Ramayana the ancient and highly revered and evergreen epic is known all over the world and in particular to every Indian. And today, Ashwija Masam Punnama day (the month of Ashwin, full Moon day) is the birth anniversary of Maharishi Valmiki who authored Ramayana for us. Today is observed with great enthusiasm and devotion especially in North India by remembering Sage Valmiki and reading or listening to Ramayana and offering prayers to Lord Rama. There are many Temples in India including a few in Hyderabad dedicated to Maharishi Valmiki.
Maharishi Valmiki is the first poet of Sanskrit literature. He wrote Ramayana in 24,000 verses (slokas), in seven chapters known as Kandas. He is also referred as Adi Kavi meaning the first poet of Sanskrit language. He lived during the Treta Yuga and through guidance from heaven, he wrote the Ramayana prior to Lord Rama’s advent. Valmiki was also present during Lord Rama’s lifetime. He had a hermitage in the forest and was visited by Lord Rama, Sita Devi and Rama’s brother Lakshmana during their fourteen year exile. Lord Rama asked Valmiki if he knew a good place where they could stay. He gave them the directions to Panchavati, which we believe is the place called 'Parnashala' near Bhadrachalam in Telangana. Valmiki also provided shelter to Sita Devi when she was abandoned. Lord Rama and Sita Devi’s two sons, Lava and Kusha were born at Valmiki’s hermitage and he acted as their spiritual teacher. Valmiki taught Ramayana to Lava and Kusha, who later sang the divine story in Ayodhya during the Ashwamedha Yagna by Lord Rama, to the pleasure of the audience. King Rama questioned who they were and later visited Sage Valmiki’s hermitage to be united with Sita Devi and his sons.
In Uttara Kanda Valmiki Maharishi mentions about his earlier life and how he became a hermit and wrote Ramayana. His early life is perhaps not well known to many. It has a great message. His life teaches that no one is born good or evil; it is their deeds that determine their greatness.
Maharishi Valmiki was born as Ratnakara to sage Prachetasa. At a very young age, Ratnakara went into the forest and got lost. A hunter, who was passing by, saw Ratnakara and took him under his own care. Under the love and care of his foster parents, Ratnakara forgot his original parents. Under his foster father’s guidance, Ratnakara turned out to be an excellent hunter. As he approached marriageable age, Ratnakara was married to a beautiful girl from a hunter’s family. He initially lived by hunting birds and animals. But as his family grew larger, Ratnakara found it next to impossible to feed them. As a result, he took to robbery and began looting people who were passing from one village to another. One day, the great sage Narada, while passing through the jungle, was attacked by Ratnakara. He jumped out in front of Narada and demanded, “Hand over all you have or else I will break your head”. With love flowing from his eyes, Narada said smilingly, “My dear man all that I have are these rags I wear and my Veena. Why do you want to kill me for these and become a sinner”. Ratnakara replied saying that he does all this as a duty to feed his family. Narada told him that he is sinning a lot and will have to face the consequences all alone. Hearing this Ratnakara says that his family would share whatever the outcome may be. Narada said that his family would not share his sins and asked him to go and ascertain this. Ratnakara tied Narada to a tree and went home to find out from his family. On hearing that he is a dacoit, his father and then his mother and even his wife loathed him and said that they would not share his sins. Hearing this he returned to Narada, untied him and fell at his feet and sought forgiveness and advice to lead a pious life. Narada taught him to recite the sacred name of Rama and asked him to go into penance. His concentration was so deep that he remained in meditation for years. In fact, he sat there so long in meditation that an anthill grew all around and above him. One day Narada came that way and carefully cleared the anthill, blessed him and declared him as a sage. He said that this is your rebirth as a great saint and I and the world shall henceforth call you as “Valmiki”. Val-mika means one born out of an Ant-hill. Valmiki then started living in an Ashram along River Ganges.
Sometime later Sage Narada visited Maharishi Valmiki in his Ashram and narrated the story of Lord Rama. Thereafter Valmiki received a vision from Lord Brahma in which the Lord instructed him to write Ramayana in slokas, which the sage readily followed.