Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Parashurama included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Paraśurāma

An incarnation of Mahāviṣṇu, as man.


Descending in order from Māhāviṣṇu—Brahmā-Bhṛgu-Cyavana-Ūrva-Ṛcīka-Jamadagni-Paraśurāma.

Cause for incarnation.

Once god Agni went to Kārtavīryārjuna and begged for food. The king allowed him to take from his vast territory as much food as he wanted from anywhere he liked. Agni started burning forests and mountains and consuming them. Deep inside. one of the forests a sage named Āpava was performing penance and the fire burnt the āśrama of Āpava also. Enraged at this the sage cursed thus: "Kārtavīryārjuna is at the root of this havoc. The arrogance of Kṣatriyas has increased beyond limits. Mahāviṣṇu would therefore be born on earth as Paraśurāma to destroy this arrogance of the Kṣatriyas." Accordingly Māhāviṣṇu was born as Paraśurāma in the Bhārgava race. (Chapter 40, Harivaṃśa).

Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa gives another version: Viṣṇu promised Bhūmidevī (mother earth) that he would be born on earth as Paraśurāma when Bhūmidevī went to him in the form of a cow and complained to him about the atrocities of the wicked Kṣatriya kings.


Paraśurāma was born as the son of sage Jamadagni of his wife Reṇukā. Their āśrama was on the shores of the Narmadā river. Reṇukā, mother of Paraśurāma, was the daughter of King Prasenajit. She had four sons even before the birth of Paraśurāma (Chapter 58, Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa).

Boyhood and education.

Paraśurāma spent his boyhood with his parents in the āśrama. An important event in his life then was his slaying his mother at the behest of his father. (See under Jamadagni, Para 6). Though Paraśurāma was a brahmin there is nothing on record to show that he did study the Vedas. Perhaps he might have had the Vedic instructions from his father during his life with him. He had even from the beginning shown an interest in learning Dhanurvidyā (archery). For obtaining proficiency in archery he went to the Himālayas and did penance to please Śiva for many years. Pleased at his penance Śiva on several occasions extolled the virtues of Paraśurāma. At that time the asuras (demons) acquired strength and attacked the devas. The devas complained to Śiva. Śiva called Paraśurāma and asked him to fight with and defeat the semdon. Paraśurāma was without weapons and he asked Śiva how he could go and fight the demons without weapons. Śiva said: "Go with my blessings end you will kill your foes." Para urāma did not wait for a moment. When Śiva thus assured him of success, on he went straight to fight with the demons. He defeated the asuras and came back to Śiva when the latter gave him many boons and divine weapons.

Till that time his name was only Rāma and he became Paraśurāma because among the weapons given to him by Śiva was a weapon named Paraśu (axe). There is a story behind this weapon Paraśu. Once Śiva was not invited for a Yāga conducted by Dakṣa. An angered Śiva threw his spike into the Yāgaśālā (sacrifical hall). The spike spoiled the Yāga and smashed the hall and after that roamed about aimlessly for sometime and then turned towards Badaryāśrama where at that time Naranārāyaṇas were engaged in penance. The spike went straight to the heart of sage Nārāyaṇa. Nārāyaṇa made the defiant sound 'hum' (huṃkāra) and the spike turned away. Śiva felt angry for thus showing disrespect to his spike and he attacked the sage. At once Nararṣi plucked a grass and reciting a mantra threw it at Śiva. The grass became a Paraśu (axe) and it attacked Śiva. Śiva broke it into two. Then Nara-Nārāyaṇas bowed before him and worshipped him. Thereafter the two pieces of the Paraśu remained with Śiva. It was one of these that Śiva gave to Paraśurāma. When Paraśurāma was returning happy and glorious with boons and weapons he got on his way a disciple named Akṛtavraṇa. (See under Akṛtavraṇa). Guru and disciple lived in an āśrama and Paraśurāma became a noted Guru in dhanurveda (archery). (Chapter 34, Karṇa Parva; Chapter 49, Śānti Parva and Chapter 18, Anuśāsana Parva).

Instruction in archery.

According to Purāṇas Paraśurāmā did not spend his life as an instructor in archery. There are statements, however, mentioning that Karṇa and Droṇa took instructions from him.

Pretending to be a brahmin Karṇa commenced taking instructions in archeṛy from Paraśurāma. When his education was complete Paraśurāma taught him Brahmāstra. One day tired after a long walk in the forests Paraśurāma took rest placing his head on the lap of Karṇa and soon fell asleep. At that time a beetle came and started sucking blood from the thigh of Karṇa. Karṇa remained still, bearing the pain, lest any movement of his body should disturb the sleep of his Guru. Blood was oozing from his thinghs and it slowly made the body of the Guru also wet. Paraśurāma woke up and the sight of the bleeding thigh and the calm demeanour of Karṇa raised doubts in him. He questioned Karṇa saying that no brahmin could ever bear such a pain with such calmness and Karṇa had to tell the truth. Then Paraśurāma cursed him for deceit against his Guru saying that he would never be able to remember the Brahmāstra when the time to use it came.

There is a story behind Alarka, the beetle that bit Karṇa. This beetle was in his previous birth a demon named Daṃśa. Daṃśa once tried to molest the wife of the sage Bhṛgu. The Maharṣi cursed him and made him into a beetle. On his request for mercy he said he would get release from the curse by Paraśurāma. So the beetle became the Rākṣasa again and left the place. Karṇa took leave of Paraśurāma and went to Hastināpura. (Śānti Parva, Chapter 3).

Another famous disciple of Paraśurāma was Droṇa. There is a story behind Droṇa getting Dhanurveda from Paraśurāma. After travelling throughout the world exterminating the Kṣatriya race Paraśurāma gave all his wealth to Kaśyapa. On hearing that Paraśurāma was giving away all his riches as gifts to brahmins Droṇa rushed to Mahendraparvata to see Paraśurāma. By then Paraśurāma had distributed all his wealth excepting Dhanurveda. Paraśurāma called Droṇa to his side and said that only two things remained with him, his body and Dhanurveda. Droṇa, he added, could take anyone of the two and then Droṇa took Dhanurveda from him. After that Paraśurāma went to Mahāraṇya for the sake of penance. (Chapter 130, Ādi Parva).

There are some apparent inconsistencies in the above stories: It is said Droṇa taught Dhanurveda to Karṇa. Droṇa was the last person to receive Dhanurveda from Paraśurāma because the latter, surrendering his Dhanurveda in entire, left for the forests for doing penance. Then, when did Karṇa learn Dhanurveda from Paraśurāma? Could it be before Droṇa went to Paraśurāma? Then it must be accepted that Droṇa had not studied under Paraśurāma when he was teaching the the Pāṇḍavas and Kauravas. He learnt it from somewhere before he became the preceptor of the Pāṇḍavas. Karṇa after studying under Droṇa for some time went to Paraśurāma for higher studies and Droṇa approached Paraśurāma after Karṇa had left him.

The destruction of the Kṣatriyas.

The most important event of his life was the total extermination of the Kṣatriya race. The Purāṇic belief is that he went round the world eighteen times to massacre the Kṣatriyas.

In many places in the Purāṇas it is stated that Paraśurāma fought against the Kṣatriyas eighteen times. But in chapter 29 of Aśvamedha Parva it is stated that Paraśurāma fought against the Kṣatriyas twentyone times So it is to be surmised that Paraśurāma fought eighteen big battles and three minor ones.

There are some old stories to explain this revengeful enmity of Paraśurāma towards the Kṣatriyas.

Family enmity.

The Hehaya dynasty was the most powerful kingly race then. Paraśurāma was a descendant of Bhṛgu, a brahmin sage. That is why he gets the name Bhārgava also. The Bhārgavas were for generations the family preceptors of the Hehaya kings. Taking advantage of their supreme position in the royal palace the Bhārgavas accumulated great wealth at the cost of the royal riches. Gradually the Bhārgavas rose in prosperity in inverse proportion to the decline of the Hehaya wealth. It was at the time of Ṛcīka, grandfather of Parasurāma that they touched the rock-bottom of their wealth and they found funds lacking even for the day to day administration of the state. In despair they went and requested the Ṛcīkas to lend them some money. But they hid their money and refused to give them anything. The Kṣatriya kings got angry and killed the brahmins. What stock was left of them went to the base of the Himālayas. The wife of Ṛcīka who was pregnant then kept the child in her womb for twelve years afraid to bring forth the child. After that the child came out breaking open the thigh (ūru) and so the child was called Aurva. Even at the time of his birth Aurva shone like a brilliant torch and not only that; the child cried aloud "Oh, wicked Kṣatriyas, I will kill every one of you. I heard from my mother’s womb the din of the swords you raised to kill my ancestors. I will never wait for another moment to wreak vengeance on you."

The fire that emanated from the face of Aurva burnt even Devaloka. Kṣatriyas as a class came and prostrated before him. The devas came and requested him to abandon his anger and Aurva agreed. The devas picked up the fire sparks from Aurva’s face and deposited them in the ocean. From those sparks put in the ocean was born Baḍavāgni alias Aurva.

(ii) Curse of the sage. From Aurva was born Jamadagni and from Jamadagni was born Paraśurāma. In the race of the Hehayas was born at that time a very valorous king named Kārtavīryārjuna. Once Kārtavīryārjuna gave a dinner to Agnibhagavān. Agni began to devour all the mountains and forests in the world. The burning was so indiscriminate that it burnt the āśrama of a sage named Āpava also. The sage cursed Kārtavīryārjuna saying that the thousand hands of the latter would be cut off by Pasaśurāma born in the family of Bhārgavas. From that day onwards the latent feud in him against the Bhārgavas was roused into action.

(iii) Varuṇa’s ridicule. Kārtavīryārjuna who got a thousand hands by a boon from a sage named Dattātreya subdued all enemies of his status and not satisfied with that he went to the shores of the ocean and challenged Varuṇa for a fight. Varuṇa came before him and very modestly admitted that he was incapable of meeting the challenge thrown and suggested that perhaps Jamadagni’s son, Paraśurāma might accept the challenge and give him a fight. Hearing this Kārtavīryārjuna turned towards the āsrama of Jamadagni on the shores of the Narmadā river.

(iv) Causes of the war (immediate). Kārtavīryārjuna went for hunting in the forests and feeling exhausted after some time went to the āsrama of Jamadagni with his retinue. Jamadagni received them well and with the help of the Kāmadhenu (wish-yielding cow) named Suśīlā, Jamadagni gave a sumptuous feast to the King and his followers. When after the meals were over they started to take leave of the sage, Candragupta, a minister of Kārtavīryārjuna brought to the notice of the king the superior powers of the Kāmadhenu, Suśīlā. The king wanted to get the cow and asked Candragupta to tell the sage about it. Though the minister told Jamadagni about the royal desire the sage refused to part with the cow. Then the minister with the help of the other royal servants took the cow by force and the sage followed the cow weeping. On the way Candragupta beat Jamadagni to death and brought the cow to the presence of the king. The king was pleased and the royal hunting party returned to the palace happy.

Jamadagni’s wife Reṇukā went in search of her husband and to her grief found him lying dead. Reṇukā wept beating her breast twentyone times and by that time her son Para urāma came there and he declared that he would travel round the world twentyone times, the number of times his mother beat her breast, to kill and exterminate the Kṣatriyas from this world. Then the dead body of Jamadagni was placed on a pyre and they were singing Viṣṇugītā before placing fire on the pyre when Śukramuni appeared there and brought Jamadagni to life by invoking the art of Mṛtasañjīvanī. By that time Suśīlā somehow escaped from the custody of the King and came there without the calf. Then Paraśurāma vowed that he would bring the calf soon and taking with him his disciple Akṛtavraṇa he left for the city of Māhiṣmatī the abode of Kārtavīryārjuna. There they fought a grim battle and after killing Kārtavīryārjuna and many of his followers brought back the calf. To atone for the sin of this massacre Jamadagni advised his son to go and perform penance in Mahendragiri. Taking advantage of the absence of Paraśurāma from the āśrama, Śūrasena son of Kārtavīryārjuna, with his followers went to the āśrama of Jamadagni and chopped off his head. Paraśurāma returned from Mahendragiri at once and cremated the dead body of his father. Reṇukā, his mother, jumped into the funeral pyre and abandoned her life. From that moment onwards started Paraśurāma’s fierce programme of mass massacre of the Kṣatriyas.

(v) Victory march. Paraśurāma’s world-tour was confined to an all-Bhārata tour. The wars of Paraśurāma are not described in detail in the Purāṇas. They mention thaṭ Paraśurāma killed the Kings of Cola, Cera and Pauṇḍra. To stop the birth of Kṣatriyas in future Paraśurāma destroyed even the embryo in the wombs of Kṣatariya women. Then the Bhārgava ancestors like Ṛcīka and others came to the sky and requested Paraśurāma to stop this slaughter. They said: "Oh son, Rāma, stop this slaughter. What good do you get by killing innocent Kṣatriyas?" By that time Paraśurāma had made twentyone rounds around Bhārata killing the Kṣatriyas. (Chapter 64, Ādi Parva; Chapter 38, Sabhā Parva; Chapter 116, Vana Parva; Chapter 49, Śānti Parva and 10 chapters from chapter 83 of Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa).


Samantapañcaka is Kurukṣetra itself where the great battle was conducted. This is a holy place and it was Paraśurāma who constructed it. He stored the blood of the Kṣatriyas he killed in the twentyone rounds of killing in five lakes in Samantapañcaka. He offered blood to the Manes in those lakes. The Manes led by Ṛcīka appeared before him and asked him to name any boon he wanted. Then Paraśurāma said, "Revered Manes, if you are pleased with me you must absolve me from the sin of this mass massacre of the Kṣatriyas and declare the five lakes where I have stored their blood as holy." The Manes declared, "Let it be so." From then onwards the place became holy under the name Samantapañcaka. At the end of the Dvāparayuga and the beginning of Kaliyuga a great battle lasting for eighteen days took place at this holy place between the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas. (Chapter 2, Ādi Parva).


To atone for the sin of slaughtering even innocent Kṣatriyas, Paraśurāma gave away all his riches as gifts to brahmins. He invited all the brahmins to Samantapañcaka and conducted a great Yāga there. The chief Ṛtvik (officiating priest) of the Yāga was the sage Kaśyapa and Paraśurāma gave all the lands he conquered till that time to Kaśyapa. Then a platform of gold ten yards long and nine yards wide was made and Kaśyapa was installed there and worshipped. After the worship was over according to the instructions from Kaśyapa the gold platform was cut into pieces and the gold pieces were offered to brahmins.

When Kaśyapa got all the lands from Paraśurāma he said thus:—"Oh Rāma, you have given me all your land and it is not now proper for you to live in my soil. You can go to the south and live somewhere on the shores of the ocean there." Paraśurāma walked south and requested the ocean to give him some land to live. Varuṇa then asked him to throw a winnow into the ocean. There is a legend saying that it was a Paraśu that Paraśurāma threw. Paraśurāma threw the sieve (śūrpa) and the ocean gave way to land for a distance where the winnow fell from where he stood. This is the place Śūrpāraka now known as Kerala. (Śūrpa = Winnowing basket). After giving this land also to the brahmins, Paraśurāma went and started doing penance at Mahendragiri. (Chapter 130, Ādi Parva; Chapter 117, Vana Parva and Chapter 49, Śānti Parva).

Other exploits of Paraśurāma.

(i) Meets Śrī Rāma. Śrī Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa were returning to Ayodhyā from Mithilāpurī after the marriage along with the sage Vasiṣṭha through a deep forest when Paraśurāma blocked their way and addressing Śrī Rāma said thus, 'Oh Rāma, son of Daśaratha, I heard that you broke during the marriage of Sītā the great Śaiva bow of the palace of Janaka. It was a Śaiva bow and I have now come here to test your prowess. I am giving you a Vaiṣṇava bow now. Can you string this bow?"

Vasiṣṭha tried his best to pacify Paraśurāma. But Paraśurāma without heeding it started describing the story and greatness of the Śaiva bow and the Vaiṣṇava bow. (See under Vaiṣṇava bow). Then Śrī Rāma took the bow from Paraśurāma and started to string it. The brilliance of Śrī Rāma dazzled him and he stood dumbfounded at his skill. Paraśurāma was immensely pleased and he blessed Śrī Rāma. After that he went again to Mahendragiri to perform penance.

This same story is told in Kamba Rāmāyaṇa with some slight changes:—Paraśurāma did not like Śrī Rāma breaking the bow of his Guru Śiva. So an angered Paraśurāma blocked the way of Śrī Rāma and challenged him to string and take aim with the mighty Vaiṣṇava bow he (Paraśurāma) was carrying with him then. Śrī Rāma with perfect ease took the bow, strung it, and taking the missile asked Paraśurāma to show the target. Paraśurāma was astonished and was in a fix. The missile could destroy even the entire Universe. So Paraśurāma asked Rāma to aim at the accumulated tapobala (power accrued by penance) of his self and Rāma did so. Then Paraśurāma surrendered to Śrī Rāma the Vaiṣṇava bow and arrow and the Vaiṣṇava tejas (divine brilliance) in him. Paraśurāma after having carried out the purpose of his incarnation gave instructions to Śrī Rāma to continue the purpose of his incarnation and then after blessing Śrī Rāma went again to do penance at his holy āśrama.

This same story is told by the sage Lomaśa to the Pāṇḍavas during their exile in the forests. This story is much different from the previous ones: "When the fame that Śrī Rāma was the best of Kings spread far and wide Paraśurāma once went to see Śrī Rāma. Giving him the bow and arrow with which he had done the mass massacre of the Kṣatriyas he challenged him to string it and take aim. With a smile Śrī Rāma did so and then Paraśurāma said Rāma should draw the string up to his ears. Śrī Rāma got angry and then on the face, which became fierce, by his anger, Paraśurāma saw besides himself, Āditya-Vasu-Rudras, Sādhyas, Bālakhilyas, Devarṣis, oceans, mountains, the Vedas and all such things of this universe. Śrī Rāma sent out his missile from the bow. The whole universe was thrown into chaos. Thunder and lightning rocked the world. Heavy rains flooded the whole land space. Burning stars and meteors fell to the ground. Paraśurāma then knew that Śrī Rāma was the incarnation of Mahāviṣṇu and he stood bowing before him. Ashamed of his defeat he took leave of Śrī Rāma and went to Mahendragiri. When he reached there he found he had lost all his brilliance. Then the manes appeared and advised him to go and bathe in the river Vadhūsarā. Accordingly Paraśurāma went and bathed in the river and regained his lost brilliance. (Chapter 99, Vana Parva).

(ii) Paraśurāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The Purāṇas describe two important occasions when Paraśurāma met Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

The first meeting was at the mountain of Gomanta. Once Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma with a view to enjoying the abundance of Nature went to the beautiful mountain of Gomanta and ascended to its top. On their way they met Paraśurāma engaged in penance there. They exchanged greetings and talked to each other for some time. Then Paraśurāma requested Śrī Kṛṣṇa to kill Śṛgālavāsudeva, King of Karavīra on the base of that mountain. Śrī Kṛṣṇa promised to do so and left the place carrying with him the blessings of the sage.

The second meeting was when Kṛṣṇa was going to the court of the Kauravas as a messenger of the Pāṇḍavas. On his way Śrī Kṛṣṇa saw a company of sages coming and, alighting from his chariot Kṛṣṇa talked with them. Paraśurāma who was in that company then embraced Kṛṣṇa and said that he should give a true picture of the situation to the Kauravas when he was conducting his mission. The sages blessed Kṛṣṇa and wished Kṛṣṇa all success in his mission. (Chapter 83, Udyoga Parva; 10th Skandha, Bhāgavata).

Other details.

(i) Paraśurāma along with a few other sages was present at the Sabhāpraveśa of Dharmaputra. (Śloka 11, Chapter 53, Sabhā Parva).

(ii) Paraśurāma was present at the course of the Kauravas when Śrī Kṛṣṇa was speaking to Dhṛtarāṣṭra on behalf of the Pāṇḍavas. When the Kauravas did not reply the questions put by Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Paraśurāma rose up to tell a story to illustrate the evils resulting from the arrogance of man. There was once a King called Dambhodbhava who was very arrogant because of his great strength. He wanted to diffuse his energy by fighting and laboured much to get good opponents and roamed about in search of fighters. One day the brahmins directed him to Naranārāyaṇas and accordingly Dambhodbhava went to their āśrama at Badarikā and challenged them for a fight. They refused to fight and yet the King showered arrows on them. Then the sages took a few blades of the iṣīkā grass and threw them at him. They filled the sky as great missiles and the King begged to be pardoned and prostrated before the sages. They sent back the befooled King to his palace. (Chapter 96, Udyoga Parva).

(iii) Once a grim battle was waged between Paraśurāma and Bhīṣma. (See under Ambā).

(iv) Paraśurāma sits in the court of Yama. (Śloka 19, Chapter 8, Sabhā Parva).

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