Saturday, January 20, 2018

First Verse (Shloka) of Valmiki Ramayana - Myriad Facets


मा निषाद ! प्रतिष्ठां त्वम् गमः शाश्वतिः समाः
यत् क्रौञ्चनां मिथुनादेकंsवधि काममोहितं ||

Maa Nishada Pratistham Tvamagamahsāsvati Samaa
Yat Kraunchamithunaadekam Avadhi Kaamamohitam ||

This shloka is not only considered to be the first shloka from which the Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’ by Maharshi Valmiki has started but also this is considered to be the first ever ‘shloka’ to come in the history of Sanskrit Literature.

The saying suggests that after uttering this statement of his, bewildered Maharshi Valmiki tried to reconfirm from his disciple, the great Rishi Bharadwaj, whether he had really spoken those words.

“Did you just hear that, Bharadwaj?” He asked him with surprise.

“I have just pronounced something that is sequenced in Eight by Eight letters and it has Four equal receptions making it a thirty two letters poetic recital.” He explained himself, unbelievably. Rishi Bharadwaj was too stupefied to say anything.

Leaving mythology behind, he later termed this sequence of poetic meter as “Shloka”, and thus the first shloka came into Sanskrit literature.

This was not only the beginning of ‘Shlokas’ but also it was the beginning of one of the greatest epic of the world, which is ‘Ramayana’.

Interestingly, this first shloka had nothing to do with ‘Ramayana’ as these were curse words from Maharshi Valmiki. He had cursed the hunter which had killed a bird called (at that time) ‘Kraunch’ but ironically later on this became the beginning point or prelude to ‘Ramayana’ and so at times it is assigned to be the first shloka.

To begin with, this curse literally meant “Oh Hunter! May you not get respect for eons for you killed one unsuspecting ‘Kraunch’ from the pair when they were excited making love with one other.” This curse had come out inadvertently in anger when he saw that happening in front of him while taking his bath in ‘Tamasaa’ river.

To continue with it, this statement of anger had a far - fetched meaning; as one of the incarnation of Shiva was planned (according to Mythology) as ‘Vyadha’ which is synonym to ‘Nishada’.

“How could I do this? How could I involve Shiva in all this when he is having nothing to do with it?” He thought later.

The importance of words and their play is meticulously and flawlessly depicted in what he did next. I am again reiterating, mythology apart and when I am writing this I mean leaving the sayings of ‘Lord Brahma’s’ and ‘Devarshi Narada’s’ appearance at the scene to control the damage that had happened.

“’Ma Nishada’ …. ‘Ma Nishada’ … ‘Ma Nishada’ ….” He kept repeating the first two words of his speech in the presence of Rishi Bharadwaja.

“’Ma’ didn’t this mean ‘Goddess Lakshami, ‘the symbolic of Mahalakshami’? He was in monologue.

“‘Nishada’ …. ‘Nishada’! One who is abode?” He continued his monologue.

“‘Pratistham Tvamagamahsāsvati Samaa’, your glory be for ever!” He quipped and smiled and a new literal meaning of this ‘Shloka’ was generated simply by moving the punctuation and exclamation marks.

This is the beauty of Sanskrit language which is free moving and is without any restriction of sentence formation. The subject, predicate, object, nouns, pronouns, verbs, conjunctions, interjections, et al are all free moving; and with every permutation and combination it is a meaningful sentence which conveys the same meaning.

The refinement that came out of the cursed shloka was thus “O abode of Mahalakshmi !(Vishnu, of whose incarnation is ‘Rama’), may you be glorified forever and ever because you have been a conduit for bringing an end to attachment in sensuous manner to objects. You brought an end to this crude way of indulging in life beyond needs and for lustful gratifications as motif of life. May you live long! May your glory be immortalised.” Thus absolving Shiva and bringing in ‘Rama’ (Incarnation of Vishnu who is spouse of Lakshmi) in the picture.

To arrive at this meaning the change in the shloka that was done is merely the change in exclamation marks.
मा निषाद प्रतिष्ठां त्वम् गमः शाश्वतिः समाः !
यत् क्रौञ्चनां मिथुनादेकं, अवधि काममोहितं ||

Maa ! Nishada, Pratistham Tvamagamahsāsvati Samaa
Yat Kraunchamithunaadekam, Avadhi Kaamamohitam ||

Going beyond a little further, this permutation and combination of poetics also includes in itself the art of involving many more unsaid things in limited words and in the rhythmic way.

The Valmiki ‘Ramayana’ starts with the following ‘Shloka’ (Verse)
तपः स्वाध्याय निरताम् तपस्वी वाग्विदाम् वरम् |
नारदम् परिपप्रच्छ वाल्मीकिः मुनि पुंगवम् || १-१-१

Tapah svadhyaya nirataam tapasvi vagvidam vara
naradam paripapracha valmikih muni pumgavam || 1-1-1 

Mark the first word of this first ‘Shloka’. It is ‘Ta’. It is the first letter of Gayatri Mantra.

Gayatri Mantra
“(ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः ।) तत्स॑वि॒तुर्वरेण्यं॒ भर्गो॑ दे॒वस्य॑धीमहि । धियो॒ यो नः॑ प्रचो॒दया॑त् ||” 

“(Om Bhur bhuvah swah) ‘Ta’tsavitur vareniyam bhargodevasya dheemahi dhiyoyonah prachodayaat ||”

The twenty-four thousand verses of the Valmiki Ramayana have hidden, within them, at every thousandth verse, a letter of the Gayatri mantra. Valmiki Ramayana is said to have been composed basing on each of the twenty-four letters of Gayatri Hymn, and a thousand verses are arranged into one book under the caption of each letter. Though that classification or dividing verses into thousand chapters is unavailable now, the twenty-four verses identified with the 24 letters of Gayatri hymn, called as Gayatri Ramayana is available.

Utpal Kant Mishra
Jan 19, 2018


1) Teachings from my father (Late) Dr. Shobha Kant Mishra