As Shodashi, Tripurasundari is represented as a sixteen-year-old girl, and is believed to embody sixteen types of desire. Shodashi also refers to the sixteen syllable mantra, which consists of the fifteen syllable (panchadasakshari) mantra plus a final seed syllable. The Shodashi Tantra refers to Shodashi as the “Beauty of the Three Cities,” or Tripurasundari. Tripurasundari is the primary goddess associated with the Shakta Tantric tradition known as Sri Vidya.
Tripurasundari is described as being of dusky, red, or golden in color, depending on the meditational form, and in sexual union with Shiva. The couple are traditionally portrayed on a bed, a throne, or a pedestal that is upheld by Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Indra. She holds five arrows or flowers, a noose, a goad and a sugarcane or bow. The noose represents attachment, the goad represents repulsion, the sugarcane bow represents the mind and the arrows are the five sense objects. Bala Tripurasundari is another form of Tripurasundari that is pictured either as an independent young goddess who is 16 years of age, or as an unmarried, pre-menarche girl of nine or ten years of age, also known as a kumari. Bala Tripurasundari’s mantra differs slightly from that of Maha Tripurasundari. Tripurasundari is also worshipped as the Sri Yantra, which is considered by practitioners of Sri Vidya to be a more true representation of the goddess. Tripurasundari combines in her being Kali‘s determination and Durga’s charm, grace, and complexion. She has a third eye on her forehead. Usually four-armed and clad in red, the richly bejeweled Tripurasundari sits on a lotus seat laid on a golden throne. She carries in her hands various attributes associated with Shiva. An aura of royalty characterizes her overall bearing and ambiance.
‘Tripura’ means ‘the three cities,’ and ‘sundarĩ’ means ‘beautiful,’ specifically a beautiful female. Therefore, her name means ‘Beautiful (Goddess) of the Three Cities’. Tripura is often popularly translated as ‘the three worlds;’ however, this is an incorrect translation of the original Sanskrit. The ‘three cities’ esoterically refers to a variety of interpretive doctrines, but commonly refers to the triple form of the goddess as found in the triadic doctrine of Shaktism. According to Bhaskararaya‘s commentary of the Tripura Upaniṣad There are three forms of deity: physical (sthūla), subtle (sūkṣma) and supreme (parã). Now the first [physical anthropomorphic form of the deity] is described in its respective meditative verses (dhyānaśloka); the second [subtle form] consists of the [particular deity’s] respective root-mantra (mūlamantra); the third [supreme or transcendent form] consists of contemplative worship [of the deity’s yantra]. Because deities are threefold in form, contemplative worship (upãsti) is divided threefold respectively into external sacrifice (bahiryãga) [performed primarily to the physical form of the deity], silent repetition (japa) [on the subtle form root-mantra] and internal sacrifice (antaryãga) [in the form of contemplative worship (upãsti) of the yantra]. Even though the bindu cakra [the “drop” in the center of the śrīcakra, is only one point] it has a threefold nature… The three deities created [and] not different from [her supreme] peaceful (śãnta) [aspect] are [the three creative powers,namely,] Icchãśakti, Jñānaśakti, and Kriyāśakti. The female deities named Vāmā, Jyeṣṭhã, and Raudrī [identified with the three śaktis are complemented] by the three [male consort] forms of Brahmã, Viṣṇu, and Rudra which are not different creations from [her all-subsuming aspect called] Ambikā. Icchãśakti is literally the ‘power of will,’ Jñānaśakti is the ‘power of knowledge,’ and Kriyāśakti is the ‘power of action.’ The traditional interpretation of Tripurã’s name in Tantric soteriology involves a rather technical discussion of different levels of spiritual insight and worldly accomplishment, the fate of the individual soul (ātman) in the karmic process, and the concepts of external (bahir-) and internal sacrifice (antaryāga). Tripura also refers to the Śrĩcakra, the yantra that represents the highest vibrational form of Tripurasundari, according to the commentator on the sutra of Gauḍapādā. Bhaskararaya notes in his commentary on Tripura Upaniṣad that the śrĩcakra, composed of nine interlocking triangles, is triple in nature. The Lalitha Sahasranama describes her as extremely merciful and leads a devotee to liberation..
Influences on Indian History and Culture
The Indian state of Tripura derives its name from the goddess Tripura Sundari. Her main temple, the Tripura Sundari temple is also located on top of the hills near Radhakishorepur village, a little distance away from Udaipur town. Kashmiri Pandits have a collection of five ancient hymns, collectively known as Panchastavi, that were composed ages ago in praise of Tripura Sundari. These ancient hymns still remain very popular among this community.