by Alain Secretan (ASITRAC) on Flickr is licensed
under CC BY 2.0
His mouth Silenced,
His Axe did the Speaking,
But Obedient as Hell,
O Mighty Warrior,
Allow me to Nourish your Story
A fact is everybody's truth. Fiction is nobody's truth. A myth is somebody's truth.
- Devdutt Pattanaik
ndia, the land of Gods and sages. Whether it's a figment of human imagination or a fragment of a lost reality, it does not matter to me. I'm just a silent witness in the debate between fact and fiction. I'm largely more interested in stories and their intricacies. Although, some even defeats logic, you can't complain about the creativity behind it. Here is someone whom I think is one of the most interesting character in this culture. When I write stories on Hinduism, it's not in terms of a religion, but rather a geographical location that got shaped by an ancient culture so rich that it survives even today.
If you know a little bit about Indian epics like the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, we can get a tiny glimpse of who Paraśurāma is. Unfortunately, he is perceived more as a supporting or side character. However, the depth of this character lies in his own story. So, this is my attempt to write about the unsung stories of Indian mythology. Paraśurāma's life is largely associated with social issues like the caste system and the political corruption of those days which led him to take up arms and follow the warrior path. He went on fighting against everything that he perceived as unrighteous. He is highly regarded as the epitome of a warrior. In order to narrate this story, it's important to provide some context.
Vishnu, the sustainer of the Universe is said to have 10 avatars (not the movie) or incarnations. One of them is Paraśurāma, the 'hero' of this story. I'm a little hesitant to call him a hero since his method sounds quite provocative. Maybe, he is more of an antihero but definitely not a villain. Some scholars have gone to the extent of claiming that India had the knowledge of human beings evolving from a lower life form to a higher life form, long before Charles Darwin suggested the Theory of Evolution. The ancient sages of this land knew how to speed up the evolutionary process so that a person can attain to his/her ultimate nature. Yoga is a method to evolve the human being consciously rather than leaving it to the slow process of nature.
When you were a monkey, you did not choose to become a man. Nature just pushed you on. When you are in animal nature, evolution anyway happens – you don't really have to participate in it. But once you become human, once a certain level of consciousness has come, there is no more unconscious evolution for you. Only if you consciously seek, it will happen.
The Dashavatar or the 10 avatars are said to be a representation of evolution, not just of the life form, but of consciousness itself. It portrays the shift from a lower dimension of consciousness to a higher level of consciousness. The Latin term Homo Sapiens literally means 'wise men' because we recognized that we are the only species that are aware of our own consciousness, hence the term Homo Sapiens Sapiens. In other words, man that is aware that he is aware.
The erection of the spine worked as a catalyst in our evolution. This evolutionary breakthrough opened new dimensions of intelligence which made us who we are. That's why in Hinduism, a human birth is considered to be sacred because of the higher possibilities that comes with it. Man is the culmination of the animal kingdom. However, this also indicates that the human consciousness is not bereft of devolution. Although, there is indeed a correlation between the Dashavatar and Darwin's theory, to my knowledge there is no hardcore evidence that it's true. Therefore, this is merely an interpretation which is not to be taken in a literal sense but nevertheless, remains an interesting observation!
Here is a list of the ten incarnations in order:
- Matsya - fish/water life
- Kurma - Turtle (Amphibious | land & water life)
- Vāraha - Boar (land creature only)
- Nara-Simha - Anthropomorphic | Half man, half lion (First partial human form)
- Vāmana - First human form but a dwarf (usually associated with Neanderthals)
- Paraśurāma - Full fledged human but primitive and emotionally volatile
- Rāma - Peaceful human being but single-dimensional
- Krishna - Multi-dimensional being (regarded as a complete incarnation)
- Buddha - Meditative man in pursuit of the true nature of the human life
- Kālki - A mystical man
We can observe a polymorphism from one incarnation to the next; The transition of life form from aquatics to amphibians and finally into terrestrial beings. This also brings up the whole notion in Yoga that further evolution of the human body is not possible in terms of neurological growth. The brain cannot grow further but we can use it better. We have reached the peak of our evolutionary process. From here, only transcendence is possible. Each avatar came with certain tendencies which revealed their nature but their purpose were similar, to restore righteousness. This may seem mind-boggling at this point but you may be familiar with Indian festivals associated with some of the avatars.
- Nara-Simha - Holi, the festival of colours
- Vāmana - Onam (remarks the end of monsoon season and the arrival of the harvesting season, celebrated in Kerala, India)
- Rama - Ram Navami (Rama's birth) and Diwali, the festival of light
- Krishna - Krishna Janmāshtami (marks the birth of Krishna) and Rakshā Bandhan (celebrates the bond between siblings)
- Buddha - Buddha Purnima (commemorates the full moon day when Gautama, the first Buddha got enlightened)
The Caste System
The Caste System was an improved version of another law in the ancient Indian subcontinent known as Matsya Nyaya (fish law), the fundamental law of nature that small fish become prey to big fish or the strong devour the weak. It was obviously a 'fishy' law. As the Indus Valley Civilization was evolving, there was still no constitution or proper laws that would govern and maintain order in society. Therefore, they came up with a system which classified people into four categories:
The Caste System has existed for thousands of years. It was invented to create a division of labor and establish a social structure. It is only over a period of time that it became a means for exploitation. It came to a point where no overlapping was allowed. So that meant, if you are a Vaishya, you cannot change your profession to that of a Brahmin or a Kshatriya. One reason was to prevent workforce saturation in any of these categories. For instance, if everybody aspired to become warriors, there would be no planters left to produce food. However, the real motive was to establish superiority. That was the start of caste discrimination as we know it today.
The Brahmins felt they were superior because they had all the knowledge; Kshatriyas felt they were superior since they were the ruling class; Vaishyas claimed their superiority for they were involved in business affairs and catered for the mass; A goldsmith thought he was better than a blacksmith although the latter's contribution was far more valuable to the society. Everytime, there is a new social structure that takes shape, social hierarchy is bound to happen. The Caste system was not intended to become that way but I guess that's just human nature!
When the British colonized India, they used the 'divide and conquer' approach to gain control and rule the population. The Caste System was a perfect tool to create further division and achieve their goal.
The story begins..
Paraśurāma was the son of sage Jamadagni and his wife Renuka. Of their five sons, he was the youngest. Though he was born in a Brahmin family, people observed that he carried a number of Kshatriya traits such as aggression, warfare and valor. He was also known to have a short temper but his strong obedience towards his parents kept him docile. As was the tradition in those times, sage Jamadagni raised cows for a living. India being a pastoral society, cows were the backbone of the economy and the livelihood of a family. In that context, a cow was regarded as a mother. Killing or harming one was considered a sacrilege.
According to mythological accounts, sage Jamadagni had a peculiar cow called Kamadhenu, the wish-fulfilling celestial cow. The country was then ruled by Haihayas, a certain clan of Kshatriyas. Kartavirya Arjuna was the king of the ancient Haihayas kingdom in the current state of Madhya Pradesh. He happened to visit the hermitage of Jamadagni along with his army. With the help of Kamadhenu, the sage was able to feed his guests with utmost hospitality. This incident caught the attention of Kartavirya Arjuna. When he saw that Kamadhenu was not an ordinary cow, he had only one thing on his mind, to acquire Kamadhenu. The king demanded the cow for the betterment of his subjects but the sage refused. Jamadagni needed the cow for his rituals. He also asserted that the celestial cow was not to be exploited for petty desires. Enraged by this act, the tyrant king seized the cow by force and took her away.
Paraśurāma had left home to the mountains and sat in meditation. He underwent severe penances as an offering to Shiva. Pleased by his devotion, Shiva appeared and asked him what he wanted. Paraśurāma wanted to learn martial arts from Shiva himself and acquire divine weapons known as Astras. Shiva then taught him the ancient martial art of Kalaripayattu. He also gave him his own axe 'Parashu' which became his main weapon. Hence, from Rāma, he became known as Paraśurāma, the beholder of the axe Parashu.
Just now, Adiyogi (Shiva) is sitting in full flow, no better place, and he will not interfere. Even in Mahabharata, he was just there. People went to him; whoever asked for whatever, he gave them; you asked for a boon, you got it. Tomorrow, your enemy went and asked for a boon, he got it. Now you will think, is this my God? But that's how he is, so better be careful; because he doesn't see you as a friend or nor does he see somebody else as an enemy; Because he's closed his two eyes and he's got only one eye. So, he can't distinguish who is who. Whoever comes with the right kind of receptivity, he gets it.
Mahabharat - Saga Nonpareil
Parashurama and sage Agastya are regarded as the founders of Kalaripayattu, the oldest martial art in the world. Parashurama was a master in the art of weaponry, as taught to him by Shiva. As such, he developed northern Kalaripayattu, with more emphasis on weapons. Southern Kalaripayattu was developed by Agastya, and focuses more on weaponless combat. Kalaripayattu is known as the 'mother of all martial arts'.
Equipped with divine astras and Shiva's boon, Paraśurāma was undefeatable. After years of intense Sadhana (austerities), he returned home only to find out the tragedy that had befallen on his family. In a fit of rage, he went to the palace of Kartavirya Arjuna to reclaim Kamadhenu. He found the helpless cow and his anger intensified. So, he challenged the king in a duel and killed him. Paraśurāma rescued Kamadhenu and returned home but his father reprimanded him as it was not in the nature of a Brahmin to exercise violence. Sage Jamadagni then ordered him to go on a pilgrimage to atone for his crime.
The sons of Kartavirya Arjuna were furious. They dared not challenge Paraśurāma but they could not resist their longing for revenge. They headed towards sage Jamadagni's hermitage where he was deep in meditation. With Paraśurāma nowhere in sight, they attacked the sage and killed him. On his return from the pilgrimage, Paraśurāma learned that the sons of Kartavirya Arjuna had killed his father who was unarmed and innocent. In absolute desolation, he contemplated on how his actions had engineered the death of his father. However, he could not find a way to work out his despondency.
Slowly, his mind became still and he started to analyze the situation. The fact that the sons of Kartavirya Arjuna were still alive fueled a burning sensation within him. He concluded that Kshatriyas had gone too far in their dominion over society. If this continued, society would degenerate into a state of anarchy. By now, Paraśurāma had lost his power of discrimination. He was unwilling to make the distinction between the noble Kshatriyas and the corrupt ones. This one incident made him so cold-hearted that he swore to wipe off the entire Kshatriya clan from the face of the earth. This is an unfortunate reality in the history of humanity. The cycle of revenge and avenge goes on endlessly.. (to be continued in Part 2 ).