Original in Bengali by Upendrakishore Raychaudhury
Valmiki muni had his hermitage on the bank of the river Tamasa. On either side the forest was deep and the small stream ran murmuring through it. Its water was so clean that the sands on its bed could be clearly seen. There was neither any clay nor there was any weed. It was like a mirror. One day Valmiki was taking a walk along the banks of that river. Its clear water pleased him very much. He told his disciple Varadwaj, ‘Look at the water, it is so pure, it is like the mind of a virtuous man. I shall take a bath in it.’
At that time two herons were playing there. They were so beautiful and their voice was so sweet and they were playing in such joyful manner that Valmiki could not take away his eyes from them. He felt as if he had fallen in love with them and altogether forgetting to take his bath he kept on gazing at them. All on a sudden there appeared a fowler and started to shoot arrows aiming at those birds. These birds were totally absorbed in their play. They did not harm anybody nor did they apprehend any danger from anyone. It is unimaginable that anybody could be so cruel as to kill such innocent creatures. Struck by an arrow when the male bird began to toss about in great pain the female bird began to cry in great pathos and shock. Unable to tolerate this the muni told the fowler, ‘You have killed the bird who was so joyously playing. You will never be well and happy.’ These words were the expression of the muni’s kindness and compassion. They were in spontaneous rhyme and rhythm. This was the first poem because nobody ever composed any poem before it. Valmiki himself was also surprised, ‘What beautiful words have I uttered! They sound so sweet! They have rhyme as well as rhythm! As I spoke them in pity (shok) let them be known as ‘shlokas’. Varadwaj also agreed, ‘My master, no one has ever before spoken like these indeed, let them be known as ‘shlokas’!’
The muni came back to his hermitage but his mind was full of the thoughts of those birds and the poem he had uttered. So when just at that moment Brahma himself appeared before him he could not tell him anything else but only of the fowler and of those birds and sang that poem.
Hearing the song Brahma told Valmiki, ‘Let your poem be known as ‘shloka’ and you narrate the story of Rama in your shlokas. It will do good to the people at large. Whatever you will write will be true and your poem will last so long as the rivers and hills will exist on this earth. It will also assure you a permanent place in heaven.’ So saying Brahma left.
Valmiki sat down in meditation to write his Ramayana. When it was finished he thought, ‘Who will sing this poem?’ Right at that moment two brothers, Kush and Lav, came and saluted him. They were two sons of Rama himself and were staying in the hermitage of Valmiki as students in the guise of munis. They could sing like the Gandharvas, the heavenly singers. The muni thought that they were the most suitable singers. Valmiki himself taught them the Ramayana. He then called all the munis to his hermitage where Kushi and Lav sang the Ramayana. Being deeply moved all of them wept and praised the boys. They presented them with whatever they had.
Upendrakishore Raychaudhury was the grandfather of famous film maker Satyajit Ray.