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Most people only know about Kartavirya Arjuna as the thousand-armed king who was the villain of the story of Vishnu's incarnation Parashurama. Kartavirya Arjuna stole the divine cow Kamadhenu from Parashurama's father Jamadagni, so Parashurama cut off his thousand arms and killed him. In response, Kartavirya Arjuna's sons killed Jamadagni. To avenge his father's death, Parashurama annihilated the Kshatriyas of the Earth, who had become corrupt, 21 times, as I discuss in this question.

But my question is about Kartavirya Arjuna himself. I had always considered him purely as a villain, but then I found out the Narada Purana has two chapters devoted to various mantras to Kartavirya Arjuna, including a Kartavirya Gayatri mantra, a list of 108 names of Kartavirya Arjuna, and a Kartavirya Kavacham, analogous to the Narayana Kavacham (which I discuss here)! The reason for this seems to be that Kartavirya Arjuna was actually an incarnation of Vishnu's Sudarshana Chakra. Here is what this excerpt from the Narada Purana says, for instance:

He was the incarnation of Sudarshana Chakra on the Earth. After propitiating Dattatreya he attained excellent brilliance.

And here is what Vishnu tells Parashurama in this excerpt from the Upodhghata Pada of the Brahmanda Purana:

Indeed Kartavirya is the incarnation of my discus, on the surface of the Earth. He has finished his assigned task, O excellent Brahmana. Finish him, O bestower of honor.

And this later excerpt from the Upodhgata Pada of the Brahmanda Puranas describes what happens after Parashurama kills Kartavirya Arjuna:

The king who was a devotee of Datta, entered Sudarshana, the discus of Vishnu. His body became reduced to ashes[.]

So my question is, why did Vishnu's Sudarshana Chakra incarnate as Kartavirya Arjuna, an enemy of Vishnu's incarnation Parashurama?

The only story I have come across (given in this webpage, for instance), goes roughly as follows: The Sudarshana Chakra become too arrogant, and brags that Vishnu is only able to achieve his great deeds because of the Sudarshana Chakra's help. So Vishnu curses it to be born on Earth, saying something like "You will be born as a powerful king, and you will have the same thousand arms that you currently have. I will be born as the mere son of a sage, and I will defeat you."

But are there any scriptures that describe this story?

  • Dattatreya charitra has this story – user1195 Sep 18 '15 at 2:29
  • @moonstar2001 Thanks, but what is the Dattatreya Charitra? Do you mean the Guru Charitra, the traditional account of Narasimha Saraswati's life? – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 18 '15 at 3:09
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From the Wikipedia article it appears that Kartavirya Arjuna was born from a boon from lord Dattatreya (collective incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh) to his father Kritavirya, rather than a curse from Visnu to his Sudarshan Chakra.

The Mahabharata mentions him as one of the best warriors and introduces his divine origin, attributing it to the Padmini Ekadasi:

The king (Kartavirya Arjuna's father) was very happy to hear this. Naturally he asked for the son he had desired for so long: 'O master of the universe, O killer of the Madhu demon, kindly grant me a son who will never be conquered by demigods, human beings, snakes, demons, or hobgoblins, but whom only You can defeat.' The Supreme Lord immediately replied, 'So be it!' and disappeared.

The king became very pleased with his wife and returned to his palace in her company. Padmini soon became pregnant, and the many armed Kartaviryarjuna appeared as her son. He was the mightiest person in all the three worlds, and thus even tenheaded Ravana could not defeat him in battle. Except for Lord Narayana, who holds a club, a disc, and other symbols in his hands, no one could overcome him. ...

The Supreme Lord, Sri Krisna, concluded, ...

Even if taken the literal meaning of above text, it appears like the disc (Sudarshan Chakra) and Kartavirya Arjuna don't have any relation.

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    First of all Dattatreya is not collective incarnation of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. Dattatreya is vishnu amsa, Durvasa was Shiva amsa and Chandra was Brahma amsa. Please dont spread false info. – user808 Sep 14 '15 at 8:02
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    @Krishna, It is not false info. Read the first line of wiki article: Dattatreya or Dattā is a Hindu deity considered to be an avatar (incarnation) of the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, collectively known as Trimurti. Also refer this link for more reference. Some people might be worshipping him as an avatar of Vishnu. – iammilind Sep 14 '15 at 8:31
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    @@iammilind - This wiki is absolutely wrong. Read the puranas and it clearly says that Dattatreya is Vishnu avatara, Durvasa is Shiva avatara and Chandra is avatara of Brahma. All the three were born to Anasuya the wife of Sage Atri. Please read the puranas and not some stupid wiki written by some ignoramuses. – user808 Sep 14 '15 at 8:43
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    @Krishna,Tripura Rahasya actually supports your claim too. Look at the heading Dattatreya in that article: The three chief Gods then agreed to be born as sons to Anasuya. Brahma was born as the Chandra (Moon); Shiva as Durvasa; and Sri Narayana as Datta. Now, will you say that too as stupid? :-) In different literature there are different interpretations (look at the 2nd link in above comment). For main wiki on Dattatreya, in subsequent lines it also says that he is mainly considered Vishnu. Anyways, this is not the main focus of this answer. – iammilind Sep 14 '15 at 9:03
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    First of all, Wikipedia is wrong about the Mahabaharata mentioning anything about Kritavirya obtaining Kartavirya Arjuna through a fast done on Padmini Ekadasi. And as Krishna says, as far as I know there is absolutely no mention in Hindu scripture of Dattatreya being an incarnation of someone other than Vishnu. – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 14 '15 at 12:47

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