Ratnakar was a dreaded highway dacoit. Fierce and ruthless, he robbed and often killed people passing through the forest.
One day Narada, the sage was passing by; Ratnakar stops him and asks him to handover all that he has. Ratnakar is used to people quaking with fear and begging him for their life. He is surprised to see Narada smiling beatifically in spite of the threat Ratnakar poses.
Narada asks him, ‘my good man, why do you do kill and rob for a living?’ He is informed, that he does so to support his parents, wife and children. Narada then asks him, ‘Do you think that your family, who enjoy the fruits of your activities, will also partake in the karma that you are accruing through all this killing?’ The dacoit Ratnakar says, ‘Of course, there is no doubt about it.’ ‘Why don’t you go and ask them, whether this is true or not,’ says Narada.
The dacoit ties up the sage to a tree, lest he run away, goes home and asks his family, ‘ I plunder and kill to feed you. In doing so I accrue a certain kind of karma; are you willing to share in this karma of mine, just as you share the fruits of my activities?’ And to his surprise each one of them refuses to have anything to do with his karma. Disheartened and disillusioned with family life, he returns to the sage and asks for a way out of his bad karma.
The sage says, “take refuge in this name of Rama and all your confusion and karma will be wiped out. Repeat after me, Ramaramaramaramarama…” The dacoit tries but his tongue which has only uttered abusive, angry and murderous words is unable to say the holy name and he thinks,’all is lost. There is no hope for me.’ Narada thinks for awhile and asks him to chant the word ‘Mara’, a word that the dacoit has repeated often, for the word means ‘die’. And so the dacoit finds a suitable spot and starts chanting, ‘Maramaramarama…maRamaramarama’ he is not even aware when Mara has turned into Rama. He sits for a thousand years, chanting the name that can liberate the soul. A huge anthill grows around him… and passers by sometimes hear a strange soft sound from within ‘rmrmrm…’ the anthill seems to murmur.
At the right time, the sage Narada comes back and gently clears the anthill (valmika in Sanskrit) around the chanter, whispers the name of Rama in his ear and awakens him from his deep meditation and tells Ratnakar you are a sage now and since you are born out of a Valmika your sage name will be Valmiki (meaning born of an anthill).
The sage Valmiki, now opens a hermitage and continues with his sagely activities. One day, while on his way to bathe in the river Ganges, he sees a pair of mating birds and he is filled with joy for them. A moment later, a hunter’s arrow pierces through the heart of the male bird and it falls dead to the ground, the cry of the female bird fills the skies. Valmiki is so moved by this, that he cries out a curse to the hunter, but the curse comes out in a beautiful metre that has never been heard before! Later Brahma, the creator asks him to write about the life of Rama, in this metre and the sage does so. He writes the Ramayana which consists of 23000 slokas and 7 cantos (Kandas) in this very metre.
It is his ashram that Sita comes to, when abandoned by her husband Rama, and it is here that her twin sons are born. Valmiki first teaches the Ramayana to the two deserted sons of Rama, Luv and Kush. They in turn sing it to the king Rama (unaware that he is their father), who marvels at the beautiful children and the story they sing.“Such beautiful children, whose children are you? And what a beautiful story this is, Whose story is this that you sing of?” asks our forgetful hero of the epic, for he often forgets his God self and lapses into human forgetfulness.
This story draws me, because it tells me of the possibility of dacoits turning to sages and poets, and of Gods forgetting their Godliness! And that my friends makes my heart sing with joy. May we have the grace to look for the Valmiki in every Ratnakar, may we remember our God selves and wake up from our forgetfulness.
Ameen, Amen and Tathastu