In popular tradition Parashurama is known to get his name as
Parashurama from his weapon ‘parashu’, one he battled with all-through
his life and had the credit of destroying with it all Kshatriya kings
twenty-one times. Unlike many other paintings that portray him as
normal hued, this painting in brilliant Pahari art style represents
him as blue-bodied, obviously for indicating his Vaishnava links.
Kartaveerya, a Kshatriya king also known as Kartaveerya Arjuna, had
obtained his one thousand arms by a boon from Lord Ganesh after his
long rigorous penance dedicated to him. His one thousand arms gave him
yet another name as Sahastrarjuna.
As various Puranas have it, once upon a time there lived a great sage
Jamdagni, one in the hierarchy of great Indian saints like Bharadwaj,
Bhragu, Vashishtha among others. He had an illustrious son Parashurama
whom gods had given their celestial cow Kamadhenu, the fulfiller of
everything desired. Once when leaving Kamadhenu in his father’s
custody Parashurama was away for penance, Kartaveerya happened to
visit the hermitage of Jamdagni. The sage summoned Kamadhenu to
provide food for the king and his retinue and Kamadhenu did it.
Astonished by the cow’s divine power Kartaveerya wished to take it
with him. Jamdagni declined and opposed it, particularly as he was its
mere custodian not entitled to give it to any one. However, the greedy
king resorted to force and carried the cow forcibly to his kingdom.
After Parashurama came back and heard about the misconduct of
Kartaveerya, he decided to punish the king and destroy him for his
misdeed. His father Jamdagni tried to cool him but he did not hear
him. He argued that there would be no rule of law if the king himself
began looting and acted against the holy ones. He sent a word of
challenge to Kartaveerya but instead of returning his cow or
apologizing for his misdeed he declared war against Parashurama. The
worst as it was, to his utter disgust all Kshatriya kings rose against
him and rallied behind Kartaveerya. Thereupon Parashurama singly
fought against them and destroyed all Kshatriya kings, Kartaveerya
being the last. The enmity was deeper rooted. Generations after
generations Kshatriya kings rose against Parashurama and each time he
destroyed them. He destroyed them twenty-one times. It was finally in
the form of Rama that the rule of law was restored and after
Parashurama realised it he gave up his crusade against Kshatriya
Different from this Puranic position the popular tradition contends
that while forcibly taking away Kamadhenu Kartaveerya also killed
Jamdagni. By her divine powers his mother Renuka preserved her
husband’s body till her son returned. After he came back she narrated
to him the atrocities of Kartaveerya and commanded him to punish him.
Parashurama not only defeated all Kartaveerya’s allies but also
brought him to his mother and in fury for his misdeed cut all his
wrong-doing hands before finally killing him. This is what most of the
paintings, as this one, represent.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.
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