The Vishnu Purana

by Horace Hayman Wilson | 1840 | 287,946 words | ISBN-10: 8171102127

The English translation of the Vishnu Purana. This is a primary sacred text of the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism. It is one of the eighteen greater Puranas, a branch of sacred Vedic literature which was first committed to writing during the first millennium of the common era. Like most of the other Puranas, this is a complete narrative from the cr...

Legend of Paraśurāma

JAMADAGNI (the son of Ricīka[1]) was a pious sage, who by the fervour of his devotions, whilst engaged in holy study, obtained entire possession of the Vedas. Having gone to king Prasenajit, he demanded in marriage his daughter Reṇukā, and the king gave her unto him. The descendant of Bhrigu conducted the princess to his hermitage, and dwelt with her there, and she was contented to partake in his ascetic life. They had four sons, and then a fifth, who was Jāmadagnya, the last but not the least of the brethren, Once when her sons were all absent, to gather the fruits on which they fed, Reṇukā, who was exact in the discharge of all her duties, went forth to bathe. On her way to the stream she beheld Citraratha, the prince of Mrittikāvatī, with a garland of lotuses on his neck, sporting with his queen in the water, and she felt envious of their felicity. Defiled by unworthy thoughts, wetted but not purified by the stream, she returned disquieted to the hermitage, and her husband perceived her agitation. Beholding her fallen from perfection, and shorn of the lustre of her sanctity, Jamadagni reproved her, and was exceeding wroth. Upon this there came her sons from the wood, first the eldest, Rumaṇwat, then Susheṇa, then Vasu, and then Viśvavasu; and each, as he entered, was successively commanded by his father to put his mother to death; but amazed, and influenced by natural affection, neither of them made any reply: therefore Jamadagni was angry, and cursed them, and they became as idiots, and lost all understanding, and were like unto beasts or birds. Lastly, Rāma returned to the hermitage, when the mighty and holy Jamadagni said unto him, ‘Kill thy mother, who has sinned; and do it, son, without repining.’ Rāma accordingly took up his axe, and struck off his mother's head; whereupon the wrath of the illustrious and mighty Jamadagni was assuaged, and he was pleased with his son, and said, ‘Since thou hast obeyed my commands, and done what was hard to be performed, demand from me whatever blessings thou wilt, and thy desires shall be all fulfilled.’ Then Rāma begged of his father these boons; the restoration of his mother to life, with forgetfulness of her having been slain, and purification from all defilement; the return of his brothers to their natural condition; and, for himself, invincibility in single combat, and length of days: and all these did his father bestow.

”It happened on one occasion, that, during the absence of the Ṛṣi's sons, the mighty monarch Kārttavīrya, the sovereign of the Haihaya tribe, endowed by the favour of Dattātreya with a thousand arms, and a golden chariot that went wheresoever he willed it to go, came to the hermitage[2] of Jamadagni, where the wife of the sage received him with all proper respect. The king, inflated with the pride of valour, made no return to her hospitality, but carried off with him by violence the calf of the milch cow of the sacred oblation[3], and cast down the tall trees surrounding the hermitage. When Rāma returned, his father told him what had chanced, and he saw the cow in affliction, and he was filled with wrath. Taking up his splendid bow[4], Bhārgava, the slayer of hostile heroes, assailed Kārttavīrya, who had now become subject to the power of death, and overthrew him in battle. With sharp arrows Rāma cut off his thousand arms, and the king perished. The sons of Kārttavīrya, to revenge his death, attacked the hermitage of Jamadagni, when Rāma was away, and slew the pious and unresisting sage, who called repeatedly, but fruitlessly, upon his valiant son. They then departed; and when Rāma returned, bearing fuel from the thickets, he found his father lifeless, and thus bewailed his unmerited fate: ‘Father, in resentment of my actions have you been murdered by wretches as foolish as they are base! by the sons of Kārttavīrya are you struck down, as a deer in the forest by the huntsman’s shafts! Ill have you deserved such a death; you who have ever trodden the path of virtue, and never offered wrong to any created thing! How great is the crime that they have committed, in slaying with their deadly shafts an old man like you, wholly occupied with pious cares, and engaging not in strife! Much have they to boast of to their fellows and their friends, that they have shamelessly slain a solitary hermit, incapable of contending in arms!' Thus lamenting, bitterly and repeatedly, Rāma performed his father's last obsequies, and lighted his funeral pile. He then made a vow that he would extirpate the whole Kṣatriya race. In fulfilment of this purpose he took up his arms, and with remorseless and fatal rage singly destroyed in fight the sons of Kārttavīrya; and after them, whatever Kṣatriyas he encountered, Rāma, the first of warriors, likewise slew. Thrice seven times did the clear the earth of the Kṣatriya caste[5]; and he filled with their blood the five large lakes of Samanta-pañcaka, from which he offered libations to the race of Bhrigu. There did he behold his sire again, and the son of Ricīka beheld his son, and told him what to do. Offering a solemn sacrifice to the king of the gods, Jāmadagnya presented the earth to the ministering priests. To Kaśyapa he gave the altar made of gold, ten fathoms in length, and nine in height[6]. With the permission of Kaśyapa, the Brahmans divided it in pieces amongst them, and they were thence called Khaṇḍavāyana Brahmans. Having given the earth to Kaśyapa, the hero of immeasurable prowess retired to the Mahendra mountain, where he still resides: and in this manner was there enmity between him and the race of Kṣatriyas, and thus was the whole earth conquered by Rāma[7]."


The son of Visvāmitra was Śunahśephas, the descendant of Bhrigu, given by the gods, and thence named Devarāta[8]. Visvāmitra had other sons also, amongst whom the most celebrated were Madhuchandas, Kritajaya, Devadeva, Aṣṭaka, Kaccapa, and Hārita; these founded many families, all of whom were known by the name of Kauśikas, and intermarried with the families of various Ṛṣis[9].

Footnotes and references:


The circumstances of Ricīka's marriage, and the birth of Jamadagni and Viśvāmitra, are told much in the same manner as in our text both in the Mahābhārata and Bhāgavata.


In the beginning of the legend occurs the account of Kārttavīryārjuna, with the addition that he oppressed both men and gods. The latter applying to Viṣṇu for succour, he descended to earth, and was born as Paraśurāma, for the especial purpose of putting the Haihaya king to death.


In the Rājadharma the sons of the king carry off the calf. The Bhāgavata makes the king seize upon the cow, by whose aid Jamadagni had previously entertained Arjuna and all his train: borrowing, no doubt, these embellishments from the similar legend of Vaśiṣṭha and Viśvāmitra, related in the Rāmāyaṇa.


The characteristic weapon of Rāma is however an axe (paraśu), whence his name Rāma, ‘with the axe.’ It was given to him by Śiva, whom the hero propitiated on mount Gandhamādana. He at the same time received instruction in the use of weapons generally, and the art of war. Rāja Dharma.


This more than ‘thrice slaying of the slain’ is explained in the Rājadharma to mean, that he killed the men of so many generations, as fast as they grew up to adolescence.


It is sometimes read Narotsedha, ‘as high as a man.’


The story, as told in the Rājadharma section, adds, that when Rāma had given the earth to Kaśyapa, the latter desired him to depart, as there was no dwelling for him in it, and to repair to the seashore of the south, where Ocean made for him (or relinquished to him) the maritime district named Śūrpāraka. The traditions of the Peninsula ascribe the formation of the coast of Malabar to this origin, and relate that Paraśurāma compelled the ocean to retire, and introduced Brahmans and colonists from the north into Kerala or Malabar. According to some accounts he stood on the promontory of Dilli, and shot his arrows to the south, over the site of Kerala. It seems likely that we have proof of the local legend being at least as old as the beginning of the Christian era, as the mons Pyrrhus of Ptolemy is probably the mountain of Paraśu or Paraśurāma. See Catalogue of Mackenzie Collection, Introd. p. xcv. and vol. II. p. 74. The Rājadharma also gives an account of the Kṣatriyas who escaped even the thrice seven times repeated destruction of their race. Some of the Haihayas were concealed by the earth as women; the son of Viduratha, of the race of Puru, was preserved in the Rikṣa mountain, where he was nourished by the bears; Sarvakarman, the son of Saudāsa, was saved by Parāśara, performing the offices of a Śūdra; Gopati, son of Śivi, was nourished by cows in the forests; Vatsa, the son of Pratarddana, was concealed amongst the calves in a cow-pen; the son of Deviratha was secreted by Gautama on the banks of the Ganges; Vrihadratha was preserved in Gridhrakūta; and descendants of Marutta were saved by the ocean. From these the lines of kings were continued; but it does not appear from the ordinary lists that they were ever interrupted. This legend however, as well as that of the Rāmāyaṇa, b. I. c. 52, no doubt intimates a violent and protracted struggle between the Brahmans and Kṣatriyas for supreme domination in India, as indeed the text of the Mahābhārata more plainly denotes, as Earth is made to say to Kaśyapa, ‘The fathers and grandfathers of these Kṣatriyas have been killed by the remorseless Rāma in warfare on my account.’


The story of Śunahśephas is told by different authorities, with several variations. As the author of various Śūktas in the Rich, he is called the son of Ajigartta. The Rāmāyaṇa makes him the middle son of the sage Ricīka, sold to Ambarīṣa, king of Ayodhyā, by his parents, to be a victim in a human sacrifice offered p. 405 by that prince. He is set at liberty by Viśvāmitra, but it is not added that he was adopted. The Bhāgavata coñcurs in the adoption, but makes Śunahśephas the son of Viśvāmitra's sister, by Ajigartta of the line of Bhrigu, and states his being purchased as a victim for the sacrifice of Hariścandra (see n. 9. p. 372). The Vāyu makes him a son of Ricīka, but alludes to his being the victim at Hariścandra's sacrifice. According to the Rāmāyaṇa, Visvāmitra called upon his sons to take the place of Śunahśephas, and on their refusing, degraded them to the condition of Cāṇḍālas. The Bhāgavata says, that fifty only of the hundred sons of Visvāmitra were expelled their tribe, for refusing to acknowledge Śunahśephas or Devarāta as their elder brother. The others consented; and the Bhāgavata expresses this; ‘They said to the elder, profoundly versed in the Mantras, We are your followers:’ as the commentator; ###. The Rāmāyaṇa also observes, that Śunahśephas, when bound, praised Indra with Ricas or hymns of the Rig-veda. The origin of the story therefore, whatever may be its correct version, must be referred to the Vedas; and it evidently alludes to some innovation in the ritual, adopted by a part only of the Kauśika families of Brahmans.


The Bhāgavata says one hundred sons, besides Devarāta and others, as Aṣṭaka, Hārita, &c. Much longer lists of names are given in the Vāyu, Bhāgavata, Brāhma, and Hari V. The two latter specify the mothers. Thus Devaśravas, Kati (the founder of the Kātyāyanas), and Hiranyākṣa were sons of Śilavatī; Reṇuka, Gālava, Saṅkriti, Mudgala, Madhuccandas, and Devala were sons of Reṇu; and Aṣṭaka, Kacchapa, and Hārita were the sons of Dṛṣadvatī. The same works enumerate the Gotras, the families or tribes of the Kauśika Brahmans: these are, Pārthivas, Devarātas, Yājñawalkyas, Sāmarshanas, Ūdumbaras, Dumlānas, Tarakāyanas, Muñcātas, Lohitas, Renus, Kariṣus, Babhrus, Pāninas, Dhyānajyāpyas, Śyālantas, Hiranyākṣas, Śaṅkus, Gālavas, Yamadūtas, Devalas, Śālaṅkāyanas, Bāṣkalas, Dadativādaras, Śauśratas, Śaindhavāyanas, Niṣṇātas, Chuñculas, Śālankrityas, Saṅkrityas, Vādaraṇyas, and an infinity of others, multiplied by intermarriages with other tribes, and who, according to the Vāyu, were originally of the regal caste, like Visvāmitra; but, like him, obtained Brahmanhood through devotion. Now these Gotras, or some of them at least, no doubt existed, partaking more of the character of schools of doctrine, but in which teachers and scholars were very likely to have become of one family by intermarrying; and the whole, as well as their original founder, imply the interference of the Kṣatriya caste with the Brahmanical monopoly of religious instruction and composition.

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