Article

Trimūrti

Greg Bailey

in Hinduism

ISBN: 9780195399318
Published online January 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0056
Trimūrti

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The trimūrti is a theological grouping of three gods in Sanskrit literature bringing together Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva into a role-oriented scheme where each is said to be responsible for the tasks of creation, preservation, and destruction of the cosmos according to a sophisticated theory of cosmogony. It is the result of a theological synthesis emerging after the 2nd century ce, resulting in broader syntheses in later centuries. For example, in the medieval period images of Śūrya are also incorporated into synthetic trimūrti images. However, the development of the trimūrti itself occurs only when Hinduism emerges as a distinctive set of beliefs coming out of the earlier Vedic ritualism and the ascetic traditions associated with the Upanishads and Buddhism. Its development is a direct reflection of the emergence of devotionalism as the central stream within Hinduism with the need formally to integrate its principal deities within a cosmological theory that did not restrict them too much in terms of their own traditional roles. Equally, it provides a framework where the three gods can be related to other triads, and yet can still permit the presence of another deity who exists beyond the trimūrti and in some sense enlivens them. This deity can either be one of the three traditional members of the trimūrti or another god or goddess and is then conceived as the foundation of the universe and not involved in its instrumental functioning. Because it seems to be a theological imposition on already existing mythological cycles, especially those associated with Vishnu and Shiva, the trimūrti has not received as much scholarly attention as it deserves, focus being placed much more on its individual divine constituents than on their combination into a triad. Unsurprisingly, because of its similarity with the Christian Trinity, it attracted the attention of Western missionaries in India from the 17th century onward, and criticisms of it often appear in their writings.

Article.  3664 words. 

Subjects: Hinduism

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