Peace with three worlds

Indian Mythology 18 Comments

Published in Speaking Tree, March 27, 2011

Every Hindu ritual ends with three words, “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti-hi,” which is conventionally translated as “Let there be peace, peace, peace.” Why is the word repeated three times? And can there truly be peace in the world?

To assume that a world of peace can ever exist is consdiered naïve in Hinduism. To survive, every creature needs food. To get food, animals have to turn into predators and kill. Violence plays a key role to support life. As long as there is need for food, there will be predation, hence violence, hence no peace. Humans kill more than other living creatures because we hoard more food than we need to live, to insure ourselves against future scarcity. Every field, orchard, garden that provides us with food is established by destroying an ecosystem. Raw materials for industry can only be provided by destroying ecosystems.Human society is thus built on violence. Hinduism acknowledges this truism, which is why Hindu gods bear weapons in their hands. With such a pragmatic approach to violence, why do Hindu rituals repeat this chant for peace? And why three times?

In Shiva temples, the bilva sprig is offered to Shiva. The sprig has three leaves. Shiva’s sacred mark comprises of three horizontal lines. Shiva holds a trident which has three spikes. Shiva has three eyes – the left, the right and the central. He is called Tripurantaka – destroyer of the three cities. Perhaps the secret of chant for triple peace rests here.

Shiva is the archer who struck down three cities with a single arrow. The bow is the symbol of balance. To shoot it one needs focus. To shoot three cities with a single arrow, one needs to be patient and aware until the three cities are perfectly aligned. All these characteristics suggest that Shiva’s archery is a metaphor for yoga. Yoga quietens the mind so that we are aware, patient, balanced and focussed. In this state, we discover the three cities that we inhabit.

The three cities are: our body, all things over which we claim ownership and all things over which we do not claim ownership. In other words, “me, mine and not-mine.” Ownership is human delusion – humans believe they have legitimate rights over the earth and hence have the notion of property that we can possess, buy, sell and bequeath to the next generation. Property is a cultural concept not a natural concept. This is humanity’s great delusion.

Yoga helps us realize that we own nothing in his world. We are born without posessions and we die without possessions. Realizing this we destroy “mine and not mine.” Yoga also helps us realize that “me” is not the body. We have a false identity, aham, the ego, that depends on the body and will die, and a true identity called atma, the soul, that does not depend on the body and will never die. True wisdom makes itself accessible when we outgrow our dependence on “me, mine and not-mine.”

So the chant, “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti-hi,” does not mean, “Let there be peace, peace, peace.” It means, “Let me come to terms with the limitations of me, mine and not mine.” It is the ultimate goal of Hinduism: to outgrow aham and realize atma.

  • Sir, Why is the Bilva Sprig offered to shiva and not any other Leaf??

    • Sree Nair

      The bilva tree itself is so holy and auspicious that its worship or its significance is mentioned in many puranas and other scirputres at various instances. Here below is a narration of “greatness of bilva” under 22nd chapter in vidyesvarasamhita of shivapurana.

      Tridalam TrigunakaramTrinetrancha Triyaayudham

      Trijanma Paapa SamharamEka Bilvam Shivarpanam

      The meaning of this above Sanskrit shloka offering of a bilvapatra to the three eyed god Shiva who holds a Trishula (weapon with three sharp edges) will wash away the sins committed in the past 3 lives.

      Lakshmyaascha stana utpannam Mahaadeva sadaa priyam,
      Bilva vriksham prayachchhaami eka bilvam Shivaarpanam.
      Darshanam bilva vrikshasya sparshanam paapanaashanam,
      Aghorapaapasamhaaram eka bilvam shivarpanam.

      Born from the breasts of Goddess Lakshmi, the Bilva tree is ever dear to Mahadeva. So I ask this tree to offer a Bilva leaf to Lord Shiva. To have darshan of the Bilva tree, and to touch it, frees one from sin. The most terrible karma is destroyed when a Bilva leaf is offered to Lord Shiva.Sri Bilva Shtakam (v. 6–7)

  • R.Nataraja

    Thanks for the info Sir.

    All izz Welll!!!

  • Very nice article…i visit your site daily and keep on refreshing it many times a day to see if you have uploaded any new articles…

    keep up the good work sir !!!

    • Dora

      I also do the same , Thanks

  • Dev,

    I am quite disappointed with the last 3 paras, looks like you wanted to complete it quickly… or maybe my expectation were to high :)

    Keep them coming, love your work


  • aarthi raghavan

    Devdutt Sir,
    This was really very nice.

  • Plz Explain Ego,self respect,and pride how do we draw the line to justify any situation ….

  • pardeep K Batra

    Dear Devdutt

    I am a great admirer of you and have read your books many years ago when you were not that popular. thanks for your insights !!

    I would like to know about vegetarian/ non vegetarian. do we have to be vegetarian!! i somehow not able to understand this in religious/ spiritual way becoz many different views.


    • Devdutt

      Hinduism is not a prescriptive religion; it is a reflective religion.

  • Dear Sir,
    I am a regular reader of each and every of your article. Though each one is a new and amazing one, this obe stands out after many many days. Hats off to the combination of conventional practices (read mythology) and philosophy. You make the moral values so simple; in sharp contrast to the theoritical philisophers. You add pride to each one of the Hindus and each one of the practisioner of the Hindu faith and practices.


  • amit jayendra sompura

    really nice article sir

    • optyagi

      it is not enough to say nice,there much more to know on this subject what has been brought out. At least my curiosity increases to know more about weapons in the hands of gods chanting shanti!shani!shanti! three times. Is there any harm if we chant shanti 10 times.

  • Arun Agrawal


    Reading your articles make us proud to be part of such rich culture and hertige to which we all belong. You make things such simple and meaningfull that we are encourgaed to find meaning in our every day Pooja/Festivals/Rituals or our way of life because the interpation of yours is not only relevant for business but to our every day life. This all should also be taught in schools to our childern so that they will be proud world citizens and contribute to our world more.

    Arun Agrawal.

  • Awesome interpretation.
    thank you.

  • Mystical Sense

    While many reasons are cited for why the repitition is made 3 times, here’s one: It is meant to pacify the 3 kinds of sufferings (Adhibhautika, Adhidaivika and Adhyatmika).
    Parallels can also be drawn corresponding to the “3” like the 3 gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas) in the universe etc., however, in relation to Tri-pura, externally/wrt the part of universe outside you, it is with the 3 lokas (bhur-earth, bhuvah, svah) – where the 3 cities (Tripurams) were located (built by the 3 sons of tarakasura); and internally/microcosm, it is with the 3 (levels of existence of) bodies, i.e. sthula-gross, sukshama-subtle and karana-causal; or even the 3 states of consciousness.
    Points to ponder are who/what are these ‘asuras’ that infest these 3 regions (externally and internally) and what does it take to destroy them, for what reason then Shiva is known as Tripurantaka.

    The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong. Carl Jung

  • shirish

    Can you shed some light from an atheist point of view.. considering idea of atheism is not Naive in Hinduism