Thousands of years ago, there lived in a jungle, a robber by the name “Ratnakar’. He was a dreaded dacoit who robbed anyone who passed through the jungle. Stealing and hunting were the only things he knew; and he managed to raise his family by such means. One day, the sage Narada passed that way, and was accosted by Ratnakar, who ordered him to hand over all his valuables.
Narada smiled and said, “Dear man, I have nothing but the Tambura (a musical instrument) that I hold in my hand. Of what use are worldly possessions to me, one who roams around the three worlds like a nomad?” Ratnakar was stunned by this attitude, and wanted to know more about the sage. The sage, with his divine knowledge realized that this was the time for Ratnakar to assume his real role, and asked him why he robbed the wayfarers.
Ratnakar replied simply, “To feed and clothe my family!” The sage replied, “You steal and kill to help your family. But it is you who will pay for these actions. Not your family.” Ratnakar disagreed, saying that his family would certainly understand that his actions were performed for them, and they would share the responsibility too. Narada challenged Ratnakar to go and ask his family if they would share the sins he had earned by his actions, and Ratnakar agreed.
He went straight home and put forth the question to his family members. His parents refused to accept the sins, saying that as their son, it was his responsibility to provide for them, and the method he used had nothing to do with them. His wife said that she shared all his happiness and his grief, but his deeds were his alone. She could have no part of them. His children said that as a father, it was his duty to teach his children the rights and wrongs, and if he performed misdeeds himself, it was up to him to reap the fruits too.
It was a different Ratnakar who returned to the waiting sage, his eyes opened, and bonds of attachment broken for ever. Narada was pleased to see the change, and instructed him to meditate on the lord.
Years passed, and Narada passed that way again, curious to know what had become of the repentant thief. He expected to see an ashram, but all he could see was an overgrown ant hill. It took him a moment to realize that Ratnakar was inside the anthill! The man had been so deep in meditation that an ant hill had grown up around him!!!
Dug out from the ant hill, Ratnakar began a new life, that of one devoted to the lord, with a new name – Valmiki – the one who emerged from an ant-hill (Valmik in Sanskrit).
Valmiki was curious about the ideal person on earth. “Who could be considered the epitome of virtue and wisdom in this world?” It was Narada again who provided the answer. He told Valmiki about Rama, the king of Ayodhya, and his story, where time and again, Rama demonstrated his virtues and his wisdom, right from an early age.
Valmiki was moved by this story, and continued thinking about it long after Narada had left. Walking to the river Tamasa for his daily ablutions, his eyes fell on a pair of mating Krauncha birds, and he paused a moment to savor the moment and share their happiness. Suddenly, the calm was shattered by an arrow which found its mark, and the male bird fell down dead! The female bird lamented over the corpse of her lover in a piteous manner, which tugged at the heart of the sage.
Catching sight of the hunter who had separated the loving birds, he cursed “you have separated these birds who were deeply in love. Never in your life will you be able to rest, but shall wander homeless all your life!”
No sooner had he cursed the man that he regretted his action, for he had succumbed to emotion and attachment to the birds. But then again, as he recollected his words, he realized that the words he had spoken in anger and pity had taken the form of a rhyme – a sloka – moreover, a sloka which rhymed with the wailing of the bereaved Krauncha bird!
Valmiki realized that it was the will of God which had made him utter those words in what was to be the first sloka in Sanskrit literature. Coming to the conclusion that there must have been a reason for this occurrence, he went into meditation. Brahma soon appeared in front of him, and said, “Son, these things have happened to help you begin your story of Rama. It is time the world learnt of the ideal man – the man all must learn to emulate.” Brahma gave Valmiki the special vision which enabled him to see the events as they occurred, as if he were part of it, so that he could write down the story in great detail.
It was thus that Valmiki composed the Ramayana – literally ‘the story of Rama’ – in the same metre and rhyme that he had uttered the words of the curse. Since this was the first composition in Sanskrit, it is also known as the ‘Adi Kavya’ – the first poem!
To continue with Valmiki, he was acclaimed as a great rishi, and he set up his ashram on the banks of the
Ganga. He himself became part of the epic he had composed when he gave refuge to Sita and took over her children as his disciples.
Sita’s children, Luv and
Kush were the first to learn the Ramayana from their guru, and when they sang it in the court of Rama, even Rama was moved by the beautiful narration of his own story!
Valmiki’s story teaches us that it is never too late to repent, or to mend our ways. The lord always gives us the chance to tread the right path. It is up to decide whether we wish to learn from our mistakes and become a better person, or continue in our erroneous ways and reap the fruits of our actions.