vande Vaalmiiki kokilam”
(Let us offer our salutations to the cuckoo Vaalmiki who, sitting on the tree of poetry, sings sweetly the sweet words “Rama, Rama”.)
The sages Vaalmiki and Vasishtha are considered to be the sun and moon that brighten the universe. Sage Vaalmiki is an example of how the company of the wise can transform even dacoits to saints. By coming into contact with the Saptarshis, Vaalmiki attained the state of a Brahmarshi and also gave to the world the great epic ‘Ramayana’, which is also called as ‘aadi kavya’, (the very first poem).
During the Treta Yuga, the banks of the river Gaga were covered with thick forests. Many Rishis built their hermitage in that forest. Vaalmiki, whose name then was Ratnakara, was the son of Maharshi Prachetas, who lived in the forest. Although born as the son of Prachetas, he was kidnapped by a hunter who took him to the forest and brought him up as his own son, as a hunter boy. He grew up among the hunters and completely forgot his ascetic lineage. He married a woman from the hunter family, begot children and spent his life killing animals and looting and murdering human beings.
One day, Ratnakara, as usual, was waiting for his victim in the forest, when the Saptarshis (the seven rishis) came that way. Ratnakara advanced towards them with the intention to loot them. Then they asked him why he was committing such an evil. Ratnakara replied that he had to take care of his large family. He knew only hunting and looting. “Go and find out whether the people for whose sake you are doing these deeds are ready to face the ill-effects of what you do” said the rishis to Ratnakara. He came back with the realization got from the reply of his family that they were not ready to suffer the consequences of his ill-deeds. He realized that he alone was responsible for his sins. This caused a shift in his perception.
This statement became an eye-opener that he started crying with remorse, falling at the feet of the rishis. He begged of them to rescue him from his sins and lead him to the path of goodness. The rishis, with utmost compassion, consoled him and asked him to chant the sacred name of ‘Rama’. The dacoit incoherently chanted the name as ‘mara, mara’. But very soon he started realizing the essence of rama naama.
Ratnakara continued the chanting of the sacred name with full focus, blissfully unaware of an anthill that had covered him. After many years the Saptarshis came that way. Clearing the anthill very carefully, they witnessed Ratnakara in deep meditation. He had now become a sage of the highest order. Since he was reborn from a ‘vaalmika’ (anthill), he was thereafter called Maharshi Vaalmiki.
The circumstances that led to the creation of the epic Ramayana is popular as the following story:Sage Vaalmiki, with his disciple Bharadwaja went to the Ganga to take bath. The sage was looking for a suitable place to bathe when he heard the chirping of a bird couple and saw them. Suddenly, one of the birds, hit by the arrow of a hunter, fell down dead. It was the male bird. The she-bird was crying in agony. This pained the sage, who uttered these words:
“maa nishaada pratisthaam tvamagamahsaasvatii samaah,
yatkraunchamithunaadeka maradhiihi kaamamohitam.”
“You will find no rest for the long years of eternity,
for you killed a bird in love and unsuspecting.”
Emerging spontaneously from his rage and grief, this was the first śloka in Sanskrit literature. Lord Brahma appeared before Sage Vaalmiki and told him that the words uttered by him had been inspired by the creator himself and asked him to write the story of Rama. Maharishi Valmiki then composed the entire Ramayana with the blessings of Lord Brahma in the same meter that issued forth from him as the śloka. Brahma taught the sage the past and future of Ramayana. It is said that it was Vaalmiki who taught the Ramayana to Rama’s sons Lava and Kusha, who were staying in Vaalmiki’s ashram along with their mother Sita.
The Vaalmiki Ramayana consists of 24,000 slokas. Sage Vaalmiki has also composed a famous treatise on Vedanta – The Yoga Vasishtha. This work, which consists of more than 32,000 slokas, deals with the advice given by Sage Vasishtha to the young boy Rama, who is a seeker and a sincere aspirant focused on Moksha (liberation). However, the name Valmiki and Rama naama have always been inextricably bound into the lives of all spiritual aspirants.
Courtesy – The Art of Living Magazine