The Axe of Parshuram

Indian Mythology 18 Comments

Published in Sunday Midday on 26 July 2009

In Vedic times Rishis used to perform yagnas to harness the power of the cosmos for the benefit of the king or Raja and his kingdom. The Raja in turn ensured the livelihood of the priests by gifting them cows. The Puranas, however, refer to a period, when this symbiotic relationship soured, transforming both the kings and their priests forever.

This shift happens before the arrival of Ram and is marked by another of Vishnu’s avatar, Parashuram, which literally translates as ‘the axe-bearing Ram’. He is also called Bhargava Ram or ‘Ram of the priestly Bhrigu clan’, distinguishing him from Raghava Ram or ‘Ram of the royal Raghu clan’.

Parshuram’s grandmother, Satyavati, was a princess, daughter of Gadhi. She was given in marriage to Richika, Parashuram’s grandfather. It was common practice for Rajas to offer their daughters to Rishis, along with cows.

Parshuram’s father, the Rishi Jamadagni, had received a cow from a king of the Haihaiya clan. The king’s son Kritarjuna or Kartaviryarjuna demanded the cow back. When Jamadagni refused, the king took the cow by force, angering Parshuram, who refused to take things lying down. He raised an axe and hacked the king to death. The king’s sons retaliated by beheading Jamadagni. An infuriated Parshuram went on to slaughter five clans of warriors, some say five generations of warriors, creating five lakes of blood. These lakes were later filled and became the dreaded battlefield of Kurukshetra.

It is said that Parashuram continued killing every Kshatriya in his path until there were no more warriors left on earth. To restore the Kshatriya clans the widows had to marry priests. There is one story of a man called Nari-kavacha, meaning ‘one whose armor was made of women’. He survived by hiding in women’s quarters. All women went to this one surviving warrior and from this coward were born all future warriors. Perhaps stories such as these were propaganda crated by Rishis to insult kings who did not behave as Rajas are supposed to, as custodians rather than masters of their kingdoms.

Rishis were known to oppose kings who did not do their duty. There are tales of how Rishis ousted Pururava who went mad after his wife, the nymph Urvashi, left him. There are stories of how Rishis killed Vena who abused his power and exploited the earth. Parshuram’s massacre of kings only stopped when he met Ram, the son of Dashrath, who was so perfect a Raja that he restored Parashuram’s faith in kings and ended his slaughter.

Parshuram threw his bloodstained axe into the sea but the sea recoiled in horror and drew back revealing a new coast now known as the Konkan and the Malabar, which is why Paashuram worship is most prevalent in the western coast of India. Many Rishis and Brahmins shunned Parshuram as they felt he was contaminated with blood and murder. Determined to pass on his knowledge of warfare to priests who could balance the power of kings, Parshuram is supposed to have gone to a crematorium and resurrected dead priests, who became his students. One theory states that the Chitpavan Brahmans of Pune who dominated Indian political scene in the 18th century sprang from these resurrected priests hence the name Chitpavan meaning ‘purified from the funeral pyre’. Parshuram even passed on his martial skills today known as Kalaripayattu to families who were of mixed blood, whose mothers were from warrior clans but fathers were of priestly clans, like, some say, the Nair community in Kerala.

It is interesting to note that Parshuram’s granduncle was one of those who abused his royal power against the Rishis. His name was Kaushik and he was Satyavati’s brother. Kaushik tried to steal the cow that belonged to Rishi Vasishtha. Unlike Jamadagni, Vasishtha was able to defend himself using his spiritual powers. Humiliated in defeat, Kaushik decided to acquire spiritual powers for himself. Just as Parshuram had abandoned his priestly ways to become a warrior, Kaushik gave his warrior ways to become the Rishi Vishwamitra. Just as Parashuram became a warrior to create a better world, free of corrupt kings, Vishwamitra became a teacher and a priest to create a better world, where spiritual powers were used to bring material growth. Vishwamitra was a teacher of Ram.

  • rajat

    And Parshuram was Guru of Bhisma and Karna.

  • Shrikant

    observed, for the first time some sentence drafting errors – typos – if you will :)
    Interesting to recall ParasuRama’s tale, origins of Nairs and Kalaripayattu!!

    What is the tale of the origin of the Dravidian (race or clan)? any myth that highlights that?

  • Vicky Suri

    Dr. Devdutt,

    You have brought spirituality to Hindus with modern outlook towards world.

    All the best.

    I want to be in touch with you regarding Special Lectures in Delhi.

    Vicky Suri

  • Yogesh

    parshuram lived in reign of ram(Ramayan) and was alive in krishna’s time that is Mahabharat’s.

    can someone tell how did parshuram die ? or what happened to him after Mahabharat.

    • Arjun Nair

      Parashurama is a Chiranjivi. There are seven well known Chiranjivi’s or immortals, of which Parashurama is one. He is said to to be atop Mahendra Mountains in penance, leading an ascetic life until the time comes for him to tutor the tenth and final form of the Vishnu, which is Kalki, for the end of the Kali Yuga.

    • Rekha Vaze

      Mr. Yogesh, Lord Parshuram had got a boon of being Chiranjeev. No question of death arises.

  • vijay

    It is said that Parasurama is still alive and meditating somewhere in Himalayas.

    • Rekha Vaze

      Yes , this is true and there are people who had darshan of Lord with open eyes.

  • Bhagwan Parshuram was the 6th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu is responsible to run this whole world.


    Bhagwan Parshuram Aarti and Mantras.

  • Rahul

    Bhagwan Parshuram was the 6th incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

  • udit

    can i make parshuram as my guru?? if yes then what should i do ?

    • Deep Biswas

      chop your head off with an axe and offer to Parshuram

      • Rekha Vaze

        Lord Parshuram is not thirsty of human blood. He is the sixth awtar of Lord Vishnu who is still alive. Please be careful in making such statements about Him.

    • Rekha Vaze

      yes. you can make Lord Parshuram your Guru if He permits. Contact me for details on

  • pandya dipak k

    jay parshuram

  • Sanjay S. Devkar

    Jai Kamdhenu maiya ki

  • Kshitij Kumar

    Mr Devdutt this story and nearly all other stories of yours are completely inaccurate. For example, Kartaviryarjuna’s father never gave Kamdhenu to Sage Jamadagini. Also Parshuram killed Kshatriyas 21 times. People take your articles as accurate and they think your articles are trying to promote and help Hinduism. However your articles are actually very innaccurate. No mythological article can be completely accurate but your articles contain inaccuracy after inaccuracy. It can be seen that you are bending the facts to gain name and fame. Especially that Devon ke Dev Mahadev tv show based on your writings is highly inaccurate. For example, Malla and Manni are shown as Aghoris but no religious scriptures says that they were Aghoris. They were actually only Asuras. Also Banai shown in the drama was actually a wife of Khandoba/Martand. Both Mhalasa and Banai were wives of Khandoba and Khandoba had many wives. Your articles contain completely false things which are not present in any scriptures at all or any folk tale.

  • Rekha Vaze

    please note that the cow that Jamadagni Rishi possessed was not given by king of Haihay vansha. Please note it seriously that all kshatriyas were not killed by Bhagwan Parshuram but only ‘durjan’ of them were killed.
    Also The sea did not recoil in horror but after winning the whole earth, it was donated to Kashyap Rishi performing Ashwamedh Yadnya. Now as the whole land was donated, a new place was created by requesting the sea to recoil till the line where an arrow was thrown. The sea obeyed the order and got recoiled upto the region or line where the arrow reached. This is Konkan Bhoomi.