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28 How Chitpavan Brahims got their name

Now this is one of the most famous legands that I have been hearing since childhood, due to my close association with the land of Konkan in general and the town of Chiplun in particular -- and also with the Kokanastha Brahmins - the Kulkarnis, Deshpandes, Patils, Inamdars, Gokhales, Phadkes, Rastes, Patwardhans, Aptes and so on ... the list is endless. The Peshwas (prime ministers) of the late Maratha empire are the most famous group of Chitpavan Brahmins in the history.

This post is about how the famous warrior saint Parashurama - Rama with an axe - Vishnu's 6th Avatar, ordered the Ocean to recede and thus created the entire stretch of what is known as Konkan and Malabar.

Prelude - Jamadagni and Kartavirya Arjuna


It all started when long time ago a Haihaya Kshatriya king Kartavirya Arjuna - nothing to do with the Arjuna of Mahabharata - (also called Sahasrarjuna - purportedly with a thousand arms) visited the sage Jamadagni of the Bhrigu clan and his ashram. See this post for more about the different clans of rishis.

Rishi Jamadagni fed the guests and his whole army with the help of the milk provided by his magical divine cow - Kamadhenu (one of the jewels that had surfaced during the Samudra - manthan of devas and danavas - and was gifted to the Bhrigus).

The king Kartavirya Arjuna got extremely interested in this cow and demanded to have it. When Jamadagni refused, because he needed the cow for his religious ceremonies, the king forcibly took the cow away and his army devastated the ashram while going away, leaving the poor old man behind.

When Jamadagni's son Parashurama returned from his studies - he was a disciple of Lord Shiva who had taught him the highest of the warfare, he saw the devastated ashram. He chased and fought the king Kartavirya Arjuna, and after cutting each one of his thousand arms one by one, finally killed the king with his axe.

When Kartavirya Arjuna's sons heard about this, they attacked Jamdagni's ashram as revenge in Parashurama's absence and killed the old sage. When Parashurama returned, he saw his mother Renuka beating her chest 21 times and learnt of his father's murder. Furious with rage, he vowed to exterminate the world's Haihaya-Kshatriyas 21 times.

Parashurama thus attacked the murderers and killed all the sons and their aides. His thirst for revenge un-quenched, he went on killing every adult Kshatriya on earth, not once but 21 times, filling five ponds with blood (see this post about Samanta Panchak). 

Finally, his grandfather - Richeek rishi, the son of Bhrigu rishi and a patriarch in the clan - appeared and stopped him.

Parashurama's Ashwamedha Yagna


By this time Parashurama had anyway won all the known earth from the Kshatriyas and had exterminated them. He then offered his dead father's soul the tarpana (last rites) with the blood of the Kshatriya kings he slew. He decided to conduct the Ashwamedha Yagna, done by sovereign kings - thus becoming the first sovereign king of mankind.

However, it seemed he was so defiled by the slaughter that other brahmins refused to perform any ceremonies for him. Finally Kashyapa rishi, son of sage Marichi, agreed to perform at the yagna. Parashurama gave the entire land he owned to the head priest who performed at the yagna - i.e. Kashyapa rishi, and decided to give up violence, become an ascetic and practice penances. The legend goes that he is still out there it seems, and will return to teach warfare to the tenth Avatara of Visnu - Kalki.

Coming back, Bhargava rama (Parashurama) thus left for south and reached the Western Ghats. At that time, the land ended there, and the realm of god Varuna - the lord of the oceans - began. 

Parashurama called upon the god and asked his help. Initially the sea god did not agree to recede. Infuriated, Parashurama decided to throw a Bramhastra (missile) on the sea to render it completely dry. 
Varuna got scared and agreed to a truce. He agreed to recede as far west as Parashurama's arrow would hit the waters from the place he was standing.

Parashuram shot an arrow from the top of the current day's Sahyadris - the Western Ghats (probably from Chiplun) into the sea. The place where he stood has his temple at Lote Parashurama near Chiplun. 

The place where the arrow landed is called Bannali - the modern-day Benaulim in Goa. This reclaimed belt of land of about 30 miles broad became available for mankind.

Who will live on the new land? - Pyre Purified Brahmins


However, there was still the problem of settlers. Who will leave their own homes and go settle in a newly created marshland - who knows how it will be like? So Parashurama found it difficult to get companions to follow him to build the land.

At that time the bodies of fourteen persons happened to be cast ashore by the sea which then washed the foot of the Sahyadri hills. These corpses Parashurama purified, by burning them on a funeral pyre (or chita in Sanskrit), and restored them to life. He taught them the Brahmin rituals, and made them perform ceremonies to free them from guilt. The brahmins thus got a second life and were called Chitpavan ('those who have become pure - pavan - by going through the pyre') and the place where this happened was called Chit-polan (modern-day Chiplun).

It was these Chitpavan brahmins who followed Parashurama and settled in Konkan. These are called Kokanastha Brahims (or Kobra's for short) nowadays. Parashurama set apart the banks of the river Vashishthi for these new Brahmins. After establishing this settlement, Parashurama retired to Gokarna in North Canara (Karnataka).

This is the long and short of why Konkan is called Parashurama Bhumi and how Chitpavan Brahims got their name.

P.S. There are also mentions about the origins of Saraswat Brahmins found in the Kokan region. This was because by the time Parashurama left for the south, the ancient river Saraswati of Vedic times, which was the lifeline of the people of northern India - had vanished (dried).
 The sage Kashyapa requested Parashurama's help to migrate the people who lived on the banks of the river and settle elsewhere. These people who earlier lived on the banks of river Saraswati - hence called Saraswat Brahims - accompanied Parashurama in his journey south and settled in Konkan.


- Shreekant
29 March 2009

Ref: Skanda Purana, Sahyadri Khand, Marathi Edition


arun said…
Ruminations on Hindu Mythology - Two new blogs.

I have gone thru' both. These r great. The origin of Alphabets is new to me and I liked it very much. The importance of 'Damaru' is a subject of great study. We will talk over it in details.

Regarding the place from where Lord Parshuram shot his arrow, there is a belief that he did it from the north, rather the central part of India. The place 'Jataashankar' in today's M. P. near Panchmadhi, has a huge stone carving with a big oval shaped hole in it. It is believed that Lord Parshurama's arrow pierced thru' this large stone and he used it to give the perfect direction to his arrow / missile.

Logically, this story looks better. Because, only after this act, the sea receded and the land of Konkan was created. The place of today's Chiplun was created only after the sea receded. So he could not have shot his arrow from Chiplun.

After creating the land of Konkan, Lord Parshuram decided to settle there and to have a colony of all pious people around. But some Asuras started claiming that new land. (Must be the 'builders' of that era.)

These Asuras started driving out Lord's bhaktas.

There was a fierce battle. Ofcourse, Lord eventually won.

But no brahmin was left alive to perform the last rights of the dead ones. Also after this victory, to form the new kingdom, vedic rituals were required to be performed. But no brahmin was around.

So Lord caught hold of corpses of brahmin (may be 14 as u have mentioned), set their bodies on pyre (Chita) and gave them new lives, new bodies. Hence they r being called Chitpavan brahmins. This ofcourse suits with ur version, with a slight modification.

Whatever written here about the land of Parshuram is after talking to some Chitpavan brahmins. Their version may not be 100% correct but is certainly interesting. The 3rd part of Mahabharata was written by sage Sauti on Parshuram Hill near his temple - is one such belief.

More about this later.
About the last line in your comment ...

There is a waterfall next to the Parashuram Temple in Lote Parashuram, Chiplun, which is called Sauti's waterfall. So that ties with the storyline.

- S