Avatāra or Cirajīvin? Paraśurāma and His Problems

How to Cite

Brian Collins. (2022). Avatāra or Cirajīvin? Paraśurāma and His Problems: Journal of Vaishnava Studies. Journal of Vaishnava Studies, 21(1), 191–201. Retrieved from https://ivsjournal.com/index.php/jvs/article/view/273


Paraśurāma, the Mahābhārata hero best known for decapitating his mother and exterminating twenty-one generations of Kṣatriyas in a campaign of “varṇicide,” is possessed of a list of seemingly opposing attributes. He is at once an avatāra and a cirajīvin (“long-lived one”), a Vaishnava deity and a Śaiva devotee, a Brāhmaṇa and a Kṣatriya, a Vedic sage and a Tantric hero. His story, with its themes of matricide, violations of varṇāśramadharma, extreme violence, and exile, presents problems for sectarian communities who would
assimilate him into their theo-cosmology, even if they find it necessary to list Paraśurāma as an avatāra to establish their lineage or facilitate the spread of their influence. In this essay, I will briefly explore the ways in which the problem of Paraśurāma’s divinity is addressed by three groups: the medieval Pāñcarātrins, the Gauḍiya Vaishnavas of sixteenth century Bengal, and the Citpāvans of the eighteenth century Marāṭhā Sāmrājya.

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