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The Parasurama Tradition

How was Kerala created? Geological evidence points to the continuing growth of the land within proto-historic or even historic times. There were at least two phases of upward movement of land from the sea. The first is represented by erosion surfaces on the laterite of the midland region at about 250 and 600 feet. The second stage of some eight-mile wide shore-creation is reflected in the legend of Parasurama and the literature of place-names. There is a line of villages in Kerala eight miles from the seashore in whose names "sea" or "island" is prominent.

Again, the existence of marine fossils at Vazhappilly near Changanacherry is pointed out as evidence for the aforementioned theory. The first land-rise probably was the result of volcanic operations or seismological factors. The second land-creation was most likely accomplished by the numerous rivers which brought along large quantities of silt and mud from the mountains while ocean currents deposited quantities of sand on the shore. The geological theory seems to receive support from the Parasurama legend.

According to the legend, Parasurama, the son who killed his mother in obedience to his father, atoned for the crime of his massacring of the Kshatriyas by doing penance for years (one of the Kshatriyas apparently killed Parasurama's Brahmin father!). To protect the Brahmins from the encroachments of their enemies, Parasurama decided to create some land and donate it to the Brahmins. Accordingly, he threw his battle axe from Gokarnam (Goa?); the weapon fell in Kanyakumari; all the sea between Gokarnam and Kanyakumari became dryland which the hero gave to the Brahmins.

Obviously, the idea of the donation of the land to the Brahmins is like the papal claim and the forged documents on Emperor Constantine's donation of lands to the Pope; Brahmins, of course, told the story to suit their needs. The remarkable thing about the legend is that it is also popular in the Kulu Valley of Northwestern India and the Chotanagpur region of Central India among the Mundas.

As a folklorist and ethnologist, I would argue that the people of Kerala who originated in the Northwest and moved through Central India carried with them their local traditions and applied them to Kerala's creation by their folk-hero, Parasurama, when they finally settled down in Kerala. According to another tradition, it was Parasurama who made a gap in the Western Ghats at Palghat with his axe (parasu).

The Parasurama-legend is found in the Mahabharata and the Puranas;Kalidasa refers to Parasurama in Raghuvamsa (canto 4. verse 53); the Thiruvalangad plates of Rajendra Chola (1012-1044) also refers to the hero. The story of the creation of Kerala by Parasurama is also found in the 18th century Keralolpathi, the Malayalam work, which all Kerala children study in their schools.



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