Born in Brigu’s clan, Parashurama was the 6th incarnation of Lord Vishnu and was the son of Renuka (mother) and Jamadagni (father). His grandfather was Ruchika. His father Jamadagni was famous for his harsh tapas, devotion and good conduct. His mother was the daughter of Prasenajith, a famous Rajarshi. They named their son Rama who was the 5th son of his parents.
It is said that Parashurama got Dhanurveda from Lord Shiva.
शिवो भार्गवरामाय धनुर्विद्यामदात् पुरा।
पारंपर्येण शिष्याणां तेन लोके प्रचारिताः॥ (Shivadhanurveda 13)
Later when he destroyed the whole clan of Kshatriyas with his divine axe, he came to be known as Parashurama, where Parashu means axe.
His evolving into a Kashtriya
As a child, Parashurama was extremely brilliant and at a very young age he acquired all the qualities of that of a devout Brahmin. His father also taught him archery. His devotion for Lord Shankara (Shiva) was endless. It is said that Shankara was so pleased with Parashurama’s devotion for him that he also gave him divine weapons and the latter quickly learnt the usage and retrieval of the same. Out of all the precious weapons, Parashurama’s favorite one was an axe. He also received Vaishnava Dhanu (bow) from his father who inherited it from his forefathers. With the benediction of his parents and teacher, Parashurama became extremely powerful and invincible.
Parashurama was born in Brigu’s clan, the clan of Brahmarishis. With his sole devotion and passion, he mastered the techniques of battle and weapons, the art which was the genre of only Kshatriyas. Nonetheless, Parashurama never exploited his skills for achieving his personal end and only put them for protecting dharma (religion) when the time was right. As mentioned in great epics and scriptures, dharma promotes both Brahma and Kshatra powers if they are utilized to demolish evil from the world. Thus Lord Vishnu, as Parashurama, came down on earth to fulfill this mission.
Obeying father’s words
Once, Parashurama’s mother Renuka went to a nearby lake to fetch water for performing her daily religious rituals. At the same time, Chitraratha, the King of Gandharvas, was also having a bath along with some apsaras (beautiful princesses). When Renuka looked at Chitraratha and the women, her mind lapsed into an unusual desire for carnal pleasures. Instantly, after realizing her fault and repenting for it, she hurried back home with the water pot. She was a bit late. She was trembling with fear. A punishment worse than she had expected was waiting for her. Jamadagni found out her mental adultery and ordered his sons to kill her head off. Parashurama was not in the ashram at that time and the other sons did not carry out the father’s order. Angry Jamadagni cursed his sons and they turned into dull headed animals.
After sometime, Parashurama returned to the ashram. To his astonishment, he was asked by his father to kill his mother. Parashurama, who was aware of his father’s extraordinary power and fame as a great sage, killed his mother and brothers. Jamadagni’s anger subsided and he cooled down. He then bade Parashurama ask for a boon.
Parashurama requested his father to return him his mother and brothers. He also asked his father —
– to erase from the minds of his mother and brothers that Parashurama ever killed him,
– to help his brothers regain their sanity and wisdom,
– to help his mother forget the mental sins she had committed,
– to enable him to conquer all the battle, and
– let him live long.
Karthaviryarjuna was the ruler of the city of Mahishmathi and belonged to the Haihaya clan. He was blessed by Lord Vishnu and became famous as a strong and intellectual Kshatriya King. He was possessed with thousand arms and was also known as Sahasrarjuna. He eventually turned out as one of the greatest tapasvi of all times. Even the great poet Kalidas has mentioned about the extraordinary qualities of Karthaviryarjuna in his epic Raghuvamsha. Again in another ancient text called Agamas, one can find the famous hymn called Karthaviryashtothra dedicated to him.
It is said that amongst all the Kshatriyas, only Lord Rama and Karthaviryarjuna were the two kings who succeeded in defeating Ravana, the King of Lanka. There is a famous legend associated with the story of Karthaviryarjuna which ultimately led to the downfall of this powerful Emperor. As the legend says, once with the help of King Agnideva, Karthaviryarjuna ransacked the ashram of Sage Jamadagni. When Parashurama learnt about the incident his anger knew no bounds and he straightaway made his way towards Mahishmathi. After a prolonged battle between Parashurama and Karthaviryarjuna, the latter was finally defeated and killed thus marking the fall of the powerful Kshatriya dynasty.
Destruction of the arrogant Kshatriyas
When Karthaviryarjuna’s sons learnt about the death of their father, they rushed to the ashram of Jamadagni and took their revenge by severing Jamadagni’s head. When Parshurama returned to ashram he was inconsolably sad to find his father dead. However, Parshurama decided to remain silent till the completion of the last rites of his father. Once he finished off with the rituals he came back to his aggressive mode and took an oath to destroy the whole Kshatriya clan including all kings and princes in the world. First of all he headed towards Mahishmathi, killed all the sons of Karthavirarjuna and then he killed all the arrogant kings without any mercy. It is said that while cleansing this world of bad elements (all Kshatriyas) he roamed around the world for 21 times. As mentioned in the legends, massive amount of blood which was shed during the killing spree was thus collected into five pools which were named ‘Samantha Panchaka’. After Parshurama performed tarpana to his pithrus with this blood, a great change developed inside him and he became extremely merciful. During this transition period he renounced the material world and left for the dense forest where he could perform penance.
Penitence for violence
When Parashurama thought of the devastation and bloodshed he had caused he started feeling extremely miserable. He also realized that a person of his stature, who belonged to the Brahmarishi family, should definitely not have entered into such misdeeds. He decided to cleanse his mind, body and soul of all his previous sins and hence performed an Aswamedha Yaga. As per the protocol, the person performing Aswamedha Yaga needs to give away gifts in huge amount to others in order to gain multiple results. Hence, Parashurama gave away all the lands which he had captured to Sage Kashyapa. However, after receiving the lands from Parashurama, Kashyapa still had some doubt as Parashurama might once again devastate the lands. Therefore, he asked Parashurama to shift towards the southwestern part of the world. Thus Parashurama moved towards the south and upon reaching the western shore, he requested the King of Sea to grant him a portion of land to live. The land where Parashurama resided began to be known as Shoopanaraka or Aparanthaka Bhoomi.
Parshurama in Scriptures
In Valmiki’s Ramayana Parashurama has been described as following –
ददर्श भीमसंकाशं जचावल्कलधारिणम्।
भार्गवं जामदग्नेयं राजा राजविमर्दनम्॥
कैलासमिव दुर्धर्षं कालाग्निमिव दुःसहम्।
ज्वलन्तमिव तेजोभिःदुर्निरीक्ष्य पृथग्जनैः॥
स्कन्धे चासज्य परशुं धनुर्विद्युद्गुणोपमम्।
प्रगृह्य शरमुग्रं च त्रिपुराघ्नं यथा शिवम्॥ (Ramayana 74.17-19)
In Hrivanshapurana, a detailed description on Parashurama has been given –
गौरमग्निशिखाकारं तेजसा भास्करोपमम्॥
क्षत्रान्तकरक्षोभ्यं वपुष्मन्तमिवार्णवम्। (Harivanshapurana 2.39.21-22)
Parashurama has been referred to as one of the ‘Sapta Chiranjiva’ i.e. the seven great men who are immortal. It is mentioned in scriptures that these Chiranjiva(s) leave their mortal bodies at the end of Manavantara.
एवं शतगुणैर्युक्ते भृगुणां कीर्तिवर्धनः।
जामदग्न्यो ह्यतियशा मरिष्यन्ति महाद्युतिः॥ (Mahabharata Dronaparva 70-23,24)