Tarakaksha, Vidyunmali and Kamalaksha were the sons of Tarakasura. Lord Subramanya engaged Tarakasura in a fierce battle and killed him. To avenge the death of their father, the three brothers decided to perform penance and acquire powers from 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 their tapas, Lord Brahma appeared and asked them what they wanted as a boon. All the three brothers asked for immortality. The Lord denied them immortality because according to the Laws of Nature, death is inevitable for one who is born. Alternatively they asked for three flying cities with forts, one fort made of gold in the heavenly region to be ruled by Tarakaksha, a silver fort to be ruled by Kamalaksha in the sky (intermediate space) and the third fort to be ruled by Vidyunmali made of iron on the terrestrial plane. Each fort which was capable of flying was a huge city by itself. They were together called as “TRIPURA”. They would align once in every thousand years for a very short interval of time, and if anyone could destroy all the three forts with one arrow when they aligned, that would also be the cause of their death. Lord Brahma granted their unique wish.
Ruling over these flying cities created by Maya, the architect of the asuras, 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. Bhu-devi (Mother Earth) became the golden chariot artistically crafted by Viswakarma, the celestial architect. Brahma became the charioteer. 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 aligned themselves, which was hardly for a few seconds, Lord Shiva who was waiting with all 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 day of TRIPURA SAMHARA happened to be on Purnima, the full moon day in the month of Kartika. Lord Shiva is known as TRIPURANTAKA. The Lord adorned his forehead with three horizontal strips with the ash left over and danced in ecstasy. His dance is known as TRIPURA NASHA NARTANA or TRIPURA TANDAVA! The overjoyed devatas who were witnessing the rare and unique event came down to the bathing ghats of the sacred River Ganga in Varanasi and took the holy dip in her sacred waters which is known as Kartika-Snan, and celebrated the victory of GOOD over EVIL by lighting rows and rows of deepas (lamps). Hence the Kartika Purnima became known as DEV DEEPAVALI. It is also known as TRIPURARI PURNIMA.
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 QUALITIES associated with the mind – sattva, rajas and tamas; and the three WORLDS – higher, mortal and lower worlds. An individual is associated with the three equipments, the three states, the three qualities of the mind and he also 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 tri-groups 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 the Lord adorns himself with. Vibhuti means ‘ash’ and it also means ‘divine glory’. The glory, ornament and beauty of a Jeevanmukta is his REALIZATION.
Devatas taking a dip in the Ganga signifies a spiritual seeker taking a dip into the scriptural knowledge represented by Mother Ganga and ultimately experiencing the State of Enlightenment represented by Kashi or Varanasi. This is the All-full (Poorna) State indicated by Kartika Purnima. It is significant to note that the term Kartika denotes the faculty of viveka or discrimination exercised by the seeker in his seat of contemplation.
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