Parashuram's Pledge - Only Mahadev can help

Parashuram's Pledge - Only Mahadev can help

Parashuram's Pledge - Only Mahadev can help

I will skip the story about Kartavirya Arjuna, the Haihaya king who killed Jamadagni, Parashurama’s father, because he coveted Jamadagni’s kamadhenu. This story is well-known. Jamadagni was revived. However, before Jamadagni was revived, Renuka, Jamadagni’s wife and Parashurama’s mother, beat her stomach in lamentation 21 times. Therefore, Parashurama vowed that he would exterminate Kshatriyas from earth, 21 times. Jamadagni did not approve of this vow. He advised Parashurama to go to Brahma. I suspect some people may not know details of what happened next. Here it is, from Brahmanda Purana.

Brahma said, “O child! In your rage, you have taken a pledge that will be extremely difficult to carry out. O young Brahmana! Because of Bhagavan’s favours, this creation became possible. O son! Following his command, with a great deal of effort, I created the universe. You have taken an oath that will lead to its destruction. You desire to exterminate kings from the earth 21 times. That is because of the sin of a single king and because your father suffered. The eternal creation of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras repeatedly originates from Hari and dissolves into him. Therefore, the pledge that you have already taken must fail. But there is a way whereby your task may easily meet with success. Go to Shiva’s world and obtain Shiva’s permission. There are many kings on earth who are Shankara’s servants. Without the command of Lord Mahesha, who can kill them? They wear radiant armour on their limbs. They possess spears that are impossible to assail. Make efforts and seek methods to obtain the auspicious seed of victory. If one starts with the right method, everything one attempts can be accomplished. From your guru, Hara [Shiva], accept the kavacha of Shri Krishna mantra. [In general, kavacha means armour. More specifically, it is an amulet over which mantras have been pronounced. Or the mantra itself is a kavacha.) Without Shiva’s strength, it is extremely difficult to vanquish Vishnu’s energy [which was there in Kartavirya Arjuna]. The kavacha named trailokya-vijaya [literally, conquest of the three worlds] is extremely wonderful. Inform Shankara about everything accurately and obtain what is extremely difficult to get. He is compassionate and affectionate towards those who are distressed. Pleased with your qualities, there is no doubt that he will also give the divine pashupata weapon.”

So, Parashurama went to Shiva’s world. It was one hundred thousand yojanas above Brahma’s world and could not be discerned or described. It was greater than the greatest and only yogis could reach it. Vaikuntha’s [Vishnu’s] world was to its right, and Gouri’s world was to its left. It was above all the worlds, and Dhruva’s world was above it. Because of the energy of his austerities, Rama went to Shiva’s world and saw it. It was unmatched and was full of many kinds of curious objects. Indras among yogis and siddhas who followed the auspicious Pashupata vow resided there. There were serene people, devoid of jealousy, who had earned good merits through crores of kalpas of austerities. It was full of foremost trees like parijata [one of the five trees in heaven, the coral tree]. It was adorned with kamadhenus. Using yoga, the yogi Shankara had created it, following his own will. Even the preceptor of artisans, Vishvakarma, had not seen it. There were hundreds of divine lakes, radiant with rubies. It was adorned and extremely beautiful, equipped with bejewelled altars. It was surrounded by ramparts, decorated with gold and jewels. It was extremely lofty, rising up to touch the sky. It was clear, with the hue of milk. There were four gates, adorned with bejewelled altars. There were red flights of stairs and bejewelled pillars and steps that led down into the water. It was decorated with many colourful paintings and was extremely charming. There was a beautiful residence in the centre, adorned with a principal gate. Rama, with dharma in his soul, saw it and was filled with wonder. He saw two gatekeepers stationed there, and they were extremely terrible. Their teeth were extremely cruel. Their eyes were red and malformed. They were extremely strong and valiant and resembled mountains that had been burnt. Their limbs were smeared with ashes and they were attired in garments made out of tiger-skin. They blazed with the energy of the Brahman and held tridents and spears. On seeing them, his mind was slightly scared. Humbly, he said something. “I prostrate myself before you two lords. I have come here to see Shankara. Please ascertain Ishvara’s command. Having obtained his permission, you should allow me to enter.” Having heard his words, those two went and obtained Shiva’s permission. Obtaining the permission, Ishvara’s two companions permitted him to enter. Having obtained the permission, he happily entered the inner quarters. There, the dvija saw an extremely beautiful assembly hall, full of large numbers of siddhas. Seeing this, filled with many kinds of fragrances, he was filled with wonder. He saw the serene three-eyed Shiva Chandrashekhara there. His hand was adorned with a trident and his garment was an excellent tiger skin. His limbs were smeared with ashes and his sacred thread was made out of a naga. He was delighted within his own atman and had accomplished all his desires. His radiance was equal to that of one crore suns. He had five faces and 10 arms. This was an image that showed favours to devotees. Using tarka-mudra, he was speaking about yoga and jnana to the siddhas. He was being happily praised by Indras among yogis and groups of pramathas. He was surrounded by bhairavas and yoginis and groups of Rudras. On seeing him, Rama was filled with great delight. He lowered his head and prostrated himself. Kartikeya was to his left and Ganeshvara to his right. Nandishvara, Mahakala and Virabhadra were in front. He saw Durga, with one-hundred arms, seated on his lap and prostrated himself before her too. [Tarka-mudra means the posture adopted for debating and arguing. The tip of the thumb touches the index finger. The other fingers are close together and are held out straight. Tarka-mudra specifically refers to the position of the hands, rather than the overall posture. It is also known as jnana-mudra.]

In faltering words, Parashurama praised Shiva. “I prostrate myself before the lord Shiva Ishana. You are the one who does not decay and you are the one who pervades. You are fierce, with serpents as ornaments. You wear a radiant garland of human skulls. You are the creator of all the worlds, the one who undertakes creation, preservation and destruction. You are the eldest one, assuming the form of Brahma and the others. I know you as an ocean of compassion. The Vedas are incapable of praising you. You cannot be reached through speech or thoughts. You cannot be obtained through jnana or intelligence. You are without form. I prostrate myself before you. Shakra and the other large number of gods, rishis, humans and asuras do not know the truth about you. I prostrate myself before the one who is greater than the greatest. All the worlds, with their mobile and immobile objects, are created from your portion. They dissolve again into you. I prostrate myself before the one who pervades the universe. The fire that results from the slightest bit of your anger burns down everything, from the upper worlds to the nether regions. I prostrate myself before the supreme Hara. Your eight forms deserve to be worshipped by the universe— as earth, wind, fire, water, space, the person who performs a sacrifice, the moon and the sun. I prostrate myself before the one who is the sacrifice. You assume the form of Kala. You are the original creator of the universe. You are the preserver. In your large and fierce form, you pervade the universe. At the end, you assume the form of Rudra and destroy again. I seek refuge in your form as Kala.” Saying this, the delighted Bhargava eagerly fell down at his feet.

The ocean of compassion raised him up with his left hand and placed his other hand on his head. He greeted him and uttered his blessings. Affectionately, he placed him in front of Ganesha. The eyes of the one who fulfils every wish were wet with compassion. He glanced at his wife Uma and spoke. Shiva said, “O Brahmana boy! Who are you? Whose lineage have you been born in? For what purpose have you come here? Please tell us. I am pleased with your sentiments of devotion. I will grant you whatever is in your mind.” Parashurama told him what he wanted and Durga laughed at this. “You are the son of a dvija and an ascetic. O great Brahmana boy! In your rage and rashness, you wish to eliminate kings from earth 21 times. Without any weapons, you wish to kill the lord Arjuna, who possesses one thousand arms. Through the playful furrowing of his eyebrows, even Ravana was rebuffed. In ancient times, Shri Hari gave him a kavacha and a spear that possesses excessive energy. How do you desire to kill him? Other than Ishvara Shankara, no one else is capable of performing this virtuous task.” This was Durga’s signal to Shiva that he should grant Parashurama’s wish. In the next column, I will tell you what Shiva did.

First published on The Open Magazine.

Reproduced here with permission from Dr. Bibek Debroy.