In the third part of the series, I will talk about Lord Vishnu’s sixth avatar Parashurama. This powerful rishi (sage) has made multiple appearances in the Puranas as well as in the Ramayana. In the Ramayana, Parashurama comes to know that Lord Rama (Lord Vishnu’s seventh avatar) broke Lord Shiva’s bow in Sita’s swayamvara (an old tradition where a woman marries a man who wins a competition set by the bride’s father or chooses her husband by garlanding him) while attempting to string it. Parashurama rushes to the swayamvara hall and tries to attack Lord Rama, but realizes that Lord Rama is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. He then blesses the couple and goes back to his meditation.
Parashurama appears in the Mahabharat multiple scenarios. He has mentored Drona, who in turn became the Pandavas’ guru and Bhishma, with whom he had to fight due to a conflict raised by Amba (a princess from Kashi who was to get married to another prince but got rejected by him after Bhishma took her away along with her sisters Ambika and Ambalika) and got defeated in battle. He even taught Karna (the son of Surya and Kunti, and the adopted son of a charioteer), who lied that he was a Brahmin, the art of wielding weapons and powerful mantras. When Parashurama found out that Karna was not a Brahmin, but belonged to the Kshatriya race, he cursed Karna by saying that he would forget all the knowledge he acquired at the time he needed it the most.
Parashurama is considered to be a Chiranjivi, meaning that he is immortal and is said to be meditating in a cave close to modern day Orissa.
In the Treta Yuga, an era where kshatriyas (kings, princes and warriors) had grown arrogant and were blinded by greed and lust, started fighting and waging war amongst themselves, murdering the innocent and weak, and plundering the wealth of other kings, hence forgetting their dharma. All the bloodshed and sins left Bhoomidevi (Mother Earth) devastated and helpless. She prayed to Lord Vishnu and asked him to ease her of her burden.
The Lord obliged to Bhoomidevi’s request and took birth as the son of Rishi Jamadagni and Renuka, named Rama. Rama was highly intelligent and excelled in his studies and in warfare. He did penance to please Lord Shiva and obtained Lord Shiva’s axe with which he would fulfil his duties as an incarnation and was thus named Parashurama.
One day, Karthaviryaarjun (an arrogant king of the Heyheya dynasty) came to visit Rishi Jamadagni along with his army of soldiers and asked the sage to provide him with food and shelter. To his surprise, the rishi was able to provide more than enough for the king and his men, which made him very curious. The sage explained that Kamadhenu, the divine cow was the reason why he was able to provide everything sufficiently. Karthaviryaarjun coveted the divine cow and asked the rishi if he could take the cow with him in exchange for a magnitude of gold and other precious items. When the sage declined, the king then killed Jamadagni and took the cow by force. At that time, Parashurama, who was in the forest collecting wood for rituals came back to find his father lying dead and his mother wailing loudly and beating her chest in grief. Enraged, Parashurama vowed that he would rid the earth of her burden 21 times. And so he did. He started by vanquishing the Heyheyas and killed many other evil kings and princes who were blinded by greed.
After his conquest, he gave up fighting, as his duty as an avatar had been fulfilled and dharma had been restored. He then retired to the mountains to meditate and practice yoga.
Parashurama is revered as a warrior-sage, but not worshipped like Lord Rama or Lord Krishna. There are quite a few temples dedicated to him in north-east India. It is said that Parashurama is still alive and may be found in a cave, meditating. At the end of the Kali Yuga, he will be Kalki’s mentor, Lord Vishnu’s tenth avatar.
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