By Michael Dolan,
B.V. Mahayogi
The warrior among brahmans, Parashuram
Ram's own struggle with his anger
sets the example for all of us,
teaching that even the great yogis
must work to control anger.
Who is Parashurama?
The story of Parashurama is told in different parts of the Mahābhārata as well as in the different Pūrānas, including the Bhāgavata. Parashurama is Ram of the Axe, a gruesome brahman who destroys generations of warriors with his chopper. He is considered an avatar, a descent of the Godhead. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, whenever there is a lack of dharma in the world, God descends. This avatar in particular is called śakti-avesa, which means "vested in power" and embodies a particular divine power--that of justice.

The ancient Vedic system of varnashrama-dharma divides secular society into different social orders called varnas and monastic society into distinct spiritual orders called ashramas. The four Varnas are the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, or intelligentsia, the ruling class, entrepreneurs and working classes. Plato saw the ideal Republic as one presided over by philosopher-kings. The Mahābhārata tells of just such a golden age, where nlightened kings took spiritual instruction from disinterested sages and did their best to follow dharma according to the teachings of the Vedas.
Conflicts between Social Classes

And yet, even a world as harmonious as the ancient Vedic society during the golden age saw conflicts between the different social classes. Enlightened kings became despots, and despots became tyrants. The thousand-armed Kartavirya-Arjuna is just such a tyrant. Violating the rules of dharma he steals the mystic cow, Kamadhenu, from a brahman, Ram's father Jamadagni. This triggers the power of Parashuram, the avatar of God as justice.

The ancient Vedic system of varnashrama-dharma divides secular society into different social orders called varnas and monastic society into distinct spiritual orders called ashramas. The four Varnas are the Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras, or intelligentsia, the ruling class, entrepreneurs and working classes.

Plato saw the ideal Republic as one presided over by philosopher-kings. The Mahābhārata tells of just such a golden age, where nlightened kings took spiritual instruction from disinterested sages and did their best to follow dharma according to the teachings of the Vedas.

Ram of the Axe: the incarnation of justice
Ram of the Axe does justice for the brahmans who practice nonviolence. While Jamadagni and his followers have forsworn violence and will not resist a tyrant with force, Parashuram has no Gandhian qualms about violence. Whenever brahmans are insulted by tryants Parashuram appears as a godly avenger.

Parashurama's appearance in the family of brahmans is the result of a curse. He has been cursed to be a warrior among brahmans. He must struggle against anger. His father tests him by having him behead his own mother, Renuka. Renuka's head is restored by mystic mantra. She has no memory of the crime. Is it all a dream? Ram must discover inner peace in the mountains with Shiva before fulfilling his destiny as a warrior.




Battle with Kartavirya

He confronts the tyrant Kartavirya, punishing him by severing his arms.
While it is said that Kartavirya had thousands of arms, this may mean that he was expert in many weapons-arms.
When the sons of Kartavirya revenge themselves on Ram's father, Ram rages against all kings and princes.

It has been suggested that the avatar of Parashurama was promoted by the brahmans in an ancient conflict against the kshatriya warrior class. Parashuram would revenge himself on any kshatriya who dared to challenge a brahman.
There is a kind of political sub-text here: while brahmans are nonviolent, their avatar will punish despotic kings who resist their spiritual authority.

Peace, Nonviolence, and War
The story of Ram of the Axe is told in many places. Elsewhere in the Adi Parva Bhishma explains why Rama became angered when his father was killed by the sons of Kartavirya. "Bhishma said, 'Jamadagni's son Rama was angry when his father was killed and in his anger, the immensely illustrious one killed the king of the Haihayas. He sliced off Arjuna's 1000 arms.

Then he again took up his bow to conquer the world. Using his wonderful weapons, the great-souled descendant of Bhargava used his arrows to exterminate Kshatriyas from the world twenty-one times. Then Kshatriya women everywhere had offspring through Brahmans who were self-controlled.

The Vedas clearly say that a son so born belongs to the one who accepted the hand. With dharma in their minds, they united with the Brahmans. The world has thus seen the resurgence of the Kshatriyas.'"





Ram of the Axe or Parashurama is always caught in a dynamic between pursuing the path of peace and punishing despotic kings and kshatriyas for their excesses. Unlike other avatars, he is constantly struggling with his own conscience — torn between violence and nonviolence.

Anger and Forgiveness: What Jamadagni taught

In the Bhagavat-Purana Parashuram hears instructions from his father Jamadagni on how to avoid anger and how to seek forgiveness and inner peace. It is this split personality between raging avenger and seeker of inner peace that makes him a uniquely modern character. When there is no means of a peaceful solution, Parashurama is ready to fight and inflict the most savage violence with his divine axe, gifted by Shiva the god of destruction. But he prefers the path of peace and spends his time in meditation on Mount Mahendra.


Anger as character flaw
Ram's own struggle with his anger sets the example for all of us, teaching that even the great yogis must work to control anger.
Anger is a serious flaw in the character of a renounced soul who seeks the truth. One on the path will meet with many different forms of temptation. But if the cultivation of righteousness leads to self-righteousness, the sin of self-righteousness is anger. And anger opens the door for any number of sins, culminating in violence.

The character of Kartavirya Arjuna is a case in point. Beginning as a righteous king, his power and arrogance convert him into a tyrant. By performing severe austerities and penances, he pleases the sage Dattatreya. But since he cannot control the lust, anger, and greed that arise from his tremendous power, he becomes corrupt and his despotism must be destroyed by Ram of the Axe.


The important lesson to be learned from studying
The story of Parashuram is not how to use deadly weapons,
but how to control one's anger. Anger and not the warrior class is identified as the worst enemy.
Did you like this article?
READ MORE ABOUT MAHABHARATA GODS & HEROES!