A blog commenter recently suggested that I write about the symbols of Shaivism, the sect of Hinduism which sees Lord Shiva as God. Many of the symbols are not known or misunderstood by Westerners, so this is a good idea. In writing these posts I will also understand the symbols better myself.
I will start with the trishula (त्रिशूल), Shiva’s trident. Shiva’s trishula is the three pointed spear or trident, which Lord Shiva carries. The trishula has many symbolic meanings. As a weapon the trishula represents Shiva’s ability to destroy evil. The three points represent the acts of creation, preservation and destruction. To Shaivites, Lord Shiva fulfils all three of these roles. The three points also represent the three gunas or qualities which are exhibited in the physical world, rajas (dynamic enerjetic), tamas (negative, inactive, stagnant) and sattva (uplifting, balanced, perceiving).
The trishula also represents the nadis or energy currents within the subtle body. The ida (feminine, passive) and the pingala (male, active) channels spiral upwards like a double helix, crossing for the last time at the Vishuddha or throat chakra. These are normally represented as snakes. The central channels or sushumna nadi goes straight up the spine, continuing up through the crown chakra where the other two channels terminate. The channels in this area form a trishula-like shape.
Yogis attempt to balance the energies in these channels, so the kundalini or energy flow is routed directly through the sushumna or spine.
What the Trishula is Not
It is worth mentioning some common misconceptions about the trishula.
The trishula is not the same as the trident held by Poseidon in ancient Greek mythology. Poseidon is depicted with a wide trident with parallel prongs. This type of trident is used for spear fishing. Shiva’s trishula is a weapon.
The trishula is also not the same as the pitchfork said to be carried by the devil in Christian mythology. A pitchfork is an agricultural implement used for tossing hay, leaves, etc. In Christian mythology the devil tosses the damned into the fires of hell with a pitchfork, though this does not come from any Christian scriptures.
The Romani Connection…
The Romani (Gypsy) word for cross is trishul. The word “Gypsy” comes from a mistaken belief that the Romani originally came from Egypt, and “Romani” because of the large of these people settling in Romania. It is now accepted (on genetic and linguistic evidence) that they originally came from Northern India. It appears that though they took up a Christian religion they maintained the word trishul for a holy symbol.
The Romani also have a saint known in their language as Sara e Kali, or “Sara the Black”. In an annual ceremony they carry this saint to the sea, in a similar manner to Hindu processions. It is likely that the Hindu deity Kali has been denigrated to a Christian saint.
Images in this article are from public domain sources, mainly Wikipedia