Tilotthama – beauty that made shiva sprout 4 faces and Indra a 1000 eyes

Today we are going to see a very interesting legend, supported by a unique sculpture from Banteay Srei in Cambodia ( but presently housed in the Guimet Museum, France)

Am sure we have come across the names of the heavenly Apsaras – Rambha, Urvasi often, and then there is Tilottama. Her name is used often to denote perfection of form, of pristine beauty and perfection. Inorder to know more about this celestial beauty, we go deep into the Hindu scriptures – the Mahabharta. The legend of Tilotthama comes as an interesting conversation between the first of the Pandavas, the Just Yudhistir and the divine sage Narada.

The context is such – that the Pandavas are serving their exile, King Drupada of Panchala, holds a swayamvara ( competition of skill and the victor would get the hand of the maiden) for Draupadi The princes vying for Draupadi’s hand had to shoot five arrows at a revolving target, while looking only at its reflection in a bowl. While all ( ok, except Karna who could lift the bow but was barred from proceeding more by Draupadi – for being not fit for her – being brought up as a charioteer’s son) failed, Arjuna successfully won the competition and the hand of the beautiful Draupadi.

The trouble started now, While in exile, Kunti, mother of the Pandavas often advised her sons that they share everything they have (or obtain through Bhiksha i.e. alms) equally amongst themselves. Upon returning home with Draupadi, Yudhisthira addresses his mother first “Look mother, I have brought Bhiksha (alms)!”. Kunti, unmindful of what Yudhisthira was referring to, unassumingly asked her son to share whatever it is with his brothers!!! Being dutiful sons they had to accept their mother’s command, however, this created problems. At this time, Narada passes that way and Yudhistir seeks his counsel. Narada wanting to highlight the troubles a beautiful lady can cause even among brothers, narrates the story of Tillotama ..

“The glorious daughter of Panchala is the common lawful wife of all of you. You must lay down a rule, lest there be strife over her. Inorder for you to understand why i say this, listen to the story of Sunda and Upasunda. ”

They were two inseparable demon brothers, sons of Nikumbha , a descendant of Hiranyakasipu. They perform severe austerities, till their abode the Vindhya mountains begins to smoke – the Devas try all their pranks to distract them to no avail. Finally, Brahma has to appear before them – and as usual they seek the boon of immortality. Brahma refuses – since immortality is out of his powers, so the brothers place the trust in their brotherly love and modify their – for they share everything, their kingdom, their food, their palace – that they seek death only at the hands of each other. They are so sure of their affections – that they seek this boon, which Brahma obliges.

The Evil brothers, armed with this boon, pillage the earth and then set sights on the heavens. No one has the power to stop them and this puts Brahma in a fix. He thinks hard and sees the chink in the armour of the two demons – the loop hole in the boon – the Achilles heel – and plans to use it to bring about their downfall. He calls on Visvakarma – the divine architect, and instructs him to make the most beautiful, perfect, desirable women. Being an architect, Visvakarma chooses the best particles in the world,the animate and the inanimate, down to the smallest of gems ( tilo – as small as a grain of seasame seed – sanksrit and uttama – better) – and created the perfect women, how do we call this – the first clone or nano robot !! Tilotthama .

She was instructed by Brahma to go and seduce the two brothers. Before she left, she sought the blessings of Siva and Indra by circumambulating them. So great was her beauty that even Shiva couldn’t take his eyes of her – as she went round him, he sprouted faces on all sides – 4 in all, so that he could keep seeing her. Indra, on his part, sprouted 1000 eyes ( there are many version and more erotic legends on his 1000 eyes!!!).

But finally she did go to do her bidding, she seduced the two brothers and drunk in her beauty, they both fought over her and finally ended up killing each other.

Thus, Narada advised Yudistir to come up with a plan that will enable each of the brothers exclusive habitation with Draupadi for a year and …..ok the story goes on. We should close shop for today.

The sculpture now – the beauty of this story is in the depiction of this fight among the two brother over Tilotthama is carved in cambodia. The beautiful Tilotthama being held by both the brothers, each with a raised mace ( or sword) ready to strike each other. The smile of a women can indeed break a man, and if she were designed out of the best materials specifically for that very purpose – she was a potent weapon.

The pediment is from the east gopura of the third enclosure of Banteay Srei. Sculpted in pink sandstone and dated 967, the pediment could not be reconstructed at the site by Henri Marchal in 1936 and was given to France and the EFEO as a gift for their work in restoring Cambodia’s monuments.

4 thoughts on “Tilotthama – beauty that made shiva sprout 4 faces and Indra a 1000 eyes

  1. Women are not the cause of seperation always. Women are victims of seperation – that starts at birth follows through marriage. May be we can say the manipulated victims (women) are victimizing.

  2. Hi kavitha,

    You are right. There is a popular saying in tamil ..avathum pennale, azhivathum pennale. Basically means – the power of a lady can both create and destroy. Women are the greatest creation of God and in our country worshipped ( sadly worshipped only) as gods. Any power that too absolute power works both ways – depends on how you harness it.


  3. Exactly VJ…”sadly worshipped only” – just outlines how a bitter woman becomes a venemous force. If women can get their voices heard, and not treaded upon..they could be great creators! Thanks. I honestly appreciate yoru voice.

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