The Ramayana/Book I/Canto IV: The Rhapsodists

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The Ramayana of Valmiki , translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith
Book I — Canto IV: The Rhapsodists


When to the end the tale was brought,
Rose in the sage's mind the thought;
Now who throughout this earth will go,
And tell it forth that all may know?'

As thus he mused with anxious breast,
Behold, in hermit's raiment dressed,
Kus'a and Lava[1] came to greet
Their master and embrace his feet.
The twins he saw, that princely pair
Sweet-voiced, who dwelt beside him there
None for the task could be more fit,
For skilled were they in Holy Writ;
And so the great Rámáyan, fraught
With lore divine, to them he taught:
The lay whose verses sweet and clear
Take with delight the listening ear,
That tell of Sítá's noble life
And Rávan's fall in battle strife.
Great joy to all who hear they bring,
Sweet to recite and sweet to sing.
For music's sevenfold notes are there,
And triple measure,[2] wrought with care
With melody and tone and time,
And flavours[3] that enhance the rime:
Heroic might has ample place,
And loathing of the false and base,
With anger, mirth, and terror, blent
With tenderness, surprise, content.
When, half the hermit's grace to gain,
And half because they loved the strain,
The youth within their hearts had stored
The poem that his lips outpoured,
Válmíki kissed them on the head,
As at his feet they bowed, and said
'Recite ye this heroic song
In tranquil shades where sages throng
Recite it where the good resort,
In lowly home and royal court,'
The hermit ceased. The tuneful pair
Like heavenly minstrels sweet and fair
In music's art divinely skilled,
Their saintly master's word fulfilled.
Like Ráma's self, from whom they came,
They shared their size in face and frame,
As though from some fair sculptured stone
Two selfsame images had grown.
Sometimes the pair rose up to sing,
Surrounded by a holy ring,
Where seated on the grass bad met
Full many a musing anchoret.
Then tears bedimmed those gentle eyes,
As transport took them and surprise,
And as they listened every one
Cried in delight, Well done! Well done!
Those sages versed in holy lore
Praised the sweet minstrels more and more:
And wondered at the singers' skill,
And the bard's verses sweeter still,
Which laid so clear before the eye
The glorious deeds of days gone by.
Thus by the virtuous hermits praised,
Inspirited their voice they raised.
Pleased with the song this holy man
Would give the youths a water-can;
One gave a fair ascetic dress,
Or sweet fruit from the wilderness.
One saint a black-deer's hide would bring,
And one a sacrificial string:
One, a clay pitcher from his hoard,
And one, a twisted munja cord.[4]
One in his joy an axe would find,
One, braid, their plaited locks to bind.
One gave a sacrificial cup,
One rope to tie their fagots up;
While fuel at their feet was laid,
Or hermit's stool of fig-tree made.
All gave, or if they gave not, none
Forgot at least a benison.
Some saints, delighted with their lays,
Would promise health and length of days;
Others with surest words would add
Some boon to make their spirit glad.
In such degree of honour then
That song was held by holy men:
That living song which life can give,
By which shall many a minstrel live.
In seat of kings, in crowded hall,
They sang the poem, praised of all.
And Ráma chanced to hear their lay,
While he the votive steed[5] would slay,
And sent fit messengers to bring
The minstrel pair before the king.
They came, and found the monarch high
Enthroned in gold, his brothers nigh;
While many a minister below,
And noble, sate in lengthened row.

The youthful pair awhile he viewed
Graceful in modest attitude,
And then in words like these addressed
His brother Lakshman and the rest:
'Come, listen to the wondrous strain
Recited by these godlike twain.
Sweet singers of a story fraught
With melody and lofty thought.'
   The pair, with voices sweet and strong,
Rolled the full tide of noble song,
With tone and accent deftly blent
To suit the changing argument.
Mid that assembly loud and clear
Rang forth that lay so sweet to hear,
That universal rapture stole
Through each man's frame and heart and soul.
'These minstrels, blest with every sign
That marks a high and princely line,
   In holy shades who dwell,
Enshrined in Saint Válmiki's lay,
A monument to live for aye,
   My deeds in song shall tell.'
Thus Ráma spoke: their breasts were fired,
And the great tale, as if inspired,
   The youths began to sing,
While every heart with transport swelled,
And mute and rapt attention held
   The concourse and the king,


  1. The twin sons if Ráma and Sítá, born after Ráma had repartiated Sítá, and brought up in the hermitage of Válmíki. As they were the first rhapsodists the combined name Kus'alava signifies a reciter of paeans or an improvisatore even to the present day.
  2. Perhaps the base, tenor, and treble, or quick, slow and middle times. We know but little of the ancient music of the Hindus.
  3. Eight flavours or sentiments are usually enumerated, love, mirth, tenderness, anger, heroism, terror, disgust, and surprise; tranquility or content, or paternal tenderness, is sometimes considered the ninth. WILSON. See the Sáhitya Darpana or Mirror of Composition translated by Dr. Ballantyne and Bábá Pramadádása Mitra in the Bibliotheca Indica.
  4. Saccharum Munja is a plant from whose fibres is twisted the sacred string which a Bráhman wears over one shoulder after he has been initiated by a rite which in some respects answers to confirmation.
  5. A description of an As'vamedha or horse sacrifice is given in Canto XIII. of this Book.