One day Valmiki was visited in his ashrama by the celestial seer Narada. Valmiki asked him who was the most virtuous person in the world. Wanting to know if there was a perfect person anywhere, he asked, “Who is possessed of all power and knows what is right? Who is always truthful, firm of resolve and conscious of all services rendered? Who has subdued his self, conquered anger, is above fault-finding and, although being friendly to all beings, is nevertheless feared by even the gods when angry? O eminent sage, I have a great curiosity to know this and you are surely capable of telling me.”
Actually, by his own spiritual practices and meditations Valmiki had been able to realise that the Supreme Lord, Vishnu, had appeared on the earth in a human form. He wanted Narada, whom he saw as a spiritual master, to tell him about the Lord’s incarnation.
Narada replied, “There is one descended in the line of Ikshvaku and known by men as Rama. He is powerful, radiant, resolute and has brought His senses under control. Intelligent, sagacious, eloquent, glorious and an exterminator of foes, He knows the secret of virtue, is true to His promise and is intent on the good of the people.”
Narada went on at length describing Rama’s many qualities. He then narrated in brief the whole story of Rama’s pastimes. When he had finished he said, “This Rama is now ruling in Ayodhya. Indeed, you have already met Him when He came to your ashrama. The remaining part of His pastimes are yet to be manifested. O sage, all this will soon be described by yourself. This sacred story of Rama, known as the Ramayana, should be heard by all men. It is on a par with the Vedas and capable of destroying all sins. Hearing or reading this narrative a man will, on departing from this world, be honored in heaven along with his sons, grandsons, followers and attendants.”
Narada rose to leave and was worshipped by Valmiki. As the celestial seer rose into the sky by his mystic power, Valmiki stood thinking about Rama. He had already sensed His divinity when he met Him some years back. Narada had confirmed his intuition. Feeling thrilled with transcendental ecstasy, Valmiki made his way toward the nearby river to take his midday bath, followed by his disciples.
As he went toward the riverbank, the rishi surveyed the beautiful forest scenery. He saw playing among the reeds by the river a pair of cranes. Those two birds were engaged in mating and they sported together making a delightful sound.
Suddenly, as Valmiki looked on, a nishada huntsman fired an arrow and struck one of the birds. Mortally wounded and covered in blood, it thrashed about on the ground screaming in pain. Its mate also cried piteously and fell about in sorrow.
Seeing this, the soft-hearted Valmiki felt compassion. He saw the nishada approaching with bow in hand. In grief, he said to that hunter, “As you have slain this poor bird while it was absorbed in pleasure, may you have no peace of mind for the rest of your life.”
The curse came out in perfectly metered poetry. Astonished by this, Valmiki said, “What have I uttered? Tormented by grief I have composed a stanza filled with that emotion.”
The sage, brooding over the incident, entered the river and took his bath. After coming out he went back to his hermitage still thinking on the rhyming couplet he had spoken to the hunter. When he reached his ashrama Brahma suddenly appeared there. Valmiki offered respects to Brahma but could not stop thinking about the incident with the hunter.
Brahma spoke to Valmiki, “Let this poetic utterance of yours become the source of your glory. Do not brood any more, O sage. It was by my arrangement that this speech flowed from your lips. In that same meter you should now describe the pastimes on earth of the all-wise Rama. Tell the story of that hero as you have heard it from Narada. By my mercy you will be able to see every detail of that story, as clearly as a fruit held in the palm of your hand. Therefore, render this sacred and soul-ravishing tale into verse for the good of the world.”
Brahma blessed the sage that his narrative would remain extant for as long as the mountains stood on the face of the earth. He also told him that he would be able to continue living anywhere he chose within the universe for the same length of time.
Having finished speaking, Brahma disappeared. Valmiki was filled with wonder. The sage then began to meditate on Rama’s pastimes, gradually composing the Ramayana over the coming days.