parashurAmAyaNa-s and kArtavIryArjunIyaM-s

The one great hero of our clan, the omnipresent and poly-faceted symbol of brahmin-hood lives a strange life in the Hindu mythosphere. rAmo-bhargava has become an avatAra puruSha of nArAyaNa but hardly enjoys the status of devakI-putra or his name sake of the ikShvAku clan. There are no major mantra-s devoted to him, and even in the mahAbhArata where he makes a prominent appearance, only next the main protagonist avatAra-s, the devakI-putra and baladeva, he is only once called an avatAra. Yet, starting from the mahAbhArata he has an increasingly prominent place in the Hindu mythosphere of the paurANic realm appearing all over over the place in addition to his main encounter with the haihaya king kArtavIryArjuna and his priest, datta the atri. He is seen roguishly barging into shiva’ s abode and enters into a fight with vinAyaka where he is said to break his tusk. The fierce bhArgava also fights kumAra several times and is soundly beaten by the god. He is said to have received a mace from kumAra that he wielded with great ability in his many battles. He is seen transmitting shrIvidyA in the form of the kaula kalpa-sUtras from dattAtreya to sumedhas. Elsewhere, he is shown teaching kalki the ways of war for the final destruction of the mlechCha-s and dasyu-s who are overruning bhAratavarSha. Despite his vast popularity he does not receive the devotions like those rAmachandra and kR^iShNa, nor his story widely followed like the rAmAyaNa or the harivaMsha.

Nevertheless, there are a series of circum-paurANic texts that go under the title parashurAmAyaNa that provide a description of his exploits in epic proportions. Most of them are hardly known to the modern Hindu and the accounts are zealously held by the knowledgeable bhArgava families. The bhR^iguvaMsha, the bhArgava-rAma itihAsaM and bhArgava-rAmAyaNa are the main volume preserved by the bhArgava-s whose incomplete and crumbling manuscripts were written in an old Telugu script and hence I was unable to handle successfully with my poor epigraphic skills. However, the preservation of major portions of the bhArgava lore was effected by an obscure scholarly Maratha chieftain sAbAjI pratap between the 1500-1600 CE who ruled a jAgIr in the regions south of Ahmednagar. sAbAji collected the above texts and some others like the agastya mAhAtmyaM, dattAtreya purANa (from which I narrated a couple of accounts earlier), kArtavIryArjunIyaM and the closely related parashurAmAyaNa. He compiled from these a trilogy titled: parashurAma-pratApa, bhArgavArchana-dIpikA and bhR^igu-vaMsha-mahAkAvya rendering in classical poetic form the prose of the older bhR^iguvaMsha.

I came across divergent versions of the tale of our ancestress reNukA. We narrated the version of her death due to the sons of the haihaya earlier. This is followed by the dattAtreya purANa and bhR^igu-vaMsha (and its mahAkAvya). The bhArgavArchana-dIpikA mentions another peculiar tale: jamadagnI was killed by tAlaja~ngha and others while he was performing japa. reNuka readies to cremate him, and moved by the pangs of separation herself jumps into the funeral pyre. At this point indra rescues her from the flames and finds that her body is full of blisters. He sends a cooling shower on her and then appoints her as the deity of viral skin infections, commonly called shItalA.

When we were young we were read the remarkable tale of shAndimat from the bhR^iguvaMsha: rAmo-bhArgava had a spectacular golden gem-studded crown given by indra that he wore when campaigning against the 21 generations of kShatriya-s. After the blood bath was over and he had performed the yaj~na to indra, he decided to place the glorious crown in a secret island as wealth for the bhR^igu-s. It is said for this purpose he chose the island of shAndimat that was surrounded by “sea monsters”, whales and sharks and inhabited by diverse sharabha-s and bheruNDa-s. It was there that he built a fort in the middle of the sea and deposited his crown amongst precious shells and pearls. The day I heard this tale I had a dream of the going to the shandimat island and recovering the wealth of my ancient clansman. I have had repeats of this dream and it has never ceased to fascinate me when I have had it. There is an inscription of a choLa king, where he claims to have recovered the crown of the bhArgava.

This entry was posted in Heathen thought. Bookmark the permalink.