As all children do, my children also ask me- where did the demons go? Why couldn’t the Devas and the Demons be seen anymore? Why demons are not prayed to? I tell them this story, I know about the end of the age of demons.
In Hindu stories, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are revered above the lesser Gods, the Devas. These Devas represented nature Gods like Sun, Air, Water, fire etc who used natural resources for the welfare of life in the Earth’s ecosystem. Demons were responsible to regenerate the spent resources. Together they formed a cycle. Demons also commanded a lot of wealth and had an important role to play. Yet the Devas were prayed to but the demons were not. The Demons always remained in conflict with the Devas. Both fought for rule over resources and people. The trinity remained impartial to their disputes and intervened when the welfare of people was at stake. The boundaries were however blurred. When the demons did good tasks they could ask for boons from the trinity and if Devas faltered, they could be punished.
This story began when Kartikeya, the elder son of Lord Shiva killed the demon Taraka. After the defeat, all the other Demons were driven to the Pataal (Netherworld). Taraka had three sons – Taarakaksha, Kamalaksha and Vidyunmaali. Like their father, they also wanted to be the most powerful of all creatures. The three of them decided that penance was the only way to great power. They prayed to Lord Brahma the Creator God.
Lord Brahma was pleased with them. He appeared at the spot they prayed and asked them to rouse from their meditation. The three brothers were delighted to see him. Brahma proclaimed, “I am very pleased with your penance! Ask me anything within my power and I will grant two boons to you.”
Vidyumaali spoke first, “Lord we should be the most powerful of all the creatures that you have created.”
Brahma smiled, ‘That is easy.’ Without caution for the demons’ devious intent, Brahma raised his hands and blessed the three of them. Vidyumaali felt a great energy run through him. He flexed his muscles and turned to see his two brothers, they were also as powerful as him. The three of them turned to Lord Brahma and bowed before him.
Before the second boon however Tarakaksha cut in before either of his brothers could make another wish. “We would like to confer with each other, before we ask you.” Lord Brahma nodded as the three brothers huddled together, deciding what to ask next.
Kamalaksha wanted to live in sky and heaven so said, “Brother we have been living in the Paatala all the time. We should also be able to live on the earth, skies and even the heaven! We have as much right as the Devas to live in the heavens…”
Vidyumaali was more worried about their safety, “We have to first make sure we are safe from the attacks of Devas”. We are defenseless to protect ourselves from them.
‘Tarakaksha went into deep thought at this and soon came up with a solution to his brother’s desires. Vidyumaali and Kamalaksha saw Tarakaksha had turn to Lord Brahma, with a twinkle in his eyes.
“Lord we have decided and please confer us with this boon…” Lord Brahma nodded asking him to continue.
“We wish for three fortresses, it should be very strong and very difficult to break:
- The first fortress must be made of iron and it should be on the earth.
- The second one should be made of silver and float in the skies.
- The third fortress must be made of gold and must fly in the heavens.
- The forts will be separate from one another and must come together only very rarely. Only a single arrow that can pierce through all the three fortresses together should be able to destroy us.
Tarakaksha concluded, he felt very proud of his idea. His reasoning was very simple. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to shoot one arrow at three cities that would be together so rarely. He looked at his brother and his brothers looked back at him, gloating that he had asked for the right boon.
Brahma was puzzled. He could not imagine the reason behind such a demand. However as he had promised to grant them the boons, he was bound by his promise. He had no choice but to say yes to what they asked. Lord Brahma, then summoned Maya. Maya was a renowned Demon architect. Maya was delighted at this challenge and soon set about building the strong fortresses, two of which were to fly. Maya completed the fortresses and handed them over to the three Demons.
Tarakaksha got the golden fortress and lived in the heavens. Kamalaksha took the silver fortress in the skies and Vidyumaali took the iron fortress on land. The three brothers knew that they would not see each other for a long time. The forts would rarely come face to face, the same time so they bid goodbye to each other and went to their own fortresses.
The three fortresses being very strong were a safe abode for the Demons inside. The three brothers lived peacefully and happily. Demons from all over the earth and the Netherworld came to live in the three fortresses. Soon the fortresses were a safe haven for all Demons.
The Devas were however jealous of the Demons’ well-being. Time and again they had tried and had failed to destroy Tripura [three cities]. However they also knew that there was nothing they could do about it. The Demons were not doing anything wrong and were just enjoying their lives without hurting other people. The Devas knew that The Trinity of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma would never destroy anyone who had not harmed others. The Devas had no choice but to wait for the Demons to go to their cruel ways again.
Finally the inevitable happened. The Demons, drunk by their power and feeling that they were invincible, wreaked havoc on the universe. The Demons started attacking the Devas and the sages and harassed them. Soon war between the Devas and the Demons broke out again. Three fortresses proved to be invaluable to the Demons as the Devas could not penetrate them and so were unable to destroy the Demons. Tired of losing, they went to Lord Brahma for help. Brahma told them about the boons he had granted the three Demons and how only a single arrow could destroy the three.
“A single arrow!” asked Indra astonished at Lord Brahma’s solution. He wondered how could Lord Brahma grant such a boon. “How could anybody destroy, not one but three cities with one arrow?” He sank down heavily on the throne behind him. “We are doomed,” he whispered. Lord Brahma was anguished that his boon had caused so much suffering to the Devas and the sages. “The three cities are about to line up very shortly.”
Indra threw up his hands, interrupting Lord Brahma, “A single arrow? I don’t think anyone of us can shoot the three of the cities with a single arrow. And, with what material do we make such an arrow, to pierce through the three cities…”
Lord Brahma replied softly, “There is one person who can do this.” The Devas looked at Lord Brahma with disbelief.
“Lord Shiva,” Lord Brahma said. “Lord Shiva can shoot the three cities with a single arrow.” Brahma then blessed and directed them to Mount Kailasa, the abode of Shiva.
Indra entered Kailash shouting in his desperation, “Lord Shiva please save us…” and fell at Shiva’s feet. The other gods followed. “You are the only one, who can save us, please Lord.”
Lord Shiva smiled and feigned ignorance, ‘What is the matter, Indra?’
Indra looked disappointed, “Please Lord, do not pretend like you do not know anything…the Demons Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha….” Indra trembled, thinking of the defeat at their hands, “…and Vidyumaali.” Lord you have to save us.”
Shiva looked at them sharply, “You were jealous of them, when they lived well and did no harm to you… were you not?” You felt they had no right to get the boons from Brahma despite their severe penance? Did you not despise Brahma for granting them the boon? You have always desired that we vanquish them once and for all, so that you gain and unquestioned supremacy over the three worlds?
The Devas hung their heads in shame, knowing that they could not deny the God’s allegations. “You were just always praying that one of us would destroy Tripura did you not?” Lord Shiva said still looking angry. Indra stood up trembling, “Lord, we made mistakes, doing your delegated work of managing the world, we develop a false sense of superiority and feel you are bound to support us unconditionally but please do not punish us. The war has gone too far, if we do not get rid of the Demons now, they would rule the world with their unfair ways.”
Shiva finally announced, “I will do it. But there is something you need to do. You have to make all the preparations for battle…Prepare the chariot and the weapons for me.”
“How do we do that, my Lord?” Agni asked softly, still not believing that Lord Shiva had agreed to help them.
“Make Prithvi (the earth) my chariot, if Lord Brahma consents, he will be my charioteer”, He then said pointing to the Sun God and the Moon God; “you will be the wheels of the chariot.” The two devas bowed.
Lord Shiva then turned to the other Devas, “Break up Mount Meru, to be my bow and ask Vasuki, the Snake, to be the bowstring and….” Lord Shiva said softly, “….ask Lord Vishnu, if he would be willing to be the arrow.” The Devas nodded, realising that Tripura could not be destroyed easily. There was a lot of work to be done.
It did not take a lot to convince Lord Brahma to be the charioteer. When the Devas approached Lord Vishnu to be the arrow, he smiled and vanished. To their surprise, there was a huge arrow lying in Vishnu’s place. It gleamed and looked so sharp and beautiful that the Deva’s joy knew no bounds. They knew that Tripura’s days were numbered.
Agni teamed with Varun and Vayu, for breaking up Mount Meru. Together they one by one heated and cooled the mountain, causing erosion and cracking. Whatever fragments resulted, Vayu blew them away. He also sharpened and shaped the bow and polished it. Together the three forces of nature, acted and made the bow for Shiva to shoot Vishnu arrow.
Marvelling at their magnificent creation, they became vain. Agni spoke first, “I don’t understand, why Lord Brahma said, Lord Shiva is the only one who can shoot the three cities,” He said looking at the sharp Vishnu arrow, “With this arrow and bow, even I can hit the three cities. It is no big deal.”
The other Devas agreed. With such resources at command either of them could have carried out the task. Indra said, “I don’t think Lord Shiva could have done it without our help.” Then Vayu continued, “So we can say, we are the ones who actually are going to destroy Tripura, not Lord Shiva.”
“Sh..sh..We are at the Kailash…” Indra cautioned, as the gods arrived at Lord Shiva’s home and silently handed over the weapons to the God.
After taking the weapons, Lord Shiva spoke, “Tomorrow, the three cities will align themselves; I will take care of the rest.” The Devas smirked, musing that it was them who had actually done all the hard work. Shiva was simply going to claim that he had destroyed Tripur. Shiva had understood their state of mind but said nothing.
The next morning, the cities were slowly coming towards each other in a vertical row. Once Shiva got on the chariot, the hub of its wheel broke. The Devas were stunned, they wondered, how could such an error occur in their plan. Lord Shiva invoked Ganapati. (It is customary among Hindus to invoke Lord Ganesha as he is considered the remover of all obstacles.) Ganesha set the hub right and the chariot took off!
Soon the three cities were almost aligned together and the Devas were again smug. They had the credit for the destruction of Tripura, Lord Shiva got off the chariot. The Devas were surprised as soon as the three cities were perfectly aligned, instead of firing the weapon, Shiva smiled and he glowed so brightly that with his radiation, the three cities caught fire. Shiva’s smile had destroyed the three cities; the Deva’s preparations were all redundant. That instant, it also destroyed their vanity that their tools alone could handle all, without the help from Gods.
The Devas were embarrassed that they had committed a second blunder, they had been too proud of themselves and had not realised the true power of Shiva. They looked on as Tripura burnt and their weapons lay useless!
Lord Brahma interfered on behalf of the Devas, “Shiva, please do not do this. I agree that they were proud. But please do not do this.” Lord Shiva remained passive. Lord Brahma continued, “If you do not use the weapons of the Devas, they would become a laughing stock. Also you have to keep my word, I granted to the three Asur brothers that a single arrow alone would destroy their fortresses.” At the request of Brahma, Shiva relented. He got on the chariot and shot the Vishnu arrow from the bow made of Mount Meru on the already burning Tripura.
Thus along with the destruction of Tripura, Lord Shiva also destroyed the ego of the Devas. Their pride humbled, they worshipped Tripurantaka – the destroyer of the three cities of the Demons. The Demons, who escaped Tripur, came to Lord Shiva and begged for forgiveness. Lord Shiva accepted them as his Shiva Ganas (Shiva’s attendants)!
My learning from of the Shiva’s chariot:
We hear these tales over and over again in our childhood, we see paintings in the temples and scriptures. These images get engraved in our minds forever. Whether we understand their underlying wisdom or not, they stay with us. As a child I watched the chariot of Shiva in a tableaux. It is only with advancing years that the significance dawns on me.
It could be equated to the struggle with three enemies fear, pride and greed- the Tripur. With willpower (Shiva) one needs to drive the body (chariot), day and night (wheels of sun and moon), steered by creativity (Brahma) and then aim our heart (Vishnu) to completely destroy them.