By Swami Harshananda
Paraśurāma has been listed as the sixth avatāra or incarnation of Viṣṇu among the ten commonly known as Daśāvatāras. Since Rāma or Srīrāma was his contemporary and drew his power into himself, Paraśurāma is often considered as a partial or temporary manifestation of the Lord Viṣṇu.
Paraśurāma was the son of the great sage Jamadagni and Reṇukā, daughter of the king Prasenajit. Once, he was commanded by his father to cut off the head of his mother which he did. However, by praying to his father, he got her restored to life. During his absence, Kārtavīryārjuna, the king of Māhiṣmati, visited the hermitage of Jamadagni. He entertained the king in a royal way. This was due to the power and grace of Kapilā, the wish-yielding divine cow. When the king wanted it for himself, the sage refused to part with it. King killed the sage and ransacked the whole place.
After knowing this on his return, Paraśurāma did severe penance to please Lord Śiva and obtain a divine Paraśu or battle-axe from him. With this he not only killed Kārtavīryārjuna but also many other kṣattriya kings who had become tyrants and were terrorizing their subjects.
However, in his encounter with Rāma, he lost all his power and went away for tapas to the Mahendra mountains. He is said to be a cirajīvin or an immortal. Hence he is still alive. He was a great warrior and an expert in the use of various weapons. Droṇācārya and Karna were his disciples. Once, he had to fight with Bhīṣma, the grandsire, but could not vanquish him.
Though he advised Duryodhana to make peace with the Pāṇḍavas, Duryodhana refused to heed it. Some Vaiṣṇavāgamas like the Ahirbudhnya Samhitā and their commentaries like the Tattvatraya consider him as a secondary aspect or svarupāveśa of Viṣṇu.
Iconographical works picture him as a sage, red-complexioned with white robes and jatāmukuṭa. He holds the paraśu in his right hand and the vaiṣṇavadhanus in the left. The left hand may also be in the tarjanī-mudrā or pose of warning or threat. In some rare cases he may be shown with four hands like Viṣṇu. His jayantī falls on the Akṣayatṛtīyā day.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore