In This Article Rāma Jāmadagnya/Paraśurāma

  • Introduction
  • General Studies of Paraśurāma in English
  • General Studies of Paraśurāma in Other Languages
  • Paraśurāma in the Mahābhārata
  • Paraśurāma in the Rāmāyaṇa
  • Paraśurāma and Kārtavīrya Arjuna
  • Paraśurāma and Viśvāmitra
  • The Jain Paraśurāma
  • Pilgrimage Sites
  • Art

Hinduism Rāma Jāmadagnya/Paraśurāma
by
Brian Collins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0075

Introduction

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.

General Overviews of the Bhṛgus (Bhārgavas)

The Bhṛgu clan of which Paraśurāma is the most famous member is an ancient and powerful family closely connected to the cult of fire from the Vedic period. Their mythology is characterized by an antagonism toward the gods and an alliance with the demons as well as a special, often violent relationship with the kṣatriyas. Bhārgava myths also abound with stories of massacres and black magic. Biardeau 1971–1972 uses the Bhārgava myths in the epic to argue for an early connection between potters and Brāhmaṇas. Goldman 1977 analyzes the Bhārgava cycle as evidence that the Bhārgavas were originally a non-Vedic Brāhmaṇa clan. Karambelkar 1948 examines the connection between the Bhārgavas and another Brāhmaṇa family, the Atharvans. Panda 1984 is a fairly thorough collection of Bhārgava myths with an analysis that largely follows Goldman, picturing the Bhārgavas as prideful and violent. Pandey 1956–1957 connects Paraśurāma’s actions in the Mahābhārata to Bhārgava stories from the Atharva Veda, and Rahurkar 1976 argues that the Bhārgavas were a tribe originally from Central Asia.

  • Biardeau, Madeleine. “Brahmanes et potiers.” Annuaire de l’École Pratique des Haute Études, Ve Section, Section des Sciences Religieuses 79 (1971–1972): 31–55.

    E-mail Citation »

    Analyzing the Mahābhārata story in which the Pāṇḍavas disguise themselves as Brāhmaṇas and hide with a potter named Bhārgava and the South Indian Aiyanar cult whose priests belong to the potter caste, the author posits a connection between Brāhmaṇas and potters, concluding that the Bhārgavas, in the role as priests of the sacrificial fire, were especially identified with potters.

  • Goldman, Robert P. Gods, Priests and Warriors: The Bhṛgus of the Mahābhārata. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

    E-mail Citation »

    Identifies the Bhārgava Brāhmaṇas as heterodox outsiders and argues that Bhārgava mythmakers integrated their family mythology into the framework of the Mahābhārata for their own purposes and argues that the story of Paraśurāma is a “metamyth” encompassing the Bhārgava themes of violence toward women and Brāhmaṇas, genocide, resurrection, and a hatred of kṣatriyas. Also contains some prominent Bhārgava myths, including Paraśurāma’s, in translation.

  • Karambelkar, V. W. “The Bhṛgus and the Atharvans.” Journal of Indian History 26 (1948): 107–109.

    E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the Bhṛgus were a type or branch of the Atharvans, both being opposed to the Āṅgirases. While in the earlier Vedic period the Atharvans had been prominent, the Bhṛgus rose above them in prominence during the period of the Mahābhārata’s composition.

  • Panda, Jayanti. Bhṛgus: A Study. New Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1984.

    E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes a wide array of Bhārgava myths from the Vedas to the puranas, concluding that the Bhṛgus were a revanchist and domineering clan opposed to the gods but also responsible for promulgating the dharma and Nīti śāstras. The author also traces Paraśurāma’s final ascension to godhood in the puranas.

  • Pandey, Raj Bali. “The Brahma-gavī and the Vaitahavyas in the Atharvaveda and the Purāṇas.” Bhāratī 1 (1956–1957): 1–8.

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    The author traces the conflict between the Bhārgavas and the Haihayas and Paraśurāma’s destruction of the kṣatriyas to an incident described in the Atharva Veda in which the Haihaya ancestor Vitāhavya eats a Brāhmaṇa’s cow and attacks the sage Bhṛgu.

  • Rahurkar, V. G. “Bhṛgu and the Bhṛgus in the Vedic and the Post-Vedic Literature.” CASS Studies 3 (1976): 9–24.

    E-mail Citation »

    The author examines the legendary features of the Bhṛgu clan in the ancient texts, including the claim that they brought fire to humankind and their connection to the Aṅgiras clan. He concludes that the Bhṛgu clan originally came from outside India, probably Central Asia, and they and the Aṅgirases were jointly responsible for the final redaction of the Mahābhārata.

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