PARASU-RAMA – (1) A well-known sage; (2) An avatara (incarnation) of Vishnu

PARASU-RAMAThe story of “Ax Rama” (the literal meaning of Parasu-Rama) contains a chill­ing warning to the kings and rulers of India. Brahmins could revolt against them if their rule was unjust or cruel.
The story proving the need for an incarnation of Vishnu began with the curse of a sage. The god (deva) Agni had gone to King Kartaviryarjuna and asked for food. The king gave Agni permission to take as much food as he wanted, any time, anywhere. Agni went on a rampage, burning forests and mountains. A sage named Apava lost his asrama (hermitage) in one of the forest fires and cursed the king: Vishnu would come to earth to end the arrogance of the warrior caste
So Vishnu was born as Parasu-Rama into the home of the brahmin sage Jamadagni. He and his wife Renuka already had four sons, so Parasu-Rama was their fifth. Parasu-Rama studied under his father and was his best student. One day Renuka was late returning from fetching water from the river. In fact she had lost all track of time as she watched love play in the river—a reminder of the life she had lost when her royal father married her to a simple brahmin. Jamadagni was angry and demanded an explanation. She told why she was late and implied that she had been tempted with unclean thoughts at the sight of lovemaking in the river. Her husband ordered each of his sons in turn to kill their mother. Finally, Parasu-Rama did as his father ordered. When his pleased father granted him a boon for his obedience, Parasu-Rama asked that his mother be restored to life.
Parasu-Rama trained in archery and did austerities (tapas) to Siva. Some sto­ries told how he helped Siva defeat demons invading heaven. Finally Parasu- Rama was ready for his task.
King Kartaviryarjuna came one day to the hermitage and asked for food and drink. Some accounts stated that Jamadagni provided a feast for him and his entourage with the miraculous products of his divine cow, Sushila. Other accounts stated that King Kartaviryarjuna came when Jamadagni was away and was fed by Renuka. Either way, the king wanted the divine cow and stole it, then or subsequently. In each version Jamdagni was killed while Parasu-Rama and his brothers were away from the asrama. When Parasu-Rama returned, he found his mother beating her breast in agony. For each of the twenty-one times she hit her­self Parasu-Rama went on to lead an attack on kshatriya kings. The lost cow was returned with her calf. Parasu-Rama went about South India killing men, women, and children to rid the earth of evil rulers. (His name became associated with the origin of the State of Kerala. In fact, a historical brahmin’s story may have been incorporated into the myth of Parasu-Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu.)
Parasu-Rama, the fifth of ten incarnations of Vishnu, was born in the treta yuga—not this age, but the previous one. That was an age when kshatriyas did not follow their dharma to rule justly and to protect Vedic wisdom.
Another version of the reason for Vishnu’s need to incarnate had an inter­esting twist. A King Arjuna (note the twist in the story when the villain has the name of one of Hindu mythology’s greatest heroes) was a merciless tyrant. This
Arjuna had worshipped Brahma and obtained a boon that prevented any kshatriya from taking his life. Thus, Vishnu had to incarnate as a brahmin in order to reestablish divine order and proper rule.

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