The Trishul is Lord Shiva’s primary weapon of choice. There are various iconography of Shiva’s trishul almost with every depiction of the God except in those where he is seen dancing. The trishul is variously interpreted by different sects of Shaivism and other Hindu followers of the Lord. The common denominator in all these interpretation happens to make a co-relation between the three prongs of the weapon with three major aspects of Lord Shiva. In all these cases the weapon is thought of as a device for destruction not only in terms of literal signification but also in the metaphorical sense.
Most Shaivites look upon Shiva’s trishul as the object that depict his mastery over consciousness, (or Chitya) knowledge, (or Gyan) and action, (or Kriya). Many Shaivite philosophy draws from the Advaita Vedanta elucidated by Shankaracharya and think of Shiva as the Ultimate “Purush”, surrounded by the forces of “Prakriti” (or the material world, including nature) and that every human being separated at birth from the creator has as his/her ultimate objective to reunite with “Parmatma”. This movement is facilitated by the interaction between the Prakriti and Purush. Shiva resides within each of us and is as such Nirguna (or formless) and can be accessed when one can manage to attain oneness with oneself by winning over the distractions of the senses. Reaching a sense of thoughtlessness without exertion is the key to attaining a direct connection with the eternal. Ironically however, one must first integrate with the world of illusions (maya) to learn from experience and then manage to reconnect with one’s inner divinity. This concept is similar to the idea of the “fortunate fall” in Christianity, best enunciated by William Blake- that man’s fall from grace is a fortunate thing because when man ascends to heaven from earth, s/he emerges better than angels because unlike angels s/he has seen and experienced evil and chose to be good. As such, Shaivaites see Shiva’s trishul signifying his mastery over the entire process of birth, death and reincarnation that involves the varying interactions between consciousness, knowledge and action.
At a more simple level, Shiva’s trishul is seen as the device that destroys the self centeredness of the human heart, liberating it from the clutches of material concerns, enabling it to transcend the barrier of the ordinary world of the senses. Like Posiedon and Neptune’s trident from Graeco-Roman cultures, Shiva’s trishul is also seen as a literal weapon of destruction that the God uses to smite demons and wrong doers. Shiva has been known to give his trishul to Goddess Durga to help her fight the awesomely powerful Demon King Mahishasur. As the literal embodiment of Shiva’s power, Goddess Shakti rightfully wields Shiva’s trishul.
The trishul is seen to accompany Lord Shiva even during his destructive and creative Taandav dances with Dumru, generating destructive and constructive energies respectively. When one considers productivity as a symbol of regeneration, the trishul’s similarity with the pitch-fork is made. The pitch fork however has not been a part of Indian agriculture like it has been in the western societies.
Shiva’s trishul therefore, like its master, symbolizes much more than destruction and is an inalienable part of Lord Shiva’s persona and iconography.