How did Parashurama become Shiva's devotee?
By Bibek Debroy
All of us are familiar with stories about Parashurama, in some fashion. In these columns, I have not talked about Parashurama so far. As I have mentioned in the past, the same account may be stated somewhat differently in different Puranas. I will recount the Parashurama story from Brahmanda Purana. This forms part of what the sage Vasishtha told King Sagara and I will focus on how Parashurama came to worship Shiva. As all of us know that Parashurama’s father was Jamadagni. Jamadagni’s father was Richika. Richika’s father was Ourva. Ourva’s father was Chyavana. All of them were descended from the sage Bhrigu and are therefore known as Bhargavas.
Vasishtha said, “O king! Parashurama was supreme among those who upheld every kind of dharma. He knew the truth about the Vedas and Vedangas. He was accomplished in all the sacred texts. Full of humility, the immensely intelligent one served his parents. Through his own acts and conduct, he enhanced the delight of others. In this way, some years passed. Urged by destiny, on one occasion, the greatly energetic one wished to go to his grandfather’s house and got ready. He joined his hands in salutation and spoke these humble words. “O father! O mother! My mind has been anxious for a long time and I am eager to see my grandfather. Therefore, with your permission, I will now leave for his side. My grandmother is also eager to see me. Desiring this, she has affectionately summoned me through the mouths of many. Seeing one’s grandfather and grandmother brings joy. I seek your permission to go to their side.” They heard his words, which were uttered with a great deal of respect. Their eyes filled with tears of great joy. They embraced the immensely fortunate one and lovingly inhaled the fragrance of his head. Both of them congratulated him and offered their benedictions. “O son! Leave happily for your grandfather’s house. On seeing you, your grandfather and grandmother will be delighted. Having gone there, follow the norms and serve them. O child! For some time, reside happily in that house. But do not remain there for a very long period of time. You have our permission. Go there safely and see them. We are incapable of subsisting for even an instant without seeing our son. Therefore, you should not remain in your grandfather’s house for a very long period of time. The immensely intelligent circumambulated them and prostrated himself. Taking the permission of his parents, he went to his grandfather’s house.”
“Rama went and entered the hermitage of the great-souled Richika, the noble descendant of the Bhrigu lineage. The place was adorned by the sage and his shishyas. The loud and extensive sounds of recitation echoed in every direction. It was full of every kind of agreeable creature, the natural enmity of creatures pacified. He entered the beautiful hermitage. Richika was seated on a seat. Rama saw his grandfather in front of him. Like a sacrificial fire, he blazed in his austerities. Like Dakshina serving a sacrifice, he was being served by Satyavati (Richika’s wife). The two of them saw that Rama was approaching their presence. “Who is this, blazing amidst a heap of austerities? He is being worshipped by all the auspicious signs. He is a child, but seems to be strong, serious and humble.” They thought in this way, their minds full of joy and curiosity. Full of humility, Rama gradually approached them. The intelligent one stated his own name and gotra. Full of joy, he touched the feet of his grandparents with his head and hands and greeted them. With delight in their minds, they raised up the excellent one. They greeted him separately and pronounced their blessings. With tears of joy flowing from their eyes, they embraced him and made him sit on their laps. They glanced at his face, which was like a lotus, and were filled with great happiness. When the extender of the lineage was happily seated, the couple asked him about his welfare. As asked, he told them everything about himself, his parents and his brothers, and about their activities. Because of the qualities of their affection, Rama was delighted and resided in the house of his father’s parents. He caused delight in the minds of all creatures. Devoted to serving them, he resided there for some months. The great-souled and noble descendant of the Bhrigu lineage then sought their permission. He wished to visit the abode and hermitage of his grandfather’s father. Full of joy, they congratulated him and uttered their blessings. As instructed by them, he proceeded towards Ourva’s hermitage.”
“In the due way, he prostrated himself before the great ascetic who was Chyavana’s son. Having received the permission, he went to the hermitage of the descendant of the Bhrigu lineage and was delighted. It was surrounded by other hermitages, those of sages who were serene in their minds. He saw him, surrounded by them in all directions. There was cool and gentle shade, with the qualities of all the seasons. There were trees full of flowers and fruits and he was delighted. There were sounds of the calls of many kinds of birds and it was pleasant to the ears. Every direction echoed with many kinds of chants about the Brahman. In every direction, there were mantras, oblations, offerings of ghee, smoke and fragrances. The fragrance of the floods of ghee wafted everywhere in the forest. On all sides, the place was ornamented with kindling, kusha, staffs, girdles and deerskins, brought there by the sons of sages. It was ornamented by the daughters of sages roaming around in every direction. They held vessels full of flowers and water in their hands. The shade extended up to the outer limits of the cottages. Without any hesitation and without any fear, herds of does rested there, along with their fawns. Peacocks and peahens called in melodious tones, starting the tandava dance. Heaps of nivara grain were scattered around there, left to dry in the shade, near the spot where the sounds of the deer could be heard. But they did not eat up even a single grain. At the right time, the sacrificial fire was kindled and atithis who came were honoured. All the Smriti texts were read and there was discussion about the meaning of the Shruti texts. Sacrifices to devas and ancestors commenced. There were many people who were ascetics. The sacred spot enhanced austerities and brought happiness to all beings. It brought joy and was like another Brahma’s world. He entered humbly, like a performer of good deeds entering the abode of the immortals.”
“Rama entered and approached his great-grandfather. He saw him there, surrounded by hundreds of sages and shishyas. He was seated in the middle of the altar, on a mat of kusha grass, intent on explaining. He had a white beard and matted hair. He was adorned with a sacred thread meant for the Brahmanas, made out of kusha grass. His right leg was on his left thigh and his left knee was on his right thigh (as in padmasana). In words that were full of subtle meaning, he was explaining the Aranyaka texts and the best among sages heard. Rama saw his great-souled great-grandfather and approached slowly. Ourva, immeasurable in his atman, was content at his arrival. He stopped the conversation and looked at him. Rama approached, his head lowered in humility. When Rama was blessed, greeted and seated, Ourva looked at him and asked him questions about his welfare. “O child! Is all well with you? Are your parents well? What about your brothers and your father’s parents? Why have you come here? Have you been instructed to do so, or did you come on your own?” Rama answered everything that had been asked by the great-souled one.”
“Rama remained in that hermitage for some days, seeking to bring pleasure through everything he did. On one occasion, Ourva told Rama, “O child! Come.” He summoned him and took him aside to a secluded spot. Pleased in the core of his heart, Rama stood before him. Ourva pronounced his blessings and greeted him. He glanced affectionately at Rama. “O child! Listen to the words that I am about to speak to you now. This is for your welfare, for our welfare and for the welfare of all the worlds. Follow my command and go to the great mountain, Himalaya. Leave this hermitage now. Make up your mind to perform austerities. Having gone there, construct an auspicious hermitage. Practice niyamas and austerities and worship Mahadeva. With your unmatched devotion, within a short period of time, please him. You will obtain great benefit from him. As a result of your devotion, Shankara will swiftly be pleased. He will then satisfy every desire that exists in your mind. Shankara is affectionate towards his devotees. When the lord of the universe is pleased, as a boon, ask him for all the weapons that you desire. This is for your welfare and to accomplish an extremely difficult task for the devas. This difficult task can only be accomplished with a lot of weapons. Therefore, you must worship Shankara, the divinity who is the lord of the devas. If you are full of great devotion, you will obtain what you wish for.”
First published on the Open Magazine
Reproduced here with permission from Dr. Bibek Debroy