On Lord Shiva As Tripurantaka In The Vedas

Tomorrow marks one of the more important Shaivite observances of the year – Tripurari Purnima / Kartik Purnima . Which, inter alia, commemorates the Destruction of the Three Fortresses of the Demons by Lord Shiva .

Now, it is often asserted by some that Lord Shiva is somehow not a Vedic God – something I have repeatedly demonstrated to be untrue; with the mythology of Lord Shiva quite clearly and repeatedly referentially expressed in reverence within the Vedas and Vedic layers of texts.

So, too, it is with the myth of Lord Shiva as Tripurantaka – the Destroyer of the Three Fortresses :

To quote from the Yajurveda – VI 2 3 [Arthur Berriedale Keith translation]:

“The Asuras had three citadels; the lowest was of iron, then there was one of silver, then one of gold. The gods could not conquer them; they sought to conquer them by siege; therefore they say–both those who know thus and those who do not–‘By siege they conquer great citadels.’ They made ready an arrow, Agni as the point, Soma as the socket, Visnu as the shaft. They said, ‘Who shall shoot it?’ ‘Rudra’, they said, ‘Rudra is cruel, let him shoot it.’ He said, ‘Let me choose a boon; let me be overlord of animals.’ Therefore is Rudra overlord of animals. Rudra let it go; it cleft the three citadels and drove the Asuras away from these worlds. The observance of the Upasads is for the driving away of foes.”

Now clearly, this is a considerably ‘pared back’ description of events in comparison to the far more grandiose language employed in the much better known later tellings.

And that is as we should expect. It does not necessarily mean that these Puranic-era narratives are the result of significant additions by later chroniclers. But rather, it speaks to the fact that these lines of Yajurveda text are from a long and complex rite. And that only the most salient details of the myth have been incorporated for the invocation of this stage of the formula.

The form of the myth that would have been in more general circulation at the time that the YajurVeda Hymnal was codified would quite likely have had various of these elements still included, and would form the basis for what came down to us in the later ‘narrative’ compendium accounts.

And, indeed, we can still find various of the details in question found referenced in various other Vedic Hymnals:

RV VI 16 39, for instance, contains this descriptor for Agni –

“Mighty as one who slays with shafts, or like a bull with sharpened horn, / Agni, thou breakest down the forts.”

The notion of the Solar Chariot-Wheel likewise; as well as the World-Spear of the Sky Father being formed from the mountain-tipped Axis Mundi wielded by His Mighty Hand.

And the material around making active utilization of the codified expressions of faith – the rites – as a Weapon, is the linchpin of RV VIII 100, inter many alia ; especially in combination with the notion of the Goddess (Vak Saraswati) as the active force for same [presented in RV X 125 as ‘bending the Bow of Rudra’ ; Savitri, likewise, as the Bowstring in the Mahabharat presentation of the Tripurantaka instance in MB 13 160], and with the Rta Bowstring of Brihaspati also foremost in mind for reasons that ought be obvious, given the Vak as in-universe expression of Rta element.

There is more that could be said upon these suites of correspondences between the later Tripurantaka textual presentations and the underlying and archaic Indo-European mythic conceptry … but for now, it is enough.

Suffice to say that Lord Shiva , in this episode to , is of incredibly ancient, Vedic, and far-reaching saliency.

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