Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Parashurama - Rama of the Axe


In the distant past, the Kshatriyas, who were the rulers, became arrogant in their power. Instead of ruling justly, they used their strength to oppress their subjects, levying unjust taxes, shirking from their duty to protect people and in short making themselves obnoxious. Ordinary men began to pray to the Lord, to deliver them from the tyranny of the Kshatriyas. Mother earth also complained to Lord Vishnu about the conduct of the Kings on earth.

Lord Vishnu heard their prayer. There was a great sage named Jamadagni, who was a descendant of the sage Bhrigu. Vishnu was born as the youngest son of Jamadagni and his wife Renuka. He was named Rama. (This is different from Rama in the Ramayana). He performed a great penance to Lord Shiva and obtained a divine axe as his weapon, and was know as Parashurama (Rama of the axe) from then on. Parashurama did not yet know that he was the incarnation of Vishnu, he had not yet realized the purpose of his birth. He grew up like a typical Brahmana boy, studying the Vedas and other religious scriptures, preparing to become an ascetic like his illustrious father.

His mother Renuka was famed for her chastity. She used to fetch water from the river every day in a rather unique fashion. She did not take any vessel there, instead she used to construct one out of the clay found by the riverside. The power of her chastity allowed this pot (of unbaked clay) to hold water. Her husband relied upon the water brought by his wife for use in his daily rituals and prayer.

One day, when Renuka was filling water as usual, she saw a handsome Gandharva pass by in the sky, on his flying chariot. Renuka, who had never thought about any man other than her husband, was filled with momentary desire for this Gandharva. It was only for a moment, but it was enough. She was no longer chaste of mind. The clay pot she made, dissolved on contact with water. She tried again and again, but to no avail. She did not want to face her husband after this, so she stayed at the river-bank, deep in thought.

Meanwhile, the sage was getting impatient. It had been a long time since his wife went to the river. He used his yogic power of divine insight and immediately realized what was the matter. He was exceedingly angry with his wife. In his wrath, he called his eldest son and said, "Son, Your mother has sinned in thought. She is no longer chaste of mind. She is at the river-bank. I order you to go and kill her!".

His eldest son was aghast. He did not want to disobey his father's order, but his mind recoiled from killing his own mother. He humbly said, "Father, it is said in the scriptures that the greatest merit for a son is his obedience to his elders. Those who disregard their father's commands go straight to hell, regardless of other good deeds performed by them. However, these same scriptures also say that all crimes have atonement, save the crime of matricide. Even if my mother has sinned, I cannot kill her, please forgive me!"

Jamadagni's anger increased. He called his second son and telling him of the circumstances, commanded him to kill both his mother and elder brother. This son also refused, citing the same reasoning as his elder brother. Thus one-by-one all but Parashurama declined to follow their father's orders. When Parashurama heard his father's order, he immediately obeyed it. He took a sword in hand and beheaded his mother and all his elder brothers.

The wrath of Jamadagni was appeased. He said, "Son, your devotion and implicit obedience of my commands had pleased me. Whoever obeys his father's orders, performs an act of great merit. Your undutiful elder brothers would not do my bidding, but you have done it unquestioningly. I shall grant you any boon that you desire, ask and it shall be yours."

Parashurama fell at the feet of his father and said, "O Father, My mother was dear to me than my own life. My life is empty without my elder brothers. I beseech you, please bring them back to life. Forgive their sins, for mercy is the mark of greatness. You, who are both wise and just, would realize that their crime was not severe enough for the punishment that you have inflicted on them. Let us be a family again, let us be happy."

Jamadagni was very pleased with the selfless nature of his son. He granted him his wish. By his yogic powers, he brought his wife and elder sons to life. He forgave their sins and they lived happily together for a long time.

Jamadagni had possession of Indra's cow, Kamadhenu. He used to feed his guests with the bounty obtained from this sacred cow. Once a king named Kartaveerya-Arjuna visited his hermitage. At that time, Jamadagni's sons were away. The King and his retinue were served with refreshments and food. When the King was surprised that a humble hermitage could provide such a feast, Jamadagni told him about Kamadhenu. The King wanted to possess this cow, which would solve the problem of feeding his army, but he knew that the sage would never part with Indra's gift, so he kept silent. However, when the sage went inside the hermitage on an errand, he ordered his soldiers to seize Kamadhenu and drag it to his kingdom. (Both Kamadhenu and its daughter Nandini seem to inspire such instincts in Kings. The same thing happened between Vishwamitra and Vasishta.)

When the sage came out, he was alarmed to see that his cow was being stolen away. When the king saw that his dastardly deed had been found out, he began to fear the wrath of the sage. So, he committed the greatest sin of them all. He killed the sage! (The scriptures say that Brahma-Hathya, killing a Brahmana, is one of the most heinous crimes. To atone for it, you have to perform many sacrifices and penances.) However, Kartaveerya-Arjuna was a typical product of the times. His class, the Kshatriyas believed that they owned the earth, and that others were there simply to be their servants. So after murdering the Rishi, the King dragged the cow to his kingdom.

When Parashurama returned to the hermitage, he was shocked to see his father lying dead, his head lying apart from his torso, an expression of horror frozen upon his face! Parashurama used his yogic power to divine all that had taken place. A great anger began raising from the core of his being. He said to himself, "I now know what is to be my mission in life. I have observed that the Kshatriyas on this earth are an immoral lot. Their tyranny and oppression have made others' life miserable. Now, so drunk are they with their power, that they murder with impunity. I shall avenge the death of my father. Let the Devas and other immortal beings be my witness! I shall not rest till this entire earth is cleansed of the pollution that is the Kshatriyas. I shall seek out every single Kshatriya on earth and send them to the abode of Yama! May I not reach the divine abode of my ancestors if I fail in this task!".

He then began his campaign of ridding the earth of Kshatriyas. First, he avenged his father's death by slaughtering Kartaveerya-Arjuna with his entire army. He toured the world, exterminating the Kshatriyas wherever he found them. Soon, Kshatriyas across the land learned to fear Parashurama and his great axe. So great was their fear of Parashurama, that they sent their women and children into hiding, disguised as Brahmanas. Parashurama went around the earth twenty one times, killing all the Kshatriyas that he found. At last, his great anger was appeased. He had accomplished the mission that he was born for. He then donated all the kingdoms that he conquered to a sage. (Note: Who was this sage? I don't remember it right now. I think it might have been Kashyapa.)

Most of the kingdoms were without a ruler. However, some of the Kshatriya children had escaped, disguised as Brahmanas. The Kshatriya women who had gone into hiding, begat children by other Brahmanas to continue their line. So a new ruling class emerged. These new Kshatriyas remembered the lesson that Parashurama's dance of destruction had taught them. They were a great deal better than their predecessors and ruled justly.

Much later, Vishnu was incarnated as Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. After breaking the bow of Shiva at Janaka's court, Rama, who won his wife Sita's hand in this manner, was returning from Videha with his family, including his bride to Ayodhya. Parashurama had heard about the valor of this young prince. He remembered his vow to exterminate all Kshatriyas (which had already been completed, but his memory was selective), and waylaid this party in a forest.

He said to Rama, "Do not be proud that you have broken the bow of Shiva. That bow had become rotten with disuse. It used to lie in a box in Janaka's court, and had not been used for ages. It is no wonder that it crumbled at your touch. Here, I have another bow of Shiva, given to me by the Lord himself. If you are really as strong as they say, string this bow and fire an arrow from it."

Dasharatha, the father of Rama was alarmed. He knew of Parashurama's anger and his vow. He pleaded with the sage, "O great one, Rama is still a boy. He cannot do what you ask of him. He is virtuous and obedient. Do not destroy him with your anger. If you must fight someone, choose me. Spare the life of my child!"

Rama said, "Father, Do not worry. The sage has not asked me to fight him. He merely wishes to test my strength by stringing this divine bow. Permit me do this task. Perhaps I might be able to accomplish it."

Reluctantly, Dasharatha was forced to give his consent. Rama took the bow from Parashurama and effortlessly strung it. He then affixed an arrow to it and drew the string back. He then asked the sage, "Sir, once an arrow has been affixed to a bow, it must be fired. What shall I use as target?"

At this point, the realization dawned upon Parashurama that his mission as an incarnation of Vishnu had come to an end. In Rama he recognized the aspect of Vishnu. His pride was humbled. He said, "Let the target be my foolish pride! O Rama, you are verily the incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself. May your glory increase. Your fame will live as long as this world exists. You may keep the bow." After this, the sage took leave of the party and went his way. At this point, the spark of divinity that was inside him, was transferred to Rama, who was now the incarnation of Vishnu.

Parashurama lived for a very long time. He was still active during the time of Mahabharata. He had taught Bhishma, son of Shantanu in the use of arms. (That story is narrated here). He also fought against his disciple, at the behest of Amba, whom Bhishma was refusing to marry. He was not successful in this task, his disciple proved to be equal to him in prowess.

Later, he had decided to renounce all his worldly riches and gift all his wealth to suitable Brahmanas. When Drona, the son of Bharadwaja came to beg for riches from him, he had already given away his wealth. The only things that he had were his divine Astras (missiles), so he gave them to Drona and instructed them in their use.

Parashurama also taught Karna in arms. He gave many of his divine Astras to Karna. However, when he found that Karna had misrepresented himself as a Brahmana boy to learn warcraft from him, he grew exceedingly angry and cursed Karna saying, "Since you have committed the grave sin of deceiving your guru, may all the knowledge that you obtained by this deceit forsake you at the time of your need. Just when you will need all your strength and prowess to survive, you will forget all that I have taught you." Despite Karna's pleas, He did not relent.

After this point, references to Parashurama vanish. It is believed that he attained Yogic-Samadhi (a form of death were a sage voluntarily gives up his life, sitting in a pose of meditation).


Last Modified At: Wed Nov 17 23:00:51 2004