The Ten Avataras – 6: A Psychological Study of the Evolution of Humankind

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati

6. PARASHURAMA AVATARA

The first five incarnations of Lord Vishnu – Matsya, the fish, Kurma, the tortoise, Varaha, the boar, Narasimha, half man/half lion, and Vamana, the dwarf – describe conditions during Treta yuga or maybe even earlier periods or chaturyugas and thus are mythological in origin. Parashurama, or Rama bearing the axe, came down in Dwapara yuga to strengthen the brahmin priestly caste whom the kshatriya warriors had been suppressing. With his advent, history is introduced into the avatara cycle. Here the form assumed by the Lord is that of a full-grown man, which indicates that from Dwapara yuga human consciousness has developed into maturity. However, the conscious potential is expressed mainly through the lower mind and instincts, as is symbolised by the coming of Parashurama, who was born of a spiritual lineage, but of a violent nature. Parashurama became a devotee of Shiva and enjoyed his protection. Shiva instructed him in the use of arms and gave him the parashu, a magic battle-axe, in honour of which he was called Parashurama. The story of Parashurama is related in detail in the Mahabharata.

At the time of Parashurama, the vedic rishis, who were the ascetics of the brahmin caste, wielded formidable spiritual powers, but were hesitant to use them for material gain or conquest. For this reason the kshatriyas had assumed a dominant position and were oppressing them. Parashurama, the youngest son of Rishi Jamadagni, was given different ideals by his father right from childhood. Once Jamadagni felt that his beautiful wife, Renuka, had been unfaithful to him, so he ordered his sons to behead her. His first four sons each refused to kill their mother, but Parashurama took up the axe and struck off her head. Jamadagni disowned his first four sons for disobeying him, but he was very pleased with Parashurama and offered him a boon. For his boon, Parashurama asked that his mother should be revived and four brothers brought back, and the sage fulfilled his wish.

Once King Kartavirya, who was the dominant figure amongst the kshatriyas at that time and had obtained certain yogic powers from Rishi Dattatreya, paid a visit to the hermitage of Jamadagni while he and his sons were away. Jamadagni’s wife served the guest well, providing for his meals and comforts. Instead of responding with respect and gratitude for this hospitality, Kartavirya laid waste to the hermitage and carried away the sacred calf of Kamadhenu, the cow of plenty, which Jamadagni had acquired through his tapasya. When Parashurama returned and heard this story, he was filled with rage. He rushed into conflict with Kartavirya and killed him. Parashurama then set out on pilgrimage to atone for the slaying of Kartavirya. In his absence, the sons of Kartavirya came to the hermitage for revenge and killed Jamadagni in cold blood as he sat in meditation. When Parashurama heard this, his anger knew no bounds. While his father’s body was being cremated, he vowed before the gods to exterminate the entire kshatriya race from the face of the Earth. After massacring the sons of Kartavirya, he embarked on twenty-one bloody expeditions, during which he succeeded in destroying nearly all the kshatriya clans.

Parashurama was still living when Ramachandra was born. Parashurama and Ramachandra faced one another at Sita’s swayamvara, the choosing of a husband. Parashurama was enraged to hear about the breaking of Shiva’s great bow and he forced Ramachandra into a duel. Parashurama was humbled by Ramachandra in this duel and recognised his divinity. After the bending of the bow, the influence of Vishnu passed from Parashurama to Rama. From that time, Parashurama was no longer considered an avatara, but as a chiranjeeva, long-lived one. Avataras are God in visible form, but as soon as their mission is fulfilled, the form loses its divine quality and remains as an envelope. Parashurama retired to the Mahendra mountains where he later instructed both Karna and Arjuna in military arts. It is said that he also took part in the Mahabharata war on the side of the Kauravas and afterwards returned to the Mahendra mountains where he still lives today.

The advent of Parashurama took place around the 6th century BC. From the spiritual point of view, it represents the battle between the higher mind and the lower. In the stage of kama, desire fulfilment, the ego becomes satiated with enjoyment and pleasure and craves to be freed from the lower nature. Then the battle takes place between the higher and lower mind in man. Parashurama represents the stage of lessening of desire when the battle takes place, which prepares for the development of the higher mind.

To be continued in the August