The Religion and Philosophy of Tevaram (Thevaram)

by M. A. Dorai Rangaswamy | 1958 | 410,072 words

This page describes “tripurantaka-murti (burning down of the three castles)” from the part dealing with Nampi Arurar (Sundarar) and Mythology, viz. Puranic stories and philosophy. The 7th-century Thevaram (or Tevaram) contains devotional poems sung in praise of Shiva. These hymns form an important part of the Tamil tradition of Shaivism

Chapter 3.1 - Tripurantaka-murti (burning down of the three castles)


The story of the burning down of the three castles of the air has captivated the imagination of the Tamilians. The conception of flying in the air has been dreamt of by generations of men. The Tamilians spoke of an ancient Cola king of theirs, adorned with beautiful armlets of heroism, conquering the three castles hanging in the air and flying through it—“Tunkey il erinta totittol Cempiyan” The epic Manimnkhalai refers to the story of the more ancient Cola, burying down the castles at the instance of Agastya. Purananuru, 33 refers to these hanging castles terrifying the enemies. Puram., 55 refers to the story of Shiva as harassing the three castles with a single arrow and bow of the towering mountain fitted up with the bow-string of a serpent. Cilappatikaram in its Vdlttukkatai gives the number of these castles as three. Palamoli explains that these were hanging in the air.


Though the Samhitas of the Vedas do not speak of the Cola, they are aware of these three castles, which, as explained in the commentary on the Vajasaneyi Samhita, of the Krishna Yajur Veda, the asuras built, as a result of their severe austerities to counteract the defeat the gods had inflicted on them but unfortunately, only to be destroyed by Agni. The Satapatha-Brahmana speaks of the asuras, the brothers of the gods through their common father Prajapati, building the three castles for destroying which the jealous Indra, the leader of the Devas, prepared a thunderbolt with Agni as shaft, Soma as iron, and Vinnu as the point. This is still further amplified by the Taittiriya samhita, where the three castles are said to be in three different rising strata of iron, silver and gold and where it is further stated that Rudra was chosen to wield the thunderbolt of an arrow and that he destroyed the castles and drove away the asuras. The puranas still further elaborate the story by trying to explain the name Mahesvara.

The Mahabharata tells us, the three sons of Taraka, who was killed by Kartikeya as mentioned in Kumar asambhava, the three viz., Tarakaksa, Kamalaksa and Vidyunmali, were blessed by Brahma for their penances, with the power to occupy three castles which would be moving at their whims and fancies and becoming one, after a thousand years to be destructible thereafter only by one single arrow. Probably the asuras thought they could escape any error by their flight. Maya built the castles, one of gold in heaven, the other of silver in air and the third of iron on earth. Indra’s vajra had no effect on them. Brahma said that the single arrow which would destroy the castles could be wielded by Mahadeva only. Mahadeva obtained one half of their strength from all the gods, thereby becoming Mahesvara and Mahadeva. Visnu became his arrow, Agni its barb, Yama its feather, Vedas his bow, Savitri his bow-string and Brahma his charioteer. The castles were destroyed.

In the Mahabharata, it was Prajapati, who advised the Devas to go to Mahesvara, explaining that the latter alone could destroy the Tripura, because, by Him the Universe is pervaded, Who through particular auslerities knows the yoga and the samkhya of the atmanp Mahadeva is stronger than others by these austerities, this yoga and samkhya and in addition He has got half the strength of every deva, the power they get from sacrifice. This explains one stage in the development of Shaivism and wherever the word Mahadeva or Peruman is mentioned, it may be taken as a reference to this conception of God of gods.


This Tripurantaka, the destroyer of the three castles, His form became popular in the islands of the Eastern seas. A Sanskrit inscription of Champa speaks of Pranava being the bow of Shiva, Savitri his bow-string, Visnu the arrow, Soma the feather, Agni its barb, Gods his chariot, Vedas its horses and Ida and Virinca its charioteers.


The Tamil Country which even now cherishes the memory of the story of “Tunkey il erinta Totittol Cempiyan” has been speaking of Virattanams at least from the times of Tirumular and Tevaram. The Tamilians have been believing that the eight great heroic acts of God Shiva including that of the Tripura Dahanam were performed within the sacred precincts of Tamil land. This burning of the castles took place, according to Tamilian tradition, at Thiruvathigai near the railway station Pannurntti.

Names of some villages nearby are explained in relation to this feat of Shiva. We are told that because Vinayaka was not worshipped, the axle of the chariot broke down and the place is Accirupakkam now known as Accarapakkam. Perani is the place where the army of Devas stood arranged.

More particulars are given in the tradition as obtaining in the Tamil Country and as embodied in the local stalapuranas. The world becomes the chariot, the Vedas the horses, the Mount Meru the bow and Adisesa the bow-string. It is this tradition that Sundarar has in mind in singing of the feats of Shiva. As the chariot breaks down proving the impotence of the whole world and the Devas, Lord Shiva laughs and the radiance of that smile reduces the castles to ashes.


The great epic Cilappatikaram enumerates the ancient eleven dances of Tamil land. Two of them relate to the burning of the castles—Kotukotti and Pantarankam:

Barati y atiya Barati arankattu-t
Tiripuram eriya-t tevar venta
Erimuka-p perampu eval ketpa
Umaiyaval orutiran aka onkiya
Imaiyavan atiya kotukotti atalum
Termun ninra Ticaimukan kana-p
Parati atiya viyanpan tarankamum.”

The Devas were desirous that the three castles should be burnt. The big arrow with the marine fire at its point obeyed His command (and burnt them). The demons were burnt to ashes. It was now a heap of ashes—the very burning ghat where the Bhairavl or Kall went to dance. On the stage of Bhairavl, with Uma sharing one part and keeping time with her hands, the God of gods in the joy of victory clapped His hands and danced the terrible clapping dance. In that chariot, a form assumed by the Devas, were yoked, the four swift galloping horses of Vedas and there sat Brahma covering his back and tying up the long cloth into a turban and holding the whip. Lord Shiva danced in the form of Bhairavl or Sarasvatl, besmearing Himself with ashes. This is the explanation that the commentator Atiyarkkunallar gives. We have discussed this explanation in the place referring to the Kapala dance in another article.

In another place in Cilappatikaram, the Cakkaiyan (dancer) dances ‘Kotticcetam’—the dance of ‘Kotukotti' above mentioned, before the Cera king Cenkuttuvan on his victorious return from his northern tour.

Tirunilai-c cevati cilampuvay pulampavum
Paritaru cenkaiyir patuparai arppavum
Cenkan ayiram tirukkurippu arulavum
Cencatai cenru ticaimukam alampavum
Patakam pataiyatu cutakam tulankatu
Mekalai oliyatu menmulai acaiyatu
Varkulai atatu manikkulal avilatu
Umaiyaval orutira naka onkiya
Imaiyavan atiya Kotti-c cetam”.

“In His feet where wealth takes for a root, the anklets began to resound; the thousand ruddy eyes expressed the feeling of His heart; His fiery matted hair stretched far and wide, brushed the eight faces of the compass. But there was no anxious haste in Her (Uma’s) anklet, no fear and motion in Her armleli no sound in Her girdle, no movement in Her soft bosom, no swing in the long pendents of Her ears, no unloosening in Her dark tresses of hair. Thus the out-stretched God of gods danced a ‘Kotukotti dance with the (calm).... Uma on one side. This ‘Kotukotti dance (Kotti-c cetam), the Cakkaiyan dancer of Paraiyur performed whilst the king was looking at it from his balcony”.

Kalittokai, one of the Cankam anthologies, mentions this Shiva’s feat of burning the castles both in its invocatory verse and in the first verse. The first verse has not much to say.

“The desert”, it says, “which the hero has to cross, is burning and hot because of the spreading forest fire of bamboos, spreading all around, like the fire spreading all round the three castles at which Shiva sent His arrow”:

Totankarkan tonriya mutiyavan mutalaka
Atankatar mitalcaya amararvantu irattalin
Matankalpol cinaii mayamcey avunarai-k
Katantatu munpotu mukkanan muveyilum
Utanrakkal mukamepol onkatir terutalin
Cirarun kanicciydn cinavalin avveyil
Eruper rutirvanapol varaipilan tiyankunar”.

The invocatory verse is much more important; it describes the dance mentioned above:

“You have recited many rare Mantras to the saints, great in six lores. You have hidden the clear water within your matted hair and you have burnt the wandering castles. Around you stand your terrible servants who never know any defeat. You pass beyond words and thoughts. You of the sapphire throat and the eight arms! Pray, listen to me now! That resounding drum in your hand makes many a musical instrument to resonate. The numerous visible forms, you make them all disappear and involve in yourself and you dance the dance of cruel clapping. Will She of the wide hip, of the raised sides and creeper-like waist (Parvati) give the closing phase of the ‘tala’ correctly? You have won many offensive wars. In the joy of that strength, you besmear yourself beautifully with the ashes and you dance the white dance of Pantarankam. Will that lady of the tresses where hum the bees and of tender shoulders soft like the pillow and beautifully formed like the bamboo, give you that growing medial duration of the tala?—So exclaims one, at the thought of your dance. The lady of the jewels of exquisite art keeps the three phases of the tala for your dance of destruction. Out of love for us, the wretched things without love, you have taken a form for saving us—you the dancer of these dances of destruction.”

Arari antanarkku arumarai palapakarntu
Terunir cataikkarantu tiripuram timatuttu-k
Kuramal kurittatanmel cellum katunkuli
Marappor manimitarru enkaiyay kelini
Patuparai palaviyampa-p palluruvam peyarttuni
Kotukotti atunkal kotuyar akalalkul
Kotipurai nucuppinal kontacvr taruvalo
Mantamar palakatantu matukaiyal niranintu
Pantarankam atunkar panaiyelil anaimenrol
Vantararrum kuntalal vantukku-t taruvalo!
(Kolaiyuluvai-t tolacaii-k konrait-tar cuvalpurala-t
Talaiyankai-k kontuni kdpalam atunkal
Mulaiyaninta muruvalal murpani taruvalo!)
Paniyum tukkum drum enrivai
Manilai arivai kappa
Anamil porulemak kamarntanai ati”


Naccinarkkiniyar quotes the following verses in explanation of the dance mentioned here:

Kotti yatal torram ottiya
Umaiyaval orupa laka orupal
Imaiya nattat tiraiva naki
Amaiya vutkum viyappum vilaivum
Polivum... porunta nokkiya
Tokka avunar innuyir ilappa
Akkalam poliya atinan enpa
Viruttam kattar porulotu kuti-p
Porutta varuum poruntiya patal
Tiruttaku marapin teyvat tutippe

“The Kottiyatal appears thus: Uma is on one side. The Lord of the never opened eye is on another side. It appears as though that His looks express frightfulness, wonder, love and beauty. The Titans lose their sweet lives and that field becomes beautiful whilst Lord dances there. The song appropriate for this dance is in praise of God, bringing out the import of protection”.

Eramar katavul muveyil eivuli-k
Kurukurdka-k kotiyotum pataiyotum
Veruve ruruvin vinmicai-p parantanar
Avvali oliyotum uruvotum tonri-t
Termun ninru ticaitalai panippa-c
Cuvaiyum kurippum olivila tdnri
Avaiyavai avvali atinan ata
Maintarum makalirum tantanilai aliya
Meyppatu cuvaiyotu kaippatai marappa-k
Katiya kala-k karrena erravan
Patinilai tiriyd-p pantaran kamme.”

“The Lord seated on the bull aims his arrow at the three castles. At that time, with flags and weapons, they spread out, above the skies, in various forms, in many groups. At that time, the Lord appears in a frightful form of brightness. He stands on the front part of the chariot. Interminable sentiments and ideas are inspired then and there, whilst He dances. At the sight of this dance, the men and women cease to be themselves. They are moved by the sentiments expressed by the dance and forget their weapons. He dances like the whirlwind of the day of destruction. He remains unmoved, this Lord of the Bull, when He dances this white dance of Pantarankam!

It will appear therefore, according to Naccinarkkiniyar, that ‘Kotukotti’ is the dance of final destruction whilst Pantarankam is the Tripura dance. This interpretation must be in accordance with the tradition prevailing in Naccinarkkiniyar’s time but there is a much more ancient tradition preserved in Cilappatikaram as already pointed out, where Kotukotti was looked upon as the first part of Tripura dance, a dance performed on the chariot before the castles were destroyed whilst Pantarankam is the final part of the Tripura dance, the dance on the ashes of castles and Titans.


In view of the variety of forms of the image which the story must have produced, the Anisumadbheda Agama prescribes, rather describes, eight forms. In the first form, the left leg of Shiva is bent a little backwards, whilst the right is moving slightly forward. One right hand is in simhakarana pose at about the height of the navel holding the bow-string in which the arrow is set. The bow is held in the left hand, with three bends or with crescent form. Another right hand grasps the tanka; the left holds the deer; other hands are held in kartari-hasta pose. Shiva has jatamakuta. On the left is the Devi. The bow tapers at the ends and the arrow is as thick as Shiva’s little finger. Uttara kamika Agama mentions that there will be makara kundala on the right ear and that Shiva may have four or two hands and that Shiva should be in samabhanga pose.

In the second form Shiva’s left foot is kept on the Apasmara. In the third, Shiva, with His left leg straight, stands, whilst the right leg is slightly bent. In the fourth variety perhaps the right foot is placed on the Apasmara. In the fifth variety the palm of the front left hand faces up and that of the right hand remains turned downwards, grasping the point and tail of the arrow respectively. The back right and left hands hold tanka and deer or bow respectively. The legs remain a little bent with no Apasmara.

In the sixth, as opposed to the four arms of the five varieties, there are eight arms holding the arrow, parasu, khadga, vajra on the right, and vismaya and kataka poses, the bow and the shield on the left hands. Shiva is graceful and beautiful in His atibhanga pose with Devi to His left.

In the seventh, His arms are ten, carrying bana, cakra, sula, tanka, vajra in the right hands, dhanus, sankha, khetaka, vismaya pose and suci pose in the left hands.

In the eighth form, Shiva is driving in a chariot with the right leg slightly raised resting on a part ol the chariot and the left leg being planted in its midale. There is a mukula, the kotinci of Tamil literature, the prop in the form of lotus bud. It is tied up with a rope. Brahma, the driver, is seated in the midale of the lotus with a bamboo stick in the one right hand and a kamandalu in the other, whilst padma pasa and kundika are held in His left hands. Below the mukula, the white bull is standing, which is no other than Visnu getting down from the arrow to restore equilibrium to the chariot now giving way under the feet of Shiva. The chariot is shown as sailing in the air.

The plate XXXIII (6) of Rea, gives a representation of this. It is the left leg that is kept in front. Shiva has the right leg bent forwards. The left arms are kept in vismaya and kataka poses. The right hands hold a torch, a suci pose and possibly a parasu. The driver is Brahma. There are two horses visible. There is a sitting bull on a resting pole. This does not tally with any one of the eight forms, if the details are taken as authoritative, though it is clear it corresponds roughly to the eighth variety.

Probably plate LV (1) of Rea also represents the Tripura fight with the three asuras on the lower panel and Parvati by His side. The bow is visible. There is an imperial umbrella. Parvati is there on the left. This may be compared with the Tripurantaka form of Cidambaram given as Fig. 90, in South Indian Gods and Goddesses, where also the asuras are represented in the lower panel, from which alone we conclude, it is Tripurantaka form though in addition, the arrow shows fire at its tip.

Plate No. LIII of Rea is described thus: “The shrine at the North-west corner of the vimana, has, in the back interior panel, an eight-armed Shiva, seated on a chariot, drawn by two horses; the heads of the horses and front of the vehicle are shown towards the front, with a wheel on each side”. This evidently represents that part of the story, where, when the whole mechanism of the Devas broke down, Shiva laughed and the castles were reduced to ashes. In the face of the Shiva image, the smile is very expressive. The upper row of teeth is visible. He is holding the post of the chariot with His back right arm. There is something like a cinmudra in his front left hand, sucl and vismaya poses in the right hands whilst one arm is hanging down. He is sitting with the front right leg bent up vertically, whilst the left is bent horizontally. Tripurantaka has become so popular that a temple was built in Cofijivaram in the Rajasimha style and pictures of this temple are found in Rea’s work.


The Tripura dance has thus become famous and popular from the Cankam age—from the age of Kalittokai to the age of Cilappatikaram. The Agamas describe Tripura Tandava: “The dance of Shiva with sixteen arms and as many symbols having Gauri and Skanda on the left and right sides respectively, receives the name Tripura Tandava”. In a note it is added: “The Silparatna says that Skanda stands, on the same side as Gauri, holding her by the hand and shows fear, love and wonder in his face”—sentiments which are mentioned in the verse quoted by Naccinarkkiniyar, though the commentator does not refer to Skanda. A more detailed description is given following the Agama by Gopinatha Rao. He calls it the sixth variety which is however connected with the fifth. In the fifth form of the dance, the right leg is to be lifted straight up to the crown of the head and the left leg, somewhat bent, rests upon the Apasmara purusa. Shiva in this aspect has eight arms; in three out of the four right hands are to be seen the sula, pasa and damaru, while the last one should be kept in the abhaya pose; one of the left hands is to be held cross-wise, from left to right in the gajahasta pose and the three other hands are to carry the kapala, the vessel of fire and a bell. This is Kalika Tandava to a certain extent, according to Krishna Sastri. If the lifted leg is to be seen, we must go to the ‘Lalatatilaka’ mode of dance of Shiva represented in the Kailasanatha temple. Passing on to the next variety, what corresponds to the Tripura dance, Gopinatha Rao writes, “In the sixth variety of dance, the legs of the figure of Shiva should be as in the case of the fifth variety described above; but Shiva is to be represented here as having sixteen arms; one of the right hands is required to be held in the abhaya pose and the remaining right ones to carry the damaru, vajra, sula, pasa, tanka, danda (dandahasta?) and a snake; or, abhaya, sula, pasa, khadga, damaru, dhvaja (or patakahasta?), vetala and the sud pose. One of the left arms should be held in the gajahasta pose, being held across the body from left to right, while the remaining ones carrying either Agni, mithuna, valaya (quoit), banner (patakahasta), ghanta, khetaka and kapala; or agm, gajahasta, khetaka, the vismaya pose, ghanta, kapala, khadga and the suci pose. To the left of the dancing Shiva, should be standing, His consort, carrying in her left arm Skanda and keeping her hands in the anjali pose while the child Skanda should, out of fear at the sight of the ecstatic dance of his father, be catching hold of the breast and abdomen of his mother, the Devi. On the face of the Devi the emotions of fear and wonder and yet a friendly feeling should be brought out by skilful artist”. Gopinatha Rao refers to an image from Tenkasi as illustrating the mode. In view of the variety of ways in which the poses of the hands and the weapons are arranged, emphasis should not be laid on this arrangement. Kalittokai clearly mentions only eight arms; that must be an earlier tradition. The Catura dance of Nallur which gives the nearest approach to the Kalika dance does not give the ‘lalatatilaka’ pose or raising up the leg. Under these circumstances, one may have to look out for some other distinguishing mark. In these dances the person or persons accompanying the dance seem to be very important. In the Tripura Tandava, both Gauri and Skanda are to be represented either standing on the left and right respectively or both standing on the left.


If we search for such a representation of a dance of Shiva in the sculptures of the Tevaram age, the only store house of such images as these, is the great Kailasanatha Temple; for, the other old temples which might have contained the representation of divine forms, in stucco, having been constructed of wood or brick should have decayed and disappeared to be replaced by the stone temples built in their places by the Colas and other subsequent rulers of this country. That is the reason for our referring to the Kailasanatha temple of Conjivaram in almost all cases.

Our search is successful this time. Plate XLIX represents a window in the East end of the Ardhamandapam of this temple. Here is Shiva dancing in the kuncita pose. What is important is that Gauri is on the left and Skanda is on the right turning away in fright as required in the descriptions. On the panel 19 from the East end of the west side of the court is another representation given as fig. 2, in plate XL. This has ten arms, the right hands holding a serpent, a drum, a valaya, sucyasta pose with the palm turned upwards and a gajahasta pose; of the left hands one is stretched straight up to the crown; the other is holding something which is not there; the third is holding the parasu; the fourth palm is held up open and the fifth is in the khatakamukha pose with the palm turned upwards. There is a garland, armlets, wristlets and anklets. This representation is found in the four cells forming part of garbagraha, two on the northern wall and two on the southern wall and two more on the same walls in the same line with the mulavigraha on either side, all of them facing East.

Plate LI gives the one in the panel first to right of the back central shrine. Gopinatha Rao in writing about this says, “This is of a kind of dance, which it is not easy to identify with any one of the hunared and eight standard modes of dance enumerated in the Natyasastra. In this sculpture Shiva is seen assuming in the midale of his dance, a posture similar to the alidhasana.

Dr. Minakshi identifies this with the kuncita mode of dance described in the Natyasasira. She explains: “In adopting this mode—the right leg and the right arm should be bent and the left leg and the left arm should be raised aloft” (perhaps this is the meaning to be given to the raising of the leg on the Tripura dance as well). She continues to describe its popularity in the age of Rajasimha and his son Mahendra by referring to the sculptures already noticed by us: One of the many sculptures depicting this pose is found behind the garbagrha of Rajasimhesvara grham. This is in perfect agreement with the description of kuncita pose just observed.

“In this illustration, Shiva has eight hands. In the uppermost right hand He holds the tail of a snake, in the next the damaru. The third hand is bent and the palm is characterised by an abhaya hasta which is not quite easy to identify. The last is held in the ancita pose. The uppermost left hand carries a burning faggot, the second is in the patakahasta, the third in tripataka pose and the last is lifted up straight, the palm touching the top of the jatamakuta. The trisula and the parasu are depicted separately as distinguishing emblems. The entire sculpture is set up on a padmapttha. Below Shiva, three ganas are seen dancing gleefully. In the niche to the left of Shiva, Parvati is gracefully seated. Below, in the second niche is the couchant bull. On the right of Shiva, there is a dancing figure, while below it, there are two ganas playing on the lute and the flute.” This agrees with the reading of the' sculpture by Gopinatha Rao as above given. We have connected this with Tripura dahanam. The number three of the figures in the lower panel, LI-Rea, said to be ganas is important. May we not identify them with the three asuras of the Tripura? The verse quoted by Naccinarkkiniyar as describing this dance states that the Lord dances so quickly taking different poses signifying different rasas of the dance, forgetting the war and their weapons and resonating as it were, with the dance of the Lord. No wonder God when He came to bless them made two of them dvarapalas, always attending His dance and His music, whilst the third became one of the inner conclaves of the dance party, a drummer. On the left is Gauri and on the right, one wonders whether the dancing figure is Subrahmanya turning away his face from the Lord’s dance.

Mahendravarmesvaragrham contains a magnificent sculpture of this on the southern wall of its antarala. Here is a misrepresentation of this by Rea. “In the interior of the porch on the right side is a row of the hamsas or the sacred geese; over these, is a large kneeling figure with eight hands; the symbols on the right side are a chaurie, noose and others broken and covered with plaster; in two of the left hands are two balls probably representing lime fruits”. Dr. Minaksi describes it correctly. All the features characterising this particular mode (kuncita) have been brought out with marked precision. Additional factors which contribute towards rendering the sculpture more attractive and graceful are ornaments and flowing loin cloth which have been worked out neatly. There is a garland, armlets and wristlets, cilampu round the ankles and other ornaments. The hands are held in proper poses, one holding the pasa, another the faggot (torch, which Rea has taken for a chaurie) and a third the tail of a three headed serpent. Shiva is depicted in the act of catching two balls which have been thrown up. In a note, she suggests, these may be ‘ammanais’ and adds, “It is a popular display of skill by dancers to throw up plates, dishes, pots, ammanais and then catch them after accomplishing subsidiary tests”. We have noticed a valaya. “He seems to have first thrown up the balls and then assumed the necessary pose. One of his hands is held in the pataka pose preparatory to catching the falling ball between the thumb and the fore-finger held close to the other fingers. The other ball is meant to be caught by his palm which is held in the requisite pose”.

The description suggests that it is one of the many states of the dance, at least to the extent of catching the balls. Gopinatha Rao speaks of Shiva suddenly assuming in the midale of a dance this posture. The verse quoted by Naccinarkkiniyar makes this quite clear; it is a dance of varying modes and postures inspiring varying rasas in the minds of the enemies including the wives and chilaren of the asuras. Sundarar also refers to the wives and sons of these asuras in his poem. To captivate the minds of them He danced—if so the valaya or ammanai or the balls or kalanku thrown up and caught may be easily understood.


There are 74 references to this story in the poems of Arurar. The demons became great by blessings from Brahma and the poet refers to them as—“Varankal perrulal valarakkar”. They were three in number. Their castles are described in varied terms. In almost all the places, their number is given as three: that seems to be an important description. They go together as helping each other—“1'unai cey mummalil.” They form a fortress—“Aran”, with fortified walls, “Matil”, all built of stone, “Cilaiyar matil”, the strong fortification rises very high, “Uyarum vallaranam” They are full of deceit, “Vimca matil”; they are the very embodiment of deceit, “Eyilar pokkam”; they are perfect and complete, “Murral dr Tiripuram”; they are in the sky, “Vana matil”, hanging in the mid air, “Antarattu eyil”; they wander and come “Tirivana mummatil”; they are flying castles “Mltotum tiripuram”; they are shining and resplendent, “Poli”, clean and pure, “Valiya” colourful, “Er ar” and beautiful, “Sundara”.


Arurar’s short and pithy descriptions of the demons are very suggestive. They do not think of god, “Ennar” or ponder over “Karutalar” They are wicked libertines, “Turttar” They are “Vancar”, the most deceitful, full of strategy revelling in war, “Porar”, splitting themselves away from the good, from the Devas or Shiva, “Vintavar” and destroying and creating havoc, “Cerravar” who will never come near the good people, associate or be in communion with them, “Kurukar”, “Kurukatavar” “Maruvar”“Viravar” “Mevalar”, It is true these terms will mean merely enemies but in the poetry of our saint, one must give these words their full significance. In their arrogance, the titans slight and speak ill of all others, “Ikaluntakaiyor”. They are so overbearing that they submit to none, “Atankalar”. They never consider that they should embrace God’s feet at the opportune moment, worship Him and become great, “Pulliyitam tolutuytum ennatavar”. They are violent and obstinate, “Murkkar”, who will never get reformed, “Tyruntata val avunar”, They were revelling in their hatred and enmity, “Tilaikkum tevvar”. Being slaves of passion, they have no fore-thought, “Mun ninaiyar”55 The basis of all this evil is that they do not know the truth, “Unarar”,


These demons, united together, are flying in their castles, destroying people and Devas, “Cerru mitotum tirupuram”, “Tirivana mummatil”, “Tiriyum muppurani’, “Tiriyum puram”. Life becomes impossible for the Devas in this Universe and Visnu and Brahma, their leaders, with all their followers go and beg of Shiva to remove their danger, “Nirpanum kamalattil iruppanum mutala Niraintu amarar Kuraintirappa”. The Devas come to do all the menial service, “Kurreval ceyya”? Shiva takes this to heart, “Kuraintirappa ninaintaruli'’and thinks of removing the sufferings of the Devas, “Imaiyorkal itar katiyum karuttar”, All the Devas take part in the war that follows, by becoming the bow and the charioteer etc., and this probably is what the poet means when he says, “Kurreval ceyya

The great Meru becomes the bow, the great serpent “Vacuki” becomes the bow-string, and the fire becomes the “Ampu”— arrow In another hymn, he adds ‘'Agni” becomes “Kauai”, Vlanu becomes the “Pakali”. In another poem, he makes use of the chiasmus figure and sings, “Mai varai ari ampak korravil” thus making Visnu the “Ampu”, and mountain the bow. In another hymn, “Kauai” is “Agni”, the serpent is the bowstring and the stone (mountain), the bow.

Kanai” is the arrow-head and “Pakali” is the foot of an arrow.

The Vedas become the horses, “Veda-p puravi-t ter”. Mahavisnu, as already been referred to, becomes the bull to reestablish the equilibrium of the chariot.

Arurar also makes mention of this bull in connection with the burning of the castles. In 7: 61: 3 and 7: 71: 7, he makes it clear that this bull is the ruddy eyed Mahavisnn. The last reference combines this feat along with the presence of Parvati. It has already been noted that in Shiva’s dance at the time of ‘Tripura Dahanam’, Parvati also takes part as one keeping the time for the dance. Hymn No. 74, verse 10 makes this clear.


After all this elaborate preparation, the actual destruction is effected in the twinkling of an eye. The Tamilians, from the time of Tolkappiyar, have been denoting an instant of time as a snap of the fingers or as the twinkling of an eye. Arurar makes use of both the ideas, “Not!” and “Imai” in describing the instantaneous destruction of the three castles. All the three castles are burnt together before this final destruction comes.

The poet describes graphically the various stages of the war through his suggestive words. The three castles came opposing him, “Varu muppurankal. Then they acted in unison, helping each other, “Tuna I cei mummatil”; It looks as though defeat was imminent and the poet describes God making them run away or fly away. The castles came down with a crash, “Iti pata”. They were burnt; they were made a feast to fire; and the great fire made great feast of the three castles, “Eriyunna” The castles, the demons, their wives and chilaren were burnt. Finally they were reduced to mere ashes, “Poti”. It is on this heap of white ashes Shiva danced and it is because of this His dance came to be known as ‘White dance’ or ‘Pantarankam”.

It has already been noted that the boon the demons received was that their castles should be aimed at only once by one single arrow and the poet in his hymn 38, verse 9 refers to this fulfilment of the boon by emphasising the point that only one arrow was released.

There are two versions of this destruction: one, that it was brought about by the arrow sent by Shiva; the other, that all the mechanisms of the Devas failing at the last moment, Shiva smiled at their incompetence and the very ray of the radiant smile burnt the castlas to ashes. It would appear as though our poet in almost all the places is referring to the first version. But they may be all taken as auxiliary to the final destruction by Shiva’s smile, which our poet describes in two important places. He does it in the opening hymn itself, immediately after his first vision of God. In the Tiruvaiyaru hymn again, he refers to this destructive smile of Shiva.

It is this great feat which has established the title of Mahadeva and Mahesvara to Shiva, and Sundarar rhetorically interrogates, ‘IJmakkaretir Emperuman”— ‘Who is your equal?’ in describing this feat.


Arurar is not so much interested in describing the destructive activity. What the other Puranas describe as “Samhara-murtis” are to Sundarar the various forms of Shiva blessing the sinners and the down-trodden, after reforming them all. In hymn 6, verse 1, he says, “You burnt the castles; you were ferocious with them; but that day you showered your grace on the demons.”

In the famous Thiruvaduthurai hymn”, where he confesses that the puranic stories inspired him to see God, he states: “You burnt the three castles altogether and the three pondered over your greatness and took refuge in you and you made them rule the world of gold or svarga. Having learnt this fame of yours, I have come to you”. He refers to this showering of His grace at the same time when the castles were burnt in hymn No. 70, verse 3. He describes this grace of Shiva in a more detailed manner in another verse. “Of the three demons saved by the Saviour, our God, at the time of the burning of the castles and after their taking refuge in Him, two became the guards at the palace door or temple door of Shiva”. The Dvarapalakas of the Pallava age as given in Pallava Architecture by Rea and Longhurst clearly bring out the cruel aspect of these demons. The third demon was given the duty of playing upon the drum whenever the Lord dances at the burning ghat in the company of Parvati perhaps he was a soul more culturally evolved and interested in dance and music.

The mythology is a special vehicle for mystic thoughts. Tirumular’s explanation, has become a classic and it is his poem that has once for all settled the problem of mythology in Hindu Religion and Philosophy. The direct meaning of these stories is for folks and chilaren who also in time learn and realise the truth.

Appani cencatai ati puratanan
Muppuram cerranan enparkal mutarkal
Muppuram avatu mummala kariyam
Appuram eitamai yar arivare!

“Fools say, ‘The very old ancient Man of ruddy braided hair adorned with water, destroyed the three castles!’ The three castles are the combined effect of the three ‘malas’ (Egotism, Karma and Maya). Who knows the destruction of these castles?.” Sundarar also feels that these stories have an esoteric meaning. He asks, “What is this setting fire to the castles?”?

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