The Trimūrti (sez Wikipedia) “is a concept in Hinduism ‘in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer or transformer.'” I couldn’t have told you that, but my years of Sanskrit study, though mercifully four decades in the past, left me with enough passive knowledge to guess it meant something like ‘triad’ when I ran across it, in Russian guise, in Veltman’s Salomea (which I’m still reading — it’s very long). He’s been describing the unhappy marriage of Maria “Mary” Nilskaya, whose stupid and officious husband cuts her off from her family and treats her badly, and he says that she is unable to fulfill a wife’s duty to love her spouse: to love truly, they say, you have to love with mind, heart, and senses. “Но это тримурти любви, говорят, мечта” [But this trimurti of love, they say, is a dream]. The National Corpus of the Russian Language shows no other instance of a writer using the word metaphorically in this way; all other citations are about Indian religion. It’s quite striking to me that Veltman would presume an awareness of the word on the part of at least a substantial element of his readership, which is a reminder of the fact that the Bhagavad Gita was translated into Russian as early as 1788 (by Nikolay Novikov, working from Charles Wilkins‘ English version — it wasn’t translated from the original until 1956).


  1. What a poetic visual image that word conjures! I can see this, and feel a bit of the frustration of the wife. 🙂

  2. a more recent translation was prosecuted in Tomsk on charges of religious extremism

    I’m not sure which is more astonishing, the trial itself or the incredibly long Wikipedia article (over a hundred footnotes!).

  3. I can see this, and feel a bit of the frustration of the wife.

    Veltman is amazingly sensitive to the difficult situation of women in a sexist society; all of his novels feature women dealing with it in one way or another, and he often uses the theme of women dressing up as men or acting in ways normally reserved for men. He doesn’t make angelic heroines of them, either; they’re just as complex and difficult as the male characters. He introduces Salomea thus: “A beauty, with a consciousness of her own worth, a true valorous man [муж] in a half-dozen skirts, a real young ministry official who has come from a European capital to an Asiatic one, with an entire stock of importance and pride in gait, in bearing, in methods, in movements, in speech, in glance, in feelings and even thoughts. In a word, this was a magnanimous creature, despising all who were small-souled, faint-hearted, feeble, and cordial [literally ‘a great-souled creature, despising all who were small-souled, weak-souled, in-vain-souled, and glad-souled’].” She frequently behaves so badly you want to clobber her, but Veltman never lets you forget that the alternative (as we see with other female characters) was to be a simpering “nice girl” who lets men do as they please and puts up with it. He was one of the most truly feminist writers of the nineteenth century (and married a fellow writer, Elena Kube, whose work he supported).

  4. siganus sutor says

    And Shiv’s attribute is the trishul, or tri-dent.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    … from which (apparently) derives the Romani trušul “cross, crucifix”
    It’s an interesting world.

  6. The OED gives the etymology as “trí three + -mūrti consisting or formed of”, hence the One God in three forms. (Just a hair more syncretism, and India could have been the greatest of Christian nations.) A further definition is a statue with three faces representing Trimurti.

  7. The word comes up frequently in Lord of Light. I thought that book had been discussed here a while back, but I can’t located the thread I’m thinking of, so I may be thinking of another site.

    I have noticed that none of the practicing Hindus with whom I have discussed the nature of their three-fold supreme deity have ever used the word “trimurti” in those discussions. Sometimes they seem to refer to the whole triad as “Brahma”; I suppose the possibilities for confusion are mitigated by the fact that Hindu sects that primarily revered Brahma all but vanished long ago.

  8. The Russian Wikipedia mentions Veltman’s «Первобытное верование и буддизм» in addition to translations (from German?) of parts of the Mahabharata.

    From what I can make out of Клич Феникса, a species of crack-pottery I know very little about, it’s full of folk etymologies involving the Trimurti, such as Abraham from Ibn-Brahma.

    This quaint work doesn’t seem to show up online, except in library catalogs and rare book sellers.

  9. We’ve definitely never mentioned Lord of Light here. The references to Trimurti in the book read to me like references to the White House: you know there is more than one person hiding behind this singular noun. The first few references don’t make this clear: “the worthiest opponent Trimurti ever faced”, “an agent of Trimurti”, “the rod of Trimurti still falls on the backs of men”. But the next two usages clarify it:

    “I can name you no one. Trimurti rules — that is, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Which of these three be chiefest at any one time, I cannot say. Some say Brahma —”

    and then

    Vishnu was not pleased, later being quoted as having said that the City should not have been defiled with blood, and that wherever chaos finds egress, it will one day return. But he was laughed at by the younger of the gods, for he was accounted least among Trimurti, and his ideas were known to be somewhat dated, he being numbered among the First [the original settlers].

  10. David Eddyshaw: [trishul] …from which (apparently) derives the Romani trušul “cross, crucifix”

    I didn’t know that. Interesting indeed, and it is a wonderful world in which the cross that might be carried by Christians (Romani Christians) bears almost the same name as the object held by Hindus, as well as by Shiva somehow like a bishop would hold his crosier.
    Do you know how the word trušul is pronounced?


    John, as mentioned by Brett above, the trimurti isn’t something that forms part of the common set of religious beliefs and practices in contemporary Hinduism (unlike the central concept of trinity in Christianity). It is something that belongs more to a distant past and ancient philosophical texts. In fact, far from being a core belief, it may have been artificially brought into the limelight by British orientalists who were all too happy to make a parallel with what they had back home. All this to say that whatever syncretism there might have been to make Hindus embrace Christianity, or make Hinduism get closer to Christianity, it is quite unlikely that the trinity could have played any significant role in it.

    Re: OED — I’m not sure whether there is a murti in the trimurti (there might, ultimately), but a murti is anything that embodies the divinity. In most cases it is a statue, which is revered and to whom offerings are given, but it can also be non-anthropomorphic objects, like a stones, the most current of them being the shivling, the erect stone symbolizing Shiva.

  11. Granted, but how contemporary are we talking about? Christianity has been in India for sixteen centuries or more, blown across the sea on the Golden Wind. Since then, Hinduism has had plenty of influence from Islam and its emphatic insistence on monotheism.

  12. Dave Lovely says

    I’m curious about the previous citation (1841) from V. F. Odoyevski’s Tales of Grandfather Irenaeus. There’s a very poorly translated page about him here which makes him sound intriguing, if incomprehensible: “a big novel “Salamander” – semi-historical, semi-fantastic story which inspired the author of the study of the history of alchemy and research YA.K. Grotto of Finnish legends and beliefs – and a series of complete irony of stories about social life ( “New Year”, “Princess Mimi,” “Princess Zizi”). Satirical tale ( “The dead body, . know who owned “, . “The gentleman Kovakole” and others), . some of whom are different dark color and, . because of the then dominant in the ruling circles of views, . great courage, . the transition from science fiction stories, . which feels a strong influence of Hoffmann,” & more in the same vein.

  13. Do you know how the word trušul is pronounced?

    Stress on the second syllable: troo-SHOOL.

  14. ’m curious about the previous citation (1841) from V. F. Odoyevski’s Tales of Grandfather Irenaeus. There’s a very poorly translated page about him … which makes him sound intriguing, if incomprehensible

    He’s a delightful writer; I’ve written about him a number of times (1, 2, 3, 4)

  15. John,
    ” (Just a hair more syncretism, and India could have been the greatest of Christian nations.)”

    There wasn’t any syncretism necessary. God incarnating through the womb of an untouchable? That story is tailor-made for India. And all the core doctrines of Christianity are Dharmic – original sin – avidya; the need for asalvation – moksha, nirvana’ the uselessness and even dangers of ethicalism and good works, the doctrine of incarnation itself – rather than Abrahamic.

    it wasn’t more syncretism but less cultural parochialism on the part of the Syriac colony that was needed.

  16. @John Cowan: I particularly remember that last quote about Vishnu being the least of trimurti. It makes the fakeness of the gods so very clear—even if that’s not really needed at that point in the story.

    I’ll have to figure out which blog that was that was discussing Lord of Light, since I realized something that was specifically relevant to what was being talked about.

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