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If there ever was any an aggressive incarnation of Lord Vishnu then it has to be that of Parashurama. He is considered as the 6th of the dasavatara or incarnations of Vishnu to have come on earth. Normally according to the Vedas the class of Brahmanas (priests) and Kshatriyas (warriors) are distinct. But Parashurama took up fighting to avenge his father’s death despite being born as a brahmana.
Generally brahmanas indulge in knowledge, preaching and religious rituals. The Kshatriyas are known to protect the state and engage in military work. In the case of Parashurama, he seems to have the combined qualities of the two castes. He was a saint and a warrior and performed both the duties. The Puranas and both the epics mention his role in many deadly battles.
Parashurama is most known for ridding the world of kshatriyas twenty-one times over after the mighty king Kartavirya Arjuna killed his father. He plays important roles in the Mahabharata and Ramayana, serving as mentor to Bhishma, Drona and Karna.
Parashurama and Indrajit (Ravana’s son) are believed to be the only humans who ever possessed the three ultimate weapons: the Brahmanda astra, Vaishnava astra and Pashupatastra. Parashurama was a disciple of Shiva and learned the scriptures and the arts of warfare from Shiva. He then acquired celestial weapons from Shiva and the other gods on Shiva’s instructions. Shiva personally trained Parashurama for decades in the art of warfare.The Bhargavastra was his personal celestial weapon and vijaya was his personal bow which was gifted by Shiva. Parashurama also fought back the advancing seas to save the lands of Konkan and Kerala.
The Story of Lord Parashurama
The exact birthplace of Bhargav Parashurama is contested, although the history of his lineage took place in the Haihaya Kingdom located in modern-day Maheshwar.
The grandfather of Bhargava Parashurama was a great rishi named Richika who was the great grandson of a famous sage Bhrigu. Bhrigu’s son was Chyavana. Chyavana foresaw that a violent Brahmana would be born in his line in consequence of King Kusika and tried to curse him. However, Chyavana was so pleased with the King’s behaviour that he gave him a boon that a Brahmarshi would be born in his lineage. This resulted in the birth of Kaushika who later became known as the sage Vishwamitra. Chyavana’s son was the mighty Aurva who developed intense hatred for Kshatriyas as they had put his mother in danger, when she was pregnant with him. Aurva put away his hatred and trained the Ikshwaku King Sagara in warfare. However this trait would manifest in his descendants. Aurva had a hundred sons. His eldest son, Richika, acquired the Dhanurveda and the arts of warfare spontaneously solely by fiat of his will, without any formal instruction. Richika’s son, Jamadagni, also acquired the Dhanurveda in the same way and became a highly skilled warrior. Jamadagni’s youngest son was Parashurama.
Parshurama is also the kul guru of Bharadwaj and Kashyap gotra. Parshuram is descendant of Bhrigu. One day, the rishi was traveling through the countryside seeking a bride. At the time, there were two dominant clans, the Bharat-Suryavansha or Solar Dynasty and the Chandra-vamsha or Lunar Dynasty. The ruling King Gadhi belonged to the Lunar Dynasty and had a beautiful daughter, Satyavati, who was unwed. Richeek visited the King, who entertained him at his court. The rishi was besot with the beauty of Satyavati and at the end of the evening he asked the King to have her as his bride.
The King was taken aback, but could not deny the request of a Brahmin. As such, he agreed to give his daughter away to the rishi, but on condition that Richeek give him one-thousand horses, all with one ear black and the body entirely white. The rishi agreed to the demand of the King. He then did penance to Varuna and was blessed with the horses that the King had requested. Richeek then married Satyavati after fulfilling wishes of the King.
Satyavati adjusted well to an ascetic life as she was blessed with a good countenance, but she did not have any children. Meanwhile, at the Kingdom, her father had no heir to the throne as well and this also worried Satyavati. One day, Ruchika asked her what was wrong and she told him of her concerns for the Kingdom.
Then Ruchika helped both Satyavati and her mother. He gave Satyavati two potions, one for her mother so that she would have a mighty Kshatriya son and one for Satyavati so that she would have a son that would become a great sage. Satyavati gave the potions to her mother. However, not trusting the sage, her mother switched the containers.
In time, both mother and daughter found they were expecting children. However, the sage noticed that when he looked at his wife he saw a Kshatriya aura and he asked what had happened. Satyavati told Ruchika, to which he responded, “Now our son will be a great warrior instead of a sage.” Satyavati begged the rishi to instead make her grandson become the great warrior and her son a rishi. Seeing her distress, Ruchika acquiesced. Satyavati gave birth to a son, Jamadagni, who became a great saptarishi, while her grandson Bhargav was the sixth incarnation of Vishnu and one of the greatest warriors of all ages.
Renuka & The Clay Pot
Goddess Renuka was known for her chastity and devotion to her husband. Such was her faith, that she was able to fetch water from the river in a pot of unbaked clay, with the pot held together only by the strength of her devotion.
One day while at the river, a group of Gandharvas in a chariot passed by in the sky above. Filled with desire for only a moment, the unbaked pot she held dissolved in the river. Afraid to return to her husband, she waited at the river bank, uncertain of what to do next. Meanwhile, Jamadagni noticed his wife had not returned. Through his yogic powers, he divined all that had taken place and was enraged. The rishi called his eldest son, handed him an axe and asked the boy to kill his mother. Horrified, the boy refused and so Jamadagni turned him to stone. He then asked each of his sons and as they refused, one by one, he turned them to stone. Finally only his youngest son, Parashurama was left. Ever obedient, the boy beheaded his mother.
Pleased Jamadagni then offered two boons to Parashurama. The boy asked that his mother be brought back to life and his brothers to be returned from stone to flesh. Impressed by the affection and devotion of his son, Jamadagni granted his request.
Visiting his forefathers and acquiring weapons from Lord Shiva
Parashurama grew up to be a powerful youth. Though a Brahmin by birth, Parashurama expressed unusual interest in weapons and studied warfare as well as sacred scriptures under the tutelage his father who was himself a powerful archer. Afterwards, Parashurama devoted himself in serving his parents and brothers, helping Jamadagni to run his hermitage.
According to the Brahmanda Purana, when Parashurama was a teenager, he expressed his desire to meet his paternal grandfather Richika.
Jamadagni permitted his son and Parashurama visited Richika in his hermitage. Richika and his wife welcomed him and Parashurama stayed with them for a few months, serving them and acquiring knowledge from Richika. Curious about his ancestors, Parashurama went to the hermitage of Richika’s father Aurva and a few months later, he went to Aurva’s father, Chyavana. Parashurama was devoted to them and they too gave him knowledge.
Many months later, Chyavana told Parashurama to meet his own father, Sage Bhrigu, the very progenitor of the Bhargava race himself. With Chyavana’s instructions, Parashurama was able to enter Bhrigu’s hermitage and bowed down before his ancestor.
Parashurama lived with Bhrigu for many months and Bhrigu trained his descendant in performing harsh penances. After his training, Bhrigu called Parashurama and asked him to immediately go to the Himavat and Gandhamadana mountains and perform penances to Lord Shiva, in order to acquire divine weapons from him.
Lord Shiva was pleased with this, and appeared before him and asked him for a boon. Parashurama expressed his desire to obtain celestial weapons and skills in warfare from the God. Shiva told him that he would grant the boon only when Parashurama proved himself to be a worthy soul. Shiva told Parashurama to undertake a Tirtha Yatra or holy pilgrimage. After years of penances, Shiva was pleased with Parashurama’s devotion and summoned him. Shiva ordered Parashurama to slay the Daityas and Danavas who were the enemies of the Devas, to which the latter agreed.
After vanquishing the Daityas and Danavas in battle, Parashurama proved himself worthy. He acquired many boons from Lord Shiva. Parashurama’s first boon was that he should surpass everyone in divine weapons, in the skill of wielding weapons and in mastery of sacred scriptures. His second boon was to be unvanquishable and invincible in battle. His third boon was to be free of sins and diseases and remain in his prime and health forever. His fourth boon was to be renowned in the world. His fifth boon was to be capable of performing arduous tasks and penances and to remain devoted to Shiva forever. Shiva granted all these boons to him. Shiva gave him mastery over many celestial weapons as well as a chariot and horses which could go anywhere at will, a celestial armour, divine bows, a conch shell and two inexhaustible quivers of arrows.
Once, Lord Shiva challenged Parashurama to a battle to test his skills in warfare. The spiritual master Lord Shiva and the disciple Shri Parashuram became locked in fierce battle, a dreadful duel that lasted for twenty one days and while evading a blow by the Trident (Trishul) of Lord Shiva, Shri Parashuram countered and vigorously attacked him with his Parashu. It struck Lord Shiva on the forehead creating a wound. Lord Shiva was very pleased to see the amazing warfare skills of his disciple and passionately embraced Shri Parashuram. Lord Shiva preserved this wound as an ornament so that the reputation of his disciple remained imperishable and insurmountable. ‘Khanda-parshu’ (wounded by Parashu) is one of the thousand names of Lord Shiva.
Having been trained in warfare by Lord Shiva himself, Parashurama became the foremost of all wielders of weapons.
On his way home, Parashurama saw a Brahmin boy chased by a tiger. Parashurama plucked a grass blade and burnt the tiger to ashes. The boy recovered and decided to follow Parashurama as a friend and disciple. Since he was unwounded, he was called Akritavana.
The duo first went to Bhrigu, then Chyavana, then Aurva, then Richika and then Jamadagni and told them about their adventures.
Getting Vijaya Bow From Lord Indra
Shri Parashurama, clipped the thousand arms of Kartavirya Arjuna (Sahastrarjun), one by one, with his Parshu and killed him. He repelled his army by showering arrows on them. The whole country greatly welcomed the destruction of Kartavirya Arjuna (Sahastrarjun). The king of Deities, Indra was in possession of Lord Shiva’s Vijaya Dhanusha. Indra was so pleased that he presented this most beloved Vijaya (bow) to Shri Parashurama on instruction from Lord Shiva. Dev Indra had destroyed demon dynasties with this bow. By the fatal arrows shot with the help of this Vijaya bow, Shri Parashurama destroyed the miscreant Kshatriyas twenty one times.
Later Shri Parashurama presented the Vijaya bow to his disciple Karna when he was pleased with his intense devotion to the Guru. Karna used this bow to fight on the 17th day of the Kurukshetra war. Karna become unconquerable with help of the Vijaya.
Kartavirya Sahastrarjun and The Haihaya Kingdom
The time of Parashurama was a tumultuous one for the Indian subcontinent, with puranas indicating frequent battles between several rival Kshatriya clans and kingdoms. Parashurama lived within the Haihaya Kingdom, located in modern-day Maheshwar on the banks of the Narmada River. The generations of enmity between the Kshatriya Haihaya and the Brahmin Bhargavas, from whom Parashurama hailed, were mentioned in the Mahabharata numerous times.
The Haihaya were ruled by a powerful and cruel King named Kartavirya Arjuna. He was the incarnation of Sudarshana, Lord Vishnu’s Celestial weapon, Chakra that had taken birth in human form. In addition, Kartavirya worshipped a divine being known as Dattatreya, embodiment of Trimurti and descendant of the Saptarishi Atri. For his obeisance, Dattatreya had granted the king a flying golden chariot that would travel wherever he wished and one-thousand arms.
With these boons, Kartavirya became immeasurably powerful, conducting many military conquests after which he made Mahishmati in present-day Maheshwar capital of his Kingdom. Kartavirya became so powerful that he was even able to defeat and imprison the demon King Ravana at the Godavari. Ravana, in turn, would later be the nemesis of the Ramayana.
The Sacred Calf, The Death of Kartavirya Arjuna & the Genocide of the Kshatriyas.
The violent persecution of Brahmins by Kshatriya had at the time spanned generations. Aurva, great-grandfather of Parashurama, recalled a vivid childhood experience:
“While lying unborn, I heard the doleful cries of my mother and other women of the Bhrigu race who were then being exterminated by the Kshatriyas. When those Kshatriyas began to exterminate the Bhrigus together with unborn children of their race, it was then that wrath filled my soul. My mother and the other women of our race, each in an advanced state of pregnancy, and my father, while terribly alarmed, found not in all the worlds a single protector. Then when the Bhrigu women found not a single protector, my mother held me in one of her thighs.” — Mahabharata 1:182
As the third book of the Mahabharata begins, Akritavrana, a disciple of the avatar speaks:
“With pleasure shall I recite that excellent history of the godlike deeds of Rama, the son of Jamadagni who traced his origin to the race of Brigu.” — Mahabharata 3:117
As Rama grew older, he was sincere in his piety and pleased Lord Shiva with the oblation of excruciating tapas. As a blessing, he was granted the Parashu of Shiva, after which he was known as Parashurama or ‘Rama with axe’. Shiva also granted the boon of invincibility to Parashurama along with many other boons.
During the time of Parashurama, there was once a Yadava named Kartavirya Arjuna, who was the most powerful king of his time. Kartavirya had a 1000 human arms endued with tremendous strength and dexterity. He had acquired them as well as many Yogic powers as boons after pleasing the Sage Dattatreya with his penances. This made him one of the most powerful warriors of all time.
Despite being a wise and righteous king, Kartavirya became arrogant as he never lost or failed in anything. He harassed his own subjects and the very gods were afraid of him. One day, Kartavirya audaciously asked the god Varuna if there was anyone equal to him in combat. Varuna replied that Parashurama was equal to Kartavirya. The answer enraged Kartavirya as he didn’t believe anyone would exist as his equal.
Soon after Parashurama received his blessing, King Kartavirya of the Haihaya came upon the hermitage of Jamadagni The visit happened at a time Parusharama was away in the forest gathering yagna and although the King had a massive entourage, the saptarishi was able to serve the King a grand feast. When Kartavirya asked how he was able to do so, Jamadagni showed him a blessed Kamadhenu cow, given to Jamadagni by Indra, which was able to grant wishes. Kartavirya’s ministers urged the king to steal the cow. Kartavirya’s preceptor, Sage Garga admonished the king not to follow the evil counsel, but Kartavirya gave the orders to procure the cow. Jamadagni refused to part with the cow despite being offered tremendous wealth. The evil Haihayas forcibly beat up the sage to unconsciousness, uprooted the trees around the hermitage and forcibly stole the cow.
Kartavirya regretted the incident but he decided not to return the cow after what happened, fearing the wrath of the sage.
Returning home, Parashurama was infuriated upon learning what happened and rashly swore that he would exterminate the race of Kshatriyas 21 times after seeing his aggrieved mother beat her chest 21 times.
Parashurama prayed to Lord Brahma for guidance. Brahma warned Parashurama that slaying Kartavirya was an extremely daunting task since he had thousands of powerful allies. Brahma told him to procure the Trailokya Kavacha (armour) from Lord Shiva. Parashurama went to Shiva and told him of his task. Shiva warned Parashurama that Kartavirya also acquired the Kavacha from Dattatreya. The God then gave the armour as well as many divine weapons to Parashurama. However, Parashurama was unable to use the Kavacha despite knowing the incantations to use it. So he went to Agastya who imparted to him a Vishnu Stotra or hymn which he heard from Sheshanaga and asked him to go to the Gangotri and practice the hymn for one month.
Parashurama did as he was told and beheld Lord Vishnu himself. Vishnu blessed Parashurama for victory and told him what the future held. After completing his quest and attaining mastery of the Kavacha, Parashurama headed towards Mahishmati to slay Kartavirya.
War between Parashurama and Kartavirya Arjuna
Parashurama reached the outskirts of Mahishmati and sent a message to Kartavirya, either return Kamadhenu and surrender to the Bhargavas or death on the battlefield.
Outraged, Kartavirya summoned billions of kings who were his vassals and allies and a thousand mighty akshauhinis (each akshauhini consists of 21870 war elephants each carrying seven soldiers, 21870 battle chariots each carrying four men, 65610 cavalry and 109350 footsoldiers).
Parshurama ascended on a single chariot and without any ally, marched against the formidable Haihayas. War broke out and Parashurama began to wreak havoc among the Haihayas. He first slew Mangala, the King of Matsya and slew his soldiers with the Narayanastra. Fighting continuously for three days, Parashurama slew 12 entire akshauhinis.
Then the Ikshvaku King Suchandra advanced against Parashurama with a 100,000 princes and seven akshauhinis. Parashurama slaughtered the seven akshauhinis and all the 100,000 warriors. Suchandra and Parashurama fought one another.
Suchandra was able to counter all of Parashurama’s attacks. Enraged, Parashurama once more invoked the Narayanastra, but Suchandra bowed in front of it and the Narayanastra was rendered useless. Bewildered, Parashurama hurled many weapons at the king, but the latter easily caught them. Parashurama hurled the trident of Shiva (Shivashula), but upon striking the chest of the king, it turned into a garland of flowers. Using his inner vision, Parashurama realized that Suchandra was invincible due to the presence of the terrible goddess Bhadrakali.
Parashurama prayed to the goddess and pleased her. Bhadrakali offered to grant him a boon. Parashurama asked her for the means to slay Suchandra. Bhadrakali told him to use the Agneyastra and slay him. Parashurama did so and incinerated Suchandra on the battlefield. Suchandra’s son, Pushkaraksha rushed against Parashurama, but the latter cleaved him into halves with his axe and slaughtered nine akshauhinis.
Then Kartavirya himself, with a thousand hands and five hundred bows, mounted on a colossal golden chariot drawn by a hundred horses proceeded against Parashurama and both fought one another. The two rivals hurled Brahmastras at each other. Worried that this would destroy the world, Parashurama mentally recalled both the Brahmastras. Parashurama then shot arrows, cutting off Kartavirya’s ears and smashing his crown. Kartavirya, blinded in pain, shot many divine weapons at Parashurama and the latter easily countered Kartavirya’s attacks. Kartavirya hurled a trident he acquired from Dattatreya at Parashurama and knocked him unconscious. Parashurama recovered and hacked of Kartavirya’s thousand arms. He invoked the Pashupatastra and decapitated the king, incinerating him to ashes. Thus Parashurama slew Kartavirya Arjuna.
Parashurama then turned towards the 11,000 sons of Kartavirya. In 48 minutes, he slaughtered a hundred akshauhinis and killed many of Kartavirya’s sons, while the surviving sons fled from the battlefield in fear. Parashurama slaughtered the remaining kings and allies of Kartavirya and routed the Haihayas, emerging victorious and returned with the Kamadhenu cow.
Death of Jamadagni
When he returned home, his father was pleased, but seeing the blood stained axe of Parashurama, also concerned. He cautioned his son he must be aware of wrath and pride. Parashurama accepted the reprimand of his father, in penance and went on a pilgrimage to holy places for one year in purification.
Meanwhile, the sons of Kartavirya discovered their father at the palace and knew that only Parashurama could have killed him. In revenge, they traveled to the hermitage and murdered Jamadagni, discharging arrows into him like killing a stag. Afterwards, they decapitated his body and took his head with them.
When Parashurama returned home, he found his mother next to the body of his father, crying hysterically as she beat her breast twenty one times in a row. Furious, he hunted down the sons of Kartavirya at the palace. He killed them all and returned with the head of his father to conduct the cremation. Parashurama then vowed to enact a genocide on the war-mongering Kshatriyas twenty one times over, once for each time his mother’s hand hit her chest.
Parashurama returning with the sacred calf with Jamadagni cautioning him to not be controlled by anger
Vengeance Against the Kshatriyas
Parashurama then travelled the whole of Earth, killing all men of the Kshatriya caste, guilty or innocent. The first book of the Mahabharata reveals:
“In the interval between the Treta and Dwapara Yugas, Parashurama, great among all who have borne arms, urged by impatience of wrong, repeatedly smote the noble race of Kshatriyas. And when that fiery meteor, by his own valour, annihilated the entire tribe of the Kshatriyas, he formed at Samanta-panchaka five lakes of blood.” — Mahabharata 1:2
One legend describes Parasharuma returning to a village after battle in what is now the Badami Taluka, in the Bagalkot district of Karnataka. While the warrior-sage washed his axe in the river Malaprabha, unknown to him, downstream beyond a bend in the river, village women were cleaning their clothes. His mighty axe stained the entire river red and the women exclaimed “Ai hole!” translating to ‘Oh, what a river!’. This is said to be the etymology of the present-day village Aihole.
There is another legend that some of the fisherman community of Kerala who were settled in the coastal areas, receiving word as Parashurama approached, took the fisherman thread split it into two sacred threads that marked them twice-born, hid them in the forest and traveled south. Parashurama then gave their land to them.
After he had finally rid the world of Kshatriyas, Parashurama conducted the Ashvamedha sacrifice, done only by sovereign kings and gave the land he had conquered to the Brahmin head-priests, who performed the yagya Kashyapa. After seeing the impoverished condition of some Brahmins in northern India involved in priestly services Parshuram gave him the land that he had conquered. The Ashvamedha demanded that the remaining Kshatriya kings either submit to Parashurama or stop the sacrifice by defeating him in battle. They were unable to do either and so perished.
In the Ramayana
Parashurama is unique in that although he is the sixth avatar of Vishnu, as an immortal, he has also lived to see the subsequent incarnations of Vishnu in Rama and Krishna. Parashurama played an important role in both Ramayana and Mahabharata.
In the Ramayana, Parashurama had given the bow of Shiva to King Janaka, the father of princess Sita for her swayamvar. As a test of worthiness, suitors were asked to lift and string the mystic weapon. None were successful until Rama, but in the process of being strung, the bow snapped in half. This produced a tremendous noise that reached the ears of Parashurama as he meditated atop the Mahendra Mountains.
In Valmiki Ramayana, Parashurama stops the journey of Sri Rama and his family after his marriage to Sita. He threatens to kill Sri Rama and his father, King Dasharatha, begs him to forgive his son and punish him instead. Parashurama neglects Dasharatha and invokes Sri Rama for a challenge. Sri Rama proves to be equal with him in all common weapons. Hence parasurama gives him the divine Sharanga bow (the personal bow of Supreme Lord Vishnu) and tells him to string it. Rama does that in a blink and points a arrow at Parasurama. The warrior-sage realized he was looking at his own subsequent reincarnation and gives his divine weapons to Rama and retires to furthur penance.
In one version played in Ramlilas across India, Parashurama arrived to the scene deeply angry. The Kshatriyas were advised by Brahmarishi Vasistha not to confront the sage, but Sita still approached. Parashurama blessed her, saying “Dheergha Sumangali bhavah,” or “You will have your husband alive for your lifetime.”
When he then turned to confront Rama, Parashurama was unable to lift his axe. He was held back by his own word and pacified by the brilliance of Rama. When the warrior-sage realized he was looking at his own subsequent reincarnation, his own bow flew to Rama along with the essence of Vishnu, and thus the seventh avatar was fully realized.
In the Mahabharata
Parashurama and Bhishma, two of the greatest warriors of the epics, shared an interesting history together as guru and student. Bhishma was a Kuru prince and Parashurama instructed him in the martial arts as a boy. Their conflict began years later, with the beautiful princess Amba. Along with her sisters Ambika and Ambalika, Princess Amba had been abducted by Bhishma in a misunderstanding between two kingdoms. Now, with her honor tainted, no man would take her for bride and she was condemned to remain destitute. Bhishma himself was unable to marry due to his bhishana pratigya, or vow of celibacy and allegiance to Hastinapur. Amba then sought the help of Parashurama to kill Bhishma.
Taking pity on her plight, the avatar agreed to fight his former student on her behalf. The battle lasted twenty-three days, by the end of which, both warriors were bloodied and pierced by arrows. On the 23rd day of battle, Bhishma attempted to use the Prashwapastra against Parashurama. Learned of in his previous birth as Prabhasa (one of the Ashta Vasus), this weapon was unknown to Parashurama and would put the afflicted to sleep in the battlefield. This would have given Bhishma the victory. Before he could release it, however, a voice from the sky warned him that “if he uses this weapon it would be a great insult towards his Guru.”
Pitrs then appeared and obstructed the chariot of Parashurama, forbidding him from fighting any longer. The spirit of Parashurama’s father, Jamadagni and his grandfather, Ruchika, spoke to him:
“O son, never again engage in battle with Bhishma or any other Kshatriya. Heroism and courage in battle are the qualities of a Kshatriya and study of the Vedas and the practice of austerities are the wealth of the Brahmans. Previously, you took up weapons to protect the Brahmans, but this is not the case now. Let this battle with Bhishma be your last. O son of the Bhrigu race, it is not possible to defeat Bhishma.” — Mahabharata 188:5
In the end, the Gods showered praise on Bhishma and he sought the blessing of Parashurama as his guru. The avatar then acknowledged that his former student was truly invincible, telling Amba:
“Using even the very best of weapons I have not been able to obtain any advantage over Bhishma, that foremost of all wielders of weapons! I have exerted now to the best of my power and might. Seek the protection of Bhishma himself, you have no other refuge now.” — Mahabharata 189:1
Mentorship of Drona
At the end of his time in the Vedic period, Parashurama was renouncing his possessions to become a sannyasi. As the day progressed, Drona, then a poor Brahmin, approached Parashurama asking for alms. By that time, the warrior-sage had already given the Brahmins his gold and Kashyapa his land, so all that was left were his body and weapons. Parushurama asked which Drona would have, to which the clever Brahmin responded:
“O son of Bhrigu, it behoveth thee to give me all thy weapons together with the mysteries of hurling and recalling them.” — Mahabharata 7:131
Thus, Parashurama gave all his weapons unto Drona, making him supreme in the science of arms. This becomes crucial as Drona later became the guru to both the Pandavas and the Kauravas who fought against each other in the Kurukshetra War.
It is said that Lord Parashurama carried Lord Vishnu’s “Sudharshana Chakra” and “Bow” and Lord Balram’s “Gadha” while they fulfilled their education with Guru Sandipani.
Fate of Karna
Karna was half brother to the Pandavas and the son of Surya, but was raised by a Suta charioteer. Karna lies to Parashurama that he is a Brahmin and a descendant of Brigu Maharishi. Parashurama then accepts him as his student and teaches him of all the powerful Brahmanda astra weapons. Parashurama trains Karna to such a point that he declares Karna to be equal to himself in the art of warfare and archery.
One day, as Parashurama slept, resting his head on the lap of Karna, a scorpion crawled up the leg of the student and bit Karna’s thigh. In spite of the pain, Karna neither flinched nor cried to avoid disturbing his guru’s rest. Warm blood, however, trickled down his leg and woke Parashurama. In some versions, Lord Indra became afraid of the fighting prowess of Karna and he himself took the form of a bee and stung Karna’s thigh in order to benefit his son Arjuna. Convinced that only a Kshatriya could have borne such pain in silence, Parashurama realized that Karna had lied and cursed his student that his knowledge would fail him when it was most crucial. Upon Karna’s pleading, Parshurama gifted him the celestial weapon called Bhargavastra, along with his personal bow called Vijaya, for being such a diligent student.
Years later, during the Kurukshetra war, Karna had a dream in which he envisioned his guru and asked him to take back the curse he had placed years back. Parashurama revealed that he had known all along Karna was a Kshatriya, but because he was a worthy student Parashurama had instructed him regardless. The avatar explained to Karna that the Brahmanda astra had to fail him when he needed it most. If he killed Arjuna, Duryodhana would be king instead of Yudhishthira and chaos would ensue. Parashurama asked Karna to accept his curse and asked him to die at the hands of Arjuna, so that the world might live in peace. Karna accepted his guru’s words and in return the grateful guru, Parashurama blessed Karna with immortal glory and everlasting fame.
All three students of Parashurama – Bhishma, Drona and Karna fought on the Kaurava side (for different reasons) and were killed by unfair tricks.
There are a number of stories of Parashurama in different Puranas, detailing his interactions with different gods of the Hindu pantheon and even occurring during different Yuga due to his being Chiranjivi.
According to Puranas, Parashurama travelled to the Himalayas to pay respect to his teacher, Shiva. While travelling, his path was blocked by Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati. Parashurama threw his axe at the elephant-god. Ganesha, knowing the weapon had been given to Parashurama by his father, allowed it to sever his left tusk.
His mother Parvati was infuriated and declared she would cut off the arms of Parashurama. She took the form of Durga, becoming omnipotent, but at the last moment, Shiva was able to pacify her by making her see the avatar as her own son. Parashurama also asked her forgiveness and she finally relented when Ganesha himself spoke on behalf of the warrior-saint. Parashurama then gave his divine axe to Ganesha and blessed him. Another name for Ganesha because of this encounter is Ekadanta, or ‘One Tooth’.
Beating Back The Arabian Sea
Puranas write that the western coast of India was threatened by tumultuous waves and tempests, causing the land to be overcome by the sea. Parashurama fought back the advancing waters, demanding Varuna release the land of Konkan and Malabar. During their fight, Parashurama threw his axe into the sea. A mass of land rose up, but Varuna told him that because it was filled with salt, the land would be barren.
Parashurama then performed a tapasya for Nagaraja, the King of Snakes. Parashurama asked him to spread serpents throughout the land so their venom would neutralize the salt filled earth. Nagaraja agreed and a lush and fertile land grew. Thus, Parashurama pushed back the coastline between the foothills of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, creating modern day Kerala.
The coastal area of Kerala, Konkan, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, are today also known as Parashurama Kshetra or Land of Parashurama in homage. Puranas record that Parashurama placed statues of Shiva at 108 different locations throughout the reclaimed land, which still exist today. Shiva, is the source of Kundalini energy and it around his neck that Nagaraja is coiled and so the statues were in gratitude for their baneful cleansing of the land.
Then he took a winnowing basket, or Surpa, and threw it at the sea. The water retreated and from the place the basket fell at Gokarna, land rose again. This land is called Kerala, or ‘Siirparaka'(Brahmanda Purana, Chapters 98 and 99). It is also said that while beating back the sea, Parashurama fired an arrow from his mystical bow that landed in Goa at Benaulim, creating Salkache Tollem or ‘Lotus Lake’.
Request To Shiva
According to Hindu tradition, Parshurama reclaimed the land of Konkan after donating the earth to Maharshi Kashyap. Then he requested different Gods and Goddesses to settle in the newly created land and to take responsibility of various clans. Parshuram, being a devotee of Shiva, requested Shiva to give him audience everyday, while he is living in the newly created land. Lord Shiva accepted his request. Lord Parshuram also brought 60 ‘Vipras’ to settle in Konkan. One such Vipra named ‘Vyad’ installed a Shivalinga at Guhagar. In this era, since evil thoughts are supposed to prevail, Gods are to remain in their invisible forms. Accordingly, Lord Shiva decided to remain invisible in the Shivalinga installed by Vyad Muni. This same Shivalinga is the well known Vyadeshwar. Thus, Lord Shiva stays at Guhagar in the ‘Vyadeshwar’ Shivalinga from those years thereto now. According to another history, in the era of King Sakuran, the Vyadeshwar Shivalinga was re-invented and the Temple, which we see today, was constructed.
Kshetra scripture has a legend in which a king named Ramabhoja worshipped Parashurama. He was the ruler of the lands between Gokarna and Kanyakumari and was proclaimed king of the entire Parashurama Kshetra. While performing aswamedha yajna, he was plowing the land, but mistakenly killed a snake that was a raksha in disguise. In repentance, Rambhoja was directed by Parashurama to build a rajathatpeetha or large silver pedestal, with the image of a serpent at its four corners in obeisance. Parashurama also ordered that he distribute gold to the needy equal to his own weight as Tulabhara.
Rambhoja performed the ashwamedha yajna successfully and Parashurama appeared before him again, declaring that he was pleased. To this day, the silver pedestal remains a center of pilgrimage. The surrounding land is known as Thoulava, in remembrance of the Tulabhara of Rambhoja.
Parashurama once became annoyed with the sun god Surya for making too much heat. The warrior-sage shot several arrows into the sky, terrifying Surya. When Parashurama ran out of arrows and sent his wife Dharani to bring more, the sun god then focused his rays on her, causing her to collapse. Surya then appeared before Parashurama and gave him two inventions that have since been attributed to the avatar, sandals and an umbrella.
Nath tradition holds that Parashurama, after enacting his vengeance, sought out Dattatreya atop Mount Gandhamadana for spiritual guidance. Their conversations gave rise to Tripura-rahasya, a treatise on Advaita Vedanta. It was here the deity instructed the warrior-sage on knowledge of scripture, renunciation of worldly activities and non-duality, thus freeing him from the karmic cycle of death and rebirth.
Parashurama and the saptarishi Agastya are regarded as the founders of kalaripayattu, the oldest martial art in the world. Parashurama was a master in the art of weaponry, as taught to him by Shiva. As such, he developed northern kalaripayattu or vadakkan kalari, with more emphasis on weapons than striking and grappling. Southern kalaripayattu was developed by Agastya and focuses more on weaponless combat. Kalaripayattu is known as the ‘mother of all martial arts’.
Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, also practiced kalaripayattu. When he traveled to China to spread Buddhism, he brought the martial art with him, which in turn was adapted to become the basis of Shaolin Kung Fu.
Sanyasi & End Time
By the end of the Vedic period, Parashurama had grown weary of bloodshed and became a sannyasi, giving up his possessions to practice penance. The first book of the Mahabharata writes:
“The son of Jamadagni, after twenty-one times making the Earth bereft of Kshatriyas, wended to that best of Mountains Mahendra and there began his ascetic penance.” — Mahabharata 1:14
He traveled to central India at the northern end of the Eastern Ghats and Western Odisha and ascended the Mahendra Mountains. Before he left, Parashurama distributed the territories he conquered among a clan of Brahmins called the Bhumihar, who ruled for many centuries. Kingdoms included Kerala, Mushika, Karnata and Konkana.
Unlike other incarnations of Vishnu, Parashurama is a Chiranjivi and is said to still be doing penance today in Mahendragiri. The Kalki Purana writes that he will reemerge at the end of Kali Yuga to be the martial and spiritual guru of Kalki, the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu. It is foretold that he will instruct Kalki to perform a difficult penance to Shiva, and receive the celestial weaponry needed to bring about end time.
Along with the sages Vyasa, Kripa and Ashwatthama, Parashurama is considered to be foremost among the rishis in Kaliyuga. Parashurama will also become one of the Saptarishi in the 8th Manvantara along with sages Vyasa, Kripa and Ashwatthama.
There are numerous temples and statues of Parashurama throughout the Indian subcontinent, some of which include:
- Parashurama temple, Attirala, a vernacular name for Hatyarala. Cuddapah district, Andhra Pradesh.
- Parshurama temple, Sohnag, Salempur, Deoria District, Uttar Pradesh
- Parashurama Kunda, Lohit District, Arunachal Pradesh, where Parashuram washed his sins after committing matricide
- Akhnoor, (Jammu),Jammu and Kashmir
- Fort [Songadh], Gujarat
- Gudimallam, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh
- Harpur, Zamania, Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh
- Jalalabad, Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh
- Kumbhalgarh, Rajasthan
- Khatti, near Phagwara, Punjab, India
- Maniyar, Ballia, Uttar Pradesh
- Mahurgarh, Maharashtra
- Parashurama Mandir, Chiplun, Maharashtra
- Sri Kalakama Parashurama Temple, Darbetadka, Belthangady, Karnataka
- Shree Parashurama Temple, Sanyasikatte, Karnataka
- Parashurama Temple, Banavasi, Karnataka
- Painguinim, Canacona, Goa
- Rajkot, Gujarat
- Shivpuri, Akkalkot, Khopoli, Maharashtra
- Parashurama Mandir, Peetambara Peetham, Datiya, Madhya Pradesh
- Shivsar Talao Pond Statue, Phalodi, Jodhpur, Rajasthan
- Sri Parasurama Swamy Temple, Thiruvallam, 6 km south of Thiruvananthapuram Kerala
- Tosh, Manikaran, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
- Padubelle, Udupi, Karnataka, India
- Kojra, Sirohi, Rajasthan, India
- Parashurama Mandir, Mokama, Bihar, India
- Janapav Hill, Indore, M.P. Peoples are considered this as Birth place of Parshuram
- Parshuram Kutiya, Nirmand, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
Seven Kshetras are popularly known as Parashurama Kshetras or Parashurama Srishti:
- Kukke Subramanya