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Shiva shooting an arrow at the three cities of the Tripurasuras

Tripurasura: Asuras of the Three Cities

Previous Read: Tarakasura

Tripurasura refers to a trio of three asura brothers that were collectively known as Tripurasura. The individual names of the brothers are Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali, and Kamalaksha. They were the sons of Tarakasura and after he was killed by Kartikeya, they built three cities and attacked the devas. In the end, they were destroyed by Lord Shiva.

Known Family

  • Father: Taraka

Background and Penance

Taraka had three sons: the oldest was Tarakaksha, the middle one was Kamalaksha, and the youngest was Vidyunmali. All of them were of equal strength. After Taraka’s death, they went to Mount Meru and performed penance. They gradually increased the severity of their penance as time passed. They continued this penance for thousands of years with the goal of pleasing Lord Brahma. Finally, Brahma was pleased and appeared in front of them, accompanied by sages, gods, and demons. He told them to ask for a boon.

“Oh Lord Brahma, please grant us indestructibility, so that no living being can kill us. Make it so that we don’t suffer from old age, death, or sickness. We desire immortality!” the brothers said.

“Oh Asuras, immortality and indestructibility are unattainable. Everyone in the universe dies at one point. Nobody is free from the cycle of birth and death. Please do not ask for immortality as I cannot grant you immortality. Please ask for another boon,” Brahma requested.

The asuras pondered for a while and then said, “Well then grant us three wonderful cities to reside in. Let these cities surpass the cities of even the gods.” Tarakaksha requested a golden city to be built for him. Kamalaksha asked for a silver city and Vidyunmali asked for a city built with iron. They then continued, “Let our three cities align and come together during midday every thousand years. This combined city will be called Tripura. Besides then, our cities will never join otherwise. The only way we can die is if somebody can destroy all three cities with a single arrow during the time of alignment.” Brahma granted the peculiar boon and left.

The Three Cities

Brahma then ordered Maya, the architect of the asuras, to built three cities: one of gold in heaven, one of silver in the sky, and one of iron on earth. Thus, Maya built the cities as per the Brahma’s orders. Soon, the Tripurasuras started living in their new abodes, each in their own city. The cities were filled with palaces, aerial chariots, horses, elephants, gardens, natural wonders, etc. The cities were filled with people, ranging from Asuras to scholarly Brahmins. The three brothers lived in their cities and happily ruled for many years.

The Prayer of the Gods

Indra and the gods started becoming distressed by the welfare and prosperity of the three asuras and their cities. They approached Brahma and voiced their concerns. Brahma laughingly replied, “Oh devas, it is Shiva who is destined to kill them, not me. I granted them their prosperity. All of you gods, please pray to Lord Shiva.”

Accordingly, Indra and the gods went to Shiva’s abode and bowed down to him. They eulogized him and praised him and then said, “Oh lord Shiva, we have been defeated by Tripurasura. The three worlds have been brought under the control of their three cities. We cannot bear to see their prosperity. Please do something about this.”

“I understand your pain. The three brothers are very powerful, but they are equally meritorious. Those Asuras are my devotees. They worship the Shiva Linga and they study the Vedas. They have done nothing wrong, so I cannot kill them,” Shiva said.

The gods were dejected and approached Lord Vishnu for help. They told him about their dilemma and what Lord Shiva had said. Lord Vishnu didn’t know what to do, but he told the devas to perform a sacrifice. From the sacrifice arose thousands of Bhutas (ghosts), armed with deadly weapons. Vishnu ordered them to go attack the city. But as soon as they entered the city, the Bhutas were reduced to ashes. Those who escaped came running to Vishnu and told him what had happened. The grief-stricken devas and Vishnu pondered over what to do.

“Oh devas, the Asuras are truly virtuous. As long as they remain virtuous, they cannot be destroyed. If we want to destroy them, we must make them unrighteous. Oh gods, go back to your abodes. I will perform this task myself,” Vishnu said.

The False Religion

To create obstacles in the righteousness of the three Asura brothers, Vishnu created a Purusa (man) from his mind. He was bald, wore dirty clothes, and held a wicker vessel and roll of cotton in his hands. He bowed to Vishnu and asked, “Who am I and what is my place in this world?”

“You are born of me and your name shall be Arihat. You shall have many other names as well. I want you to create a deceptive scripture which is contrary to the Vedas. Make sure the text’s language immoral and simple. You will then go to the cities of Tripurasura and preach this philosophy. This will make them irreligious and lead to their eventual death,” Vishnu commanded.

The ascetic then created four disciples identical to him. The ascetic and his disciples learned the science of illusion from Lord Vishnu and then travelled to the three cities. The ascetic reached a garden at the outskirts of the the city of Vidyunmali and started using his illusionary magic. Vishnu then sent Narada to go help Arihat. Arihat and Narada made a plan. Narada got himself initiated in the religion and went to King Vidyunmali.

“Oh King, a very learned ascetic has arrived at your city. He is preaching a new religious philosophy. Observing the virtue of this man, I have gotten myself initiated into this cult,” Narada said.

Vidyunmali thought, “If the great sage Narada has joined this religion, I must as well.” Thus, Vidyunmali got himself initiated into the religion. Soon, Vidyunmali’s brothers and the subjects of the three cities also joined this unrighteous religion.

Arihat and his disciples then spoke to the Asuras about the new religion and what they should do to follow it. In his speech, Arihat criticized charity and ablution and encouraged adultery and non-Vedic practices. The Asuras were deluded and started listening to him. The three cities became unrighteous societies, filled with chaos and immorality. Thus, Arihat achieved his goal.

The End of Tripurasura

When Tripurasura had become evil, Vishnu, Brahma, and the devas went to Mount Kailash and requested Shiva to destroy the wicked Asuras. They chanted his name and requested him to destroy Tripura.

“Fine, I shall destroy the cities. But I require a divine chariot and a charioteer. I also need bows and arrows. Get those ready and then I shall go to war,” Shiva responded.

Thus, Vishwakarma made a suitable chariot for Lord Shiva. It was made entirely of gold. He also made a bow and arrow for Lord Shiva.

  • The Sun and the Moon were the wheels and the six seasons were the rims of the wheels
  • The four Vedas were the horses of the chariot
  • The clouds constituted the banners of the chariot
  • Brahma became the charioteer
  • Mount Meru became the bow, Vishnu was the bow, and Agni was the arrowtip

Brahma, Vishnu, and the gods presented this chariot to Shiva, who mounted the chariot. Shiva then said that the Asuras can only be killed if all of the gods become different animals and he becomes the lord of animals. The gods were initially hesitant, but they obeyed and transformed into different animals. Shiva became “Pasupati”, or lord of the animals.

The entire army then rushed towards the cities of Tripurasura. The gods, were first and behind them were the Shivaganas, armed with different weapons. In the middle of the mass was Lord Shiva in his chariot. When they reached the correct spot, Shiva stopped and waited for the alignment of the three cities. When the cities became aligned and the time was correct, Shiva, urged by the gods, drew back his bowstring and released the arrow. The arrow, which was made up of Vishnu and Agni, blazed towards Tripura and reduced the cities to ashes. Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha, Vidyunmali, and their Asura citizens all died. Not even a minute particle escaped the flames unscathed except for one person: Mayasura (architect of the Asuras).

Shiva in his chariot shooting an arrow at the three cities and the three Asuras

Aftermath

The gods were overwhelmed when they witnessed this powerful form of Lord Shiva. They elogised him and praised him. Shiva was pleased and told them to ask for a boon. “Oh Lord, if you are pleased, then grant us the boon that whenever misery befalls us, please destroy this misery,” the gods prayed. Shiva granted them their boon.

At that time, Maya, who had escaped the destruction, approached Shiva and offered his devotion. Shiva was pleased and told Maya to ask for a boon. “Please make it so that I always remain devoted to you,” Maya requested. Shiva responded, “Your boon has been granted. You can now go to Vitala Loka with your family and kinsmen. You can live over there.”

Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, and the gods all went back to their respective abodes and order was restored in the Universe.

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