In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rāma Jāmadagnya/Paraśurāma

  • Introduction
  • General Studies of Paraśurāma in English
  • General Studies of Paraśurāma in Other Languages
  • Paraśurāma in the Mahābhārata
  • Paraśurāma and Rāma Dāśaratha
  • Paraśurāma and Kārtavīrya Arjuna
  • Paraśurāma and Viśvāmitra
  • Subhūma: The Jaina Paraśurāma
  • Pilgrimage Sites
  • Art

Hinduism Rāma Jāmadagnya/Paraśurāma
Brian Collins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0075


Paraśurāma (“Rāma with the Axe”) is the sixth incarnation or avatāra of Viṣṇuṣṇ according to the classical Hindu tradition and his story is one of the major secondary narratives of the Mahābhārata epic, where he first appears under the name Rāma Jāmadagnya. He is the 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. As such, he embodies both the spiritual power of the Brāhmaṇa and the military might of the Kṣatriya. Kṣatriya Paraśurāma is known for two deeds above all others in the epics and later purāṇasāṇ: his matricide 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 Gandharva prince bathing in the river. But later, Jamadagni regrets his rash words and decides to resurrect her and erase Paraśurāma’s memory of the deed. Paraśurāma’s extermination of the Kṣatriyas iss occasioned by the haughty Kṣatriya prince Kārtavīrya Arjuna’s theft of his family’s cow (or calf). After Paraśurāma slays the cattle thief, Kārtavīrya’s sons avenge his death by killing Paraśurāma’s father Jamadagni. In retaliation, Paraśurāma initiates a war with the entire Kṣatriyaa class and exterminates twenty-one generations of them, filling five lakes with their blood and making a great sacrifice of the earth he has conquered before being sent into exile by the divine sages. Despite being closely associated with Śiva, at some point after the composition of the Mahābhārata, he became elevated to one of the ten major incarnations or avatāras of Viṣṇu, probably under the auspices of the Vaiṣṇava Pāñcarātrin 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 both its composition and the religio-social worldviews it expresses. In parts of southern and western India, Paraśurāma is remembered as a patriarchal founder of various coastal regions, having reclaimed land from the sea by throwing his axe to drive back the water. In other regional traditions, he figures in the mythology of the widespread South Indian cult devoted to his mother Reṇukā, the cult of Dattātreya in the Deccan Plateau, and the caste origin myths of both Brāhmaṇa and non-Brāhmaṇa groups.

General Overviews of the Bhṛgus (Bhārgavas)

The Bhṛgu or Bhārgava clan of which Paraśurāma is the most famous member is depicted as an ancient and powerful family descended from the Vedic sage Bhṛgu and closely connected to the cult of fire. Their mythology is characterized by an antagonism toward the Devas and an alliance with the Asuras as well as a special, often violent, relationship with the Kṣatriyas—especially the Haihaya clan, to whom they sometimes served as priests. Bhārgava myths also abound with stories of massacres and black magic. Goldman 1977 analyzes the Bhārgava cycle as evidence that they 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 originally a tribe from Central Asia.

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

    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 concludes 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 translations of prominent Bhārgava myths, including that of Paraśurāma.

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

    Argues that the Bhṛgus were a branch of the Atharvan Brāhmaṇas, both groups 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.

    Analyzes a wide array of Bhārgava myths from the Vedas to the Purāṇas, concluding that the Bhṛgus were a revanchist and domineering clan opposed to the Devas but also responsible for promulgating the Dharma and Nīti Śāstras.

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

    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.

    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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