Valmiki, the great Indian poet is revered to be the first ever Sanskrit poet and the harbinger poet. Ramayana, the great Indian epic can be attributed to him.
He is revered and called the Adi Kavi or the first poet in various texts as he invented and started various types of Shlokas. Shlokas are epic metre. He lived in the first half of the first millennium.
As mentioned earlier he created the shlokas, or the epic metres in which all the later epics came to be known, such as Mahabharta, Puranas and various other works. The Ramayana itself consists of 24,000 verses and 7 cantos or Kandas, which are episodes.
His birth time is difficult to be attributed; however he lived in the times of Lord Rama. Every year Ashwin Purnima is celebrated as this great poet’s birth anniversary. In 2016, the Valmiki Jayanti date is 16th of October, Sunday.
- Legend behind the name Valmiki
There is an interesting tale behind how Valmiki got his name. Though he was a Brahmin by birth, he grew up with a band of dacoits or robbers. A chance encounter with the Saptarhis and the sage Narada changed the course of his life forever. By chanting of the name of Rama he attained the supreme knowledge and salvation. He became the great Maharishi. While he was performing this severe penance and great austerity, an anthill or a Valmika had grown over his body, and thus he came to be known as Valmiki.
- Early life of Valmiki
It is from the Uttara Kanda of Ramayana that we get to know about the early life of Valmiki. Though born of a Brahmin family, situation made it so, that he was brought up by a band of robbers. He earlier life name was Ratnakar. He used to rob people on the highway, steal them off their money and then kill them. Once, Ratnakar tried to rob the sage Narada on a highway. Narada asked him if he was doing it for his family and if his family will take a part of the sin that he was incurring by this heinous act. Ratnakar was certain that they will, however Narada asked him to go and check with his family. None of his family members agreed and then Ratnakar realized the futility of his committing such atrocious sins for his family. He realized his mistake and asked for Narada’s forgiveness. Narada taught him the path to salvation and taught him to chant the name of Rama to reach moksha. But as he was a robber, Rama’s name was beyond his reach and could not be given to him. Thus Narada asked him to chant Mara, which was nothing but an anagram of the word Rama. Thus started Ratnakar’s severe penance, during which ant hill grew over him and when he finally heard a divine voice declaring his penance successful and bestowed the name Valmiki to him.
- When is Valmiki believed to have lived
Valmiki is said to be contemporary of Rama and it is believed that when Rama had banished his wife Sita, she took refuge in the hermitage of Valmiki and the twins Lava and Kusa were born there only. Lava and Kusa were the first disciples to have been taught the Ramayana and they sang this divine saga in the court of Rama during the Ashyamedha Yajna celebration. The then King Rama upon questioning found out that the exile Sita is the mother of the children and following them to Valmiki’s hermitage was reunited with Sita and his two sons.
- Composing the Ramayana
After changing his ways and doing severe penance, in his hermitage, Valmiki asked the divine sage Narada, that who was an ideal man. In answer to this question, Narada replied in Samkshepa Ramayana which is believed to be the basis for the Ramayana that Valmiki composed. One day while he was about to bathe in the river Tamasa, Valmiki saw two cranes lovingly with each other and thought how beautiful this place was. Suddenly an arrow hit the male bird and it dies. Crying out in agony the other crane died too. Enraged and deeply grieved Valmiki uttered the following shloka for the first time –
mā niṣāda pratiṣṭhāṁ tvamagamaḥ śāśvatīḥ samāḥ
yat krauñcamithunādekam avadhīḥ kāmamohitam;
The sloka means that you will find no peace till eternity as you killed a loving and unsuspecting pair of birds.
This is the first ever shloka uttered in this metre, and Brahma appeared to Valmiki and ordered him to compose the saga of Rama in this metre and also gave him the boon of being able to have all visions necessary to compose the same.
The Ramayana, composed by Valmiki consists of 23,000shlokas and 7 cantoes or kandas. It consists of almost about 480,002 words and is almost 4 times lengthier than The Illiad. The Ramayana recounts the tale of Rama, prince of Ayodhya, who went into a vanavas, or in exile along with his younger brother Lakshmana and wife Sita. While in exile, his wife is abducted by the king of the demons, Ravana and taken to his island kingdom of Lanka.
- Celebration of Valmiki Jayanti
Valmiki Jayanti is observed with a lot of devotion as befitting the Adi Kavi. The Maharishi Valmiki community observes this auspicious day as the Pargat Divas and on this day various discussions and dissertations are held on the Ramayana. The Ramayana is distributed as well read and discussed in great detail in all the temples and institutions where Valmiki is worshipped and revered. His portrait is also taken out at many places and food and other charitable items are distributed.