Valmiki (Sanskrit: वाल्मीकि, vālmīki) (ca. 400 B.C.E., northern India) is celebrated as the poet harbinger in Sanskrit literature. He is the author of the epic, Ramayana, based on the attribution in the text of the epic itself. He is the inventor of the vedic poetic meter shloka, which defined the form of the Sanskrit poetry in many latter works.
He is revered as the first poet in Hinduism. There is also a religious movement based on Valmiki's teachings as presented in the Ramayana and the Yogavashista called Valmikism. Valmiki is wrongly said to have been a forest brigand, till the day Narada enlightened him. This has been proven otherwise by a contemporary study carried out by the late Dr Julia Leslie of the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies and is set out in her book Hinduism and the Case of Valmiki.
The Rāmāyaṇa, originally written by Valmiki, consists of 24,001 verses in seven cantos (kāṇḍas). The Ramayana tells the story of a prince, Rama of Ayodhya, whose wife Sita is abducted by the demon (Rākshasa) king of Lanka, Rāvana. The Valmiki Ramayana is dated variously from 500 BC to 100 BC, or about co-eval with early versions of the Mahabhārata. As with most traditional epics, since it has gone through a long process of interpolations and redactions it is impossible to date it accurately.
In the original Valmiki Ramayana, Valmiki wrote that Rama was nothing more than an ideal human being. However, Brahminical reshaping and interpolation of the Ramayana eventually presented Rama as a supreme deity. The first stage includes the composition of books 2 - 6 sometime in the fifth century BCE and their oral transmission up to and including the fourth century BCE. Rama is presented as an essentially human hero. The second stage extends from the third century BCE to the first century CE, during which time those five books were reworked and expanded. This period brings greater status for the king. For most of this period, Rama is viewed as an ethical human. The third stage extends from the first to the third century CE, bringing with it the addition of book 1 (‘The book of childhood’) and the somewhat later book 7 (epilogue). This stage is marked by the presentation of Rama as an avatar of Vishnu. This stage also produced a pronounced emphasis on Varna- Dharma: Sambuka, the Sudra ascetic, is killed by Rama in order to bring a Brahmin boy back to life.
Valmiki was going to the river Ganga for his daily ablutions. A disciple by the name Bharadwaja was carrying his clothes. On the way, they came across the Tamasa Stream. Looking at the stream, Valmiki said to his disciple, "Look, how clear is this water, like the mind of a good man! I will bathe here today." When he was looking for a suitable place to step into the stream, he heard sweet chirping of birds. Looking up, he saw two birds flying together. Valmiki felt very pleased on seeing the happy bird couple. Suddenly, one of the birds fell down hit by an arrow; it was the male bird. Seeing the wounded one, its mate screamed in agony. Valmiki's heart melted at this pitiful sight. He looked around to find out who had shot the bird. He saw a hunter with a bow and arrows, nearby. The hunter had shot the bird for food. Valmiki became very angry. His lips opened and he uttered the following words:
This was the first shloka in Sanskrit literature. Later Valmiki composed entire Ramayana due to the blessings of Lord Brahma in the same meter that issued forth from him as a sloka. Thus this sloka is revered as the "first sloka" in Hindu literature. Valmiki is revered as the first poet, or Adi Kavi, and the Ramayana, the first kavya.