Once upon a time there was a man called Ratnakar. Ratnakar was very skilled in the use of bows, arrows and the swords. His father Sumali very often remarked that Ratnakar was the best warrior he had seen in their whole clan. This made Ratnakar very proud.
When Ratnakar grew up, he had a huge family to support. Deciding to use his skills, Ratnakar became a highway robber. He would rob the innocent victims of all their money and belongings.
In case anybody caused any problem and did not give him their belongings, Ratnakar did not hesitate to kill his victims. Ratnkar cared nothing about killing innocent people. For him it was a just a means of earning his livelihood.
Once when Ratnakar lay hidden on the top of the trees waiting for any fresh victim, Ratnakar's keen eyes spotted an ascetic coming into the forest. The ascetic was clad in a very simple manner. He only had a tamboora hanging around his shoulders. The ascetic had mischievous and twinkling eyes.
Ratnakar saw that the ascetic looked like he did not have a care in the world. Ratnkar had decided to rob the ascetic. It did not look like the ascetic had anything with him, Ratnakar however eyed the tamboora. He wondered why any person would come to a jungle with a musical instrument. He thought that the man had hidden his valuables inside the tamboora and pretended to be a simple man. Only one way to find out.... Rattnakar thought as he leapt from the tree and with practised ease landed on his feet.
He saw with satisfaction as the ascetic got momentarily startled. Ratnakar slowly pulled out his knife and pointed it at the ascetic.
The ascetic however recovered himself and looked amused at the knife. 'What do you want, son?' The ascetic asked looking at Ratnakar
Ratnakar bristled with anger. The ascetic was not even getting afraid of him, whereas the whole kingdom quaked with fear when they heard his name. I will teach you how to get afraid...Ratnakar thought angrily.
'Give me all your belongings, you old man!' Ratnakar said carelessly waving his knife, 'And I mean everything...' He said threateningly, 'If you try to act smart...' Ratnakar looked at his knife menacingly, 'I will kill you...'
Ratnakar got irritated when he saw the ascetic burst out laughing, 'Belongings! Do I look like someone who has any belongings?' The ascetic pointed at his tamboora, 'I have this tamboora...You can keep it, if you want it...' The ascetic said taking the tamboora in his hands.
For the first time since the encounter, Ratnakar felt uneasy. Why was the man not getting afraid?He did not mind giving the tamboora...Was he a royal guard in disguise who had come to catch me...'
Ratnakar felt slightly angry at himself for not thinking about this earlier. He caught hold of the ascetic roughly by the arm and using him as a shield looked keenly around the forest, trying to see whether anyone else had come with the man.
He saw no one and then turned to the ascetic, 'Have you come alone?' He harshly asked the ascetic shaking him. 'Is there anyone else with you?'
The ascetic smiled and shook his head. 'I always go everywhere alone...I have Narayana to help me, in case of need'
Ratnakar got angry, with the man's words. 'Who are you?' He asked clutching his knife dangerously at the ascetic's throat.
The ascetic laughed, 'I am Narada, Brahma's son...Narayana Narayana'
Ratnakar was momentarily shaken. Brahma's son...The Narada...Who roamed about the earth and carried messages from all over to the Gods...That Narada...But Ratnakar wondered whether the man had indeed come to capture him...If I let him go away, the man may go and tell others where to find me...Why he may even warn the royal guards...It was too dangerous to let the man live...
Ratnakar pulled out his knife and pressed it more closely at Narada's throat. 'I do not believe you. I think you are just an ordinary man and I am going to kill you, otherwise you would go and tell others where to find me...'
Narada seemed to be amused as he looked at Ratnakar, 'Ratnakar, you do know that what you are doing is a sin, don't you?'
Ratnakar gave a uneasy laugh when he heard the sage's words, 'So...Who cares?...I do what I have to do, to feed my family...If I do not rob people, my family will starve...There is no sin in this...'
Narada looked at him quietly, 'Fine! If you feel so...Can I ask you one small question before...before you actually kill me...?'
Ratnakar brandished his knife and stepped closer to Narada, 'Well what do you what?'
Narada said calmly, 'You said you were doing all this for your family...Will you just go and ask your family whether they are willing to share your sins?'
Something about the way Narada said it, made Ratnakar think...I do everything for my family...If I sinned then they should share it... He suddenly felt that he had to know the answer to that question before he killed the ascetic.
'I am going to tie you up here. Least you get any ideas of escaping...I am going to meet my family and come back and then I will kill you...'
Narada did not say anything but only nodded his head. It had started...
Ratnakar angrily tied Narada around a tree and after checking whether the bonds were strong went to his family. He saw that the ascetic was sitting with his eyes closed without any fear... This made Ratnakar even more angry for some reason...He stomped his foot, turned away and walked back home.
As he neared home, he saw his father outside the house relaxing, 'Son, you are are back! What did you get today?' Sumali asked.
'Father, I have a question to ask you.' Ratnakar said without any preamble. He seriously looked into his father's face. His father looked at Ratnakar warily and motioned with his hand to ask, 'Father, I am a thief...I rob and sometimes kill people...' His father winced when he heard this. Ratnakar continued, 'I have committed any sins to make sure you and the rest of our family are all fed and clothed...I want to know...whether...whether you will share my sins with me?' Ratnakar finished looking at Sumali steadily.
Sumali looked at his son angrily, 'Share your sins with you?' Sumali said as if Ratnakar had said something in another language. 'Why should I? It is your duty to take care of your parents when they are old...You are not doing anything special by looking after me...It is only your duty...Why should I share your sins for doing your duty...?'
Ratnakar felt like he had been slapped, when he had heard this. But he was not in a mood to convince and talk his father into seeing his point of view. He was very angry as it is...
Ratnakar doggedly went to his wife and repeated the question.
Ratnakar felt doomed when his wife also refused to share his sins...She also gave the same reasons. It was the duty of the husband to provide for his family. He had done nothing special by looking after them and so she did not feel the need to share his sins...
Slowly he asked everyone in his family...No one in the family felt that they had to share his sins...
Ratnakar slowly realised one thing and he could not escape it no matter what he did.. All his mistakes, his troubles... they were his own doing and nobody felt like they had share it with him...
Slowly like a man in pain, Ratnakar went back to where he had tied Narada. Narada was sitting there with his eyes closed, praying. When Ratnakar came near, Narada opened his eyes and saw him. Narada did not say anything and just looked at Ratnakar.
Ratnakar slowly untied the sage and spoke to himself, 'No one was willing...Everybody said it was my sin and I alone was responsible...Me all alone...' Ratnakar shuddered as he cut the last rope tying Narada.
When Narada had got on his feet, Ratnakar looked at Narada steadily and feel at Narada's feet and sobbed out aloud...'I am a sinner! I have committed bad...bad...' Ratnakar sobbed unable to go on as the images of all the people he had hurt came before him.
Narada gently picked up Ratnakar by his shoulders. 'Ratnakar' Narada said leading Ratnakar to a clearing in the jungle. 'Please..listen to me...Once you start repenting for your sins...there is always a way...'
Ratnakar looked at Narada with desperate eyes, 'You mean, I can make all this go away?'
Narada nodded. 'Sit here' He said pointing at the forest floor. Without any question, Ratnakar sat on the ground. 'There is a great man called Rama...' Narada said softly, 'Rama is a God among men...Close your eyes and keep chanting his name. It will wipe away all your sins...'
Ratnakar nodded his head desperately. He asked Narada with wild eyes, 'For how long..should I...?'
Narada smiled, 'Till I come to get you Ratnakar...'
Ratnakar nodded and sat down and started his chanting. Narada looked at Ratnakar, smiled. His work completed Narada vanished from there.
Days and nights passed, months came and years went...Yet Ratnakar never moved from the spot. He just sat there chanting the name of Rama. Ants from the forest came and built an anthill around him, however Ratnakar never knew about it – he was so caught up in his prayers.
Suddenly Ratnakar felt something inside him change. He knew that he had committed bad acts and he also knew that he was forgiven for it. He now had a clean slate.
He had attained the supreme state of a great sage - One who is at peace with himself. It was at this time that Narada came and broke the anthill and asked Ratnakar to come out of it. Narada looked at the now peaceful Ratnakar with proud eyes. 'Open your eyes Ratnakar...' When Ratnakar opened his eyes, Narada looked at him and smiled, 'Your past will no longer trouble you. You are born new today. You will be called as Valmiki [one is comes from an anthill] henceforth...Go and leave your life to the full...'
Valmiki got up and fell at the feet of Sage Narada and thanked him. Then Valmiki asked him the one question he had wanted to ask all these years, 'Sage Narada, who is this Rama. Please tell me about him?'
Narada smiled and gave a brief outline of Rama's story. Valmiki listened to the story.
After this Narada left for his home. Valmiki fell asleep that night and awoke the next morning. As he was going to take bath in the river, he saw two birds – a male and a female happily dancing and singing in the forest. Valmiki smiled when he saw it. It was at that minute that a hunter killed the male bird with his arrow. The female bird screeched wildly. Valmiki saw all this and without his own knowledge uttered the first 'sloka' [hymns] at the sight of the wailing female bird.
These slokas were the first poetry in Sanskrit. Valmiki went on write the Ramayana – the story of Rama based on the two birds and the outline given by Sage Narada. As he is the first poet in Sanskrit, he is also called as Adikavi [First Poet].