क्षत्रिय रुधिर मये जगदपगत पापं
स्नपयसि पयसि शमित भव तापं
केशव धृत भ्र्गुपति रूप जय जगदीश हरे
You bathe the world, whose sins have been destroyed and whose afflictions of existence have been allayed, with the waters mixed with the blood of the Kshatriyas. O Keshava, You who have assumed the form of Bhrigupati, O Lord of the world, victory be unto You.
– Jayadeva’s composition
Vineet Aggarwal’s Legend of Parshu-Raam chronicles the genesis of the warrior-Rishi Raam. The book is a sequel to his earlier one, Vishwamitra – The man who defied Gods (I had liked that a lot as well. My review pending). The rise of Vishwamitra to the pedestal of Brahmarshi is one of the early examples of Varna ‘transgression’ that was also blessed by the gods (albeit after continuous testing). The emergence of Rama, the Bhargava as the warrior can be seen as a converse ‘transgression’ which in fact got the world rid of the tyrannical rule of wayward kings. In a way, I see it as a negation of hierarchy (if any) and hailing the action of ‘rising to the occasion’.
Coming to the book, Vineet draws from the Puranic version of the story where the destinies of Vishvamitra and his nephew Jamadagni (consequently passed to Jamadagni’s son Rama) were determined by the magic potion concocted by Maharishi Ruchik. In contrast to a lot of popular retellings, the author sticks to the Puranic plot while successfully chiseling the character sketches, narrating their journeys and visualizing relationships. Being a woman, I liked the way character sketches of Satyavathi and Renuka were conceived and presented.
Another noteworthy aspect of the story is the rise (and subsequent fall) of Arjun Kartavirya. Most of the existing legends start with an arrogant, tyrannical figure when they start the tale. Vineet however, has taken care to bring out the hero out of Arjun before charting the imminent fall. Readers can’t help feeling bad for him while realizing how the loss of discretion can result in a rapid fall, bringing all the hard earned achievements to a zilch. If not for the protagonist Raam (who by all means is endearing), the book should be read to understand this enigmatic anti-hero (or so I am forced to call him) Arjun.
The legend is too well known and I am not attempting to summarize the plot of Parshuraam because it is the approach and execution (or call it narration) that stands out. The social commentary about the Chaturvarna system and Vishwamitra’s reformist steps about the ritual of animal killing make for a contemplative reading. We need more honest story-tellers like Dr. Vineet Aggarwal and more stories from Vineet himself.
Interested readers can buy the book from Amazon
Those with a passion for the tales and legends of Puranic lore should also check out the book Bhagavan Parashurama by KM Munshi published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. At many places, I could not help comparing both the narratives though the stories were too far apart. KM Munshi identified the tussle between Vishvaratha and Vashishta, which was more ideological in nature as a prelude to the battle of ten kings.