Parashurama Kshetra – A possible Prehistory of Kerala-Konkana on India’s West Coast

 

{xtypo_dropcap}S{/xtypo_dropcap}hri Govindrao Raghunath Dabholkar, more popularly known as Hemadpant (1856-1929), wrote his famous Shri Sai Satcharita in the Ovi metric style of Marathi blank verse and his work is read with pleasure both by lovers of the Marathi language and by devotees of the Saint of Shirdi.

 

 

 

In the opening invocation chapter of this narrative poem, the verses 22 to 26 roughly translate as follows:

 

Let me offer worship to my family deity Narayana Adinatha. He resides in the sacred Ocean of Milk and removes the distress of all his devotees.

When Parashurama forced back the western sea, a new land was thus reclaimed from the waters and was named Konkana. Narayana manifested himself there.

Narayana resides within the hearts of all living beings, protecting them with loving kindness. I draw my inspiration for this work from His Grace.

Parashurama, scion of the Bhrigu line, wanted to complete a yajna in this land satisfactorily and for this purpose, he brought from Gaudadesa, (a part of ancient Vanga) my ancestor, the great sage Bharadwaja. I salute my great ancestor.

My deepest regards go to this greatest of great sages, my Gotraswami, who belonged to the Shakala branch of Rigvedis and who was the Adi Gauda Brahmana.

I have quoted from Sai Satcharita, but there are a number of other religious texts of the region, which also refer to the sacred creation of the land often referred to as Parashurama Kshetra. The date of the birth of this land through the receding of the Arabian Sea would therefore correspond to some period in the life of Parashurama.

 

The sixth avatar of Vishnu, Parashurama, is credited with a very, very long lifespan. He must have been fairly young while he kept busy avenging his father’s death by ridding the world of his time of a number of its Kshatriya kings and finally met his superior in Dasarathi Ram, the hero of Valmiki’s epic. He must have been much older indeed when his name occurs in stories of the epic Mahabharata or the Bhagavatapurana.

 

Let us look at his advent in Ramayana, Sage Valmiki’s epic.

In the seventy-sixth sarga of the first kanda, namely the Balakanda, the encounter between Parashurama and Rama is described. When Rama accepts the challenge offered by Parashurama and easily engages the bow of Vishnu, Parashurama knows he is vanquished. He foregoes the fruit of all his penances, the higher worlds, and offers to retire immediately to Mahendragiri in the South of the country.

Bereft of Sri Vaishnavatejas, the sage starts anew a life of austere penance on the slopes of the hill.

 

A legend talks of Karna, the Mahabharata warrior learning special astras from him.

 

Later, when Sage Shuka narrates the Bhagavata stories to King Parikshit, Arjuna’s grandson, he informs the King that Parashurama was still living in Mahendragiri (Slokas 25 and 26, Chapter 16 of the 9th Skanda of the Bhagavata):

 

The lotus-eyed Bhagavan Rama, son of Jamadagni is going to be around even in the manvantara yet to come. Right now he is residing at Mahendradri, having given up use of weapons of any kind and therefore fully composed in mind. Siddhas, gandharvas and Charanas sing his praise.

That much should be enough about the longevity of the great warrior who turned into a sage. Having banished himself to the desolate and perhaps limited land west of the Sahyadri mountain range, of which the Mahendragiri was the southernmost part, the sage must have kept his wanderings strictly on the western mountain slopes, east of the sea. He must have sincerely wished for additional land-space for his wanderings, penances and yajnas and his austere wish must have been answered by the phenomenon described in the first chapter of Sai Satcharita. When did this happen? Did he have to wait till the time of the Mahabharata era and Sri Krishnavatara?

{xtypo_quote_left}We can assume that the name Parashurama kshetra must have been in vogue for the entire west-coast of peninsular India, that must have been reclaimed from the sea. The distinctive names of Kerala and Konkana segments must have developed subsequently with the advent of different kings ruling them.{/xtypo_quote_left}

 

Apparently not, it appears. Valmiki has occasion to refer to Mahendragiri again in Kishkindha, Sundara and Yuddha Kandas, but whichever Ramayana characters are described by the poet in association with the hill do not include Parashurama again. It is just likely that the sage was already having enough free land to wander away from the hill, coming back to it regularly. Purely fortuitously, neither the Vanaras nor Rama and Lakshmana chanced to meet him, when they went that side. But Valmiki gives quite another broad hint, which can easily be missed.

 

In the 41st sarga of Kishkindha kanda, Sugriva gives directions to the group of Vanaras led by Angada and having Hanuman and Jambavan as significant members. This group had to go in the southern direction. Sugriva’s instructions refer to places known to be present south of the Vindhyas right upto the island kingdom of Lanka. Thereafter, the further south oriented places described by Sugriva were not quite earthbound, as they led in steps to regions occupied by divine and semi divine beings till Yamaloka could be reached. We shall leave the esoteric para-terrestrial segment of the southern route alone. We find the king suggesting not a straight southbound route, but a zig-zag path going eastwards and westwards, with a continuous southern drag, so that all of Dakshinadesa would be covered. He happens to mention Andhra, Pundra, Chola and Pandya kingdoms as well as the Kerala kingdom. From Kerala they are redirected to the origin of the Kaveri , then again to the Tamraparni and then to Mahendragiri.

 

Thus we see that the region of Kerala is a reality to Sugriva, while, during Rama’s Bala kanda days it must have been waiting under the sea, to be reclaimed for humanity until Parashurama arrived at Mahendragiri. We can state that the natural phenomenon of the receding of the sea must have occurred sometime between the periods corresponding to the happenings of Bala Kanda and of Kishkindha Kanda.

 

It is not the purpose of the present article to assign definite dates for all the happenings described in Ramayana, Mahabharata or the puranas. To the extent historicity can be assigned to any part of the two epics, it is our limited submission, that the natural reclamation of a substantial portion of India’s west-coast, must have taken place during a period that could correspond to the interval between the death of King Dasaratha and the actual coronation of his eldest son.

 

The poet Ilango, author of the 3rd to 5th century Tamil epic Silappadikaaram, refers to a well developed and prosperous Cheranadu of which the great port city Vanji was the capital and King Chenguttuvan, Ilango’s brother was the ruling monarch. Chera is the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit word Kerala. Ilango describes the Northward movement of the Chera King’s army and in their initial treks beyond the Nilgiris, they come across dancers from Konkana and Kudagu regions. Ilango also talks of a distant ancestor of the king, who had provided food for the warriors fighting on both sides of the Kurukshetra war (of the Mahabharata) on all 18 days of its duration.

 

We can assume that the name Parashurama kshetra must have been in vogue for the entire west-coast of peninsular India, that must have been reclaimed from the sea. The distinctive names of Kerala and Konkana segments must have developed subsequently with the advent of different kings ruling them.

 

 

 

 

 

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