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THE MYTH OF TRAILOKYAVIJAYA AND ITS CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE



  Apr 22, 2024

THE MYTH OF TRAILOKYAVIJAYA AND ITS CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE



The narrative of Trailokyavijaya (TLV), detailed in the Buddhist text "Assembly of the Essence of All Buddhas" (Sarva-tathagata-tattva-sangraha), reflects a dynamic period of religious and cultural transformation in Monsoon Asia during the 7th-8th centuries CE. This era saw the intersection of various religious traditions and the rise of state-centric economies based on temple-centered activities and long-distance trade, supported by a mobile intellectual class and political elites invested in ritualistic expressions of power.

Trailokyavijaya, a wrathful deity created by the cosmic Buddha Vairochana, emerges in this context as a powerful figure designed to subdue Shiva, a dominant deity within the Shaivist tradition, which was gaining prominence, particularly in southern India. In the myth, Vairochana chants a mantra that coerces Shiva and his followers into his presence, leading to a confrontation where TLV humiliates Shiva, casting him in a negative light compared to the righteous and merciful figures of Buddhism. This episode ends with Shiva being granted nirvana and rebirth as the Buddha Bhasmeshvara-Nirghosha.

This myth not only encapsulates the rivalry between Buddhist and Shaivist sects but also illustrates the broader cultural and religious dynamics of the time. TLV's story was crafted to assert the moral and magical superiority of Buddhist ritual experts and the kings they supported, portraying them as superior to their Shaivist counterparts. Despite the myth's powerful narrative, its influence was largely confined to regions like Bihar in India, where monastic Buddhism was deeply entrenched. However, TLV gained significant popularity in other parts of Asia, such as China and Tibet, where Shaivism was less prevalent, and even in Java, where both Shaivism and tantric Buddhism coexisted, leading to intricate religious interactions.

The myth of TLV thus serves as a fascinating lens through which to view the intricate tapestry of religious and political life in ancient Asia, highlighting the ways in which narratives were used to shape cultural identities and spiritual allegiances across diverse regions.



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