A Trishul, known as a trident in English, is a weapon that was used in ancient times in warfare and other types of martial activity. Although the trident does not have any relevance in today’s world of modern warfare, it has survived as a religious and symbolic motif for many religions and cultures. For example, the Ukrainian coat-of-arms sports a trident, the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon – and his Roman counterpart, Neptune – are all depicted holding a trident. However, the most famous depiction of a trident is that of Shiva, a major deity of Hinduism, who is always seen carrying it. Here, we shall answer the question as to why Lord Shiva carries a Trishul.
Before we answer as to why Lord Shiva carries a ‘Trishul’, it is important that we first understand Shiva’s significance in Hinduism. Lord Shiva is a part of the Hindu Trinity, also called the Trimurti, which is composed of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Each of these deities has a specific function: Brahma is called the creator of the Universe; Vishnu is called the protector of the Universe and Shiva occupies the position of being the destroyer of the Universe. Hence, in Hindu mythology, Shiva plays a significant role. In fact, he appears in many stories that impart a didactic moral lesson, especially in the Puranas.
Now that we have understood Shiva’s significance in the pantheon of Hinduism, we can now try to understand the significance of the Trishul as one of the many motifs for Shiva. Symbolically, the Trishul can either represent the aspects of Shiva as creator, preserver, and destroyer (in the Shaivite tradition), or it can alternatively represent the ‘gunas’ (qualities) of Shiva, namely, Sattva (goodness), Rajas (passion), and Tamas (chaos). So, by giving Lord Shiva the Trishul, it re-enforces the role and importance of Lord Shiva to Hinduism.
There are two contradictory texts that describe how Shiva came up with the trident as a part of his regalia. The Shiva Purana tells the reader that Lord Shiva is self-created, born out of his own volitions. Since he is a direct incarnation of Sadashiv, hence, he carries the Trishul from the very beginning. On the other hand, the Vishnu Purana tells us a different story altogether. When Suryadev (Sun God) married Sanjana, who was Lord Vishwakarma’s daughter, she soon became unhappy with her conjugal life because of the heat of her husband. To this, her father, Lord Vishwakarma, intervened and he made an arrangement with Suryadev whereby the Sun God agreed to reduce his heat in order to accommodate Sanjana, by shedding off some solar matter to the Earth. It was using this solar matter that Vishwakarma crafted the Trishul for Shiva’s use.