The Foremost of Poets- Sage Valmiki
In the lineage of sage Angiras was born a Brahmin known as Ratnakar. Unfortunately he grew up in the association of bandits and robbers. He was never introduced to the path of Brahmins and hence he was not aware of the ritualistic and pure ways of the Brahmin community. He was also thoroughly illiterate. To earn a living, he hid himself in the forests and at an opportune moment, would assault passers-by and loot them of their possessions. With this loot, he used to support his large family, who depended wholly on him. By the arrangement of fate, Sage Narada passed by that jungle wherein Ratnakar executed his heinous acts. Seeing the sage, Ratnakar closed into the sage. He challenged the sage. For a change, he could not see fear in the eyes of the sage, who stood calm and smiling. The sage said “I have absolutely nothing to offer you. Why do you lead such a sinful life? Why do you slay and loot passers-by? Do you know what type of hells you shall be cast into, after death?” This was the first time that Ratnakar came across someone, who was not only not scared of him but also had the audacity to question his actions.
Ratnakar is affected by Narada’s poise
It is a well-known fact that the great Lord Sri Hari, out of His causeless mercy, sends his great devotees to shower their grace on a Jiva, at an opportune time. It is said that when the time is ripe, when the Jiva becomes very fortunate, he shall witness the coming of a great devotee. This was such a moment for the bandit known as Ratnakar. Whoever was confronted with Ratnakar would cry, weep, becomes fearful and plead for his life, but here is a sadhu who is least affected on meeting Ratnakar, who is fearless like a lion, who is not fearing for his life or upkeep and instead is offering advice to his own aggressor. This had an effect on Ratnakar. Normally he is never impressed by the cries of his victim, but the mood of this great sage had a deep impact on Ratnakar. Ratnakar then replied to sage Narada. He said “My family is huge. I have to care for my family all alone. If I do not loot people, my family shall starve to death.”
Ratnakar relents for the sins he committed
Deva Rishi Narada replied, “Do you think that the family for whom you are worried so much, will be ready to share your responsibilities by partaking the sins of your actions that you have been committing all this while? Why don’t you go and ask them? Do not worry, I shall stay here. You go and ask, I shall wait here. You can tie me down to this tree if you do not trust me.” Immediately Ratnakar tied the sage to the tree and left for his home. He posed the question to each of his family members. The reply that he got was quite shocking for him. The gist of their answers was “It is your duty to maintain and protect us. We do not care how you maintain us. Moreover why should we shoulder the sins that you have committed? We have never asked you to do so.” Ratnakar was heart-broken and was in pain. He wondered “Those kinsmen for whom I used to hide in the jungle, without caring for heat, cold or rain, for whom I killed innocent travelers and bore the burden of sins, those very people have no care for me and do not have an iota of concern for me. Oh, how foolish I am.” Mulling so, Ratnakar almost lost his wits. In that minute of contemplation, all the bonds of attachment broke. Weeping inconsolably, he reached the spot where he had tied the sage. He released sage Narada and fell flat at his Lotus feet. He enquired, “Oh great sage, how shall I be redeemed of my innumerable sins? Kindly show me the path.”
Sri Brahma calls out to Valmiki
Sage Narada was silent for a moment. He wondered “The holy name of the Lord is non-different from Him.” The Holy name, out of its causeless mercy, comes on to the lips of a fortunate being.” Convinced with this thought, he asked Ratnakar to chant Rama… Rama… Rama… The poor bandit was so fallen that he could not utter the name of the Lord. Instead he would chant Mara… Mara… Mara. Nevertheless by the instructions of sage Narada, Ratnakar started chanting Mara. Months rolled by, years rolled by and even Yugas passed by, but Ratnakar never got up from his seat and was still, immersed in relentless chanting. His body became the abode of white-ants. Impressed by his dedication, the Creator of the material universe, Sri Brahma approached Ratnakar who was deep into chanting. The body of Ratnakar was almost eaten up by the ants but his life was still sticking on to his bones. Sri Brahma touched his body and cleared up the ant-hills. By the touch of Sri Brahma, the body of Ratnakar was fully replenished. It became healthy and rejuvenated once again. Ratnakar still continued chanting, oblivious of Sri Brahma’s arrival. Finally Sri Brahma called “Get up Valmiki (वाल्मीकि one who is covered with ant-hills).” Ratnakar, now known as Valmiki rose from his seat and prostrated the Creator.
Sage Valmiki directs the Lord, Sri Rama
The one whose heart was hardened because of the sins accrued due to killing innocent passers-by, the one whose actions were gory and reckless, now with the chanting of the Lord’s holy name became an extremely soft-hearted and kind Rishi by the name Valmiki. He is the great sage, who became happy on seeing two Krauncha birds singing in each other’s company. When he witnessed the killing of one of the birds, hit by the merciless arrow of a hunter, he uttered a curse onto the hunter, which took the form of a shloka, a couplet, that went on to become the opening verses of the great epic Ramayana that described the exploits of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Rama. At the time when Sri Rama undertook his exile in the forest, the Lord along with His brother Lakshmana and the Universal Mother Shrimati Seetha Devi, visited the hermitage of sage Valmiki. On the Lord’s asking, sage Valmiki mentioned the names of 14 locations that were suitable for the Lord’s stay. These places enshrouded within them the most confidential modes for attaining Bhakti towards the Lord.
Hearing and Reciting the Ramayana grants liberation
Towards the end of the epic, the Ramayana, when Lord Sri Rama abandons Mother Seetadevi, she remained in the hermitage of Sage Valmiki. The two princes Luv and Kush were delivered at the hermitage. The two princes became the first students of sage Valmiki who recited the entire epic, the Ramayana to the whole population of Ayodhyaji. The epic Ramayana is regarded as the fifth Veda. Hearing and reciting the Ramayana is one of the most effective ways to transcend the material world and attain liberation, say the Scriptures. Many chapters of the Ramayana were documented by the sage, even before the actual event took place. This was the greatness of Sage Valmiki.