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Parsuram: The pioneer?


Could Parsuram have led a group of Deccan ksatriya into coastal Komkan, Tuluva, and Malabar? Could the oral tradition – the collective memory of the community – of what had happened in the remote past have resulted in development of the Parsuram legend over time? Could it be some sort of a feeling of collective gratitude, hero worship? There are three extant temples to Parsuram: at Ciplun (Maharashtra), Poimgin (Goa), and Thiruvalla (Kerala).

What may make it difficult for us to accept such a hypothesis is the overall bramhanic veneer that Parsuram carries – he is considered the sixth incarnation of Vishnu; the Parsuram legend has been an integral part of the Samskrt itihas and puran for long. But Parsuram’s identity is so closely intertwined with the Deccan culture, that it does not let us easily brush aside the suggestion of his being the pioneer who led Deccan ksatriya to the west coast. It is not just about Parsuram’s reclamation of the coastal land. Renuka, his mother, was in all likelihood a Deccan ksatriya if not a vadukar. According to Joshi, she was the queen of the region that is now Vidarbha. Since Jamdagni found it wiser not to confront her in war, he feigned infatuation for her and married her, resulting in accession of her kingdom; eventually he found an opportunity to kill her [Joshi, 2016: ‘Grik Navik Te Pesvai’, 73]. Even if we leave aside that honey trapping story, Renuka’s roots seem to run deep in Deccan. She is worshipped as Ellamma in Karnataka and Telangana and as Yelluai in Maharashtra. What could be the reason for worshipping her? Could that too be hero worship? It suggests Renuka’s role as a defender of the native Deccan ksatriya-vadukar people against the onslaught of the bramhan – ksatriya confederacy. That lends some credence to Joshi’s thesis too. At this point it is necessary to differentiate between the Deccan ksatriya and the Indo-Gangetic plain ksatriya; the latter have mostly collaborated with the bramhan in their expansionist endeavour.

But there are still a lot of aspects of the Parsuram story which militate against his role as a benefactor of the Deccan ksatriya. For instance his act of beheading his mother Renuka. “Him the mighty-armed Jamadagni, of great austerities, addressed, saying, ‘Kill this wicked mother of thine, without compunction, O my son.’ Thereupon Rama immediately took up an axe and therewith severed his mother’s head” [Mahabharat, Book 3: Vana Parva: Tirtha-yatra Parva: Section CXVI]. Jamadagni wants Renuka to be killed; tells his eldest son to do it; but he refuses to do so; so do the rest of the sons; till Ram (Parsuram), the youngest of them, does it. But then he asks his father for a boon for having done his bidding; he asks that Renuka be brought back to life. How does one explain this flip-flop by Parsuram? The only way we can understand it is to grant that Parsuram was split between his loyalty to his original clan, the Indo-Gangetic ksatriya, and his clan by birth to Renuka, the Deccan ksatriya. As an Indo-Gangetic ksatriya it was his natural inclination to annihilate the vadukar and the Deccan ksatriya, and help in the furthering of the bramhan project. But as a Deccan ksatriya, it was his duty to stand by the people of Deccan.

We see this conflict of loyalties igniting once again: when he sets out to annihilate the ksatriya ‘twenty one times’. He succeeds in his mission; “The son of Jamadagni, after twenty-one times making the earth bereft of Kshatriyas wended to that best of mountains Mahendra and there began his ascetic penances” [Ganguli, 1896 : Mahabharat, Book 1: Adi Parva: Adivansavatarana Parva: Section LXIV]. And then he is filled with remorse and does penance. For not only had he massacred the Deccan ksatriya, but he had done the unthinkable: corrupted the Deccan ksatriya ethnicity with bramhan blood. “And at that time when the earth was bereft of Kshatriyas, the Kshatriya ladies, desirous of offspring, used to come, O monarch, to the Brahmanas and Brahmanas of rigid vows had connection with them during the womanly season alone, but never, O king, lustfully and out of season. And Kshatriya ladies by thousands conceived from such connection with Brahmanas. Then, O monarch, were born many Kshatriyas of greater energy, boys and girls, so that the Kshatriya race, might thrive. And thus sprang the Kshatriya race from Kshatriya ladies by Brahmanas of ascetic penances. And the new generation, blessed with long life, began to thrive in virtue. And thus were the four orders having Brahmanas at their head re-established” [Mahabharat, Book 1: Adi Parva: Adivansavatarana Parva: Section LXIV]. Obviously he was filled with remorse, great remorse. Perhaps in sheer desperation, to atone for the sin he could not forgive himself for, he led his people (his mother’s people) out of the hell he had created for them. Could that be what drove him across the Sahyadri?

But Parsuram is supposed to have brought panc gaud bramhan families from Trihotr, and settled them at Panncakrosi and Kusasthal in Goa. These were families of bhardvaj, kausik, vats, kaundinya, kasyap, vasisth, bhargava, visvamitr, gautam and atri gotr, and were settled in Mathagram (Margao), Kusasthal (Cortalim) and Kardalinagar (Kelsi = Quelossim) [Da Cunha, 1992 : Skamdapuranamtargatam Sahyadrikhandam, Citpavanbramhanotpati, 47-48, 304]. Just before that SHK describes the settlement of citpavan bramhan in Ciplun. All along the west coast of India the history of bramhan begins with Parsuram. Parsuram as the pioneer leading the Deccan caddi to the west coast and Parsuram as the settler of bramhan there seem contradictory. But that need not necessarily be so. SHK says very clearly and categorically: “And to attend to the Vedic rituals like honouring the dead (sraddha) he settled in the new territory sixty families of bramhan.” Honouring whose dead? This clearly implies that there lived in this territory some people before the bramhan were brought there. Could we understand that as: Parsuram led the Deccan ksatriya and settled them on the west coast and then brought bramhan from the Trihotr to attend to their last rites? [Da Cunha, 1992: 304]. After all, even Parsuram would believe that there was no salvation beyond the bramhan.

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