"Parasurama Temple, Thiruvallam (Kerala, India)"
    by Alain Secretan (ASITRAC) on Flickr is licensed
    under CC BY 2.0


n  Part 1, we explored the incidents that made Paraśurāma take the terrible vow of exterminating the Kshatriya clan (warrior class). From a simple Brahmin, he became a fierce and ruthless warrior. He could not come to terms with the affront that the Kshatriyas did to his clan. Equipped with Shiva's boon and axe, he became almost invincible.

Paraśurāma challenged every warriors in the land and enacted a genocide on the Kshatriya caste causing a bloodbath. With the blood of the dead warriors, he created five lakes which was known as Samanta Panchak, and later came to be known as Kurukshetra. This is the battlefield where the Mahabharata was fought. Later, Kshatriyas believed that by taking a dip in the 'bloody' ponds, they would become indomitable warriors. The situation got worse as Paraśurāma was unstoppable. Finally, his dead ancestors appeared and told him to desist from his revenge. Having raged and ranged for a very long time, Paraśurāma withdrew into the mountains and lived as a hermit.

Bhishma and Paraśurāma Fighting
Credit: indiadivine.org

The Swayamvara

Besides offering his axe to Paraśurāma which became his main weapon, Shiva also gave him his bow called 'Pināka'. In the ancient Indian warfare, archery was the most common weapon in the battlefield compared to sword fighting which was also in usage. After the war, Paraśurāma gave away his bow to King Janaka of Mithila for safe-keeping and then withdrew into the mountain to perform penances. Mithila was the capital city of the Videha kingdom in ancient Nepal as per the epic Ramayana situated between the foothills of the Himalayas and River Ganga. Although King Janaka was a Kshatriya, Paraśurāma had no enmity with him as his disdain for Kshatriyas was now over. King Janaka was known to be an enlightened king and a self-realized Yogi. He was a Raja-Rishi that is a king who is also a sage. Janaka had a daughter called Sita. The following story is part of the Ramayana epic.

When Sita became of a certain age, King Janaka decided to organize a Swayamvara. Swayamvara was an ancient Indian tradition where a girl who is typically from a royal family gets to choose her husband by putting a garland around his neck. This is usually followed by a test of worthiness. One condition that was set by King Janaka was that the participants in the Swayamvara should be able to lift the Pināka bow and tie its string. The catch was that only a handful of advanced warriors could handle this weapon. Others could not even lift it.

Pināka was the bow that Prince Rama of Ayodhya broke during the Swayamvara in the Ramayana to marry Sita. Unlike the other princes, Rama bowed down before the weapon. To everyone's amazement, he was the only one who was able to lift the bow. It is believed that Rama was successful in his endeavour not because he was an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, but since he prostrated and surrendered himself to the weapon in total humility. But, in the process of being strung, the peerless Pināka snapped into half. The reverberation of the bow breaking could be heard across the city of Mithila. As a result, Rama demonstrated his warrior prowess and won the hand of Sita in marriage.

Credit - Ramayana: The Legend of Prince Rama

Paraśurāma was in deep meditation atop the Mahendra Mountains. A terrifying roaring sound suddenly sprung from nowhere and disturbed his meditation. Through his yogic concentration, he instantly realized that someone had broken Pināka, the bow given to him none other than Shiva himself. Kshatriyas (warriors) had a deep relation with their weapons. They treated them with utmost respect. He was infuriated and immediately headed towards King Janaka's kingdom. At the same time, he was curious as to who could have accomplished such a feat. After all, Pināka was not an ordinary bow.

Rama breaks Shiva's bow to win Sita's hand

Meanwhile, a crowd was celebrating Rama's achievement and the wedding preparation had started. In that moment appeared an intimidating figure with a dreadlocked knot on his head. Totally uncouth in his appearance and his fiery eyes, Paraśurāma made quite the impression in Janaka's court. Worse still were his menacing weapons, a huge bow in his left hand and a battle axe on his right shoulder. When he learned that Rama was responsible for breaking Shiva's mighty bow, he wanted to test his skills on an equally powerful bow. Blinded by fury and proud of his warrior prowess, Paraśurāma raised his massive bow and challenged Rama if he could string Sharanga, the bow of Vishnu and fight a duel with him.

Paraśurāma Encounters Rama
Paraśurāma Encounters Rama

What's interesting about this story is that both Rama and Paraśurāma are partial aspects of Vishnu, the sustainer of the Universe. The difference is that Rama was a more evolved consciousness and therefore, more stable and equanimous compared to Paraśurāma who was ruled by volatile impulses and emotions. In that sense, Paraśurāma is not really an avatar like the other incarnations. He represents what is known as an "Avesham." Vishnu took this incarnation to destroy the Kings who had neglected their duty and instead had become a burden to Mother Earth.  His stance is considered Avesham or irate.

Paraśurāma was an avesham avatar to begin with, the rishi Jamadagneya who had the shakti of Vishnu infued into him. Not a full descent of the shakti into a separate body. That did not mean his power was less but there were constraints on how and where it could act.

– Rohit Arya

Here they were, the two incarnations of Vishnu standing next to each other. After having cast the challenge, Paraśurāma glared at Rama who was calm as a breeze. Rama's allure and the way he stood did not fail to leave an impression on Paraśurāma. Such was Rama's persona that even Paraśurāma could not resist gazing at him in awe. In that state, Rama respectfully bowed before Paraśurāma and within a twinkling of an eyelid, he snatched the bow of Vishnu from him. Even before a perplexed Paraśurāma could react, Rama bent the bow, strung it and pointed the arrow towards the axe-wielding hermit.

Credit: Isha Foundation

With an air of authority, Rama gave Paraśurāma two options. He could either shoot him in the leg to disable him or aim at all the powers that he had acquired through years of intense meditation. Paraśurāma chose to sacrifice his mystical powers. In other versions of the story, the moment Rama got the Sharanga bow in his possession, Paraśurāma lost his powers as an avatar which got transferred to Rama as if returning to its source. Paraśurāma was taken aback by the brilliance of Rama. The confidence and the ease with which Rama maneuvered the bow told Paraśurāma that it had reached its owner. "This must be Vishnu", he concluded. The warrior-sage realized that he was looking at his own subsequent reincarnation. With this realization, Paraśurāma prostrated in front of Rama and acknowledged him as an avatar. The upholder of Dharma (righteousness) became Rama's mission.

Rama, the equanimous warrior

Encountering Dattatreya

For the first time in his life, Paraśurāma had tasted defeat and he returned crestfallen. Rama had not just taken away his powers, but also the ego that he was carrying all the time. Mortified by defeat, the Kshatriya slayer realised the vanity of the ways of the world, thus planting the seed of self-enquiry in him. As he was walking, he unexpectedly met sage Samvarta who kindled his pursuit for the highest truth. The sage then directed him to seek Dattatreya as his Guru. Dattatreya is known as the Lord of Yoga and is considered to be the presiding deity for the path of Yoga. Datta meaning ‘given’ and Atreya referring to ‘Sage Atri’ who was Dattatreya's biological father [Source: speakingtree.in].

I have noticed that Samvarta is quite happy, being completely free from any sense of obligation to act. He seems to laugh at the ways of the world, to stride unconcerned up the road of fearlessness, like a majestic elephant refreshing itself in a lake of melted snow when the surrounding forest is on fire. I found him absolutely free from any sense of obligation and at the same time perfectly happy in his realisation of Eternal Being. How did he gain that state? And what did he tell me? Kindly explain these points, and so rescue me from the jaws of the monster of Karma.

– Excerpt from Tripura Rahasya

Dattatreya is referred as an "Avadhuta," someone who is free from the Gunas, the three basic qualities of existence namely Rajas (activity, passion), Tamas (inertia or compulsion) and  Sattva (breaking of boundaries, dissolution and merging). Using this analogy, we can say that Paraśurāma was in a state of Tamas because he was driven by his hot temper. By being in contact with Rama (Sattva), he developed an awareness about his compulsive state or Tamasic nature. Sage Samvarta acted as a guide (Rajas) by telling him to seek Dattatreya as his Guru. Gu means 'darkness' which also symbolises Tamas. Ru means 'dispeller.' Thus, by seeking the Guru, the dispeller of darkness, Paraśurāma would transcend the Gunas.

If you invest in tamas, you will be powerful in one way. If you invest in rajas, you will be powerful in a different way. If you invest in sattva, you will be powerful in a completely different way. But if you go beyond all this, it is no longer about power, it is about liberation.
– Sadhguru

Credit: molee on DevianArt

When Paraśurāma saw Dattatreya, he simply looked at him with devotion. Putting his axe down for the last time, he prostrated himself before the Guru. He expressed his predicament to the sage and asked Dattatreya to accept him as his disciple. Sensing the pain of ignorance tearing Paraśurāma apart, the master felt he was now ready for Deeksha (initiation). Thus, Dattatreya expounded the science of consciousness to Paraśurāma which later morphed into a book called Tripura Rahasya. This book is a dialogue between Dattatreya and Paraśurāma. It was highly revered by the sage Ramana Maharishi. He often quoted from it and regretted that it was not available in English.

Tripura literally means the three cities. Metaphorically, they are the three states —  Jagrat (waking),   Svapna (dreaming) and  Sushupti (deep sleep or dreamless sleep). The undercurrent of consciousness in all of them, remaining unaffected is known as Turiya. It both transcends and pervades the three states. That's why it is sometimes called the pure or super consciousness. In Yoga, consciousness is by no means dependent on the physical brain. Anesthesia, for instance, cannot touch consciousness, it can only take away memory. Everyone can go into deep sleep but usually there is no awareness. If there is a small iota of awareness in that state, then we have touched that dimension which we refer to as Turiya. This is the state beyond Sushupti or 'dreamless sleep'. In other words, you are in deep sleep, yet you are fully awake.

Consciousness is not fundamental to the Universe; The Universe is incidental to Consciousness.

Consciousness is not confined within the brain. It is beyond the brain and mind.
– Rupert Spira

Bhishma and Paraśurāma Fighting
Credit: yogananda.com

Turiya is the so-called fourth state of consciousness (wakeful, dreaming, dreamless sleep, Turiya). It is the state beyond deep, dreamless sleep, in which the superconscious is active. It is the constant background consciousness that we all have, but upon which the other three states can  and usually do intrude and thereby interfere with the experience of reality as it truly is.

– Paramahamsa Yogananda

Paraśurāma thus finds out about the mystery of the three states through the guidance of Dattatreya and learns how to transcend them. Finally after great penance, his doubts are dispelled. His troubled mind becomes calm and he becomes enlightened.