Shiva Maha Purana
Tarakasura had three sons named Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha and Viryavana. These three began to perform tapasya. For a hundred years they meditated standing only on one leg. For a thousand more years they lived on air and meditated. They stood on their heads and meditated in this posture for yet another thousand years.
Brahma was pleased at this difficult tapasya. He appeared before them and said, What boon do you want?
Make us immortal, answered Tarakasura’s sons.
I can’t make you immortal, replied Brahma. I don’t have the power. Ask for something else instead.
Very well, then, said Viyunamali, Tarakaksha and Viryavana Grant us the following. Let three forts be made. The first will be of gold, the second of silver and the third of iron. We will live in these forts for a thousand years. At the end of the thousand years, the forts will become one. This combined fort will be called Tripura. And it anyone can then destroy Tripura with only a single arrow, that shall be the death destined for us.
This rather unusual boon Brahma granted. There was a danava named Maya who was very good at building work. Brahma asked him to build the forts. The golden fort was built in heaven, the silver one in the sky and the iron one on earth. Tarakaksha got the golden fort, Viryavana the silver one and Vidyunmali the iron one. Each of the forts was a big as a city and had many palaces and vimanas (spaces vehicles) inside.
The demons populated the three forts and began to flourish. The gods did not like this at all. They first went to Brahma, but Brahma said he could not help them. After all, the demons had got Tripura thanks to his boon. The gods then went to Shiva for help. But Shiva said that the demons were doing nothing wrong. As long as that was the case, he did not see why the gods wre so bothered. The gods then went to Vishnu. Vishnu’s suggestion was as follows. If the problem was that the demons were doing nothing wrong, the solution was to persuade them to become sinners.
Out of his powers Vishnu created a man. This man’s head was shaven, his clothes were faded and he carried a wooden water-pot in his hands. He covered his mouth with a piece of cloth and approached Vishnu.
What are my orders? he asked Vishnu.
Let me explain to you why you have been created, replied Vishnu. I will teach you a religion that is completely against the Vedas. You will then get the impression that there is no svarga (heaven) and no naraka (hell) and that both heaven and hell are on earth. You will not believe that rewards and punishments for deeds committed on earth are meted out after death. Go to Tripura and teach the demons this religion, which they are dislodged from the righteous path. Then we will do something about Tripura.
The being did as he had been asked to. He and four of his disciples went to a forest that was near Tripura and began to preach. They were trained by Vishnu himself. Therefore, their teachings were convincing and they had many converts. Even the sage Narada got confused and was converted.
In fact, it was Narada who carried news of this wonderful new religion to king Vidyunmati.
King, he said, there is a wonderful new teacher with a wonderful new religion. I have never heard before. I have got converted.
Since the great sage Narada had got converted. Vidyunmati also accepted the new religon. And in due course, so did Tarakaksha and Viryavana. The demons gave up revering the Vedas, they stopped worshipping Shiva’s linga.
Vishnu and the other gods then went to Shiva and began to pray to him. When Shiva appeared, they told him that the demons had now become evil and should be destroyed. They had even stopped worshipping Shiva’s linga.
Shiva agreed to destroy Tripura. Vishvakarma was the architect of the gods. Shiva called Vishvakarma and asked him to make a suitable chariot, bow and arrow. The chariot was made entirely out of gold. Brahma himself became the charioteer and the chariot was speedly driven towards Tripura. The gods accompanied Shiva with diverse weapons.
By then a thousand years had passed so that the three forts had become a single Tripura. Shiva instilled a divine weapon known as pashupata into his arrow and shot it at Tripura. The arrow burnt up Tripura into ashes in a split second.
While the celebrations were going on, the shaven-heads religious teachers arrived. What are we supposed to do now? they asked.
Brahma and Vishnu told them to go and live in the desert. The last of the four eras was kaliyuga and in kaliyuga, evil would reign supreme. When kaliyuga arrived, they were to come back and begin their teaching afresh.
Sita and the Ketaki Flower
Romaharshana told the assembled sages, It is easy to please Shiva. But Shiva must never be worshipped with a ketaki or a champaka flower.
Why, what is wrong with these flowers? asked the sages.
Let me tell you about the ketaki flower first, replied Romaharshana.
Rama’s father Dasharatha asked Rama to spend fourteen years in the forest. So Rama went to the forest with his brother Lakshmana and his wife Sita. The three of them started to live on the banks of the river Falgu. News reached the forest that Dasharatha had died in their absence and a shraddha (funeral) ceremony had to performed for the dead king.
Rama sent Lakshmana to a nearby village to get the necessary ingredients. Time passed and Lakshmana did not return. Rama then went to get the ingredients and look for Lakshmana. But Rama too did not return. It was almost noon and the ceremony had to be performed before noon. In desperation, Sita decided to perform the ceremony herself. She went and bathed in the Falgu river and lit an earthen lamp. She then made the offerings (pinda) to the dead ancestors herself.
Immediately, a voice was heard. Sita, you are blessed, it said. We are satisfied.
In utter amazement Sita watched some disembodied hands appear in the air to accept the offerings.
Who are you? Asked Sita.
I am your dead father-in-law, answered the voice. The funeral ceremony has been successful. I have accepted your offerings.
But Rama and Lakshmana are going to believe me, said Sita. They will never believe that such disembodied hands appeared out of thin air to accept the offerings.
They have to. answered the voice. You have four witnesses. The first is the Falgu river. The second is the cow over there. The third will be the fire. And the last one will be the ketaki bush.
Rama and Lakshmana returned and said, Cook the food quickly. There is very little time left. We have to complete the funeral ceremony before noon.
Sita told them what happened, and naturally, the two brothers did not believe her. They made fun of her and suggested that she was lying. Sita called upon her four witnesses, but each denied that it had seen anything. Without arguing any further, Sita cooked the food and Rama made offerings to his ancestors.
A voice was then heard from the sky. Why are you calling us again? it said. Sita has already satisfied us.
I refuse to believe that, said Rama.
Indeed, it is true, retorted the voice. Ask the sun god.
The sun god confirmed that everything had happened just as Sita had said it had. Rama and Lakshmana were ashamed that they had doubted Sita and were also impressed with the power of her virtue. But Sita cursed the four false witnesses. She cursed the Falgu river that it would henceforth only flow underground. She cursed the ketaki flower (pandanus odoratissimus) that it would never be accepted by Shiva as an offering. She cursed the cow that its mouth would henceforth become impure. It had, after all, lied with its mouth. The hind sections of the cow would however continue to be pure. And finally Sita cursed the fire that it would consume everything indiscriminately.
That is the reason why a ketaki flower must never be used to worship Shiva.
Narada and the Champaka Tree
Nor must a champaka flower be used.
In the land of Gokarna there was a temple dedicated to Shiva. Narada decided that he would go and visit the temple. On the way, he saw a flowering champaka tree and stopped to admire it. A brahmana came there to pluck flowers from the tree. But seeing that Narada was there, the brahmana refrained from plucking any flowers.
Where are you going? asked Narada.
The brahmana lied and replied, To beg some alms.
Narada went to the temple. Meanwhile, the brahmana plucked flowers from the champaka tree and placed them in a basket that he covered up well. Narada met the brahmana again on his way back from the temple.
Where are you going now? He asked the brahmana.
The brahmana lied again, Home, he said, I could n’t get any alms.
Narada’s suspicions were aroused. He went to the champaka tree and asked, Has that brahmana plucked any flowers?
What brahmana? replied the tree. I don’t know of any brahmana. No one has plucked any flowers.
Narada went back to the temple and discovered fresh champaka flowers lying there on top of the Shiva linga. There was another devotee praying there. Narada asked him, Do you know who came to worship with these champaka flowers?
Yes, I do, replied the devotee, It is an evil brahmana. He worships Shiva every day with champaka flowers. Thanks to Shiva’s blessings, he has completely brainwashed the king and has secretly been stealing the king’s wealth. He also oppresses other brahmanas.
Narada asked Shiva, Why do you encourage such evil?
I am helpless, replied Shiva. I cannot resist it if someone worships me with champaka flowers.
Just then, a brahmana woman came running with her tale of woe. Her husband was crippled. But they had managed to get some money from the king so that their daughter could be married. They had also received a cow from the king. But the evil brahmana was claiming that half of whatever they had received was his. It was due to his good offices that the king had been so generous, he was saying. The evil brahmana had already appropriated half of the money. But how was a cow to be divided?
Narada then decided that something needed to be done about the champaka tree and the evil brahmana. Apart from everything else, the champaka tree was a liar. Narada cursed the champaka tree that its flowers would never be accepted by Shiva as an offering. He cursed the evil brahmana that he would be born as a rakshasa (demon) named Viradha. But the brahmana had been a devotee of Shiva. So the curse was qualified by the stipulation that Viradha would be killed by Rama and would then again become a brahmana.