Jamadagni was a Brahmin saint who lived in the forest with his wife Renuka and his sons, of whom Parasurama was the youngest, the most valiant and the best renowned. The country was then ruled by Haihayas, a certain clan of Kshattriyas. Some of them came into clash with Parasurama but fared the worse. They dared not challenge him afterwards. Their rancour, however, remained, and they could not resist their longing for revenge. They seized their opportunity when Parasurama was far away from the hermitage, attacked his saintly father and killed him. On the son's return, the mother narrated the unprovoked murder of the saint; she also desired that her husbands body should be cremated on the banks of the Ganges and that she might as a Sati mount the funeral pyre.
Parasurama vowed that he would clear the earth of the Kshattriya vermin. He placed his father's corpse on the shoulder and took his living mother on the other and set out along to the Ganges. While passing through a forest, an Avadhutha, by name Dattatreya, saw Renuka and stopped the young man who carried her. The Avadhutha addressed Renuka as Sakti incarnate, of unparalleled might (Ekaviiraa) and worshipped her. She blessed him and told him of her life on earth and her resolve to end it. She also advised her son to look to Dattatreya for help when needed. Parasurama went on his way and fulfilled his mother's desire.
He then challenged every Kshattriya in the land and killed them all. Their blood was collected in a pool in Kurukshetra, and Parasurama offered oblations to his forefathers with it. His dead ancestors appeared and told him to desist from his bloody revenge. Accordingly, he retired into mountain fastnesses and lived as a hermit.
Hearing on one occasion of the prowess of Rama, his wrath rekindled and he came back to challenge him. Rama was born of Dasaratha who, though a Kshattriya, escaped his doom by a ruse. Rama accepted Parasurama's challenge and got the better of him.
Parasurama returned crest-fallen and on his way met an Avadhuta named Samvarta, the brother of Brihaspati. Later he encountered Sri Dattatreya who instructed him in the Truth and so led him to salvation.
There was once a dutiful wife whose husband was, however, a licentious wretch. This couple unwittingly disturbed Rishi Mandavya, who had been placed on a spear by a misguided king. The Rishi, who was in agony but not dying, cursed them, saying that the husband would die at sunrise and the wife be left a widow. Widowhood is most abhorrent to a Hindu lady and considered worse than death. By the force of her dutiful wifehood she resisted the curse of the Rishi; the Sun could not rise; and the Gods were rendered impotent.
The Gods in council resolved to approach Anasuya - the ideal of wifehood - to ask her to prevail on the other lady to relent. Anasuya promised her that she would restore her dead husband to life; and so the matter ended satisfactorily for all.
The three chief Gods then agreed to be born as sons to Anasuya. Brahman was born as the Moon; Siva as Dhurvasa and Sri Narayana as Datta. The last is also called "Datta Atreya," of which the latter world is the patronyamic derived from Atri, the husband of Anasuya. Sri Dattatreya is the foremost in the line of divine teachers incarnate on earth.