Rāma Jāmadagnya/Paraśurāma

Brian Collins

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:
Rāma Jāmadagnya/Paraśurāma


Paraśurāma, also known as Rāma Jāmadagnya or Bhārgava Rāma, is the sixth incarnation or avatāra of Vishnu according to the classical Hindu tradition and his story is one of the major secondary narratives of the Mahābhārata epic. The son of the forest-dwelling sage Jamadagni, a member of the ancient and powerful Brāhmaṇa clan called the Bhṛgus or Bhārgavas, by the princess Reṇukā of the royal kṣatriya class, Paraśurāma embodies both the spiritual power of the Brāhmaṇa and the military might of the kṣatriya. Paraśurāma is known for two deeds above all others in the epics and later puranas: his decapitation of Reṇukā and his twenty-one-fold extermination of the kṣatriyas. In the matricide episode Paraśurāma decapitates his mother at the command of his father after she is caught looking at a handsome youth bathing in the river. But later, Jamadagni regrets his rash words and decides to resurrect Reṇukā and erase Paraśurāma’s memory of the deed. Paraśurāma’s extermination of the kṣatriyas takes place after the kṣatriya prince Kārtavīrya Arjuna steals his father’s cow. After Paraśurāma slays the cattle thief, Kārtavīrya’s sons kill his father. In retaliation, Paraśurāma initiates a war with the kṣatriya class and exterminates twenty-one generations of them, filling five lakes with their blood and making a great sacrifice before being sent into exile by the divine sages. In parts of southern and western India, Paraśurāma is seen as a patriarchal founder of regions and castes, especially on the Konkan coast. Paraśurāma’s story is a popular one in the epic and puranas. And some time after the composition of the Mahābhārata, he became elevated to one of the ten major incarnations or avatāras, probably under the auspices of the Pāñcarātrin Vaiṣṇava sect. Although he is not a popular figure of devotion like the other human avatāras Kṛṣṇa and Rāma Dāśaratha, scholars have long seen Paraśurāma’s story as crucial to understanding the Mahābhārata epic in terms of its composition and the religio-social worldviews it expresses. In regional traditions, he figures in the mythology of the widespread South Indian cult devoted to his mother Reṇukā and the cult of Dattātreya in the Deccan Plateau.

Article.  9345 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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