Maharishi Valmiki is the author of the original story of Lord Ramachandra, known as the Valmiki Ramayana. He lived during the Treta Yuga and through guidance from his spiritual master, he wrote the epic Ramayana prior to Lord Rama’s advent.
The Vedas say that the highest benediction in life is to have association with a saint, or a devotee of Krishna. In his early life Valmiki’s name was Ratnakara, and he took to robbing people for a living. Through good fortune, he once met Narada Rishi and tried to attack him. Narada chanted Lord Rama’s name and convinced Ratnakara to give up his life of thievery. Following Narada’s advice, the sage chanted the name of Rama and sat in meditation for many many years, during which time his body became covered by ants. Narada Rishi returned and uncovered the sage from the anthill, informed him that his meditation was successful, and bestowed on him the name Valmiki since he was born from an anthill. Valmiki learned the story of Lord Rama from Narada and was instructed to write the story in poetry form by Lord Brahma.
Valmiki was also present during Lord Ramachandra’s time on earth. He had a hermitage in the forest and was visited by Lord Rama, His wife Sita, and His brother Lakshmana during their fourteen year exile period. Lord Rama asked Valmiki if he knew a good place where they could set up camp. Valmiki in turn gave a beautiful description of a pure devotee of the Lord and told Rama to always dwell in the heart of a devotee. The account is described in detail in Tulsidas’s Ramacharitamanasa. Later on, Valmiki also provided shelter to Sita when she was abandoned by Lord Rama. Sita’s two sons, Lava and Kusha, were born at Valmiki’s hermitage, and the sage acted as their spiritual master during their childhood.
The events of Lord Rama’s life can be found in many Vedic literatures, but the Valmiki Ramayana is the original account. It was very famous even during Lord Rama’s time. Lord Rama’s two sons, Lava and Kusha, committed the Ramayana to memory and would recite it constantly in front of gathered assemblies in Ayodhya. The epic is still being recited today to the delight of Lord Rama’s devotees.