The Ramayana/Book I/Canto II: Brahmá's Visit

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The Ramayana of Valmiki , translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Book I — Canto II: Brahmá's Visit


Válmíki, graceful speaker,heard,
To highest admiration stirred.
To him whose fame the tale rehearsed
He paid his mental worship first;
Then with his pupil humbly bent
Before the saint most eloquent.
Thus honoured and dismissed the seer
Departed to his heavenly sphere.
Then from his cot Válmíki hied
To Tamasá's[1] sequestered side,
Not far remote from Gangáa's tide.
He stood and saw the ripples roll
Pellucid o'er a pebbly shoal.
To Bharadvája[2] by his side
He turned in ecstasy, and cried:
'See, pupil dear, this lovely sight,
The smooth-floored shallow, pure and bright,
With not a speck or shade to mar,
And clear as good men's bosoms are.
Here on the brink thy pitcher lay,
And bring my zone of bark, I pray.
Here will I bathe: the rill has not,
To lave the limbs a fairer spot.
Do quickly as I bid, nor waste
The precious time; away, and haste.'
   Obedient to his master's best
Quick from the cot he brought the vest;
The hermit took it from his hand,
And tightened round his waist the band;
Then duly dipped and bathed him there,
And muttered low his secret prayer.
To spirits and to Gods he made
Libation of the stream, and strayed
Viewing the forest deep and wide
That spread its shade on every side.
Close by the bank he saw a pair
Of curlews sporting fearless there.
But suddenly with evil mind
An outcast fowler stole behind,
And, with an aim too sure and true,
The male bird near the hermit slew.

The wretched hen in wild despair
With fluttering pinions beat the air,
And shrieked a long and bitter cry
When low on earth she saw him lie,
Her loved companion, quivering, dead,
His dear wings with his lifebiood red;
And for her golden crested mate
She mourned, and was disconsolate.
   The hermit saw the slaughtered bird,
And all his heart with ruth was stirred.
The fowler's impious deed distressed
His gentle sympathetic breast,
And while the curlew's sad cries rang
Within his ears, the hermit sang:
'No fame be thine for endless time,
Because, base outcast, of thy crime,
Whose cruel hand was fain to slay
One of this gentle pair at play!'
E'en as he spoke his bosom wrought
And laboured with the wondering thought
What was the speech his ready tongue
Had uttered when his heart was wrung.
He pondered long upon the speech,
Recalled the words and measured each,
And thus exclaimed the saintly guide
To Bharadvája by his side:
'With equal lines of even feet,
With rhythm and time and tone complete,
The measured form of words I spoke
In shock of grief be termed a s'loke.'[3]
And Bharadvája, nothing slow
His faithful love and zeal to show,
Answered those words of wisdom, 'Be
The name, my lord, as pleases thee.'
   As rules prescribe the hermit took
Some lustral water from the brook.
But still on this his constant thought
Kept brooding, as his home he sought;
While Bharadvája paced behind,
A pupil sage of lowly mind,
And in his hand a pitcher bore
With pure fresh water brimming o'er.
Soon as they reached their calm retreat
The holy hermit took his seat;
His mind from worldly cares recalled,
And mused in deepest thought enthralled.
   Then glorious Brahmá,[4] Lord Most High.
Creator of the earth and sky,
The four-faced God, to meet the sage
Came to Válmíki's hermitage.
Soon as the mighty God he saw,
Up sprang the saint in wondering awe.
Mute, with clasped hands, his head he bent,
And stood before him reverent.
His honoured guest he greeted well,
Who bade him of his welfare tell;
Gave water for his blessed feet,
Brought offerings,[5] and prepared a seat,
In honoured place the God Most High
Sate down, and bade the saint sit nigh.
There sate before Válmíki's eyes
The Father of the earth and skies;
But still the hermit's thoughts were bent
On one thing only, all intent
On that poor curlew's mournful fate
Lamenting for her slaughtered mate;
And still his lips, in absent mood,
The verse that told his grief, renewed:
'Woe to the fowler's impious hand
That did the deed that folly planned;
That could to needless death devote
The curlew of the tuneful throat!'
   The heavenly Father smiled in glee,
And said, 'O best of hermits', see,
A verse, unconscious thou hast made;
No longer be the task delayed.
Seek not to trace, with labour vain,
The unpremeditated strain.
The tuneful lines thy lips rehearsed
Spontaneous from thy bosom burst,
Then come, O best of seers, relate
The life of Ráma good and great,
The tale that saintly Nárad told,
In all its glorious length unfold.
Of all the deeds his arm has done
Upon this earth, omit not one,
And thus the noble life record
Of that wise, brave, and virtuous lord.

His every act to day displayed,
His secret life to none betrayed:
How Lakshman, how the giants fought;
With high emprise and hidden thought:
And all that Janak's child[6] befell
Where all could see, where none could tell,
The whole of this shall truly be
Made known, O best of saints, to thee.
In all thy poem, through my grace,
No word of falsehood shall have place.
Begin the story, aud rehearse
The tale divine in charming verse.
As long as in this firm-set land
The streams shall flow, the mountains stand,
So long throughout the world, be sure,
The great Rámáyan shall endure.[7]
While the Rámáyan's ancient strain
Shall glorious in the earth remain,
To higher spheres shalt thou arise
And dwell with me above the skies!
He spoke, and vanished into air,
And left Válmíki wondering there.
The pupils of the holy man,
Moved by their love of him, began
To chant that verse, and ever more
They marvelled as they sang it o'er:
'Behold, the four-lined balanced rime,
Repeated over many a time,
In words that from the hermit broke
In shock of grief, becomes a s'loke.'
This measure now Válmíki chose
Wherein his story to compose.
In hundreds of such verses, sweet
With equal lines and even feet,
The saintly poet, lofty-souled,
The glorious deeds of Ráma told.


  1. There are several rivers in India of this name, now corrupted into Tarse. The river here spoken of is that which falls into the Ganges a little below Allahabad.
  2. In Book II, Canto LIV, we meet with a saint of this name presiding over a convent of disciples in his hermitage at the confluence of the Ganges and the Jumna. Thence the later author of these introductory cantos has borrowed the name and person, inconsistently indeed, but with the intention of enhancing the dignity of the poet by ascribing to him so celebrated a disciple. SCHLEGEL
  3. The poet plays upon the similarity in sound of the two words: s'oka, means grief, s'loka, the heroic measure in which the poem is composed. It need scarcely be said that the derivation is fanciful.
  4. Brahmá, the Creator, is usually regarded as the first person of the divine triad of India. Tne four heads with which he is represented are supposed to have allusion to the four corners of the earth which he is sometimes considered to personify. As an object of adoration Brahmá has been entirely superseded by S'iva and Vishnu. In the whole of India there is, I believe, but one temple dedicated to his worship. In this point the first of the Indian triad curiously resembles the last of the divine fraternity of Greece, Aïdes the brother of Zeus and Foseidon. 'In all Greece, says Pausanias, there is no single temple of Aïdes except at a single spot in Ehs. See Gladstone's Juventus Mundi, p. 253.
  5. The argha or arghya was a libation or offering to a deity, a Bráhman, or other venerable personage. According to one authority it consisted of water, milk, the points of Kúsa-grass, curds, clarified butter, rice, barley, and white mustard, according to another, of saffron, bel, unbroken grain, flowers, curds, dúrbá-grass, kúsa-grass, and sesamum.
  6. Sitá, daughter of Janak king of Mithilá.
  7. 'I congratulate myself,' says Schlegel in the preface to his, alas, unfinished edition of the Rámáyan, 'that, by the favour of the Supreme Deity, I have been allowed to begin so great a work; I glory and make my boast that I too after so many ages have helped to confirm that ancient oracle declared to Válmíki by the Father of Gods and men:
    Dum stabunt montes, campis dum flumina current, Usque tuum toto carmen, celebrabitur orbe.'