The Shiva Purana (English translation)

by J. L. Shastri | 1970 | 616,585 words

This page relates “description of tripura (the three cities)” as found in the Shiva-purana, which, in Hinduism, represents one of the eighteen Mahapuranas. This work eulogizes Lord Shiva as the supreme deity, besides topics such as cosmology and philosophy. It is written in Sanskrit and claims to be a redaction of an original text consisting of 100,000 metrical verses.

Chapter 1 - Description of Tripura (the three cities)

Nārada said:—

1. The excellent story of the householder Śiva, including that of Gaṇeśa, Skanda and others which confers bliss has been heard by us.

2. Now please narrate lovingly the story of how Śiva killed wicked persons playfully.

3. How did the lord burn off three cities (tripura) of the Asuras with a single arrow simultaneously? What sort of an arrow was it?

4. Please narrate the story of the moon-crested lord conducive to the happiness of the gods and sages and a play of the magic of Śiva.

Brahmā said:—

5. When he was asked by Vyāsa formerly, the excellent sage Sanatkumāra narrated the story. I will repeat the same.

Sanatkumāra said:—

6. O Vyāsa of great intellect, listen to the story of the moon-crested lord, how the annihilator of the universe burnt the three cities (tripura) with a single arrow.

7. O great sage, when the Asura Tāraka was killed by Skanda, the son of Śiva, his three sons performed austerities.

8. The eldest of them was Tārakākṣa, the middle one Vidyunmālī and the youngest Kamalākṣa. All of them were of equal strength.

9. They were self-controlled, well prepared, disciplined, truthful, of steady mind, heroic and inimical to the gods.

10. Eschewing all enjoyments captivating the mind, they went to the cavern of the mountain Meru[1] and performed a wonderful penance.

11. The three sons of Tāraka eschewed all desires in the season of spring. They disdained music, the sound of instruments as well as jubilation and performed penances.

12. In the summer season they mastered sunshine. They lighted fires in all directions. Standing in their midst they performed sacrifice with great devotion for the attainment of success.

13. They lay unconscious in the blazing sunshine. During the rainy season, they fearlessly bore all the showers on their heads.

14-15. In the autumn they controlled their hunger and thirst. All good foodstuffs, steady, wholesome, and viscid, fruits, roots and beverages they distributed among the hungry. They themselves remained like stones.

16. In the early winter they remained on top of the mountain with fortitude, unsupported in any of the four quarters.

17. In the late winter they stayed under water or wore wet dripping silken cloth or allowed themselves to be covered with dew drops.

18. They were not at all vexed or distressed thereby. They gradually increased the severity of their austerities. Thus the three excellent sons of Tāraka performed penance with Brahmā as the object of their worship.

19. Maintaining strict severity in their austerities, the excellent Asuras made their bodies emaciated by their penance.

20. Standing on the bare ground on a single foot, the strong Asuras performed the penance for a hundred years.

21. Taking in only air and enduring excessive heat and distress, the terrible and wicked souls continued the penance for a thousand years.

22. They remained standing on their heads for a thousand years. They remained standing with their arms lifted for hundred years.

23. Thus they bore extreme distress in their tenacious evil intent. They remained alert day and night.

24. O sage, thus many years elapsed even as they performed the penance. I think they had a virtuous dedication of their souls in Brahmā, these sons of Tāraka.

25. Satisfied by their penance, Brahmā the supreme lord of the gods and Asuras, of great glory, appeared in front of them in order to grant them boons.

26. He was accompanied by sages, gods and Asuras. The grandfather of all living beings spoke to them thus, appeasing them.

Brahmā said:—

27. O great Asuras, I am now pleased with your penance. I shall grant you everything. Speak out the boons you wish to have.

28. O enemies of the gods, tell me why you have been performing this penance. I am the bestower of the fruits of all sorts of penance. I am the creator of everything for ever.

Sanatkumāra said:—

29. On hearing his words they bowed to the grandfather, with their palms joined in reverence and spoke to him revealing their mind’s desire slowly.

The Asuras said:—

30. O lord of gods, if you are pleased, if boons are to be given to us, please grant us indestructibility at the hands of everyone, every living being.

31. O lord of the universe, make us steady. Protect us from enemies. Let not old age, sickness and death befall us at any time.

32. We wish to become free from old age and death. In the three worlds we shall subject all others to death.

33. Of what avail are riches, vast earth, excellent cities, other sorts of vast enjoyments or big positions and power?

34. If one is to be swallowed by death in five days, O Brahmā, everything else belonging to him is futile. This is our decisive thought.

Sanatkumāra said:—

35. On hearing the words of those ascetic Asuras, Brahmā replied to them after remembering Śiva, his lord.

Brahmā said:—

36. O Asuras, there cannot be invariable indestructibility. Please desist from asking for it. Seek some other boon whatever you wish.

37. O Asuras, a creature is born, dies and will be born surely. But no one will be free from old age or death in this world.

38. Except Śiva the destroyer of Death, and Viṣṇu all else are mortals. These two are the supervisers of virtue and evil and have manifest and unmanifest forms.

39. If penance is performed for the harassment of the world, it shall be understood as gone. It is only a well-performed penance that can be fruitful.

40. Ponder over this keenly, O faultless ones, desist from seeking immortality. Immortality is impossible for the gods and the Asuras. It is inaccessible. It cannot be warded off.

41. Hence choose a boon whereby you shall do something equal to your own strength.[2]

Sanatkumāra said:—

42. On hearing the words of Brahmā, they thought for a while and then replied to the grandfather of all the worlds.

The Asuras said:—

43. O lord, we have no mansion where we can stay happily although we are valorous and invincible to our enemies.

44. Build and give us three wonderful cities richly endowed with wealth and unassailable even to the gods.

45. O Preceptor of the universe, Lord of the worlds, by your grace we shall move about on the earth occupying these cities.

46. Tārakākṣa then said—“Let Viśvakarmā make a city which cannot be broken even by the gods. Let that golden city be mine”.

47. Kamalākṣa requested for a great silver city. The delighted Vidyunmālī requested for a steel-set magnetic city.

48-50. We will join together during midday at the time of Abhijit when the moon shall be in the constellation Puṣya, when the dark clouds Puṣkara and Āvarta[3] shower in plenty without being visible in the firmament with sporting clouds, at the end of a thousand years. These cities shall never join otherwise.

51-53. O Brahmā, when these cities are joined together, the lord who embodies all the gods sitting in a wonderful chariot containing all necessary adjuncts, may, in his distorted sport, discharge a wonderful single arrow and pierce our cities. Lord Śiva is free from enmity with us. He is worthy of our worship and respect. How can he burn us? This is what we think in our minds. A person like him is difficult to get in the world.

Sanatkumāra said:—

54. On hearing their words, Brahmā, the grandfather and creator of the worlds remembered Śiva and told them “Let it be so.”

55. He ordered Maya[4]—“O Maya, build three cities, one of gold, another of silver and a third one of steel.”

56. After ordering directly like this, Brahmā returned to his abode in heaven even as the sons of Tāraka were watching.

57-58. Then the intelligent Maya built the cities by means of his penance: the golden one for Tārakākṣa, the silver one for Kamalākṣa and the steel one for Vidyunmālī. The three fortlike excellent cities were in order in heaven, sky and on the earth.

59. After building the three cities (tripura) for the Asuras, Maya established them there desiring their welfare.

60. Entering the three cities (tripura) thus, the sons of Tāraka, of great strength and valour experienced all enjoyments.

61. They had many Kalpa trees[5] there. Elephants and horses were in plenty. There were many palaces set with gems.

62. Aerial chariots shining like the solar sphere, set with Padmarāga stones, moving in all directions looking like moonshine illuminated the cities.

63-64. There were many palaces, divine minarets resembling the summits of the mount Kailāsa. Celestial damsels, Gandharvas, Siddhas, and Cāraṇas were also there. There were temples of Rudra. In every house, people performed the rites of Agnihotra. There were excellent brahmins well-versed in sacred texts and devoted to Śiva always.

65-66. The cities were embellished with many trees in the well-laid out gardens and parks as if they had dropped from heaven. There were beautiful tanks, lakes, wells, rivers and huge ponds. They were very beautiful with plenty of fruit-bearing trees.

67. The cities were decorated with camps and tents of various sizes and chariots with beautiful horses. There were herds of elephants in rut too.

68. There were time-indicators, playgrounds and different halls for Vedic studies.

69. There were persons of various types—sinners, virtuous, pious, noble and those of good conduct too.

70. The place was sanctified everywhere by chaste ladies engaged in serving their husbands and averse to evil practices.

71. The cities contained heroic Asuras of great fortune accompanied by their wives, sons and brahmins well versed in the principles and practices of the Vedic and Smārta rites. They were strict adherents to their duties.

72. People had broad chests and bull-like shoulders. Some were of peaceful nature and some of warlike temperament. Some were calm and some furious. Some were hunchbacked, Some were dwarfish.

73. They were protected by Maya. Some had the blue-lily petals. Their hair was curly and dark in hue. Maya had instructed them in the arts of warfare.

74. The cities abounded in people engaged in terrific battles. There were many Asuras whose heroism was sanctified by the worship of Brahmā and Śiva. The Asuras resembled the sun, the Maruts and Mahendra. They were sturdy.

75. Whatever sacred rites are mentioned in Śāstras, Vedas and Purāṇas, as favourites of Śiva, as also the deities, favourites of Śiva, were found there.

76. Thus the Asuras, sons of Tāraka, after acquiring the boons, lived there subservient to Maya, a great devotee of Śiva.

77. Abandoning the other parts in the three worlds they entered the cities and ruled the kingdom following the principles of Śiva.

78. O sage, a long time elapsed even as they were engaged in meritorious activities and living happily ruling over the good kingdom.

Notes on the ‘three cities’ (tripura):

According to the present version, three Asuras Tāraka, Vidyunmāli and Kamalākṣa performed penances and obtained a boon from Brahmā to build three castles, the one of copper on earth, another of silver in the sky and the third of gold. Brahmā asked the Asura Maya to build these castles for the Asuras which were destroyed by Śiva later on. According to another Version, the Asura Bāṇa received in gift three cities from Śiva, Brahmā and Viṣṇu.

The Chedis adopted the name Tripurī for their capital on the banks of the Narmadā. It is now traceable in the insignificant village Tewar, thirteen miles from Jabalpur.

The legend of the three cities is as old as the Brāhmaṇa literature. It is said that the Asuras built the city of copper on the earth, of silver in the sky and of gold in the heavenly region:

“devāśca vā asurāśca | ubhaye prājāpatyāḥ paspṛdhire | tato'surā eṣu lokeṣu puraścakrire ayasmayīmevāsmin loke rajatāmantarikṣe hariṇīṃ divi” ŚB.

Footnotes and references:


For the Mountain Meru, see Note 247 P. 310 and Note 64 P. 623.


The original of this translation is defective.


Puṣkara and Āvarta: A class of clouds that rain in torrents at the dissolution of the world.


Maya: an Asura artificer of the Daityas.


Kalpadruma: It is one of the five trees of Indra’s Paradise fabled to fulfil all desires.