezing in the air.

Slowly he brought the hand down and asked the man, “Who are you, who shows no signs of fear? Everyone I know runs away as soon as they see me and I catch them easily. Why don’t you run”?

“I am Narada, the heavenly sage and I do not run because I am not afraid of you”.

“Why aren’t you afraid of me”? asked the hunter. “Don’t you know that I can kill you”?

“Then, why didn’t you kill me”? asked the sage curiously. “Because I saw something in your eyes which is bothering me”. “What did you see”?

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen it before in any other eyes but it’s very pleasant”.

“I’ll tell you”, said the sage. “What you saw was love and compassion”.

“Why should you feel love for me”? asked the savage, surprised, for he had never seen that look before, not even in the eyes of his wife. “Because I love everybody and everything”. “Why should you do that”? asked Ratnakar.

“Because everything and everyone is the form of that Supreme Being whom I worship. Now let me ask you, something”, said the sage, “don’t you know that by killing all these creatures and people, you are incurring great sin”?

“Yes, I suppose I know it”, said the hunter doubtfully. “Then why do you do it”? asked the sage. “Because I have to support my family”, said the hunter.

“Will they share at least part of the sin which will accrue to you by these acts”? questioned the sage. “I am sure they will”, said the hunter.

“Why don’t you go and ask them”? asked Narada, “and I’ll wait for you till you come”.

The hunter ran back and asked his wife and children if they would take their share of his sins as they were taking more than their fair share of ill-gotten goods. They were quite surprised at this question and asked him what he meant by this. He explained to them that since he was committing so many crimes for their sake, it was only fair that they should also share his sins. They were quite horrified by this request.

The woman said that it was the duty of a husband to look after his wife and the children said that it was the duty of a father to look after his progeny. As for his sins, naturally they were the outcome of his own acts and he would have to bear the consequences himself. The hunter did not wait to hear any more. He ran back to the sage who was quite sure of his return and was waiting with a smile on his lips. “Well, what did they say”? he asked. “Were they not eager to share your sins, as they were eager to share your spoils”?

Ratnakar hung his head and admitted that no one was willing to share his burdens. Then Narada gave him a discourse on the law of karma and told him that he alone would have to bear the consequences of his actions. To commit sinful acts for the sake of another was quite foolish.

The hunter looked lost and unhappy and asked the sage, “Now what should I do”?

“Meditate on the Supreme Being”, he said, “only then will you be able to attain salvation. He alone is your relation. He alone your friend. I will give you a mantra by using which, you will be able to do tapas”, “I am your servant, please guide me”, said the hunter and knelt before the celestial sage.

Narada whispered the glorious mantra “Rama” into his right ear but the poor savage was so untutored that he was unable to repeat it. Then Narada asked, “Can you repeat the word, “mara? “Of course, I can”, he said, since the word “mara” means “tree” and that was a thing he was always cutting down.

So Narada blessed him and told him how to sit in a meditation pose and to repeat the word constantly. The word ?mara” when repeated fast becomes “Rama” and thus without knowing, the hunter started repeating the word “Rama” instead of “mara”. Due to his past samskaras, he went into deep meditation for many years, till he was covered by a hillock of mud brought by ants.

Many years later, Narada returned and found the ant-hill in the exact place where he had left the hunter. He broke open the mud cage and woke up the person seated within.

“Arise 0 sage”! he said. “Do you remember who you are”? “Yes, Your Holiness”, he answered, “I am the poor hunter, whom you took pity on and advised to repeat the glorious mantra, “Rama”. “Now you are no longer a hunter but a sage and from now on you will be known as Valmiki since you have emerged from this ant-hill or “valmeekam’

“Why have you woken me up, 0 divine sage”~ asked Valmiki. “I would prefer to meditate for another few years”.

“Your time for meditation is over. Now is the time for action. You have many more things to achieve in your life. Go to the banks of the river Tamasa, where it meets the Ganga and there make your hermitage. Very soon, Sita, the beloved wife of Rama will be coming there. She is with child and she has been abandoned by her husband. It is your duty to look after her and the babies, till they are old enough to return to their father”.

“0 Holy one”, Valmiki said, “I find that this world is a wicked place filled with ignoble people. If I could find at least one human being who would possess the qualities of a noble soul, then I would feel like returning to the world. Otherwise it would be better for me to remain within the security of my ant-hill. Tell me, do you know of such a one”?

Narada asked him to enumerate these qualities. Valmiki said, “Integrity, bravery, righteousness, gratitude, truthfulness, dedication to one’s principles, concern for all living beings, learning, skill, beauty, courage, ability to keep anger under control, lack of jealousy and undaunted heroism. 0 sage, pray tell me, am I expecting too much. Can anyone have all these qualities at the same time”!
Narada was pleased to answer this question and said, “Indeed I do know of such a person. He is born in the line of lkshvaku and his name is Rama”.

Narada then proceeded to acquaint Valmiki briefly with the story of Rama who possessed all the qualities of a perfect man. He concluded the story by saying, “This Rama now resides in the city of Ayodhya and rules the kingdom with all righteousness. He is born to establish dharma on earth. Very soon, as I said, his wife Sita will be coming here and it is your duty to take care of her”. Thus saying the sage departed, strumming his lute.

After he had left, Valmiki went to the land near the Tamasa river and made his hermitage. Soon he had many disciples. One winter morning he went to the banks of the river for his bath. On the way, he saw two cranes mating. As the sage gazed in joy at their spontaneous love for each other, a fowler aimed a fatal arrow at the male bird and shot him, contrary to all rules of dharma. Pierced by that cruel arrow, in the midst of the act of love, the bird fell to the ground with a heartrending cry. Wrenched from her lover, the female bird screamed piteously, beating her breast with her wings. She fluttered around, terrified and bewildered. Her piteous cries brought a gush of compassion into the heart of the sage and he cursed the fowler.

As soon as the curse left his lips, he felt great remorse. He was horrified that his compassion for the bird had made him break his vow of non-violence by cursing the fowler, who was after all only a helpless victim of his own karma, like he had been a long time before. He felt very unhappy about the whole episode. Then he realised that his curse had flowed from his lips in a spontaneous verse of four lines with eight syllables each. He was struck by the beauty of the verse and told his disciple Bharadvaja to memorise it. The sage then continued with his interrupted ablutions and returned to his ashrama. Just then two young brahmacharis from the neighbouring ashrama ran to him and told him that a beautiful woman had been abandoned near the river and appeared to be contemplating jumping into it. Valmiki ran to the woman and knew that it was Sita, the wife of Rama, as told by Narada. He escorted her home and told the wives of the sages to look after her, for she was carrying the heir to the throne of the lkshvakus.

Later, when he sat for meditation, he was filled with remorse over the episode of the two cranes and his involuntary curse of the hunter. Brahma, the Creator appeared to him and told him not to brood over this strange event because from this incident would arise the inspiration to narrate the story of Rama, Sita and of Lakshmana.

Brahma spoke thus : “You will be inspired 0 rishi, to compose a most memorable poem on the exploits of Sri Rama. The whole life of Rama will be revealed to you. Everything that you say in your poem will be based on facts which you have witnessed. You will be able to see each and everyone of the glorious episodes in the life of Sri Rama. You will get great fame as the first of all poets. The story of Rama
will endure as long as these mountains and rivers stay on the face of this earth. Your fame will resound in the realms of heaven above and the kingdoms of the earth below”.

Having blessed Valmiki thus, Brahma departed. Valmiki then sat down and meditated on the Lord and out of his mouth gushed forth the immortal poem, called Ramayana – the way of Rama.
This is how the Ramayana came to be written, from the depths of Valmiki’s sorrow, at the fate of the two birds who were so much in love with each other and who were parted so cruelly. It does not need much imagination to see the parallel between this story and the fate of the two lovers, Rama and Sita who were parted time and time again, despite their intense love for each other.
The poem took twelve long years to complete and by then Sita had given birth to twins and the children had become twelve years of age.

Having composed this remarkable poem consisting of twenty-four thousand verses on the life of Sri Rama and Sita, the seer looked around for a person with a prodigious memory who could memorise the entire story. Just at that moment the twin sons of Sri Rama himself – called Lava and Kusha who were being brought up by Valmiki, in his own hermitage?appeared before him, clad in hermit’s garb. Knowing them to be endowed with great intelligence and mastery of music, the sage forthwith proceeded to teach them the entire poem, which they mastered with ease. At an august assembly of sages, the twins sang the whole poem, exquisitely, in one voice. The sages were charmed and gave them many boons.

It was at this time that news was brought to the ashrama, that the king was going to hold the aswamedha yaga, which would last for one whole year at the forest of Naimisharanya. When he heard this, Valmiki told the two boys, Lava and Kusha,to go to the yaga and recite the whole of the Ramayana in front of Rama and the assembled sages. The children did as they were told. As the melodious voices of the children rose in unison with faultless rhythm and perfect harmony, tears started pouring down the cheeks of Sri Rama and the whole court became totally absorbed in the narrative. This is the story of the Ramayana which they sang.

Thus ends the first Canto called ?Valmiki? of the Bala Kanda in the glorious Ramayana of the Sage Valmiki.

Next: Book 1: Canto II – The Avatara

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