There is an interesting legend behind the origin of Tripura-sundari. We are told that once upon a time Shiva referred to Kali by her name in front of some heavenly damsels who had come to visit, calling her "Kali, Kali" ("Blackie, Blackie"), which she took to be a slur against her dark complexion. She left Shiva and resolved to rid herself of her dark complexion, through asceticism. Later, the sage Narada visited Kailasha and, seeing Shiva alone, asked where his wife was. Shiva complained that she had abandoned him and vanished. With his yogic powers Narada discovered Kali living north of Mount Sumeru and went there to see if he could convince her to return to Shiva. He told her that Shiva was thinking of marrying another goddess and that she should return at once to prevent this. By now Kali had rid herself of her dark complexion but did not yet realize it. Arriving in the presence of Shiva, she saw a reflection of herself with a light complexion in Shiva's heart. Thinking, that this was another goddess, she became jealous and angry. Shiva advised her to look more carefully, with the eye of knowledge, telling her that what she saw in his heart was herself. The story ends with Shiva saying to the transformed Kali: "As you have assumed a very beautiful form, beautiful in the three worlds, your name will be Tripura- sundari. You shall always remain sixteen years old and be called by the name Shodashi.
Tripura-sundari is described in great detail as extremely attractive, beautiful, and erotically inclined. The Lalita-sahasranama details her charms from head to foot, and the majority of the Saundaryalahari is similarly occupied with her attractive appearance. She is often said to give desire and to suffuse the creation with desire. The Saundaryalahari also states that that a worn-out old man, ugly and sluggish in the arts of love, can be restored to physical attractiveness and vigor by her glance. The Prapancasara-tantra says that her worship has such an amorous effect that celestial females such as gandharvas, yakshas, and siddhas come to the sadhaka "with gazelle-like eyes, breathing heavily, their bodies quivering and moist with the pearly sweat of passion; and throwing away their ornaments and letting their clothes fall from about them, bow themselves before him and offer to do his will."