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The Tryzub And Its Origin: The Himilayan Connection

Most Slavic historians assert that the Tryzub appeared on Ukrainian territory about the 1st century AD.  Later this sign was used as a state symbol by Volodymyr Velyky on coins as well as in family crests from this period.

Nevertheless, the question arises as to the origin of the Tryzub. The Ukrainian Encyclopedia alludes that it may have been a Greek borrowing, but no firm documentation for this claim can be made.  Also, the relations between the Scythians and the other people who lived north of the Black Sea and the ancient Greeks were never good.  In fact they were antagonistic until Volodymyr Velyky’s day.  The Greeks feared the Scythians and as a result created characters such as the demonic satyr half-man/ half-horse who was an allusion to Scythian horsemanship.  In typical Greek anti-feminism, Scythian women were made to look evil via the “fighting Amazon” tales.

However, an argument can be made that the Tryzub is actually a Scythian symbol and not a Greek one. In the Himalayas, far from the sphere of Greek influence, the Tryzub is also found.  Below is a picture of a 16th century AD Trisula.

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In the Western Himalayas, western Tibet to be more precise and in the land of Lahual and the Spiti Valley region, the Tryzub is used.  Here it is called the TRISULA, representing the Lord of the Soil.  The obvious linguistic similarities TRYZUB-TRISULA need no commentary.  What is important is that the Trisula is a symbol of an ancient animistic religion in the Western Himalayas called Bon or Bon-Po  – Bon meaning truth, reality.

The Bon Religion arrived in this region many centuries before the rise of Christianity, arriving with a nomadic people who came from the west, from a land referred to as ZAN-ZUN.  Some scholars claim it maybe contemporary Tajikistan, but most believe Bon came from farther west than that.  One of great differences between Tibetans and other Buddhist cultures is that Tibetans are meat eaters in contrast to the vegetarianism of other Buddhist realms.  The explanation for this is that the meat eating tradition came with the nomads arriving from the west along with other cultural traits and was maintained by Tibetans.  As is known, Scythians were great meat eaters.

Due to many historical circumstances, little is known about Bon.  In the 8-9th centuries AD, it was driven underground due to the expansion of Buddhism.  In the 13-14th centuries, Bon resurfaced with many Buddhist influences intermixing.  Again in the 1960s, under terror from the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Bon went underground and saw many of its temples and most of its written works destroyed.

But what can be established about the pre-Buddhist Bon religion is that they believed in life after death and that a person enters the other world along with his/ her favorite possessions.  As a result, Bon adherents placed all sorts of valuables into their graves: a favorite horse, yak, food, drink, drugs including hashish and other valuables to help the deceased in the next world.  These traditions and beliefs are similar to the Scythians ones.

As is known, the Scythians were famous for their wanderings ranging from the Elbe in Europe to China and Egypt.  Therefore, it is very plausible that the Scythians, having mastered horsemanship, ranged into the Himalayas and left for posterity their culture through the Bon religion, a symbol of which is the TRYZUB-TRISULA.

It is believed that the Tibetan Book of the Dead is full of pre-Buddhist Bon influences.  Many of these Bon influences are very similar to Slavic beliefs which the Slavs would have been attained from the Scythians.

As an example, in the Book of the Dead, it is written that the spirits of the newly dead live on the odor of the food provided them.  A similar belief exists in Ukrainian folklore where it is believed that Rusalkas live on the aroma of the food being prepared, in addition to the special plate for the deceased being set out for the Christmas Eve Dinner for those who cannot be present.

But what the TRYZUB-TRISULA represents is also of importance.  According to the Book of the Dead, the three flaming prongs have a dual purpose. First of all they are portraying the elements of time, the past, present and the future.  But also they represent the attainment of knowledge, as the flame of light/knowledge is what all should be striving for, praying to this Trinity, avoiding the three great sins of Stupidity, Lust [of material goods] and Anger.  In the Slavic tradition, demons are not smart and they are easily fooled.  An example of this is how to protect a house from vampires. The home’s occupants place a bowl of salt on the table.  The vampire arrives in the middle of the night spends all night counting each grain of salt and forgets about attacking the occupants.

It is important to note that among Christian beliefs, the flames of wisdom and knowledge descended onto the heads of the Apostles.  One of the major Christian Saints, Saint Sofia, is the patron saint of knowledge and was one the original names for the Christian Holy Ghost.  According to Medieval alchemy, Saint Sofia’s element is the mirror and those who do not possess sacred knowledge cast no reflection.  In the western European tradition, the vampiric undead, the demonic ones cast no reflection as their knowledge is profane and of death.  In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, it is believed that existence is like a mirror reflecting all you have done.  Once you have physically died, physical existence has stopped and the dead person casts no reflection.

There is another major Scythian connection with Buddhism.  Please note, that the Scythian Master, Surnam, assisted in translating Buddhists texts from Sanskrit into Chinese in the 6th century AD.  The question arises, where was Surnam from?  Could he possibly be a Bon member originally residing in the western Tibet regions as he was fluent in Chinese?

Recently many Bon texts have been uncovered, after having been hidden for centuries in Himalayan caves. Hopefully, the political powers will allow for these texts to be studied objectively, translated and more will be learnt about the Bon.  Also, hopefully more study will be done about the Asoki Buddhists Missionaries who were in the Middle East during the years prior to the birth of Christianity and their influence on the development of Christianity.

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Jaroslaw Zurowsky 

 

 

Selected Bibliography:

 

A BUDDHIST BIBLE, ed. By Dwight Goddard, Beacon Press, 1966

Singh, Mandanjeet. HIMALAYAN ART, Unesco Art Books, 1968

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