The Trinity, in Hindu mythology, refers to Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva. Brahma is perceived by Hindus to be the creator of the universe while Vishnu is represented as the preserver or protector of the entire world. On the other hand, Shiva is represented as the destroyer. The Trinity is also referred to as Trimurti (meaning ‘three forms’ in Sanskrit). All three deities are represented in distinct ways.
Read on to know how each of the deities in the Trinity is depicted in Hindu tradition.
Lord Brahma – Creator
Brahma is portrayed as an elderly person with a beard and seated on a lotus. He is depicted with four heads and four hands. It is said that each head represents a Veda. Each head points to one of the four cardinal directions. Brahma is also known as Swayambhu that means self-born. He is associated with wisdom, knowledge, and creation. Unlike the other gods in the Trinity, he does not have any weapon in his hands. He holds a water pot and the Vedic texts in two hands. The other hands hold a rosary and a lotus.
Vaishnavites claim that Brahma emerged from Lord Vishnu’s navel in a lotus. Shaivites are of the belief that he was born from their god. According to the Shaktism cult, Brahma was created by Devi along with the rest of the universe. Lord Brahma uses a swan as his vehicle.
Lord Vishnu – Preserver or Protector
Vishnu is depicted as a handsome person with a grey-blue or blue skin tone and decked in the finest jewels and yellow garments. He is represented as reclining, seated, or standing on a lotus with four hands that hold a lotus, a mace, a conch, and a discus. The lotus represents transcendence and purity while the mace denotes power and authority. The conch symbolises the origin of existence while the discus portrays the wheel of time.
Hindus believe that Vishnu incarnates on earth as various avatars when chaos or evil pervades. The most important avatars of Vishnu are Rama and Krishna. Vishnu is also called Narayana. The deity is also portrayed resting on Adishesha Sheshnag (the five-hooded snake king) and is represented along with his consort, Goddess Lakshmi, who sits close to his feet. He uses Garuda as his mode of transport. Vaishnavites consider Vishnu to be the supreme god.
Lord Shiva – Destroyer
Shiva is represented as an ascetic or a yogi with a blue throat. He is represented as dressed in animal skins. He has long and matted hair with a crescent on it. The Ganges is also shown to be flowing from his hair. He has a third eye on his forehead that is believed to be very powerful. It is said that whatever/whoever he focuses his third eye on will get destroyed or reduced to ashes. The lord has a serpent wrapped around his neck. He has a drum or damru in one hand and a trishul or trident in the other. Shaivites also fondly call him Mahadev or Maheshwar.
He is sometimes portrayed along with his consort, Parvati, and even with their children, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Some illustrations depict him quite serene and engaged in deep meditation. Another popular depiction is the fierce Nataraja form where he performs the famous Tandava (dance of destruction) to make way for recreation. In this form, he is shown stamping a demon Apasmara with one leg. The demon is supposed to depict ignorance. The lord uses Nandi as his vehicle.
There are many temples built in honour of Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva across various parts of the country. However, although there are several references to Lord Brahma in texts and scriptures, the number of temples built exclusively in his honour are very few. There are also a few shrines in India that are dedicated to all three deities collectively. The Baroli Trimurti temple, the Savadi Trimurti temple, the Mithrananthapuram Trimurti temple and the Thripaya Trimurti temple are some of these temples.