Vishnu’s sixth avatar appears in every yuga to cleanse society of all its ills, says SHASHIDHARAN NAIR, who plays the character, to MONA MEHTA, in New Delhi, where he recently premiered his dance production, ‘Parasurama’
My comic book hero, Parashurama, came alive on stage recently. The sixth avatar of Vishnu, who once graced the pages of my well-thumbed animated story book, could be seen wielding an axe to destroy an entire clan of murderous kshatriyas, who neglected their duties and killed innocent people in one scene, and fighting the advancing ocean to stop it from engulfing the land mass, in another. I was watching Parasurama, a dance production directed,designed and presented in Delhi by dancer and choreographer Shashidharan Nair,along with his troupe of 30 dancers. Nair has choreographed many productions based on mythology such as Chakravyuha on Abhimanyu, Karna,and Sampurna Ramayana — a mega production with a cast of over 70 dancers, which is being staged during the Dussehra festivities for the past two years. He has often played the role of Parashurama in them, only this time, Nair decided to take Parashurama centre stage.
It took him nearly two years to flesh out the storyline of the show.Although Parashurama finds mention in many Puranas, Nair zeroed in on a few significant incidents of his life, and choreographed them in Kathakali, Mayurbhanj Chau, and Kalaripayattu — three different martial dance styles. Early on in the show,we get to see how this brahmin boy,who is endowed with kshatriya qualities, is called upon to make some tough life choices.The biggest shocker is the incident when his father, the learned Rishi Jamadagni, asks Rama,as Parashurama is known as a child, and his brothers to behead their mother, Renuka, for being unchaste for harbouring adulterous feelings for the passing gandharvas, celestial beings.While his brothers refuse, Rama picks up his sword and carries out his father’s command. But before you ask Nair why he chose to showcase something so regressive and violent, he explains:“See, I am trying to show that he was an obedient son, which is a good thing. And though he killed his mother, he also managed to extract a boon out of his father to bring her back to life and to redeem his brothers who had been cursed to turn into stone by their father, for disobeying him.” We also get to see how Rama’s deep penance led Shiva to grant him a divine parasa or axe. Henceforth, he came to be known as ‘Parashurama’. Nair has long been enthralled by this Vishnu avatar.“There is none like him in Indian mythology.He manifested during times of anarchy — much like today’s situations with rising incidents of terrorism and violence — to rid society of its ills, to create a new world.We desperately need a Parashurama today. In fact,we need to become like Parashurama and clean up society,starting with ourselves. This is the message I wish to get across — use your powers to cleanse society of terrorism,corruption, violence,” says Nair who appears on stage as Parashurama himself,wearing a white dhoti — white being considered shuddha, pure — and with his trademark battle axe. Parashurama and Hanuman are two mythological characters who are believed to be chiranjeevi, immortal. Parashurama figures in stories of all yugas — Sat Yuga,Dwapar and Treta. It is believed that he will appear in Kali Yuga too, to free the earth from all that is sinful, to cleanse society, and show us the right path. According to legend, he does this in every yuga,whether as warrior or teacher. “He is mentioned in the Mahabharata as guru to great warriors like Bhishma, Dronacharya and Karna. He also appears in the Ramayana, when Rama breaks the divine bow to win Sita’s hand in marriage. In fact, the two Vishnu avatars — Rama and Parashurama come face-to-face, the latter angry that someone had broken Shiva’s divine bow which belonged to him,and challenges Rama to take up arms and fight him.But Rama,bowing his head, refuses to comply, out of reverence for the great master,” says Nair.
God’s Own Country
Parasurama also shows how the great sage introduced Kalaripayattu,a martial art form,and fought the advancing ocean to save the land, which is today known as ‘God’s own country’ — Kerala. Times change and so do sensibilities, so what seemed like need of the hour at one time,may seem totally misplaced in another. Cartoon series Tom and Jerry, a big hit once, is now considered too violent for children by many psychologists.So,what makes Parashurama so relevant,for he does come across as a very violent man? “Well, he was great in the sense that he was a human being with special powers, which he used not for himself, but for others. I get a lot of inspiration from Parashurama because he took the avatar — he reincarnated only to contribute to the welfare of society.And to help him accomplish this goal, he received a tool and boon from Shiva, the destroyer,” says Nair.
Get Ready For Action
But surely violence cannot be an answer to all our problems? “It’s all about our thought process.Sometimes, there is a greater possibility of maintaining peace if you are in a strong position. Also, picking up an axe does not mean taking up weapons to threaten people; metaphorically, it means ‘get ready for action’ — clean up your act and work for the welfare of all,” says Nair. (The programme was sponsored by the ministry of culture, Government of India). ■