· Legends of the Parshuramavtar
· Parshuram in the Ramayan
· Parshuram in the Mahabharat
· Iconography of ParshuramAvtar
The sixth incarnation of Vishnu was a personality born to destroy not one or two evil forces or demons but a whole social group. “Observing subsequently, that the Kshatriyas oppressed the earth, Hari assumed the mortal form, in order to protect the gods, brahmanas and mankind”, mentions Agni Puran.
Parshuram, merely a pronoun became widespread probably because of his close association with the ‘Parshu’ i.e. axe – his weapon. He is designated as Ram, Bhargav or Jamadagneya (son of Jamadagni) and known as one of the seven immortals i.e. Chiranjivi. Vishnu took birth as Parshuram in order to restore peace and give the Brahmanas their place back.
Legends of Parshuramavtar
Ramayan, Mahabharat and various puranas give different legends about Parshuram. If summarized, the following account can be concluded;
Rushi Jamadagni, who was from the Bhrugu clan, was residing on the bank of river Narmada. He was the son of Ruchik and Satyavati. Satyavati was Vishvamitra’s sister. Jamadagni married Renuka, daughter of Renu.
Parshuram had four elder brothers; Rumanvat, Sushen, Vasu and Vishvavasu. Parshuram was the youngest but proved to be the greatest.
He was very clever. After his Upanayana, he went to mountain Shalgram and learnt all the vidyas (streams of knowledge) from sage Kashyap. He preferred Dhanurvidya (the art of war) than other streams of knowledge. He performed hard penance on mountain Gandhmadan and acquired Dhanurvidya from Shiva. Besides, he gained 41 Astras such as Brahmh, Raudra, Vaishnav, Agneya, Wasav, Nairut and also his famous Parshu from Shiva.
Valmiki Ramayan describes Parshuram as follows;
ददर्श भीमसङकाशं जटावल्कलधारिणम् ।
भार्गवं जामदग्नेयं राजा राजविमर्दनम् ॥
कैलासमिव दुर्धर्षं कालग्निमिव दु:सहम् ।
ज्वलन्तमिव तेजोभिर्दुर्निरीक्ष्यं पृथग्जनै: ॥
स्कन्धे चासज्य परशुं धनुर्विद्युद्गणोपमम् ।
प्रगृह्य शरमुग्रं च त्रिपुरघ्नं यथा शिवम् ॥
– वाल्मिकी रामायण, बालकांड, ७४.१७-१९
Bhargavmjamdagneym raja rajvimardanam ||
– ValmikiRamayan, Balkand, 74.17-19
“King Dashrath saw Parshuram; descendant of Bhargav clan. The one who is huge, bearing jata and valkal (clothes made of tree barks) and the one who defeats and destroys kings. He was unattainable as mountain Kailas, unbearable as galloping fire. It was impossible for common people to look at him because of his aura. There was an axe on his shoulder and a bow like a thunderbolt. He also had a sharp arrow in his hand. He was looking like Tripurantak Shiva.”
Once Renuka – mother of Parshuram went to fetch water from a lake. There she saw Chitrarath Gandharv swimming and having fun with his wives. Renuka witnessed the erotic scene for a while. For a moment, he
r mind was filled with sensual thoughts which were considered impure for the wife of a sage. When she returned to the hermitage, Jamadagni rushi, who knew the incident through intuition, turned her out. He ordered his elder sons to kill their mother one after another. When they all refused to do so, Jamadagni cursed them to death. But Parshuram obeyed his father and killed his mother. Pleased with his deed, Jamadagni offered him a boon. Immediately, Parshuram asked for the resurgence of his mother and all the brothers.
Kartavirya’s Offence and Parshuram’s Oath
King Kartavirya was ruling on the banks of Narmada. He was born in the clan of ‘Haihay’. It is said that he had thousand arms.He was known as ‘Sahastrarjun’ because of his thousand arms. His empire stretched from river Narmada to mountain Himalayas.
Soon Kartavirya became arrogant due to his power and strong empire. He started hurting Brahmins and the commoners. Once he went to the hermitage of rushi Vasistha and destroyed it unnecessarily. Vasistha cursed him thus, “Parshuram, who is born in Bhargav clan will cut your thousand arms and kill you!”
Kartavirya decided to test the strength of Parshuram. He visited the hermitage of Jamadagni and forcibly took away their cows. One of them was the divine cow Kamadhenu who appeared during the churning of the ocean samudra manthan-by gods and demons. Parshuram became furious on hearing this incident when he came back. He decided to kill the king. But Jamadagni tried to stop him. In the end, he asked Parshuram to take permission from god Brahmha. He did so. Brahmha sent him to Shiva. Finally Shiva approved and Parshuram fought with Kartavirya on the banks of Narmada. He killed the king along with many of his sons. Some of them found refuge in the Himalayas. When Parshuram came back, his father sent him on a pilgrimage for the sin of killing Kshatriyas.
In his absence, the sons of Kartavirya attacked the hermitage and killed his brothers and father. On hearing the dreadful news, Parshuram immediately returned home. He noticed twenty-one scars on the body of Jamadagni and took an oath, “For the sin of killing a helpless sage, I shall destroy the whole Kshatriya clan twenty-one times”
First he attacked the sons of Kartavirya and killed all Haihayas, their allies, friends who stood against him. After killing them all, he put his axe down and performed penance on the mountain Mahendragiri. One after another, he destroyed unjust Kshatriyas twenty-one times. This expedition reached the Himalayas. Wicked kings of Ang, Vang, Kaling, Videh, Kashmir, Shibi, Kshudrak, Tamralipti, Malav etc. were destroyed by Parshuram. He fought his last war at Samantpanchak where he washed his axe with the blood of the Kshatriyas and completed his oath.
Ashvamedh sacrifice by Parshuram
His victories made him the sovereign of the earth, due to which, he got the right to perform the Ashvamedhyajnya (sacrifice). Sage Kashyap presided over the sacrifice. At the end of the sacrificial ceremony, Parshuram gave the Sage the entire earth as his ‘dakshina’ (fees). But Kashyap knew that armed Kshatriyas are very much necessary to protect the poor people and take care of this land. He tried to find out some Kshatriyas and asked them to rule. However, they were so scared of Parshuram that none of them was prepared to come forth and accept the responsibility. Finally, Kashyap understood that until Parshuram left the land, Kshatriya clans would not rejuvenate. He confronted Parshuram saying “after donating the earth in the yajnya, you do not possess the right to stay on this land.” Parshuram obeyed Kashyapa’s order and left for Mount Mahendragiri for penance.
Creation of Konkan
The whole western coastal land of India comprising the present states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnatak and Kerala is known to be created by Parshuram. It came to be known as ‘Parshuram Kshetra’ (land of Parshuram). Puranas and some medieval texts offer another version, that after accomplishment of his penance at Mahendragiri, he threw his axe into the sea and created the land of ‘Shurparak’ for himself.
Also there is another legend that the western coast of India was threatened by stormy tides and turbulent waves of the sea. Parshuram fought with the advancing ocean to release the land of Konkan and Malabar. During this fight, he threw his axe in the sea and a narrow belt of land emerged.
Parshuram in Ramayan
Encounter with Sri Ram
After hearing that Sri Rama broke Shiva’s bow, Parshuram was annoyed and challenged him to bend his bow which once belonged to Vishnu. Sri Ram simply stretched that sacred bow. The awestruck Parshuram recognized Sri Ram to be a divine incarnation of Vishnu. Parshuram exhorted him to vanquish all territories on the earth with an arrow from Vishnu’s bow. Afterwards Parshuram gifted that bow to Sri Ram.
Parshuram in Mahabharat
After the incident with Sri Ram, Parshuram started teaching Dhanurvidya to both Kshatriyas and Brahmhanas. Dronacharya, Bhishm and Karna in Mahabharat learnt the skill from him.
Amba was the eldest daughter of Kashiraj. He organized the ‘Swayamvar’ (choosing the groom ceremony) for her along with her two sisters; Ambika and Ambalika. During this ceremony, Bhishma abducted them for his younger brother Vichitravirya. Amba was in love with king Shalva. When Bhishma came to know about this, he permitted her to go to him. However, Shalva refused to accept her saying that she was rendered impure by the touch of her captor.
Enraged Amba came back and urged Bhishma to marry her as she had no home to go. But he was unable to do so because of his eternal vow of celibacy throughout his life. In the end Amba went to Parshuram and asked for help. Parshuram, being his guru sent message to Bhishma and told him to accept Amba. When Bhishma refused, Parshuram challenged him. The battle went on for twenty-three days and ended without any result. Finally, Amba went to forest and started performing austerities. She took an oath to destroy Bhishma, who was responsible for ruining her life. Shiva was pleased and granted her the boon that she will destroy Bhishma in her next birth appearing as a man. She then burnt herself on a funeral pyre. Later she took birth as Drupad’s daughter ‘Shikhandini’ who later turned into a man ‘Shikhandi’ and became the instrument of Bhishma’s destruction in the Mahabharat war.
Iconography of Parshuramavtar
The iconography of Parshuram is simple. Some texts mention that his figure should possess two hands. The right hand should hold parshu and the left should be in ‘suchi’ pose (i.e. pointing to something). He should wear jatamukuta and yajnyopavita and some ornaments.
Agni Purana describes Parshuram having four hands carrying parshu, khadga, ban and dhanush. VishnudharmottaraPuran adds that he should wear deer skin.
It is believed that Parshuram is the god of ‘Seven Konkans’. He occupied the western coast of India from river Vaitarna to Kanyakumari and helped people settle there. These regions are known as ‘Parshuram Kshetras’ (Lands of Parshuram) today. Thus he is worshipped at many places by local people.
It is located at a distance of ten km. from Ciplun, Dist. Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. The temple is situated on a hillock called Parshuram. Three idols can be seen in this temple, they are Kam, Parshuram and Kal respectively. Kam denotes Brahmha, Parshuram denotes Vishnu and Kal denotes Shiv.
Parshuram Temple in Himachal Pradesh
It is situated on the confluence of the Giri and Jalal rivers, 40 kms from Nahan, district headquarters of Sirmour. The Renuka Lake, Parshuram Tal and temples dedicated to Parshuram and his mother Renuka are main attractions. A big fair is held on Kartik Ekadashi every year.
ParshuramKund in Arunachal Pradesh
It is located thirteen km north-east from Tezu, Dist. Lohit in Arunachal Pradesh. It is said that Parshuram bathed in this lake to get rid of the sin of matricide. Every year a huge fair is held at this place on Makarsankranti.
It is believed that Parshuram took birth on the first prahar of night of VaishakhShuddhTrutiya (Lunar third day of waxing phase of moon). On this occasion, a puja is performed. On the day of Parshuram Jayanti, a devotee should create a holy mandla (circle) and place the idol of Parshuram. It should be worshipped with the chants of ‘Vishnu-mantra’. Then ghee and sweets are offered.
Due to the Varna system of ancient India, Brahmhanas were considered as a ‘wise’ class. Their duty was to learn and teach the Vedas. They performed yajnyas and nurtured the traditions. Whereas Kshatriyas were expected to fight for peace, protect people especially brahmhanas who could not fight.
Knowledge and power both together are essential for the growth and stability of the society. When it does not happen, humanity suffers. Every power should have a check. The avatar of Parshuram tells a simple thing, when it comes to protecting honour, a sage can destroy mighty empires single handedly with just a simple axe.
Joshi M. 1964. BharatiyaSanskrutiKosha, Vol. V. Pune:BharatiyaSanskrutikosh Mandal.
Rao, T. A. G., 1998(Reprint), Elements of Hindu Iconography Vol I, Part I. New Delhi:MotilalBanarasidas.