A celestial sage was roaming through the woods, strumming his lute.
“Stop right there! These woods belong to me! Give me all your possessions, or you will lose your life.”
Narada smiled with compassion.
“I have nothing but this lute, my son.”
The thief was unconvinced. He moved closer to the sage, knife in hand.
“You seers are an eloquent lot! Your word-jugglery has little effect on me. Give me your possessions, or be prepared to drop dead.”
Narada was quite unmoved. The looked benevolently at the rugged countenance of the dacoit.
“Tell me, son. You say the woods belong to you. You delight in the use of force. Have you thought of the consequences of your actions?”
“Consequences” the bandit said sardonically, and laughed. “I do everything for my family! They love me.”
“Yes, I’m sure your family love you. Why don’t you go back home and ask them if they are willing the share the karmic reactions associated with your profession? Worry not; I shall remain here until you return.”
The dacoit’s eyes widened, and he looked grimacingly at Narada.
“Why do you jest with me, holy sir? You’re afraid, aren’t you?”
“Do you take me for a fool? I know you’re just waiting for a chance to beat a hasty retreat. Now give me all your valuables and let me go about my business. I am Ratnakar! I am no fool! Even the trees in this forest tremble at the mere mention of my name!”
Ratnakar was shaking in anger.
Narada replied in a most serene voice, “Sages don’t tell lies, my son. If you don’t trust me, bind me to this tree. I shall wait for your return.”
Ratnakar looked incredulously at Narada. He hesitated.
“Go on, my son. I shall remain here, waiting for you.”
A force from within compelled the wretched bandit to comply.
He brought out a rope from under the bushes and bound Narada to the tree.
Ratnakar sped to his house.“My Lord! You have returned early today. Come, join us in honouring this meal given to us by providence. The stew is especially tasty today – your mother said so herself.”Once he had ceased panting, Ratnakar hollered, “I don’t want stew! Here me out!
A stunned silence followed. Ratnakar’s son and parents entered the kitchen.
“I have something to ask you all,” be started. “I love you very much, but do you love me?”
“Of course, my lord! I adore you,” said his wife.
“Daddy… like soup,” his little son mumbled as he held on to Ratnakar’s leg.
His parents said, “You take good care of us, son. May you be blessed.”
Ratnakar was overjoyed.
“Do you know how I earn my living? I an outlaw: I am a hunter by day and thief by night. Now tell me, do you love me?”
There was a stunned silence. His wife and parents looked enraged.
“Will you, out of you love me, partake of the consequences of my actions?”
“You vile wretch!” bristled his wife in anger. “I shall leave at once for my mother’s house with our son. You are responsible for your own deeds! The thought that I consumed food obtained by wrongful means makes me sick!”
She left with her son. Ratnakar was reeling.
Ratnakar turned to his parents; the air of despondency hung thick on his home.
“You are disgrace to the memory of your ancestors! Why shall we rot in hell for your actions? Go away from here, or we will curse you!”
The elderly pair sobbed silently in anguish.
Ratnakar let loose a shrill cry that pierced the stillness of the woods. He sank to the ground helplessly. He lay there, alone – drenched in his own tears. The enormity of his actions hit him with a savage force and left him battered. Victor was now victim.
The ancient Vedic literature of India falls into distinct categories; we have the srutis, smrtis, puranas and itithasas. Itihasas, along with the puranas, are most voluminous and distil the essence of Vedic literature in a manner that is simultaneously instructive and enchanting. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are great epics, or itihasas. The Sanskrit word itihasa means “thus it happened”. The Ramayana has enjoyed the status of a timeless classic and will continue to do so, on account of Valmiki’s narrative technique. But, then, who is Valmiki? Perhaps we must return to our disconsolate larcenist…
Ratnakar finally found the strength to get up. He staggered back to Narada, who welcomed him with open arms. Ratnakar embraced the effulgent sage and wept like a child. He then freed Narada and sat pensively at Narada’s feet.
“My son, your eyes have been opened. Please stay in this forest and repeat the name Rama.”
Ratnakar struggled. Narada, a beatific smile gracing his face, said, “Say ma–ra.”
Ratnakar’s face lit up as he was able to pronounce it properly.
“Say it again,” said Narada.
But Ratnakar could not stop chanting.
In due course, the thief Ratnakar emerged from an anthill (valmika) as the great seer Valmiki, the author of the original Ramayana.
Puranas and itihasas do not have a linear plot; they are frame narratives and are interspersed with the conversations of inquisitive, scholarly speakers who pose questions to one another. The Ramayana has been told and retold world over in innumerable ways. The je ne sais quoi of the epic is its supreme charm; every Ramayana recital/retelling is very unique: there is always a new perspective, a new dimension awaiting discovery… and the characters just spring to life.
Valmiki’s Ramayana is regarded as poetry and is a supremely elegant text that has inspired numerous supplementary versions.
The Vedas and the Upanishads are profoundly scholarly works of abstruse philosophy; the itihasas – with their captivating narratives and multidimensional, truly timeless characters – have a broader reach. The strength of these fascinating histories perhaps lies in their understanding and analysis of human nature.
The ultimate aim of all Vedic literature is the transformation of the listener/reader; this is typically brought about by self-enquiry. Valmiki’s life was transformed not by the Ramayana, but rather for the Ramayana.
Compiled by: Shlok Kumar