• Prathik Murali

Poems from the anthill set in stone!

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

India’s contribution to the world of literature can never be understated. She is a land of around 700 languages. The patriotic poet Subrahmanya Bharathi says “She speaks 18 languages, but thinks with one heart”. The diverse nature of her culture and people has given raise to multi various dimensions to poetry. Sanskrit has been a language, which has produced classical epic literature for millennia. Today, it is not a mother tongue to anyone in the world, but still produces classical literature year after year.

Poet Valmiki, the author of the most famous epic Ramayana is regarded as ‘Adikavi’ or the first among poets. There certainly must have been poets before him, after all poetry couldn’t have jumped from thin air for him. But certainly, even from an academic perspective, literatures before the epic were not as grand as it was. The poets after Valmiki cherished his work and strived to make theirs shine brighter.


As Prof.Sivaramamurthi writes, “Sucking the mother’s milk is no fault of the baby; and all poets after Valmiki have drunk deep at the front of his muse”. Great poets such as Kalidasa and Bhavabhuti, in addition to using Valmiki’s words have openly paid tributes in the form of poems dedicated to the ‘Adikavi’. The word Valmiki means ‘Ant-hill’. It is legend that he was covered in anthill during his penance. The poetry from the poet who was believed to be a dacoit previously is celebrated by court poets and royalties alike! Ramayana is deeply religious to the believers; It is deeply poetic to the aesthetician; it reflects society and the cult of Rama to a historian; It is musical to a musician and a dancer. Thus, it assumes many roles, just as the same lady could be the son’s mother and the father’s wife.

The Ramayana of Valmiki, apart from giving inspiration to subsequent poets and contributing a character, whose effect on the society in India and the South East Asia is immense, has also been a source of inspiration of many stone and copper plate inscriptions in India.

In the 4th Century CE, a copper plate inscription of King Damodaravarman serves as the royal decree of lands granted tax free to some Brahmins. The Mattepad plates, as they are known contain a verse that seems to replicate Valmiki. To describe the Brahmins who are recipients of the grant, it uses the term - नानगोत्राचरणतपस्वाध्यायनिरतेभ्य: (nAnAgOtracharaNa tapasvAdhyAyaniratEbhya:) “The Brahmins who are recipients of the grant belong to various Gotras whose personalities are brimming with austerity, practice and self restraint. The famous verse from Valmiki is clearly evident in the inscription

–“तपस्वाध्यायनिरतं तपस्वी …” (tapasvAdhyAya niratam tapasvI….)

Thus, it is important to note that as early as 1700 years ago, the literature of Valmiki had penetrated the society to a level that verses of the poetry were used to describe unrelated events also.

The famous Girnar inscription of Skandagupta (457 CE) describes him as follows:

- पूर्वस्मिताभाषणमानदानै: (pUrvasmitAbhAshaNamAnadAnai:) Thich means that his speech was always preceded by a smile. It is but natural for any student of Sanskrit literature to be reminded of the first appearance of the same phrase through valmiki’s pen –

-“स्मितपूर्वाभिभाषी च” (smita pUrvAbhibhAshI cha….)


The character Rama of Valmiki is envisioned as the protector, the righteous king. He is described by the phrase - “बाहुच्छायामवष्टभ्य:” (bAhuchAyAmavashtabhya), which means that he is the great being in whose arm shade relied everyone. This idea is developed by Kalidasa in his classic called Raghuvamsha by the phrase “छायाद्व्रुक्षमिव” (chAyAdvrukshamiva) Which king would not wish to appropriate such an epithet to portray him as the supreme provider of shelter. There can be no doubt that a poetic king like Rajasimha of the Pallavas, the patron of the enigmatic Kailasanatha is a forerunner. He uses the term “श्री छायावृक्ष:” (Shri ChayAvruksha) – “The shade giving tree” as his title in the Kailasanatha epigraphs.


We find many instances wherein the verses of Valmiki are verbatim utilized in inscriptions. For example, the Mahakuta pillar inscription of Mangalesha (7thCentury CE) reads – “समुद्रैव गंभीर क्षमया पृथ्वी सम:” (samudra iva gambhIra kshamayA pruthvI sama:); meaning “He who is deeply noble like the sea and equal to the earth in forbearance” The same adjective that was used by Valmiki to address Rama, is used by the Chalukyan Royalty to describe himself.

There is a couplet that compares the Ramayana of Valmiki with Ganga. As Ganga flows from the Himalayas, Ramayana flows from Valmiki and just as anyone can utilize Ganga’s waters freely, so is Ramayana useful to anyone who seeks to rejoice. The field of literature often ignores history and vice-versa. Such multi disciplinary studies would unravel more beauties of the past to us.

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