Tripura, meaning three cities or fortresses, is described in Hindu mythology as being constructed by the great Asura architect Mayasura. They were great cities of prosperity, power and dominance over the world, but due to their impious nature, Maya's cities were destroyed by god Tripurantaka or Tripurari, an aspect of Shiva.[1] The three cities were made of gold, silver and iron and were located on the heaven, earth and underworld planes respectively.

Here, the five headed Tripurantaka is seen pointing an arrow towards the Tripura (rightmost top corner) with the bow made of mount Meru, the serpent Vasuki is seen as its string. The four headed god Brahma is seen. The moon and the Sun are depicted as the wheels of the chariot.

Legend edit

Penances of the sons of Taraka edit

Following the death of Tarakasura, who was killed by Kartikeya, his sons Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali, and Kamalaksha undertook severe penances by which they pleased Brahma. They requested that they might be made immortal. Brahma declined their request, telling them that nothing can be immortal. Then Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali and Kamalaksha asked to be blessed with impregnable fortresses, which would be everlasting. When Brahma told them that nothing could be everlasting, they requested that the destruction of the cities could be brought about by a single arrow only, in the hope that it was impossible for anyone to shoot such an arrow, save Shiva, of whom they were great devotees. Brahma then gave them his blessing,thereby ensuring that such fortresses could indeed be constructed.

The construction of the three cities edit

The three cities which comprised Tripura were distributed thus:

  • The lowest, with walls of Iron, located in the underworld,
  • The second, with walls of silver, located on the earth, and
  • The third, with walls of gold, located in heaven.

The three cities were mobile and moved in such a way that they would never be in a single line, except for a few moments in around a thousand years, when the Nakshatra Pushya would be in conjunction with the moon. Tarakasura's sons were thus reassured that they were safe, as it would be an extremely difficult task to destroy such impregnable cities, which aligned only momentarily, with but a single arrow.

Asuras from everywhere began to flock to Tripura to live there.

Forebodings of the fall of Tripura edit

After several years of joy, the inherent evil tendencies of the asuras surfaced once again and they began to oppress the good and torment the noble. In the meantime, Mayasura was engaged in the worship of Shiva. The rest of the demons attacked sages and the devas and shattered the peace of the worlds. Finally, when Indra and the rest of the devas despondently approached Brahma for respite, Brahma redirected them to Shiva and also informed them of the vulnerability of Tripura to a single arrow. Shiva promised to help them and the devas returned to combat the asuras in a mighty war. They were also assisted by Nandi, the leader of Shiva's Ganas. Even though Vidyunmali was slain by Nandi, and several other asuras were killed in the war, they were revived by water in the pool of Tripura, which had magical powers.

The destruction of Tripura edit

As the war raged on, devas continued to struggle to match the asuras, who used their magical powers to great effect in the war. On the day when the three cities aligned. Shiva ordered that a chariot be made from which he would battle the three Asura's.

The war-chariot designed for Shiva was on a truly cosmic scale: Prithvi – the Earth herself – became the body of the chariot, while the Sun and Moon formed its wheels, with Bramha himself assuming the role of charioteer. As for the weapon for the single shot: Mount Meru formed the bow and the serpent Vasuki the bowstring, Vishnu the arrow, Agni the arrowhead and Vayu the feather fletchings. In similar fashion all the remaining devas took each their own form and place in the cosmic chariot. As the cities aligned (the lunar mansion of the Pushya Nakshatra assuming the necessary configuration) and Shiva prepared to knock the arrow upon the bowstring of the mighty bow, the devas rejoiced at the part they were soon to play in the destruction of Tripura – for they felt sure that Shiva could not accomplish the feat without their help.

Shiva, knowing what the devas were thinking, merely smiled, instead of shooting the arrow – at which all three purams instantly burst into flames. Awestruck by this effortless act of devastation, Brahma urged Shiva to forgive the devas' foolish pride in imagining themselves indispensable and also to relent and loose the now superfluous arrow – lest the devas should suffer ignominy on account of their now unnecessary ingenuity in creating the marvellous chariot. Heeding Brahma's wise counsel, Shiva duly took pity on the devas and shot the arrow into the already burning Cities, thus allowing these lesser deities to save face.

When Shiva seated himself upon the chariot before heading off to war, the chariot was unable to move forward due to the Lord's weight. Coming to his aid, Vishnu first assumed the form of a bull in order to set the chariot in motion and, once this had been done, became the bull banner flying atop the chariot. The destruction of the three cities accomplished, Shiva stood upon the ruins and began to perform the great dance of Tandava Nritya (known also as Tripura Nasha Nartana) by which (as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance) he alternately calls the cosmos into being and banishes it into non-existence in an endless cycle like the beating of a heart. [2][3]

The devas then understood:

  1. As the ground of all being – the first principle underlying all phenomena – Shiva possesses powers that transcend those of any created thing. All other beings are only manifestations of him and, in themselves, illusory.[4][5][6]
  2. It follows from this that – although the boon granted by Brahma to the three cities of Tripura was "destruction only by a single skilful shot" – Shiva's power is of a different order, not bound by the laws constraining those of other beings.
  3. Shiva thus has no need of a mighty war chariot, or weapons – even those forged from the very bodies of gods – when the merest twitch of his mouth can shatter worlds.

Mayasura Protected edit

Shiva immediately regretted his act, since he had forgotten to protect Mayasura, architect of the three cities and a great devotee of his. Realising this, Nandi raced ahead of the arrow and informed Mayasura of impending doom. The great architect lost no time in fleeing Tripura, leaving behind the fabulous cities he had constructed, before they (along with their inhabitants, the asuras) were reduced to ashes by the great arrow of Shiva. This destruction of Tripura, led to the bestowing upon Shiva of the epithet Tripurantaka (transl. 'He who brings'/'brought Tripura to an end').

References edit

  1. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (2011). Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations. ABC-CLIO. p. 494. ISBN 978-1-59884-205-0. Retrieved 15 November 2022.
  2. ^ Carmel Berkson, Wendy Doniger, George Michell, Elephanta: The Cave of Shiva, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). ISBN 0691040095
  3. ^ James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A–M. The Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 147, entry for Chidambaram. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8.
  4. ^ Sharma 2000, p. 65.
  5. ^ Issitt & Main 2014, pp. 147, 168.
  6. ^ Flood 1996, p. 151.

Sources edit