Parashurama

Parashurama
Two representations of Parashurama
Parashurama with his axe (two representations)
Other namesBhàrgava rāma
Jamadagnya rāma
AffiliationSixth Avatar of Vishnu, Vaishnavism
WeaponAxe named Vidyudabhi (paraśhu)
Personal information
Parents
Parashurama, Sixth Avatar of Vishnu – Hindu Art Studio, Calcutta c1880's

Parashurama (Sanskrit: परशुराम, IAST: Paraśurāma, lit. Rama with an axe) was the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. Born as a Brahmin , Parashurama carried traits of a Kshatriya and is often regarded as a Brahma Warrior, He carried a number of traits, which included aggression, warfare and valor; also, serenity, prudence and patience. Like other incarnations of Vishnu, he was foretold to appear at a time when overwhelming evil prevailed on the earth.The Kshatriya class, with weapons and power, had begun to abuse their power, take what belonged to others by force and tyrannize people. Parashurama corrects the cosmic equilibrium by destroying these Kshatriya warriors.[1][2]

He is also referred to as Rama Jamadagnya, Rama Bhargava and Veerarama in some Hindu texts.[3]

Legends

Parashurama by Raja Ravi Varma.

According to Hindu legends, Parashurama was born to a saraswat Brahmin sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka, living in a hut. His birthplace is believed to be on top of the Janapav hills in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.[4][5] On top of the hills is a Shiva temple where Parshurama is believed to have worshipped Lord Shiva, the abbey (ashram) is known as Jamadagni Ashram, named after his father. The place also has a kund (pond) that is being developed by the state government.[6] They had a celestial cow called Surabhi which gives all they desire (such a cow is known as kamdhenu).[1][7].A king named Kartavirya Arjuna (not to be confused with Arjuna the Pandava)[8][note 1] – learns about it and wants it. He asks Jamadagni to give it to him, but the sage refuses. While Parashurama is away from the hut, the king takes it by force.[1] Parashurama learns about this crime, and is upset. With his axe in his hand, he challenges the king to battle. They fight, and Parushama kills the king, according to the Hindu History.[3] The warrior class challenges him, and he kills all his challengers. The legend likely has roots in the ancient conflict between the Brahmin varna, with religious duties, and the Kshatriya varna, with warrior and enforcement roles.[1][2][9]

In some versions of the legend, after his martial exploits, Parashurama returns to his sage father with the Surabhi cow and tells him about the battles he had to fight. The sage does not congratulate Parashurama, but reprimands him stating that a Brahmin should never kill a king. He asks him to expiate his sin by going on pilgrimage. After Parashurama returns from pilgrimage, he is told that while he was away, his father was killed by warriors seeking revenge. Parashurama again picks up his axe and kills many warriors in retaliation. In the end, he relinquishes his weapons and takes up Yoga.[10]

In Kannada folklore, especially in devotional songs sung by the Devdasis he is often referred to as son of Yellamma.

Parasurama legends are notable for their discussion of violence, the cycles of retaliations, the impulse of krodha (anger), the inappropriateness of krodha, and repentance.[11] According to Madeleine Biardeau, Parasurama is a fusion of contradictions, possibly to emphasize the ease with which those with military power tend to abuse it, and the moral issues in circumstances and one's actions, particularly violent ones.[12][13]

Parasurama and origin of Kerala

Parasurama, surrounded by settlers, commanding Varuna to part the seas and reveal Kerala.

There are legends dealing with the origins of Kerala geographically and culturally. One such legend is the retrieval of Kerala from the sea, by Parasurama, a warrior sage. It proclaims that Parasurama, an Avatar of Mahavishnu, threw His battle axe into the sea. As a result, the land of Kerala arose, and thus was reclaimed from the waters.[14]

In Treta yuga, Parasurama retrieved the land submerged under the ocean from Varuna – the God of the Oceans and Bhumidevi – Goddess of Earth. From Gokarna He reached Kanyakumari and threw His axe northward across the ocean. The land that came up from the waters till the spot where the axe landed, became Parashurama kshetra. It was 160 katam (an old measure) of land lying between Gokarna and Kanyakumari. Puranas say that it was Parasurama who planted the Brahmins and Nayakas in 64 regions of Kerala from Chera and Pandya regions. According to the puranas, Kerala is also known as Parasurama Kshetram, i.e., 'The Land of Parasurama', as the land was reclaimed from sea by him.

Texts

He is generally presented as the fifth son of Renuka and rishi (seer) Jamadagni, states Thomas E Donaldson.[9] The legends of Parashurama appear in many Hindu texts, in different versions:[10]

  • In chapter 6 of the Devi Bhagavata Purana, he is born from the thigh with intense light surrounding him that blinds all warriors, who then repent their evil ways and promise to lead a moral life if their eyesight is restored. The boy grants them the boon.[9]
  • In chapter 4 of the Vishnu Purana, Rcika prepares a meal for two women, one simple, and another with ingredients that if eaten would cause the woman to conceive a son with martial powers. The latter is accidentally eaten by Renuka, and she then gives birth to Parashurama.[9]
  • In chapter 2 of the Vayu Purana, he is born after his mother Renuka eats a sacrificial offering made to both Rudra (Shiva) and Vishnu, which gives him dual characteristics of Kshatriya and Brahmin.[15]

Parashurama is described in some versions of the Mahabharata as the angry Brahmin who with his axe, killed a huge number of Kshatriya warriors because they were abusing their power.[16] In other versions, he even kills his own mother because his father asks him to and claims she had committed a sin by having lustful thoughts after seeing a young couple frolicking in water.[17][8] After Parasurama obeys his father's order to kill his mother, his father grants him a boon. Parasurama asks for the reward that his mother be brought back to life, and she is restored to life.[17] Parasurama remains filled with sorrow after the violence, repents and expiates his sin.[8]

He plays important roles in the Mahabharata serving as mentor to Bhishma (chapter 5.178), Drona (chapter 1.121) and Karna (chapter 3.286), teaching weapon arts and helping key warriors in both sides of the war.[18][19][note 2]

In the Mahabharata, he is the teacher of warrior Karna.[1] In the regional literature of Kerala, he is the founder of the land, the one who brought it out of the sea and settled a Hindu community there.[2] He is also known as Rama Jamadagnya and Rama Bhargava in some Hindu texts.[3] Parashurama retired in the Mahendra Mountains, according to chapter 2.3.47 of the Bhagavata Purana.[21] He is the only Vishnu avatar who never dies, never returns to abstract Vishnu and lives in meditative retirement.[8] Further, he is the only Vishnu avatar that co-exists with other Vishnu avatars Rama and Krishna in some versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata respectively.[8][note 3]