Valmiki – Author of Ramayana
Valmiki, the man who chronicled the life times of Rama and the values Rama stood for, was born 7150 years ago.
Incident that led to first poem
Krauncha, Heron birds were mating. A hunter shot one of them down with his arrow. Valmiki who happened to observe this incident was moved by pathos and from him naturally comes forth the verse:
Valmiki moved by pathos
Thus came the first poem of humanity through pathos – “Sokah Slokatwam Aagatah”. It is for composing this poem and Valmiki is referred to as Adi Kavi, the first poet.
Valmiki badly shaken by this incident returned to his ashram, unable to compose himself. He then remembered to have said soemthing on that occasion and asked his sishya Bharadwaja if he remembered what he had said. Bharadwaja replied “Maa Nishaada…” They both were surprised at the particular pattern and rhythm in his utterance.
Valmiki and his disciple Bharadwaja
William Wordsworth, the celebrated English poet expresses poetry as,
“Poetry is a spontanesous overflow of powerful feelings, takes its origin from emotions, recollected in tranquility” is a poem of
This seems to fit aptly for the incident of Valmiki watching the Krauncha bird and the outcome being the first poem.
Valmiki, a forest hunter
Valmiki means “anthill”. Valmiki was a forest hunter, a wayside robber called Ratnakar, who out of remorse went so deep into penance, that he was covered by an anthill and therefore got the name Valmiki.
He emerged from this anthill and penance endowed with the gift of writing. His magnum opus is the epic, Valmiki Ramayana.
There have been many Ramayanas written by different authors over centuries. These later day texts cannot be termed as being completely historical, because they are based on the information available at their times.
Hence these later versions are not called Itihasa. They are popularly known as kavya or beautiful poetry.
Valmiki Ramayana, the authentic historical text
In contrast to all this, the Ramayana written by Valmiki alone can be considered as authentic historical text, which is why the text has been classified as Itihasa, meaning ‘it thus happened’.
A Biography of Valmiki
Valmiki Ramayana is a historical biography because Valmiki, the author of the original Ramayana text was a contemporary of Rama.
This has been explicitly stated in the text itself. This story was not penned a few hundred years after the life of Rama. In fact, Valmiki was the guardian to the wife and sons of Rama, Lava and Kusha.
Valmiki teaching Ramayana to Lava and Kusha
This one fact gives it the credibility of being an authentic historical account. If you look at various historical texts world over, we find that the records of the events which happened, have usually been written down as history, about a few hundred or even few thousand years post the events having taken place, leaving room for some gaps.
In the case of Valmiki Ramayana, it is a text written by a person, Valmiki, who was a contemporary to the people and period of event.
Valmiki also plays an integral role in the events of Ramayana.
As the legend continues, Sita delivered twin sons – Luva and Kusha who learnt the Ramayana from Valmiki and narrated it to Rama.
Luva and Kusha narrating Ramayana to Rama
The authenticity of the text
As to the authenticity of the content of Valmiki Ramayana that he had collated, Valmiki himself vouches for it, when he meets Rama for the first time and introduces himself as,
Prachetsoahem dasmey putroh raghavnandany
Ne ismarahmeanritam vakyamimo tu tav putroko ||
– Valmiki Ramayana 7.96.19
i.e., Valmiki proudly says to Rama,
“I am the 10th son of Pracheta, and I never remember speaking even one untrue sentence.”
This emphatic statement of Valmiki gives a strong dimension of credibility to his Ramayana.
That the Ramayana is an itihasa and that it was written by Valmiki during the lifetime of Rama, His wife Sita and their sons Lava and Kusha can been seen from the language in the text. Ramayana is not written in the past tense or future tense, it is primarily written in the present tense.
This goes to indicate to us from a different angle, that it is a biography by Valmiki of the happenings during his times.
More on Valmiki and the historicity of Rama in our Book and Film, “Historical Rama”, Book, “Ayodhya – War and Peace” and “Ramayana in Lanka”