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 the First poem
Over 7150 years ago, deep in a forest, two Heron birds, Krauncha, 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 came forth the verse:
Valmiki moved by pathos
Valmiki – Adi Kavi, the first poet
Thus came the first poem of humanity through pathos – “Sokah Slokatwam Aagatah”. It is for composing this poem, Valmiki is referred to as Adi Kavi, the first poet.
Valmiki badly shaken by this incident returned to His ashram, unable to utter anything further.
He then remembered to have said something on that occasion and asked His sishya, Bharadwaja if he remembered what He had said. Bharadwaja repeated what He had heard from Valmiki and 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”
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 also means “anthill”. Before he turned into a poet and Rishi, 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.
From Robber to Rishi
In ancient India, a person could choose a Varna depending upon attitude, aptitude and skill.
In a life span, one could choose to be in different Varna at different times, depending upon the need and desire in that phase of life.
But, being accepted into any Varna, depended upon the skill and ability of that individual to adapt to the demands of that Varna.
That was the essence of Varna migration in its true sense.
The classic case of one such early Varna migration is that of Ratnakara. From being a way side robber in a forest, he became the great Rishi Valmiki, who composed the Ramayana.
Rishi Valmiki, Author of the Ramayana
More on this Varna-Jathi conept in our book, Breaking the Myths – About Society.
Valmiki’s magnum opus is the epic, Valmiki Ramayana.
According to the Indian thought, 16 Guna, qualities, make a complete and perfect human being, they being,
When Valmiki asked a question of Narada, whether there ever existed a person, in the past or the present, endowed with all these 16 qualities, Narada replied that there was a person indeed, living in Valmiki’s times itself, who had all these 16 noble qualities and it was none other than Rama, the King of Ayodhya. Valmiki inspired by Rama, therefore penned the historic account Ramayana to highlight these 16 qualities of Rama for posterity and says so in the Ramayana.
kah nu asmin sampratam loke
gunavaan kah ca viryavaan
dharmajnah ca krtajna ca
satya vaakyo drdha vratah
“Who really is that person in this present world,
who is principled, and also a potential one,
a conscientious one, a redeemer
and also a truth-teller and self-determined in his deed.”
– Valmiki Ramayan 1.1.2
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.
It is even more incredible given that Rishi Valmiki earlier in life was the highway robber Ratnakar. Even as being a highway robber, He had not uttered a lie. This speaks volumes about the truthful character of the person Valmiki, and the life He led.
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.
Revered and Worshipped
Valmiki is revered and worshipped all across this land. There exists many places of worship in his name. One such less known place, is the Balmiki Temple in Peshawar, which lies in ruins today.
Valmiki temple in Peshawar, Pakistan
More on this temple in our book, Breaking The Myths – About Identity.
More on Valmiki and the historicity of Rama in our Books “Historical Rama”, “Ayodhya – War and Peace” and “Ramayana in Lanka“, and film “Historical Rama”.
Today, Valmiki has a fond place in the homes and hearts of everyone in this land, as the Adi Kavi, who gave us the Ramayana, which has shaped the cultural ethos of our civilization and the world, across places, across times, for many a millennia.