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Valmiki is a great sage and an equally great poet. He is believed to have lived in the time of Lord Rama, during the epoch, Treta Yuga. He is the composer of the epic Ramayana, which narrates the story of Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, who is also regarded and worshipped as the 7th Avatar of Lord Vishnu. Valmiki’s Ramayana is a colossal epic poem sung in Sanskrit and consists of as many as 24,000 verses spread across seven chapters or cantos. It is also considered as Adi Kavya, the first epic poem and hence, Valmiki, its creator, is hailed as Adi Kavi, the first poet that the world has seen.
The legend of Valmiki gives a remarkable account on the transformation of a ruthless dacoit into a great sage. He is said to have been born as Ratnakara, to sage Prachetasa, but somehow was lost in the forest, even when he was young. Found and brought up by a hunter under the name Valia Koli, he himself became a hunter, got married in due course and begot children.
But unable to support his family, he soon began robbing travellers and people passing through the forests. He harmed them too and gradually, he grew into a feared dacoit, merciless in dealing with those who landed in his hands. Once, the great sage Narada was passing through the region, and Valia stopped him for robbing whatever he possessed. When Narada asked him whether he really knew what he was doing, the dacoit replied that he had no option as that was the only means that he knew of supporting his family. But the smiling sage threw at him, a very pertinent question asking, if his family members, for whom he was committing such heinous crimes, would be willing to share the burden of the sins he was accumulating. Valia was taken aback by this poser, ran to his house, and was shocked to find that none in the family were willing at all to accept even an iota of his massive sins. Thoroughly disillusioned, he ran back, fell at Narada’s feet and pleaded with him to save him. Under Narada’s guidance, Valia made a clean break from his past, and undertook a very severe penance, meditating towards God without any thought about anything else. Years rolled by and his body was covered completely by anthills. At last, with all his sins dissolved, he blossomed into a great sage and was called as Valmiki, ‘the one, who was born out of the anthill’.
Also, it was sage Narada once again, under whose prompting that Valmiki undertook the sacred task of writing the sacred Ramayana, the life history of Rama, who was the symbol of righteousness, the embodiment of innumerable noble traits and a very important Avatar of Lord Vishnu. Valmiki was not only the author of the immense poem, but also remained as an important character in it. Rama, while in exile in forest, visited Valmiki in his Ashram along with wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, and it was only on his advice that they stayed in Chitrakoot, near the sage’s Ashram. Also, when Rama was constrained to banish his pregnant wife Sita to forest, it was Valmiki who gave shelter to her in his Ashram, where she delivered her twin boys, Lav and Kush. Valmiki was also their teacher and Guru, who taught the young boys, all that the princes need to learn and master. He also told them the life history of Rama and was instrumental in their joining their illustrious father.
Valmiki is a great saint who is revered and worshipped by people all over the country, and his idols can be seen in many temples, especially in the ones dedicated to Lord Rama. It is also believed that Valmiki did penance in Thiruvanmiyur, a locality in Chennai city, where a shrine dedicated to him exists.