History & Culture

One shot that felled three forts

S. Gurumurthy speaking on Siva as Tripuranthaka | Photo Credit: S_R_Raghunathan
Lakshmi Venkatraman 06 April 2017 15:51 IST
Updated: 06 April 2017 17:01 IST

The story of Tripurasamhara has been depicted beautifully in many temples, as highlighted by S. Gurumurthy

An avid temple photographer, S. Gurumurthy of Coimbatore, has a collection of over 30,000 images of sculptures, bronzes and reliefs. His lecture at the C.P. Art Centre, Alwarpet, Chennai, on the Tripurantaka or Tripurasamharamurti (Siva) concept threw light on the wealth of art related to the subject.

Satharudreyam of the Yajur Veda mentions Tripurantaka as one of the 11 Rudras. This form can be seen at the Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram, as one of a group of 11 seated Rudras at the outer prakaram of the temple. This Rudra is also known as Pinakapani, according to Satharudreyam, as he holds a bow and arrow.

Three forts

Taarakaasura had three sons, Taarakaaksha, Kamalaaksha and Vidyunmali. The three asuras, after severe penance to Lord Brahma, were granted three invincible forts, made of gold, silver and iron, which would float around in space. The asuras travelled around the universe creating havoc for they could only be destroyed when the three forts came in a single line and are set on fire by a single arrow. Siva does exactly this, a feat that gave birth to Pasupatham.


The mural at Rajaraeswaram, Thanjavur


Though Siva is known as Rowdramurthy, he is represented as Karunyamurthy in all the temples, perhaps because he is also Pasupathy, said Gurumurthy. The sculptural versions of Tripurantaka have been in vogue since the time of Pallavas.

The earliest ones are seen in the Chalukyan temples of Badami, Aihole and Alampur. The shore temple of Mahabalipuram built by Rajashima has the first image of Tripurantaka. At the Kailasanatha temple of Kanchipuram, Tripurantaka images can be seen at six places. Such beautiful images are also present at Kanchi, Chidambaram, Thiruchangudi, Moovar koil, etc. Kulapedu temple and the Calico Museum have some beautiful Tripurantaka images made during the Pallava period.

Siva Tripurantaka. | Photo Credit: Roger Vogler


After the death of the crown prince Rajadithya killed in the battle of Takolam, it was a weak period for the Cholas for about 40 years till Rasjaraja came to power in 985 CE. To boost the morale of the subjects, queen Chembiyanmadevi got many temples renovated and had bronze images of Tripurantaka installed in all of them, where special pujas were conducted.

The temples of Thirunallam, Kodumudi, Chidambaram, etc. had some of the most elegant images of this period, including the one known as Thanjai Azhagar made to order by Rajaraja’s queen Panchavanmadevi. These are now in the Thanjavur Art Gallery. But the most important and most beautiful Tripurantaka is, undoubtedly, the large mural around the main shrine at the Brihadeeswara temple. Thiruvadigai, one of the Ashtaveerattanam Kshetras of Siva, is associated with the episode of Tripurasamhara.

“Though many get confused between Veenadhara and Tripurantaka, in my opinion there is no image of Veenadhara as there is no mention of any inscription about this in any temple. The slight variation in the hand gestures make people confused; Veenadhara is an exclusive form of Bikshadana and is seen at the temple of Melaperumpallam”, said Gurumurthy.