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Valmiki – The Great Sage And Poet

Obeisance to the Guru (Valmiki), the first poet, who, by the order of Brahma presented the taraka-mantra – “Rama” in the form of a beautiful poem and expounded dharma through it.

Thus saluting the great seer and the first poet, a salutatory article is reverentially presented here.

काव्यं यशसे अर्थकृते व्यवहारविदे शिवेतरक्षतये।

सद्यः     परनिर्वृतये     कान्तासम्मिततयोपदेशयुजे॥

 Mammatācārya enlists “a pleasant counsel like that of one’s spouse” among the purposes of poetry. It is certainly to expound dharma that Vālmīki has composed the first poetic work since it is the extremely subtle dharma that is illustrated in an aesthetic manner through the description of the dharmas of a king, a son, a wife and a servant in the narration of Śrī Rāma’s story. There is no doubt that the Rāmāyaṇa was composed as a means to accomplish the four human pursuits and elucidate the meaning of the Vedas. Although Vāmīki hardly mentions about himself in his poem, it is known from the epic-poem that he was a contemporary of Śrī Rāma and that it was composed during Śrī Rāma’s reign. Vālmīki, however introduces himself as a character in the epic. The sons of Śrī Rāma viz, KuŚa and Lava were born in his āśrama and it was he who taught the princes the Rāmāyaṇa and made them sing the poem before Śrī Rāma. It was again Vālmīki who had vouched for the chastity of Śrī Sītā in the court of Śrī Rāma.

Some of the Purāṇas as well as the other versions of Rāmāyaṇa contain some details about Vālmīki. According to the Skanda Purāṇa, in one of his earlier births he was born as a brāhmaṇa named Stambha in the Śrīvatsa gotra and in the next birth he was born as a hunter. His association with holy men and the recitation of the sacred name of Rāma, he was again born as a brāhmaṇa named Agniśarmā in his following birth. Even then, due to the impression of his past birth, he continued the pursuits of a hunter. A chance encounter with the seven seers led him to practicing penance, reciting “Marā Marā”. During his penance was covered by an ant-hill (valmīka) and consequently he came to be known as Vālmīki. Agniśarmā possibly belonged to the Bhārgava gotra since, the Vāyu-Purāṇa refers to him as Bhārgava. In the Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa he is referred to as Prācetasa. It is known that Varuṇa the son of Bhṛgu was called Pracetas. The names Bhārgava and Prācetasa perhaps suggest his descent in the lineage of Bhṛgu or Pracetas. He is also referred to as Ṛkṣa in the Vāyu-Purāṇa and a few others. These Purāṇas refer to Vālmīki, also known as Ṛkṣa as the Vyāsa who had classified the Vedas in the twenty fourth Dvāpara Yuga.

Although a dvija by birth, on account of his association with dacoits Vālmīki in his early life, he had turned a dacoit. Once upon seeing the Saptarṣis, he followed them desirous of plundering their clothes and other belongings. When enquired by the sages he confessed that it was to sustain his family that he roamed about the mountains and forests. At the insistence of the seers he approached his family and asked them whether or not they would share the burden of his sins. Upon hearing the response of his family members that he alone had to incur all the sins, he approached the sages and sought their guidance. After deliberation, the sages advised him to single-mindedly recite “Marā”. Remaining motionless for a long time, Vālmīki continued the recitation and was covered by an ant-hill. At the end of thousands of Yugas, the sages returned and called him and he came out of the ant-hill. The sages addressed him as sage Vālmīki, since he was now born for the second time from the ant-hill. This version of Vālmīki’s life is found in the Ādhyātma-Rāmāyaṇa. The Bhaviṣya-Purāṇa, Ānanda-Rāmāyaṇa, Rāmacarita-mānasa and the Kṛttivāsa-Rāmāyaṇa (Bengali) present the same story with minor variations.

Vālmīki had first heard the story of Śrī Rāma from Nārada and this was followed by Vālmīki witnessing a fowler killing the male krauñca bird of a frolicking pair. The sorrow of Vālmīki manifested itself in a metrical form as he cursed the fowler.  Brahmā himself appeared and re-assured Vālmīki that it was as per his wish that Sarasvatī manifested herself in that manner and commanded Vālmīki to compose the story of Śrī Rāma in the metrical form. By the grace of Brahmā all the events in the life of Śrī Rāma, known as well as the unknown became perceptible to Vālmīki and he composed the evergreen poem called Rāmāyaṇa. This is the account found in the Bālakāṇḍa of Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa.

Often the self-proclaimed intellectual writers of modern times often boast of writing the Rāmāyaṇa from Sītā’s perspective or with Sītā as the central character. This is merely a farce. By referring to his own poem as “सीतायाश्चरितं महत्” sage Vālmīki has already reflected the pre-eminence of Sītā in the story.

While it is known that the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata have been the main sources for the creations of Indian poets, especially the Sanskrit poets, it is noteworthy that the latter also was composed by the most venerated sage Kṛṣṇa Dvaipāyana only after reading the Rāmāyaṇa as per the Bṛhad-dharma Purāṇa –

रामायणे पाठिते मे प्रसन्नोऽस्मि कृतस्त्वया। करिष्यामि पुराणानि महाभारतमेव (१.३०.५५)

This account is much reliable since the Mahābhārata quotes a few verses from the Rāmāyaṇa along with the name of Vālmīki.

Therefore, it can undoubtedly be said that Vālmīki is the great preceptor of all the poets in the world and his greatness has been sung by poets from across generations. Kālidāsa refers to the past poets with reverence at the commencement of the Raghuvaṃśa and it is a clear reference to Vālmikī and the successive poets[1]. In the fourteenth canto of the same poem, Kālidāsa recalls the incident of the manifestation of poetry in Vālmīki[2]. Trivikrama Bhaṭṭa in his Nala-campū pays his obeisance to Vālmīki while describing the excellences of his poetry[3]. Bhavabhūti distinguishes the words of Vālmīki saying that in cases of such seers the meanings are bound to follow the words, alluding to the meaningfulness of every word of Vālmīki[4]. A well-known verse by a later poet equates Vālmikī as the instrumental prelude to the stage performance of the damsel of Śrī Rāma’s fame[5]. The polymath poet Bhoja also conveys the indebtedness of all poets towards Vālmīki[6].

Rāmāyaṇa is noted for its aesthetic perfection from the perspective of literature. Some also consider it as a comprehensive text on dharma. However the founding acāryas of the path of Bhakti recognize Rāmāyaṇa as a treatise on Bhakti since it illustrates the various aspects of the bhakti-mārga such as dasya, sakhya, prapatti etc, through the characters of Lakṣmaṇa, Hanumān, Vibhīṣaṇa etc. These great ācāryas also hail Vālmīki as the foremost among the devotees. In this connection it is rightly said –

यः पिबन् सततं रामचरितामृतसागरम्। अतृप्तस्तं मुनिं वन्दे प्राचेतसमकल्मषम्॥

[Salutations to the poets who is never satiated despite constantly drinking the nectarine ocean of the life of Śrī Rāma]

 [1] अथ वा कृतवाग्द्वारे वंशेऽस्मिन्पूर्वसूरिभिः । मणौ वज्रसमुत्कीर्णे सूत्रस्येवास्ति मे गतिः ॥

[2] तामभ्यगच्छद्रुदितानुसारी कविः कुशेध्माहरणाय यातः ।

निषादविद्धाण्डजदर्शनोत्थः श्लोकत्वं आपद्यत यस्य शोकः । ।

[3] सदूषणाऽपि निर्दोषा सखराऽपि सुकोमला। नमस्तस्मै कृता येन रम्या रामायणी कथा॥

[4] लौकिकानां हि साधूनां अर्थं वागनुधावते। ऋषीणां पुनराद्यानां वाचं अर्थोऽनुधावति॥

[5] भास्वद्वंशवतंसकीर्तिरमणीरङ्गप्रसङ्गस्वनद्वादित्रप्रथमध्वनिः विजयते वल्मीकजन्मा मुनिः।

पीत्वा यदवदनेन्दुमण्डलगलत्काव्यामृताब्धेः किमप्याकल्पं कविनूतनाम्बुदमयी कादम्बिनी वर्षति॥

[6] वाल्मीकिगीतरघुपुङ्गवकीर्तिलेशैः तृप्तिं करोमि कथमप्यधुना बुधानाम्।

गङ्गाजलैर्भुवि भगीरथयत्नलब्धैः किं तर्पणं न विदधाति नरः पितॄणाम्॥

(This is an English translation of a Sanskrit article by Dr. Sriram N. Iyer)

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