Parashurama is the sixth avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. He is the son of Renuka and one of the saptarishis, Jamadagni. He lived during the last Treta and Dvapara Yugas and is one of the Chiranjivi (immortals) of Hinduism. Parashurama, a Brahmin, received his famous axe after undertaking terrible penance to please Shiva, who in turn taught him Kalaripayattu (the mother of all martial arts). His real name was Bhargava Rama
Parashurama is most known for ridding the world of kshatriyas twenty-one times over after the mighty king Kartavirya Arjuna, not the famous one of Mahabharata, killed his father. As per the Mahabharata, Parashurama single-handedly successfully conquered the entire world and killed cores of kshatriyas. Parashurama conducted hundreds of Ashvamedhas and gave away the entire earth he conquered as alms to sage Kashyapa. 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.
Parashurama is worshipped as mūlapuruṣa, or male ancestral founder by some Anavil, Dravidulu, Bhumihar,Tyagi, Chitpavan, Nambudiri Brahmin communities. Along with the sages Vyasa, Kripa and Drona’s son Ashwatthama, Parashurama is considered to be foremost among the rishis in the Kaliyuga. Parashurama will also become one of the saptarishi in the 8th Manvantara. Parashurama is a mighty Maharathi and he will reappear as the martial instructor of Vishnu’s 10th avatar Kalki.
The word Parashurama is derived from two words parashu (परशु) meaning ‘axe’ and rama (राम). So literally, the word Parashurama means ‘Rama with an axe’. His other names include:
Ramabhadra – gracious Rama Bhargava – descendant of Bhrigu Bhrigupati – lord of Bhrigu dynasty Bhriguvanshi – he who belongs to Bhrigu lineage Jamadagnya – son of Jamadagni
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 of 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.
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.
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.
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 foot soldiers).
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. Next he slew the Kings of Vidarbha, Videha and the Nishadas along with their force. 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 inside his body.
Parashurama prayed to the goddess and prompted her to appear before him. 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.
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. 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.
Parashurama then travelled the whole of Earth, killing all men of the Kshatriya varna. 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 Kashyapa, who performed the yagya . 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.
Parashurama Temples There are numerous temples and statues of Parashurama throughout the Indian subcontinent, some of which include:
- Thiruvallam Sree Parasurama Temple, Trivandruam, Kerala
- 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, Madhya Pradesh
- Parshuram Kutiya, Nirmand, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh
The ancient Saptakonkana is a slightly larger region described in the Sahyadrikhanda which refers to it as Parashuramakshetra (Sanskrit for “the area of Parashurama”).
Seven Mukthi Kshetras are popularly known as Parashurama Srishti:
- kukke Subramanya