Millions of years ago in the age called Treta-yuga, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord SriKrsna descended as a king, Lord Ramacandra. Lord Ramacandra’s adventures, His lilas were written down by the adikavi (first poet) Valmiki Muni. Valmiki literally means “he who comes from an anthill.” By meditating on Lord Rama’s transcendental lila, Valmiki became so steadfastly absorbed in the yoga of spiritual trance that huge jungle ants were able to build a hill all about him. After many years, he emerged from the anthill to scribe the 24,000-verse Sanskrit scripture Ramayana, the world’s oldest book.
The purpose of Lord Rama’s advent is to attract the conditioned souls to the timeless, transcendental path of bhakti-yoga, devotional service.
According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sri Rama, on the order of His father, King Dasaratha, left His hometown of Ayodhya (in present-day Uttar Pradesh State) and embraced forest life. As the full moon enters a cloud bank, Rama, Sita, and Laksmana wandered south through the woods to the mountain Chitrakuta. From there they entered into Madhya Bharata (central India), hiking through the valleys of the holy Vindhya hills and crossing the sacred Narmada River. Then they came to the vast Dandaka forest, the abode of hermits. As Lord Sri Rama passed through Dandaka forest, Srila Prabhupada recalls in the book, The Nectar of Devotion, many sages achieved perfection in yoga just by seeing Him. With their dormant love of Godhead awakened, these fortunate rsis were later (in Dvapara-yuga) reborn as gopis (cowherd girls) in the lila of Lord Sri Krsna, the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. (Srila Prabhupada and Srila Rupa Gosvami have drawn this information from the Padma Purana).
The divine threesome camped here and there, bearing bravely the hardships of jungle life and finally arriving at the ashram of Agastya Muni, atop what is now called Rama Giri. As a king, a member of the ksatriya class, Lord Rama offered His respects to a brahmana, Agastya Muni with sweet words. The Lord feels so grateful to His devotees that He bows before them, just as Lord Sri Krsna once bowed down to wash the feet of the poor brahmana Sudama.
The incomparable Agastya Muni was tri-kala-jna: He could see the three features of time i.e., past, present, and future. Hence he was well aware that Sri Rama was none other than the almighty Visnu Himself and that in the very near future He would fight a great war with the enemies of dharma, the demons (asuras).
Many sages of the Dandaka forest had already suffered grievous harassment in the hands of atheistic asuras, and many had fallen victim to their evil schemes. Yet try as they might, none of these asuras could trap Agastya Muni. Through his unbreakable penance and high intelligence, the sage had even outwitted the evil duo Ilvala and Vatapi. Ilvala, taking the form of a Sanskrit-speaking brahmana, would invite different sages to share a meal. Then Vatapi would assume form of the meal. After dinner Ilvala would smile and say, “Come out, Vatapi,” and Vatapi would suddenly burst forth, splitting the poor rsi’s belly.
Once Agastya, requested by the devas (demigods), accepted Ilvala’s invitation to dine with him. After the meal, the grinning Ilvala called for his wicked brother to exit the sage’s body.
But Agastya smiled and declared, “Your brother cannot come out now because he has already been sent to the abode of Yamaraja [the Lord of death] by the fire of my digestion.”
The infuriated Ilvala sprang forward, rushing at Agastya, but one stern and fiery look from the powerful sage reduced him to ashes in an instant.
Agastya once requested the Vindhya Mountains to bow low, because their towering peaks were blocking the sun. Agastya promised the lord of the Vindhyas that his rolling hills could rise up and become mountains again after Agastya returned from the south. To keep the Vindhyas humble, Agastya never went north again. Instead he made his hermitage at Rama Giri, in the Deccan, south of the Vindhyas. That is how the Vindhya Mountains became the Vindhya Hills, India’s traditional line of North-South division.
Saint Agastya received Sita, Rama, and Laksmana with customary offerings of fruit and flowers. Then he presented Lord Rama with the Brahma-datta bow, which Lord Indra had earlier entrusted to his care. The bow had been inset with diamonds by its creator, Visvakarma, the engineer of the universe. Along with the bow, Agastya handed over to Sri Rama a quiver of arrows that included the undefeatable brahmastra weapon. Lord Ramacandra was also given a sword in a bejewelled scabbard.
In His talks with the sages of Dandaka forest near and about Agastya’s hilltop hermitage, Rama took a vow to vanquish the trouble-making demons. When the Lord took His vow, Rama Giri shook.
By accepting the weapons from Agastya, the Lord displayed His intention of protecting His devotees. Today the village at the foot of Rama Giri is called Rama Tek, literally “Rama’s vow.” In Bhagavad-gita (4.7–8) Lord Krsna explains His vow to shelter His devotees: “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to re-establish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.”
Much later at Sri Lanka, during the battle with Ravana and his demonic hoard, Sri Rama’s charioteer, Matali, was to remind Rama of the weapons presented by Agastya Muni. True to Agastya’s vision and Rama’s promise, Rama fired the arrow imbued with brahmastra mantras into the heart of Ravana, where the demon had stored amrta, nectar of deathlessness. Whether protecting Prahlada as Nrsimha, the sages of Dandaka forest as Rama, Arjuna as Krsna, or the Hare Krishna sankirtana party as Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the Lord defends His devotee in every age. That is His promise.