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PARASURAMA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] 'Rama with the axe.' The first Rama and the sixth Avatara of Vishnu.

He was a Brahman, the fifth son of Jamadagni and Renuka. By his father's side he descended from Bhrigu, and was, par excellence, the Bhargava; by his mother's side he belonged to the royal race of the Kusikas.

He became manifest in the world at the beginning of the Tretayuga, for the purpose of repressing the tyranny of the Kshatriya or regal caste. His story is told in the Mahabharata and in the Puranas. He also appears in the Ramayana, but chiefly as an opponent of Ramachandra.

According to the Mahabharata, he instructed Arjuna in the use of arms, and had a combat with Bhishma, in which both suffered equally. He is also represented as being present at the great war council of the Kaurava princes.

This Parasurama, the sixth Avatara of Vishnu, appeared in the world before Rama or Ramachandra, the seventh Avatara, but they were both living at the same time, and the elder incarnation showed some jealousy of the younger. The Mahabharata represents Parasurama as being struck senseless by Ramachandra, and the Ramayana relates how Parasurama, who was a follower of Siva, felt aggrieved by Rama's breaking the bow of Siva, and challenged him to a trial of strength. This ended in his defeat, and in some way led to his being "excluded from a seat in the celestial world."

In early life Parasurama was under the protection of Siva, who instructed him in the use of arms, and gave him the parasu, or axe, from which he is named. The first act recorded of him by the Mahabharata is that, by command of his father, he cut off the head of his mother, Renuka. She had incensed by her husband by entertaining impure thoughts, and he called upon each of his sons in succession to kill her. Parasurama alone obeyed, and his readiness so pleased his father that he told him to ask a boon. He begged that his mother might be restored pure to life, and, for himself, that he might be invincible in single combat and enjoy length of days.

Parasurama's hostility to the Kshatriyas evidently indicates a severe struggle for the supremacy between them and the Brahmans. He is said to have cleared the earth of the Kshatriyas twenty-one times, and to have given the earth to the Brahmans. The origin of his hostility to the Kshatriyas is thus related:

Kartavirya, a Kshatriya, and king of the Haihayas, had a thousand arms. This king paid a visit to the hermitage of Jamadagni in the absence of that sage, and was hospitably entertained by his wife, but when he departed he carried off a sacrificial calf belonging to their host. This act so enraged Parasurama that he pursued Kartavirya, cut off his thousand arms and killed him. In retaliation the sons of Kartavirya killed Jamadagni, and for that murder Parasurama vowed vengeance against them and the whole Kshatriya race.

"Thrice seven times did he clear the earth of the Kshatriya caste, and he filled with their blood the five large lakes of the Samantapanchaka." He then gave the earth to Kasyapa, and retired to the Mahendra mountains, where he was visited by Arjuna.

Tradition ascribes the origin of the country or Malabar to Parasurama. According to one account he received it as a gift from Varuna, and according to another he drove back the ocean and cut fissures in the Ghats with blows of his axe.

He is said to have brought Brahmans into his country from the north, and to have bestowed the land upon them in expiation of the slaughter of the Kshatriyas.

He bears the appellations of Khandaparasu, 'who strikes me with the axe,' and Nyaksha, 'inferior.'

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM