The Other Rāma

Matricide and Genocide in the Mythology of Paraśurāma

By Brian Collins

Subjects: Hindu Studies, India And South Asian Studies, Asian Literature, Comparative Religion, Psychological Approaches To Literature
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9781438480381, 333 pages, July 2021
Hardcover : 9781438480398, 333 pages, October 2020

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Table of contents

List of Figures

Preface: The Other Rāma

Introduction: God with an Axe

1. The Brahmin Warrior: Paraśurāma in Extremis

2. Matricide I: The Broken Pot

3. Matricide II: The Severed Head

4. Varṇicide I: The Extermination of the Kṣatriyas and Its Aftermath

5. Varṇicide II: Blood and Soil in Malabar and Maharashtra

Conclusion: Introducing Paraśurāma

Works Cited

A systematic analysis of the myth cycle of Paraśurāma (“Rāma with the Axe”), an avatára of Viṣṇu with a much darker reputation.


The Other Rāma presents a systematic analysis of the myth cycle of Paraśurāma ("Rāma with the Axe"), an avatára of Viṣṇu best known for decapitating his own mother and annihilating twenty-one generations of the Kṣatriya warrior caste in an extermination campaign frequently referred to as "genocide" by modern scholars. Compared to Rāma and Kṛṣṇa, the other human forms of Viṣṇu, Paraśurāma has a much darker reputation, with few temples devoted to him and scant worshippers. He has also attracted far less scholarly attention. But dozens of important castes and clans across the subcontinent claim Paraśurāma as the originator of their bloodline, and his mother, Reṇukā, is worshipped in the form of a severed head throughout South India.

Using the tools of comparative mythology and psychoanalysis, Brian Collins identifies three major motifs in the mythology of Paraśurāma: his hybrid status as a Brahmin warrior, his act of matricide, and his bloody one-man war to cleanse the earth of Kṣatriyas. Collins considers a wide variety of representations of the myth, from its origins in the Mahābhārata to contemporary debates online. He also examines Paraśurāma alongside the Wandering Jew of European legend and Psycho's matricidal serial killer Norman Bates. He examines why mythmakers once elevated this transgressive and antisocial figure to the level of an avatāra and why he still holds such fascination for a world that continues to grapple with mass killings and violence against women.

Brian Collins is Drs. Ram and Sushila Gawande Chair in Indian Religion and Philosophy at Ohio University. He is the author of The Head beneath the Altar: Hindu Mythology and the Critique of Sacrifice.


"Collins is admirably meticulous and thorough in his argument, navigating between the macro and micro levels of mythic analysis, balancing broader psychological significance of the stories with gritty political realities. Throughout, he guides the reader with erudite ease, creating prose that is clear, entertaining, and witty while never losing a tone of seriousness and respect for the material at hand. In all, Collins' book represents a great contribution on several levels." — Religion

"…The Other Rāma will also speak meaningfully to those engaged in the study of the Sanskrit epics and Purāṇas (ancient legends and myths), and more broadly to those seeking to apply psychological theory to the study of Hindu mythology … readers who follow the book's layered psycho-synthetic argumentation through to the end will be rewarded with a suitably complex understanding of what drives this dark and elusive character of Hindu mythology." — Reading Religion

"Collins provides a lively and delightfully written study of the Paraśurāma myth, an exploration filtered through psychoanalytical theory. For readers interested in this particular tradition of analysis and other types of comparison, this book will be a welcomed inquiry into the possible meanings of this perennial Indian mythic figure." — Christian Novetzke, author of Religion and Public Memory: A Cultural History of Saint Namdev in India