Rishi Valmiki is the author of the Great Epic Ramayana. What are whereabouts of his earlier life? I have heard something like this about him (that he was dacoit) is there a way to prove or disprove this speculation? In India specially in north India there is Valmiki Samaj which claims to be descendant of Sage Valmiki, and that society is considered as dalit. So how does Valmiki become a Bramhin. What does Shastras say about this?
According to Skanda Purana, Nagara Khanda, Volume 17, Chapter 124, Sage Valmiki is Brahmin by birth too.
Formerly, there was a Brahmana named Lohajangha in Chamatkarpura. He hailed from the family of Mandavya.
Initially, he was a good person devoted to his family but once, there was no rain for a long time in Chamatkarpuar. So, Chamatkarpur was affected by famine and to fulfill his family requirements, he became thief/robber.
Then there is another excellent Tirtha named Mukhara where excellent Brahmana-sages had contact with a thief.
That thief attained Siddhi, thanks to the power. Later he composed the epic Ramayana and became well-known as Valmiki.
Vālmīki's depiction as a Robber in Kṛttivāsa Rāmāyaṇa
From Ādi-kāṇḍa Ch. 1 (Birth of four aṁśas of Nārāyaṇa):
Brahmā with a smile, asked Trilocana Śiva, to name a great sinner on earth. Śiva then asked Brahmā to listen attentively to him; He said, "On the madhya-patha (mid-way) there is a great sinner, who can achieve deliverance by the reciting of the name of Rāma. Go and give the Rāma-mantra to him which would remove his sins. Nārada then thought of the identity of such (a sinner) person, who was none else than Ratnākara the son of sage Cyavana. He had been a dacoit, and lived on forcibly snatching others belongings and was a great sinner living in a forest.
Both Nārada and Brahmā then went (to the forest where Ratnākara lived) disguised as ascetics. As luck would have it, Ratnākara could not loot any one because no one passed that way on that day. He then climbed high in a tree and found Nārada and Brahmā coming together. Concealing himself (in the forest) he thought that he could snatch away the robes of the two ascetics.
From Ādi-kāṇḍa Ch. 3 (Ratnākara named as Vālmīki by Brahmā, and the boon of creating Rāmāyaṇa):
Brahmā spoke to the sage, "Up to now, you were known as Ratnākara, but henceforth you shall be known as Vālmīki. The name of Rāma has purified you, therefore, you will create his Rāmāyaṇa in seven kāṇḍas." Vālmīki, then spoke with humility, "I am quite an illiterate person having no knowledge of Kāvyas and Chandas; how can I create literature?" Brahmā, on hearing the words of Vālmīki spoke to him, "Sarasvatī resides in your tongue and as such you will be able to create the Kāvya quite easily, whatever verses you will create, will be devoted to Rāma in the universe." Awarding the boon to Vālmīki, Brahmā went to his abode; Vālmīki was immensely pleased (by his achievement)...
How does Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa describe Vālmīki?
In one place, the Uttara-kāṇḍa of Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa says that Vālmīki is the son of Pracetā (not Cyavana). And Vālmīki in his testimony (of Sītā's chastity) to Rāma says that uttering a lie didn't ever arise even in his thoughts. So he could not have been a robber.
I tell you the truth, O Rāma, that these irrepressible twin brothers are your sons, O descendant of Raghu. I am the tenth son of Pracetā, so, far from speaking untruth it does not even spring up in my mind. I therefore know the truth that these twins are your sons. I have performed austere penances for many thousand years; I now swear before you, that if this Maithili is found touched by any sin I shall not reap the fruit of my ascetic observances extending over many thousand years.
This blog, an excellent one, says:
He may not have been a brahman like Vasishtha. He was not a raja (king) like Viswamitra. He was possibly born as an Adivasi (the first residents of India). There are people who say that he was a Bhil, and those who say that he was a Kirata. To the followers of the Valmiki religion, he is the Eternal God himself. The Uttarakanda of the Ramayana refers to him as Brahmarshi, Bhargava son of Bhrgu and gives his name as Praceta and in some places says that he is the son of Varuna.
Given all the different origin stories of Vālmīki, I think it's impossible to ascertain his true identity!
The well-known story about Valmiki having been a low-caste highway robber and murderer is not well-corroborated in scripture. This has recently been the subject of a court case.
In the original Valmiki Ramayana itself, there is no mention of this. It refers to Valmiki as a highly honoured sage. The first reference to Valmiki as a robber comes only in the Skanda Purana, which is dated to the 10th century AD, long after the epic was composed. So this story, although it is prominently highlighted in Amar Chitra Katha, is very dubious.
From my blog:
With regard to Valmiki, the story regarding his beginnings is controversial, to say the least. The popular story that he was a low-caste highway robber is not well-corroborated in scripture. Most versions of the Ramayana do not mention this.
For instance, the translation of the Ramayana by Manmatha Nath Dutt (Volume 7, Uttara Kanda, Calcutta, 1894, page 1909) mentions that when Valmiki brings Sita and the twins Lava and Kusha to Rama's court to prove Sita's innocence, he says, “I tell you the truth, O Rama, that these irrepressible twin brothers are your sons, O descendant of Raghu. I am the tenth son of Pracheta, and so, far from speaking untruth, it does not even spring up in my mind. I have performed austere penances for many thousand years; I now swear before thee, that if this Maithili is found touched by any sin, I shall not reap the fruit of my ascetic observances extending over many thousand years. I have never before perpetrated a crime, either in my mind, body, or speech. If Maithili is found divested of sin, I may then partake of the fruits of piety.”
This passage does not support any suggestion of Valmiki having been a highway robber in his past — his clear assertion that he had never before perpetrated a crime, either in his mind, body, or speech, puts paid to that speculation. Also, the way he states his birth (as the son of Prachetas, and therefore speaking untruth never even springs up in his mind) clearly indicates that he is high-born, and the son of a Brahmin.
The question of whether Valmiki was a highway robber before becoming a sage has been hotly debated, and has even been the subject of a court case. I quote some relevant portions of the judgement in this case below:
A debate rages on amongst scholars both religious and academic about the authenticity of the story, whether Maharshi Valmiki was a dacoit. The actual facts appear to be lost in the mists of antiquity. Dr. Manjula Sehdev, one such scholar kindly consented to address this court. She has carried out a detailed research into the origin and authenticity of this story and if her work is to be accepted as correct, there may be force in the argument raised by counsel for the respondent that there is no historical or mythological basis for the story that Maharishi Valmiki was a dacoit before he became a sage. It would, therefore, be relevant to reproduce a few salient features of her research.
- From Vedic literature upto 9th Century A.D., there is no reference as such that Maharishi Valmiki led a life of a dacoit or a Highwayman.
- Even upto 9th Century A.D., the etymology of the word Valmiki (a person born from an ant-hill) is not available.
- In his own work 'Ramayana', he is called Bhagwan, Muni, Rishi and Maharishi. No reference of his Highwaymanship is available there.
- First reference regarding Rishi Valmiki as a Highwayman is mentioned in the Skand Purana. The time of this Purana is considered 10th Century A.D.
- The first reference of the mantra 'Mara-Mara' has been mentioned in the Adhyatma Ramayana (Ayodhya kanda, 6.80-81). The time of Adhyatma Ramayana has been considered 15th Century A.D. by scholars. In the same way, we find mantra 'Mara-Mara' in Ananda Ramayana (Rajya-Kanda, 14.141). This work has been considered of 16th Century A.D.
- The Bhakti movement was started in the southern part of India about 8th & 9th Century A.D. by Alwars. When this movement came at its peak from 3th to 16th Centuries A.D., many stories were woven around the personality of Rishi Valmiki keeping in view the importance of Sri Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu.
The salient features of this research appear to cast a doubt about the authenticity of the story that Maharishi Valmiki was a dacoit.
But even if Valmiki were a low-caste person, it is not relevant to the message of the Ramayana. Even if one were to assume that he was a Shudra by birth and reformed through Narada’s intervention, the story of Shambuka mentioned earlier clearly indicates that his low-caste birth has nothing to do with the message of the Ramayana, because in the story of Shambuka, a man is executed simply because he chanted mantras and performed penance in spite of being a Shudra — something that Valmiki himself clearly did quite regularly.
I hope than answers your question.