Maharishi Valmiki – The Transformation Of A Robber Into Adikavi

How did Ratnakar transform into Maharishi Valmiki, author of the Ramayana? His story shows that human beings are capable of changing their life path and moving in the direction of a better future.

By Ashwin Lobo

Maharishi Valmiki – The Transformation Of A Robber Into Adikavi

Every year, on 24 October, we celebrate Valmiki Jayanthi to honour the great poet and sage Valmiki, known for composing the great Indian epic Ramayana.

Maharshi Valmiki is also referred to as 'Adikavi' or the first poet, as the Ramayana is considered to be the first epic poem. Valmiki is also believed to have come up with the format of ‘shloka’ — a Sanskrit verse form which has been used to compose various other texts such as the Mahabharata and the Puranas.

Early life

The boy born to sage Prachetasa was given the name Ratnakara by his parents. It is said that when Ratnakara was a few years old, he wandered into a forest and got lost. The young boy was found by a hunter who adopted and raised him. Under his foster father's guidance, Ratnakara also grew up to become an accomplished hunter.

When Ratnakara reached marriageable age, he was married to a girl from the hunter’s family. With time, Ratnakara's family also increased in number and he became a father to many children. The expansion of his family meant it became difficult for hunter Ratnakara to make ends meet. As a result, out of desperation, he took to robbery and began looting travellers who passed by his area.

The transformation

One day, sage Narada was passing by the forest where Ratnakara lived. Sensing a good opportunity, Ratnakara attacked Narada with the intention of robbing him. However, Narada remained unfazed. This surprised Ratnakara, who was used to the sight of people cowering in fear at the very mention of his name.

Narada questioned Ratnakara as to why he was committing the sin of robbing others. And, Ratnakara replied, "To feed my family."

To this, Narada said, "Ratnakara, go and ask your family if they will also share the sins you are committing to take care of them."

After tying Narada to a tree to prevent him from escaping, Ratnakara returned to his family and asked every member if they were willing to share his sins. No one was ready or willing to share the burden of Ratnakara's sins. Heartbroken at his family's response, Ratnakara returned to Narada and asked him the path to salvation. To which Narada asked him to chant the name of Lord Rama. But, no matter how much Ratnakara tried, he couldn't pronounce Rama. So, Narada asked Ratnakara to pronounce 'Rama' backwards as 'Mara'. Ratnakara began his penance by chanting as Narada had instructed him to. Years passed and one day Lord Brahma appeared before him and blessed him.

Ratnakara becomes Valmiki

While Ratnakara was sitting still and meditating for years, ants covered his body with mud to build their nest. And, when Lord Brahma appeared to bless him, he saw Ratnakara covered by the anthill or 'Valmika' and gave him the name Valmiki.

Valmiki composes the first shloka

Once the sage went to bathe in the river Tamasa. While bathing, he eyes fell on a pair of herons by the riverside. As Valmiki was watching the birds, an arrow from a hunter struck and killed the male. The female bird cried out in sorrow at the sight of its dead companion. Pained and angered by what happened to the birds, Valmiki uttered the first shloka.

Composing the Ramayana

The first shloka that Maharishi Valmiki recited had nothing to do with the Ramayana. It was, in fact, a curse for the hunter who had acted in such a cruel manner. However, the shloka was grammatically perfect and had a metre which was new.

After reciting the shloka when the Maharishi returned to his ashrama, he was visited by Lord Brahma. The Lord blessed Valmiki and gave him the task of writing the Ramayana. And thus, Valmiki composed the great epic Ramayana – the life story of Lord Rama.

While composing the Ramayana, Rama's wife Sita, and their sons, Luva and Kusha, came to stay in Valmiki's ashrama. After Valmiki finished composing the Ramayana, he taught it to Luva and Kusha, who sang the epic poem and spread its glory far and wide.

Valmiki's appearance in the Ramayana

Valmiki focuses exclusively on telling the story of Rama and reveals very few details about his own life. However, he does make two brief appearances in the story.

When Rama is travelling to Chitrakoot from Ayodhya, he passes by the sage’s ashrama. Valmiki welcomes him with love and requests him to spend some time there with him. He feels greatly honoured when Rama accepts his request.

The next time Valmiki makes an appearance is when he accompanies Sita, Luva and Kusha to the royal court of Rama and speaks for Sita.

Some interesting facts from Valmiki Ramayana

  1. It is composed of 24,000 verses.
  2. Lord Rama was 27 years old when he was exiled by his father, King Dasaratha.
  3. Jatayu’s father Arun is credited with trying to rescue Sita and not Jatayu.
  4. Shurpanakha curses Ravana with death for killing her husband.
  5. The concept of Lakshmana rekha is not mentioned in Valmiki Ramayana.
  6. It took five days to build the bridge to Lanka.
  7. The kingdom of Lanka belonged to Ravana’s elder brother Kubera. However, Ravana overthrew him and occupied the throne.
  8. Apart from being well-versed in the Vedas, Ravana was also an accomplished veena player.
  9. Lakshmana never slept during the 14 years he spent in exile with Lord Rama and Sita.
  10. Sita was called Vaidehi while she was living in exile.

Other works of Valmiki

Although Valmiki is remembered for composing the Ramyana, his poetry and philosophy extended much beyond this iconic epic. Yoga Vasishta, a compilation of dialogues between Lord Rama and the sage Vasishta, is also attributed to Valmiki.

Valmiki’s story is one of inner transformation. The journey from being a bandit to becoming a Brahmarishi, is testament to the human capacity for differentiating right from wrong and making most of the opportunity offered to redeem oneself.

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