Research Paper: Trimurti and the Trinity Hinduism

Pages: 10 (3368 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] The three different bodies, heads, or faces are meant to represent the three roles of the primary god or gods, creation, preservation, and destruction. Iconic images of the Trimurti first began appearing during the period between the eighth and tenth centuries (Yaday). It is thus assumed that this was the period when the trinity became the most popular in terms of believers. Together, the three gods supposedly bring balance because none of the singular gods are capable of being the one, all-powerful god of a monotheistic religion and this is why they are artistically presented in this way.

Brahma as an individual god is associated with the swan and his images are most often depicted in shades of red and symbolize the power and creativity of the sun (Hindu). As the creator god, it makes sense that he is most closely associated symbolically with the sun, which is responsible for the creation of life upon the earth. He has four heads, each with a unique face, and four arms growing from his upper body. In each hand he holds a different object; in one he holds a scepter in the shape of a spoon, a mala which is a string of beads, the Vedas which are the Hindi texts or a lotus flower, and a pot of water. This god is unique in that he is often depicted with a long, white beard.

Vishnu who is the preserver of life is associated with nurturing and care. Those who practice Hinduism believe that Vishnu appears by himself to protect the righteous and destroy evildoers. His skin is usually colored a light blue shade which is used to show his closeness with both the sky and the water which are both life forces (Hindu). Like Brahma, he is usually depicted with four arms. In each of his four hands, Vishnu holds a type of talisman: a conch shell which represents the sound of primitive creation, a chakra which symbolizes the egoless mind, a Gada which is a mace which grants both physical and mental strength, and a lotus flower which represents liberation through dharma. Also, he is almost always showed adorned with various ornaments including a crown, a garland of flowers, the Kaustubha jewel around his neck, and a golden earring in each ear. Vishnu has other names because he has supposedly come to the earth nine separate times to save the world from destruction (Penney 8). Krishna and Rama were two of the names by which Vishnu was called, both heroic gods who came to earth to protect the people.

The last Hindu god associated with the Trimurti, Shiva, is the god of destruction, who exhibits the supreme power of the deities and their ability to control all aspects of human existence. Shiva is the least permanent of the gods in terms of physical characteristics. He can be shown as young or old, libidinous or chaste, gentle or vicious, and can even be presented as either man or woman (Hindu). Physical presentations of Shiva are often done in white and the face usually has a third eye on the forehead to represent the all-seeing power of the god. This is also the source of Shiva's energy and allows him to destroy those who do acts of evil. On Shiva's head, he is shown to war a crescent moon representing the power of sacrificial offerings. Also, Shiva wears tiger, deer, and elephant skins as well as a deadly cobra around his neck illustrating the god's strength and his ability to conquer death. In his hand, Shiva holds a trident with which he can punish individuals in both the real and spirit worlds. It is stated that Shiva, when depicted artistically, is often shown in poses as though he was dancing. According to Sue Penney, "One of his names is Lord of the Dance. His dance is the energy which keeps the universe moving. Sometimes the dance shows him destroying the monster, Ignorance" (9). Shiva is the most prominent of all the Hindu gods and it is reported that he is perhaps worshipped more than any of the other Hindu gods. Twenty five percent of all Hindu followers worship Shiva (Penney 8). Although Shiva is terrifying because of his incredible power, Hindus also believe that he is kind to those who are virtuous. Only those who behave maliciously, selfishly, or with evil intention should be afraid of him because he is both vengeful and careful in choosing targets.

Many other religions share the concept of a trinity, most commonly referenced is the Christian version of the Trinity. However, despite the fact that the three gods are connected in Hinduism and Christian religions, there is actually a great difference in the worship or belief of the triumvirates. Christianity's Holy Trinity is comprised of "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," terms which refer to the one Judeo-Christian God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Each of the components is worshipped equally and each is given the same level of importance because each is, in actuality, a representation of God. The three components of God is known as Sabellianism, and it is this concept which is found in Hinduism as well as Christianity. Sabellianism was the idea that rather than individual and permanent entities, the three parts of the trinity were all modes of one singular God. The members of the Trimurti are equal because they are, according to the religion, the same person, but in a different form (Grudem 226). The Father is both the one who begot Jesus and the one who begot all of mankind. It is the Father who rules within Heaven, while the Son is God's representation upon the earth, and the Holy Spirit is the representation of God in the spiritual world.

The trinity is one of the concepts of Hinduism which is not commonly embraced and many people who practice Hindi prefer to believe that Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are three distinct deities. Before the concept of the Trinity was popularized, it secular and religious beliefs were heavily divided, as was the social and economic classes of the nation of India. The Trinity gained popularity during the Puranic period; the reason for this is explained by Indian historian R.C. Majumdar who wrote in the article "Evolution of Religio-Philosophic Culture in India" that:

[The Trinity's] notable expression is to be found in the theological conception of the Trimurti, i.e., the manifestation of the supreme God in three forms of Brahma, Visnu, and Siva…But the attempt cannot be regarded as a great success, for Brahma never gained an ascendancy comparable to that of Siva or Visnu, and the different sects often conceived the Trimurti as really the three manifestations of their own sectarian god, whom they regarded as Brahman or Absolute (49).

Unlike the trinity that is present in other religions, the Hindu version never caught on with the majority of worshippers. One of the reasons for this is that few people were able to worship all three of the gods in the trinity equally. Instead, historian A.L. Basham says, "All Hindu trinitarianism tended to favor one god of the three" (310). Usually Brahma was worshipped as a more powerful god than the other two members of the trinity, causing the idea of the trinity to have disunity and inequality.

There was one particular group which was dedicated to the Hindu trinity. In the early twentieth century Swami Abhishiktananda and Jules Monchanin co-founded an ashram named Saccidananda Ashram (Phan 318-319). Their sect was based on the principle outlined by Monchanin who stated, "Only the mystery of the Trinity is capable of resolving the antimonies which cause Hindu thought to swing endlessly between monism and pluralism, between a personal and an impersonal God" (319). Here again, it is shown that those in positions of authority believed that by merging the religious beliefs as well as secularism through the concept of the Hindu trinity, it was more likely to relieve the tensions between factions in the Hindu world.

Some of the sects of Hinduism believe in the trinity more than others. The Sauram, those who worship Surya, did not believe in the Trimurti because they place Surya above all other gods and only included the trinity as a group secondary in power to Surya. Those who are involved in the sect known as Vaishnavism do not accept the trinity because they place Vishnu above all other gods and believe that Shiva is the subordinate to Vishnu. Similarly, Shaivites, or people practicing Shaivism do not believe in the trinity because they believe that Shiva is the most important of the Hindu deities. Finally, Smartism is the sect which is most closely identified with a belief in the Trimurti. Although for some denominations of Smartism, the trinity is modified because they hold that there is a group of five… [END OF PREVIEW]

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