Continuing our series on
Concepts, Symbols and Beyond, we explore the macro-view of Hinduism
starting from the concept of cosmic theories.
How was the world created? Who is the
omnipotent? These two questions have been the cause of deep
contemplation and speculation since days of nature worship. Every
religion searched the cause of everything and finally accepted the
existence of one divine being. Swami Vivekananda reminds us, That
which exists is one. Sages call it by various names.
In Hinduism, starting
from the Rig Veda up to the present age, there are unending
interpretations which continue to conceptualize the cosmic conundrum
in vivid dimensions. Though at times there are contradictions in
mythology, the essence remains the same which declares that the
universe was created from nothing and the earliest state was gloom
hidden in gloom as declared in the Vedas (ancient scriptures).
To understand the journey
of myths of creations we should first look at what the oldest Rig
Veda has propounded which remains the basic essence of Hindu
Then there was neither Aught nor Naught, no air nor sky, beyond.
What covered all ? Where rested all? In watery
Nor death was then, nor death-lessness, nor
change of night and day.
That one breathed calmly, sustained; naught else
beyond it lay.
Gloom hid in gloom existed first one sea,
That one, a void in chaos wrapth, by inward
Within it first arose desire, the primal germ of
Which Nothing with Existence links, as sages
The kindling ray that shot across the dark and
Was it beneath? Or high loft? What bard can
There fecundating powers were found, and mighty
A self-supporting mass beneath, and energy above.
Who knows, who ever told from whence
this vast creation rose?
No Gods had then been
born, who then can eer the truth disclose?
Whence sprang this world,
and whether framed by hand divine or no.
Its lord in heaven alone
can tell, if even he can show. (Rig Veda X129).
particular hymn Swami Vivekananda wrote, It existed unmoved,
without vibration, and when this creation began, this began to
vibrate and all these creations came out of it, that one breath,
calm, self-sustained naught else beyond it.
So, from the first
vibration the universe was created which later can be co-linked with
the concept of seed mantra or sacred sound aum. However,
first we should try to understand the Vedic viewpoint to fathom Hindu
Vedic philosophy of
creation mainly centres around Purusha or the creative for Puranic
encyclopaedia elaborated the Vedic concept that it is avoided
in the declaration that mother Aditi is everything and brings forth
everything by and from herself though, in another place it is said
that Aditi brought forth Daksha and Daksha generated Aditi . Here
Aditi is apparently a mythological expression for the female
principle in creation and Daksha for the male principle in creation.
The latter is more directly called Purusha, man or male spirit, and
is conceived as the primeval male who is transformed or who
transforms himself in the world.
This concept of Purusha
is vividly elaborated in the Purusukta (Rig Veda X 90,
translated by J. Muir): Purusha has a thousand heads, a
thousand eyes and a thousand feet. On every side enveloping the
earth, he transcended (it) by a space of ten fingers. Purusha
himself is this whole (universe), whatever has been and whatever
shall be . He is also the lord of immortality
such is his
And existing things are a quarter (or foot) of him
and that which is immortal in the sky is three quarters of him.. He
then became diffused everywhere among things animate and inanimate.
From him Viraj was born and from Viraj, Purusha. As soon as he was
born, he extended beyond the earth, both behind and before. When the
gods offered up Purusha as a sacrifice, the spring was its clarified
butter, summer its fuel and autumn the (accompanying oblation
From that universal oblation were produced curds and clarified
butter. He (Purusha) formed those aerial creatures and the animals,
both wild and tame. From it were produced horses and all animals
with two rows of teeth, cows, goats and sheep. When they divided
Purusha, into how many parts did they distribute him ?.. The
Brahmana was his mouth; the Rajanya became his arms; the Vaisya his
thighs; the Sudra sprang from his feet. The moon was produced from
his soul; the sun from his eye; Indra and Agni from his mouth; ad
Vayu from his breath. From his navel atmosphere; from his head arose
the sky; from his feet came the earth; from his ear the four
quarters; so they formed the worlds
This significant hymn is
also found in the Atharva Veda with slight variations. Nevertheless,
Purusha is the ultimate. He is the creator and one quarter of his
creation can be seen while the rest of him is immortal. Likewise,
the theory of the universe which encircles Purusha who is both god
and matter was propounded.
Rig Vedic seers had
another cosmological question about existence before creation. They
believed that the universe was created through the united and
harmonious efforts of the gods. However, the Rig Veda also mentions
one who is unborn and placed above all gods. This title of the
creator was given to Visvakarma, the architect of the universe.
The Rig Veda also refers
to Prajapati as the Lord of the Creatures. With the passage of time,
Prajapati became Brahma. However, Prajapati remained the force of
eternal divinity. He created all beings and the universe after
dividing himself. After this creation he disintegrated and
differentiated all the phenomena through the performance of rites.
He is thus identified with the rites.
After the Vedic period,
the concept of the cosmos was interpreted in detail by the authors of
the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. However, the Brahmanas treated
cosmogonic myths from a liturgical point of view, detailing the
ceremonial aspect as well as introducing some legends to explain the
rituals. On the other hand, the Upanishads used the cosmogonic myths
to illutrate the transcendent oneness of Brahma and his creations.
The Brahmanas propounded the aquatic origin of cosmos. The Satapatha
Brahmana mentions: In the beginning, this universe was water
nothing but water. The waters desired: How can we produce? So
saying, they toiled, they performed austerity, a golden egg came into
existence.. From it in a year a male come into existence who was
Prajapati .... he divided this golden egg
In a year he
desired to speak. He uttered bhurbhuva svar. Bhur
which means earth; bhuva which became figment and svar
which became the sky
..He was born with a life of thousand
.Desiring an offspring he (toiled)
progeny in himself : with his mouth he created the gods.
This story has many
variations in the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. For instance the
Chhandogya Upanishad adds a new dimension to the theory of the
universe: In the beginning this was non-existent. It became
existent, it grew, it turned into an egg. The egg lay for the time
of a year. The egg lay for the time of a year. The egg broke open.
The two halves were one of silver, the other of gold. The silver one
became this earth, the golden one, the sky, the thick membrane ( of
the white) the mountains, the thin memebrane (of the yoke) the mist
with the clouds. The small veins the rivers, the fluid the sea. And
what was born from it was Aditya, the sun.
The cosmogonic myths from
the Vedas received detailed treatment in the Puranas which
synthesized old and new thoughts. The most significant Puranic
phenomenon contemplated a secondary creation through elements of
destruction and renovation. The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics
says, the highest godhead, Brahma or Atman,
identified with Narayana
and Vishnu Sambhu
from the primeval waters or darkness, the
Purusha or Hiranyagarbha, who sprang up thererin, the world egg which
brought forth Brahman (or Prajapati), the lotus, from which sprang
Brahma, the lotus itself came either from water or from the navel of
Vishnu, the intermediate creators, or mental sons of Brahma numbering
seven or eight. The successive creation and destructions of the
Sankya philosophy gave
concepts of cosmogony another dimension as it revolves around two
independent concepts, Purusha or soul and Prakriti or nature.
Prakriti consists of three elements tamas (darkness),
rajas (activity) and sattva (goodness). The
equilibrium of Prakriti is disturbed by the interaction of Purusha.
Purusha acts out of this disturbed equilibrium and intellect or
buddhi originates. From buddhi (intellect), ego or
ahankara is born. From ego, manas or mind emerges.
This was the basic creative cycle of Kalpa of the Sankhya
concept of cosmogony.
Poets from the epic era
deviated from the Sankhya concept, believing that Brahma came first
while Prakriti and Purusha were mutually dependent. Epic poets
identified Purusha with Prakriti (nature, Hiranyagarbha (golden egg)
with buddhi (intellect) and Brahma or atman (soul) with ahankara
(ego). Thus the polarization of Prakriti and Purusha is evident.
In the Manu Smriti, the
concept of the cosmos is thus defined: this (universe) exited
in the shape of darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive
marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it
were, in deep sleep. Then the divine self-existent, Svayambhu
himself indiscernible (but) making (all) this, the great elements and
the rest, discernible, appeared with irresistible (creative) power,
dispelling the darkness
. He desiring to produce being of many
kinds from his own body, first with a thought created the waters and
placed his seed in them. That (seed) became a golden egg, he himself
was born as Brahman, the progenitor of the whole world
Manu explained cosmogony
and even addressed the lower orders of varna in the
hierarchical development of the universe and its creatures. These
were the initial thoughts which preceded the Puranic concept of
cosmogony. However, the idea of the cosmos developed further during
the Epic era and the concept of Trinity was incorporated into the
The three gods who
represent the cosmic phenomenon of the cycle of life are Brahma,
Vishnu and Maheshwar. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu
sustains the universe and finally Maheshwar of Shiva destroys and
absorbs the universe and thus paves the way for recreation.
SO we see in Hindu
dharma, the concept of cosmology grew from the aught and
naught and evolved the concept of Purusha and Prakriti and then
manifested the idea of Golden egg or Hiranyagarba from the standpoint
of aquatic cosmogony. Then again we see the
birth of Trinity which
encapsulates the philosophy of creation, sustenance and destruction
paving the path of recreation. The essence, however, remained the
same for each school of thought and mythology was added from time to
time in order to enhance the comprehensiveness. However, the cosmic
concept at the level of rationalizetion and worship is encapsulated
in the five elements in the philosophic, mythologic and creative
perspective will be discussed in the next issue.