Essays About Shaivism

History, Philosophy, Beliefs and Practices of Shaivism,

Shiva as Tripurantaka, The Destroyer of Tripura.


Tripurantaka (Tripurantaka Murti) is a manifestation of Lord Shiva. In this aspect, Shiva with four arms wielding a bow and arrow with his lower pair of hands and an axe and a deer with his upper pair of hands. In this aspect Shiva is credited with the destruction of three demon infested cities. Hence the name Tripurantaka or the destroyer of three cities. Metaphysically, Tripura has been considered by many scholars to mean the three kinds of bodies of man viz. Sthula sharira—the external embodiment, Sukshma sharira—the intellectual corpus, and Karana sharira—the consciousness or the soul. The Tripurantaka aspect of the Shiva destroys and extinguishes the tri-partite division of the being and merges all three essential components of man into the supreme consciousness. Tripurantaka destroys the veil of Maya, ajnan (ignorance), and unites the individual soul with the supreme consciousness. The idol of Tripurantaka is enshrined at Tiruvatikai near Chidambaram. The Veeratteswarar temple here is one of the 8 Veerata stalas, celebrating Shiva as the destroyer of evil forces. Tripurantaka is also enshrined at Tiruvirkolam (Koovum) near Chennai.

Myth and Cosmogony

The Shiva Purana, states that Lord Shiva as Tripurantaka destroyed three mythical cities of the asuras, the details of which are mentioned in the legend of Tripura Samhaaram (Destruction of the three citadels). According to the legend, the demon Taraka had three sons named Taarakaaksha, Kamalaaksha and Vidyunmaali. These demon princes performed severe penance towards Lord Brahma and obtained immense power. Lord Brahma, being pleased with them, presented each one of them an aerial city which revolved in the sky, very much like the flying saucers of modern science fiction. The legend further states that these three cities continued to revolve in the sky for hundred of years, rarely converging. Brahma gave them the boon that they would live for a thousand years in the three invincible, flying cities and that they would be destroyed only by an arrow that could merge the three into one, and set them to fire. The demons, armed with the boon, wreaked havoc on the universe. Entrenched in their aerial cities, they would mount attacks on the devas (gods) and the rishis (sages), harassing them time and again. Ultimately, the gods and the sages approached Shiva and pleaded for his assistance in removing this menace. Lord Shiva agreed to help them and waited for an opportune moment. At the end of the stipulated time period, he created a bow and an arrow and a chariot with the various gods and goddesses and components of the universe. The moment the three aerial cities converged, Shiva mounted on his chariot and moved upwards them. He took out his bow and arrow, and hit them with a single arrow. With Bhrahma as the charioteer, he sped across, and shot a single arrow of fire, which was created of none other than Lord Vishnu. The cosmic arrow destroyed the three cities.

The components of the Tripurantaka charge are as under:

  • Chariot: Pritvi (The Earth)
  • Charioteer: Brahma
  • Chariot Wheels: Sun and Moon
  • Bow: Meru Mountain
  • Bow String: Serpent Vasuki
  • Arrow: Vishnu

One version of the myth maintains that, Shiva destroyed the demons only after they stopped worshipping him and began following a corrupt godless or atheistic tradition. According to another version siva destroyed the three cities without any help from the gods. It is also described that the rudraksha or the beads worn by religious Hindus, appeared from the three eyes of Lord Shiva during destruction of the three cities.


Iin her book 'The Presence of Shiva', Stella Kramrisch states, "The asuras had taken over the three cities of the gods and the allusion was also to the triple passions of Pride, Anger and Delusion in the site of the devotee. These cities of the demons needed to be destroyed by Shiva when they were felled by a single arrow. The Tripura myth also had a cosmo-symbolical dimension where Shiva regained for the gods a universe from which they were ousted. His mythical arrow was equivalent in efficacy with the rites performed by the gods with Agni as their agent. These cities were the work of the demon mastermind - Maya. It was a world conquest, a universal conflagration that wiped out the demons from the earth, air and sky."

Metaphysically, the purpose of destruction of Tripura by the Lord is only for purification. Lord gave life to the three demon princes. Though they had adopted the wrong path, they were initially devotees of the Lord. They repented for their wrong-doings and the Ashutosh Lord forgave them and granted them the boon to one of them of the great service of fanning him with chamaram, and to the others, the service as Shivaganas in his abode.


Source: Adapted with necessary changes from an article on Tripurantaka from