Himalayan Art Resources

Ritual Object: Trident

Ritual Objects Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Description (below)
- Trident & Vajra Confusion
- Trident & Katvanga Combined
- Katvanga-like Staff
- Katvanga & Tantric Staves
- Padmasambhava & the Trident
- Confusions: katvanga, tribal staves, 5-pointed Spear
- Others...

- Trident: A Three Pointed Spear
- Katvanga Staff
- Katvanga & Trident Confusions
- Padmasambhava & the Trident

A trident is a three pointed spear with a plain or slightly decorated shaft. Shiva is the most famous Indian god associated with the trident. Virupa is the most famous of the Eighty-four Mahasiddha to have a trident attribute. A number of Buddhist deities, both peaceful and wrathful, have the trident attribute.

Padmasambhava, in solitary aspect, is described as having a trident staff resting against the left should. In some paintings and sculptural representations the attribute appears as a trident placed atop a katvanga-like staff, however this is not a consistent characteristic and many examples show a katvanga, or katvanga-likestaff, rather than a trident. Early paintings of Padmasambhava appear to show a half vajra at the peak of a katvanga which can very easily be mistaken for a small trident and over time possibly change into then identification of a trident. The trident and half vajra conflation goes back to the period of Pala India and seen most apparently with the trident of Simhanada Lokeshvara.

In the Nyingma tradition the katvanga staff as typically described in the Chakrasamvara tantras is often combined or conflated with the trident and held in the hands of wrathful figures such as the Eight Heruka and the Lama Gongdu Heruka deities. The design of the trident is not always consistent and in some cases must be accepted as artistic license, poor quality copy work, or simply a mistake.

Figures with a Trident:
- Shiva
- Shivaa
- Virupa
- Padmasambhava
- Simhanada Lokeshvara
- White Jambhala
- Shadbhuja Mahakala
- Vajrakila
- Eight Heruka
- Lama Gongdu Heruka
- Others...

Study Topics:
- Name, Origin & Meaning
- Shiva
- Virupa
- Sarma Figures (Trident)
- Nyingma Figures (Trident/katvanga)

Jeff Watt 4-2023

(The images below are only a selection of images from the links above).