Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali and Kamalaksha were the sons of Tarakasura. When the wicked Tarakasura was killed by Lord Subramanya, these three brothers decided to do penance and acquire powers to seek revenge on the devatas. The three brothers did vigorous penance to please Lord Brahma. They meditated for a hundred years standing on one foot, for the next thousand years by only taking in air, and then for another thousand years by standing on their heads.
Pleased with the rigorous tapas, Lord Brahma appeared and asked them to seek for a boon. All the three brothers wanted immortality. The Lord denied them immortality because according to the Laws of Nature, whoever is born has to die one day. Then they asked for three flying city-forts, one fort made of gold ruled by Tarakaksha which would be in the heavens, the silver fort ruled by Kamalaksha in the sky (intermediate space) and the third fort ruled by Vidyunmali made of iron on the earth. Each fort which was capable of flying was a huge city by itself. They were together called as “Tripura”. They would align once every thousand years for a very short span of time, and if anyone could destroy all the three forts with one arrow when they align, only then their death would be possible. Lord Brahma granted their unique wish.
Ruling these flying cities, these asuras gradually became arrogant and followed the path of adharma. They tormented the devatas, the rishis and beings on earth. All the devatas along with Brahma and Vishnu went to Lord Shiva and asked him to annihilate the asuras.
Lord Shiva agreed and waited for the right time when the three of them would align themselves. Bhumidevi herself became the golden chariot. Brahma became the charioteer crafted by Viswakarma, the celestial architect. Mount Meru became the bow and Vasuki, the serpent became the string of the bow. Lord Vishnu himself became the arrow called the Pashupatastra. All the celestial beings assembled in the sky to witness the destruction of Tripura. When all the three city-forts came in one line which was hardly for a few seconds, Lord Shiva who was waiting with all attention and alertness, released the arrow which went through all the three cities. The cities as well as the three asuras were burnt with the fiery astra. The Lord adorned his forehead with three horizontal strips with the ash left over. Lord Shiva is therefore known as “Tripurantaka”.
Significance: The three cities as a whole represent an individual’s three equipments, the body, mind and intellect. They also represent the three periods of time – past, present and future; the three states which we go through – waking, dream and deep sleep states; the three moods or conditions of the mind – sattvic, rajasic and tamasic; the three worlds – higher, mortal and lower worlds. An individual is composed of the three equipments, states, conditions of the mind and transacts in the three worlds in the three periods of time. All of them are constantly in a state of flux (change).
Shiva represents a seeker in his seat of meditation striving to transcend all the three factors and reach the State of Enlightenment. The alignment of the three cities represents the state of stable and neutral equilibrium reached by the seeker within himself. The arrow released indicates the transcendence of all the tri-groups and consequently the realization of the Supreme State of Absolute Oneness. In the Highest Vision of Oneness experienced within oneself, all plurality and multiplicity dissolves away or gets burnt down. This is represented by the ash which adorns the Lord. Vibhuti means ‘ash’ and it also means ‘divine glory’. The glory, ornament and beauty of a Jeevanmukta is his REALIZATION.
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