Parasurama in the Mahabharata


You can also read about Parasurama in the Ramayana by clicking here.

Bhishma, the patriarch of the Kuru dynasty attended the swayamvara conducted by the king of Kasi and proclaimed that he was taking the three princesses of the kingdom as brides for his step-brother Vichitravirya, the king of Hastinapur. He issued an open challenge to all the kings and princes assembled there to engage him in combat if they dared to do so.

Unknown to him or anybody else in the gathering was the fact that the eldest princess Amba was in love with the king Salwa. Before the swayamvara, she had decided that she would choose him as her husband and her desire to become his queen would be fulfilled, before Bhishma showed up at the event to spoil her plans. What was worse was that Salwa was defeated by Bhishma when he tried to prevent the patriarch from taking away the princesses to Hastinapur.

In Hastinapur, when Amba approached Satyavati and Bhishma and informed them of her love for Salwa and that she would want to be married to him, they allowed her to go to him unharmed and also provided an escort as well. However, when she reached the court of king Salwa, he declared that he no longer wished to marry her as he had been fairly defeated by Bhishma and that she belonged to him now. Despite her entreaties to the contrary, the king refused to take her as his wife and queen and sent her away.

Dismayed by this turn of events Amba took refuge in an ashram which was occupied by ascetics. Here, a sage Saikhavatya listened to her tale and offered her his assistance in her quest for justice. He first advised her to return to her father as there were only two true protectors of a woman; a father and a husband. When Amba declined and professed her decision to practice austerities, he advised her to approach Parasurama with her grievances and request him to seek retribution against Bhishma who she blamed for her current situation.

Parasurama after hearing her story and understanding her grievances offered to summon Bhishma and advise him to marry the princess himself as he had forcibly taken her away from her father’s kingdom. He also promised her that in case Bhishma didn’t heed to his words, he would surely engage him in battle. However, Amba was not pleased with this conciliatory approach taken by the great sage and wanted him to slay Bhishma who she held responsible for her plight.

Parasurama then goes to Kurukshetra and approaches Bhishma with Amba’s grievance. When the patriarch refuses to budge from his earlier stand, he then challenges him to engage with him in battle. Seeing no other option available to him, Bhishma agrees to engage in combat with the angry sage. Despite the efforts of Goddess Ganga, Bhishma’s mother to reconcile both men, neither of them budged from their stands and therefore the conflict was inevitable.

Both the formidable warriors then engaged in a battle which lasted for twenty three long days where neither of them had a distinct advantage over the other. Both of them matched each other in valor, skill and courage during this period and did not allow the other to gain an upper hand. Finally, when both of them had lost their patience with the combat, they started using celestial weapons one after the other wreaking havoc on the entire battlefield and the surrounding areas. Disturbed with this sudden serious turn of affairs, Narada and other celestial sages from the heavens appeared before both the combatants, Bhishma and Parasurama and advised them to desist from fighting each other.

Finally heeding to these wise words Parasurama ended the conflict and the battle was declared a draw. Parasurama then went  to Amba and addressed her thus – O Amba, as you are well aware I fought Bhishma for twenty three days now and have been unable to defeat him despite my best efforts, power, might and celestial weapons. You have no other option than to seek his protection.

Amba refused to heed to his words and told him that she intended to undertake severe austerities and seek celestial blessings in her quest to extract revenge on Bhishma for the situation she found herself in. She would then go on to conduct a twelve year long penance which resulted in her being given a boon by none other that Shiva himself.


You can also read about Parasurama in the Ramayana by clicking here.

19 thoughts on “Parasurama in the Mahabharata

  1. Parasuram, btw, was the guru of Bhishma as well. And later of Drona and Karna as well. (No spoilers I hope 🙂 )

  2. Ah okay…the kindoffeminist in me doesnt like this line ‘a sage Saikhavatya listened to her tale and offered her his assistance in her quest for justice. He first advised her to return to her father as there were only two true protectors of a woman; a father and a husband. ‘

    But again, this happened years ago.. I think Amba is super cool 🙂 Now this story goes to R today night…you are a life saver!

  3. This episode of Bhishma abducting (is that the right word to use here?) the three princesses, and the story of Amba has always fascinated me. Well, the whole of Mahabharata is extremely fascinating 🙂 But I have often wondered why did Amba not tell Bhishma on the way to Hastinapur about her love for Salwa? Why did she not say anything at the time Bhishma was taking her from the hall where the swayamvara was taking place? Why did she wait till after they reached Hastinapur? Anyway, that is all tangential to the story of Parasurama being told here. And told very well, once again 🙂

    • @Beloo, those are really good questions that you asked there as to why Amba had to wait for so long before she told Bhishma about her love for Salwa … but then, as the saying goes, all that is destined to happen will happen irrespective of our best efforts otherwise.

  4. Yes, that’s a story I recently witnessed on T.V…t.hough some of the finer details were modified. But thanks for bringing this story up 🙂

    • @Kajal, am sure you enjoyed Puneet Issar (Duryodhana from the old series) act as Parasurama in the current Mahabharata TV series 🙂

  5. I was reading out Karna’s story to my younger son, Gautam, last night. And that is when I read to him about Parsurama. This was an interesting tale.

  6. Hmm so in those days too women were just an object and could be treated like that .. even if they are a princess. .

    No wonder the society still has the same mentality..

    I am enjoying the medieval mythologies ..If we ignore a few things then they do make a good read for sure..

    And thanks to yiu I am getting to know more and more of them

  7. Its interesting how things would work out then. If we were to draw parallels with today, there isn’t much difference right? Human behaviour, emotions such as revenge, egos etc.. all are exactly the same.

    • @Seeta, I guess that’s why these stories stood the test of time and are as popular today as they were back then as well 🙂 The universality of human emotions, human frailties and faults are what makes them immortal I guess 🙂

  8. Apart from Parasurama and Hanuman, are there others who appear both in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata?
    Are you aware of any move to rewrite the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to remove statements like “she belonged to him now” and “two true protectors of a woman; a father and a husband”?

    • @Proactive Indian, apart from Parasurama and Hanuman, I don’t remember of any other characters who appear in both epics. Part of it could do with the fact that both of them are ‘chiranjeevis’, immortals who could live beyond different ages as well.

      And in terms of rewriting the epics to remove supposedly ‘male chauvinistic’ statements like the ones you mentioned above, there already are more than few retellings of these epics with extreme feministic angles out there in the markets 🙂

  9. Interesting! I wonder what would happened if Bhishma had given into his Guru’s advice and married Amba? More grist for the mill or no Mahabharata at all?

Let me know what you think about this post...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s