Shiva has a name called as Tripurantaka. ["Tri" means Three, "pura" means cities and "antaka" means destroyer. Tripurantaka means "the one who destroyed the three cities."] Do you know how he got that name?
The demon Taraka was destroyed by Lord Kartikeyan. After the defeat of Tarakasura, all the other asuras were driven to the underworld [it is called as "paatala"]. Tarakasura had three sons – Taarakaksha, Kamalaksha and Vidyumaali. Like their father they also wanted to be the most powerful of all creatures. The three asuras were also devout devotees of Lord Shiva. The three of them decided that penance was the only way to great power and performed sever penance for thousands of years. They prayed to Lord Brahma the Creator.
After they had performed penances for many years, Lord Brahma was pleased with them and appeared before them.
"Sons of Taraka, open your eyes." He said sprinkling water from his kamandalam on them.
The three of them were roused from their meditation and were delighted when they saw Lord Brahma. They bowed before Lord Brahma.
Lord Brahma said, "I am very pleased with your penances! Ask me anything within my power and I will grant the boon to you."
Vidyumaali spoke first, "Lord we should be the most powerful of all the creatures that you have created."
Lord Brahma smiled, "That is easy." When Lord 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. Looking at the two of them, he realized that they were also as powerful as him.
The three of them turned to Lord Brahma and bowed before him. Lord Brahma smiled again, "Sons, your penance has been great. You still can ask for one more boon, if you desire..."
"Lord Brahma, if you please..," Tarakaksha cut in before either of his brothers could make another wish. "we would like to confer with each other, before we make a wish." Lord Brahma nodded as the three brothers huddled together, deciding what to ask next.
Tarakaksha said, "Brothers we cannot ask for immortality. Lord Brahma, always believes that whatever or whoever is born has to die...so we have to ask for something else..."
Kamalaksha said, "Brother we have been living in the paatala all the time. We should also be able to live in the earth, skies and even the heaven! We have as much right as the Devas to live in the heavens..."
Vidyumaali cut in, "That is not important Kamalaksha,..we have to first make sure we are safe from the attacks of the devas. They keep attacking us and we are defenceless to protect ourselves from them..."
Tarakaksha held up his hands, as he thought over what his brothers had said. "All these things are important and I am know how we are going to get it..."
Vidyumaali and Kamalaksha saw as Tarakaksha turned 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.
"Lord 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 and the third fortress must be made of gold and must fly in the heavens." Brahma nodded puzzled by the boon, "The forts will be separate from one another and must come together only very rarely. Only a single arrow which can bring all the three forts together and burn them should be able to destroy us." Tarakaksha finished feeling very proud of himself. His reasoning was very simple. It would extremely difficult for anyone to shoot one arrow at three cities which would be together so rarely. He looked at his brother and his brothers looked back at him proudly, knowing that he had asked the right boon.
Brahma was however puzzled as he could not imagine the reason behind such a boon. However as he had promised to grant them the boons, he had no choice but to say yes to the boon.
Lord Brahma, then summoned Maya. Maya was a renowned asura architect. He was such a skilled engineer that he could build anything with his hands. Lord Brahma called Maya and explained about the three fortresses to Maya.
A born engineer, Maya was delighted at this challenge and soon set about building the strong fortresses, two of which would be flying. Maya completed the fortresses and handed them over to the three asuras. Tarakaksha, being the eldest and the one who had made the wish got the golden fortress and lived in the heavens. Kamalaksha being the second son took the silver fortress in the skies and Vidyumaali took the iron fortress. The three brothers knew that they would not see other for a long time as the forts would rarely come at the same time bid goodbye to each other and went to their own fortresses.
The three fortresses being very strong was a safe place for the asuras inside. The three brothers ruled the place well and did not cause any hindrance to anybody. They lived peacefully and happily. The asuras from all over the world and the paatala came to live in the three fortresses and soon the fortresses were haven for all asuras.
The Devas were however jealous of the asuras 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 either. The Asuras were not doing anything wrong and were just enjoying their lives without hurting other people. The Devas knew that the Trimurty [The Trinity of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma] would never destroy anyone who had not harmed anyone. The Devas had no choice but to wait for the Asuras to go to their cruel ways again.
Finally the inevitable happened. The asuras drunk by their power and feeling that they were invincible, wreaked havoc on the universe. They forgot the ways of peace and forgot they were great devotees of Lord Shiva. The Asuras started attacking the Devas and the sages and harassed them.
The war between the Devas and the Asuras was terrible. The war went so furiously that the earth actually slipped from the axis. Worried the Devas prayed to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu came in the form of the bull and picked up the earth in his horns and placed the earth correctly back in the axis.
However the Devas were unable to destroy the Asuras. The fortress was proving to be invaluable to the Asuras as the Devas could not penetrate it, let alone destroy it. The Devas tired of losing to the asuras went to Lord Brahma for help. Lord Brahma told the Devas of the boons he had granted the three asuras and how they could be destroyed.
"A single arrow!?..." Indra glanced incredulously at Lord Brahma, wondering how Lord Brahma had granted such a boon. "...How could anybody destroy not one... but three cities with one arrow?" Agni immediately sat down heavily on the throne behind him. "We are doomed..." he whispered. Agni still remembered that in the last battle, the Asuras had not just defeated them, the Devas had been demoralised.
"There is a way son," Lord Brahma was anguished that his boon had caused so much suffering to the Devas and the sages. The Devas looked at Lord Brahma expectantly, "The three cities is about to line up very shortly..."
Indra through up his hands, interrupting Lord Brahma. "A single arrow?...I don't think...I don't think anyone of us can shoot the three of the cities with a single arrow..."
"And, in what material do we make such an arrow, to pierce through the three cities..."Varuna started looking desperately, "It is impossible.." He said burying his head in his hands.
Lord Brahma replied softly, "Do not interrupt me, the next time. 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...."
No sooner had Lord Brahma uttered these words, the Devas rushed to see Lord Shiva in Kailash.
"Lord please save us..." Indra first fell on Lord Shiva's feet. The other gods followed. "You are the only one, who can save us, please Lord..."
Lord Shiva smiled, "What is the matter, Indra?"
Indra looked at the God, "Please Lord, do not pretend like you do not know anything...the asuras...Tarakaksha, Kamalaksha..." Indra trembled, thinking of the defeat at their hands, " and...Vidyumaali...Lord you have to save us..."
Lord Shiva looked at them sharply, "You were jealous of them, when they lived well and did no harm to you... were you not?"
The Devas hung their heads in shame knowing that they could not counter the God"s argument. "You were just always prayign that one of us would destroy Tripura did you not?...Then I guess you deserve this..." Lord Shiva said still looking angry.
Indra stood up still trembling, "Lord, we made mistakes but please...do not punish us. Please save us... We are lost without you..."
Lord Shiva looked at the gods long and hard and deciding that they had learnt their lesson dropped the matter. He continued briskly, "I will do it..." The Devas looked surprised as they were expecting to get yelled some more. Surprise turned to joy as the Devas heard the words of Lord Shiva.
"Thank you lord...Thank you..." Indra shivered as he bowed once more to the three-eyed God.
"But there is something you need to do..." The gods looked as Lord Shiva spoke, "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, Chandra and Surya..." He said pointing to the Sun God and the Moon God, who came forward, "you will be the wheels of the chariot." The Gods bowed. Lord Shiva then turned to the other gods, "Break up Mount Meru to be my bow and ask Vasuki, the Snake God to be the Bow string and..." Lord Shiva said softly, "ask Lord Vishnu, if he is 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 of convince Lord Brahma to be the charioteer. When the Devas approached Lord Vishnu to be the arrow, Lord Vishnu smiled. There was a huge arrow there in Lord Vishnu"s place. It gleamed and looked so sharp and beautiful that the Devas joy knew no bounds. They knew that Tripura"s days were numbered.
As the gods were taking the Vishnu arrow to Lord Shiva, Agni came with Vayu, after breaking up Mount Meru and had made the bow.
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, "Why, with this arrow and bow even I can hit the three cities...It is no big deal..."
The other gods also slowly voiced their opinion. Indra said, "I don't think Lord Shiva could have done with 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 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 gods smirked slightly thinking that they were the ones who had actually done all the hard work, whereas Lord Shiva was claiming that he was going to destroy Tripurantaka....
Lord Shiva said nothing.
The next morning, the cities were aligning themselves, Lord Shiva got on the chariot, when the hub of the wheel broke. The gods looked aghast wondering how such a thing could happen. However Lord Shiva remembered that he had forgotten to invoke the blessings of Lord Ganapati, his son before starting a new venture. [It is customary among Hindus to invoke Lord Ganesha as he is considered the remover of all obstacles.]
After Lord Shiva prayed to Lord Ganesha, and set the hub right and the chariot took off!
The three cities aligned together and the gods were looking proudly of how they were responsible for the destruction of Tripura, when Lord Shiva got out of the chariot. The Devas looked at surprise when the God smiled when the three cities were perfectly aligned. The three cities started burning when Lord Shiva smiled at the three cities. The smile had destroyed the three cities and not the war machines of the Gods.
The Gods looked aghast and realised that they had committed a second blunder, they had been too proud of themselves and had not realised the true power of the Lord. Again shame-faced, they looked on as Tripura burnt and their weapons were lying useless!
Lord Brahma interfered on behalf of the Devas, "Shiva, please do not do this. I agree that they were proud and they had not realised your power but please do not do this..."
Lord Shiva remained unmoving . Lord Brahma continued, "If you do not use the weapons of the Gods, they would always have a bad name...Please Shiva..." Lord Brahma pleaded for quiet some time when Lord Shiva finally relented. He then 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 Gods. It is believed that the Rudraksha came from Lord Shiva's eyes, when he destroyed Tripura. [Rudra is Shiva and aksha is eye]
The gods with their pride humbled, worshipped Tripurantaka – the destroyer of the three cities of the asuras.
The remaining asuras came to Lord Shiva and begged for forgiveness. Realising that the asuras had leant from their mistakes, Lord Shiva smiled and made them his Shivaganas[Shiva's attendants]!