by Jayaram V
The development of early Hindu theories of creation coincided more or
less with the evolution of religious thought in
Vedic India. In the
early Vedic hymns we see descriptions of
Aditi as the universal mother
or mother goddess. She gave birth to all the
gods who in turn
shaped or carved the world. The gods were like carpenters
who forged and carved the worlds and their beings. In the later Vedic
hymns we notice a shift from the concrete to the abstract and find
descriptions of an absolute self or an infinite being as the efficient and material cause of all creation.
This evolutionary development in the Vedic thought happened over a long period of time.
The early Vedic
people lived in very challenging circumstances. They invoked gods for
help and protection and were preoccupied more with the problems of survival rather than
with such philosophical speculation as to who created the gods or how the
and the world came into existence. The early Rigvedic hymns, therefore, were mostly ceremonial
invocations addressed to various gods and goddesses seeking their help
or protection. In the later Rigvedic hymns we can see a
more philosophical enquiry, which is reflected more prominently in the
Upanishads, where we find human thought soaring to great heights. This
new development coincided with the establishment of permanent settlements
by the Vedic people and probably their coming into contact with diverse religious beliefs and
practices of other tribes living in the same area.
In the early Rigvedic hymns
Aditi is described as the mother goddess and mother of
gods like Agni, Mitra, Indra, Aryaman
and Varuna and the Adityas whose number range from six to twelve. Some
of the hymns also refer to a father god. In the
last Mandala of the Rigveda, for example, we come across this beautiful hymn on the
creation of gods which proclaim Brahmanaspati as the creator of all gods
and Aditi as their mother.
1. LET US with tuneful skill proclaim these
generations of the Gods,
That one may see them when these hymns are chanted in a future age.
2 These Brahmanaspati produced with blast and smelting, like a Smith,
Existence, in an earlier age of Gods, from Non-existence sprang.
3 Existence, in the earliest age of Gods, from Non-existence sprang.
Thereafter were the regions born. This sprang from the Productive
4 Earth sprang from the Productive Power the regions from the earth
Daksa was born of Aditi, and Aditi was Daksa's Child.
5 For Aditi, O Daksa, she who is thy Daughter, was brought forth.
After her were the blessed Gods born sharers of immortal life.
6 When ye, O Gods, in yonder deep close clasping one another stood,
Thence, as of dancers, from your feet a thickening cloud of dust
7 When, O ye Gods, like Yatis, ye caused all existing things to grow,
Then ye brought Surya forward who was lying hidden in the sea.
8 Eight are the Sons of Aditi who from her body sprang to life.
With seven she went to meet the Gods she cast Martanda far away.
9 So with her Seven Sons Aditi went forth to meet the earlier age.
She brought Martanda thitherward to spring to life and die again.
This verse describes that existence sprang from non-existence.
From existence came regions, earth and Aditi. Aditi has an interesting
relationship with Daskha. Aditi in her aspect
as mother gave birth to Daksha and from Daksha she was born again as a
daughter. This relationship between Daksha and Aditi has some similarity
one between Brahma and Sarasvathi who is both a daughter and wife of the
former. From Aditi all the gods were born. Then
gods brought forth Surya the sun god who was hiding in the waters (sea).
Aditi brought forth eight Adityas (solar deities) of which she cast Martanda far away and subjected him to birth and
It is believed that these eight suns will shine together at the time of
dissolution of the worlds.
The Purusha-sukta, which is described as a hymn of creation, is found
in the Rigveda. It describes
how creation manifested through Purusha, the primeval god and how worlds
and beings manifested through him. The
Purusha was immortal, mighty and infinite. All the creatures are one
fourth of him and the rest of his body is spread in the heavens. From
him came Viraj, the Vedas, men and creatures, all the deities, rishis,
birds, animals, horses and cattle, sheep and goat. The four different
castes came out of the different parts of his body. So were the earth,
the mid region, the sun and the moon and the heavens.
1. A THOUSAND heads hath Purusa, a thousand eyes, a
thousand feet. On every side pervading earth he fills a space ten
2 This Purusa is all that yet hath been and all that is to be;
The Lord of Immortality which waxes greater still by food.
3 So mighty is his greatness; yea, greater than this is Purusa.
All creatures are one-fourth of him, three-fourths eternal life in
4 With three-fourths Purusa went up: one fourth of him again was here.
Thence he strode out to every side over what casts not and what casts.
5 From him Viraj was born; again Purusa from Viraj was born.
As soon as he was born he spread eastward and westward o'er the earth.
6 When Gods prepared the sacrifice with Purusa as their offering,
Its oil was spring, the holy gift was autumn; summer was the wood.
7 They balmed as victim on the grass Purusa born in earliest time.
With him the Deities and all Sadhyas and Rsis sacrificed.
8 From that great general sacrifice the dripping fat was gathered up.
He formed the creatures of-the air, and animals both wild and tame.
9 From that great general sacrifice Rcas and Sama-hymns were born:
Therefrom were spells and charms produced; the Yajus had its birth
10 From it were horses born, from it all cattle with two rows of
From it were generated kine, from it the goats and sheep were born.
11 When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make?
What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs
12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made.
His thighs became the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced.
13 The Moon was gendered from his mind, and from his eye the Sun had
birth; Indra and Agni from his mouth were born, and Vayu from his
14 Forth from his navel came mid-air the sky was fashioned from his
Earth from his feet, and from his car the regions. Thus they formed
15 Seven fencing-sticks had he, thrice seven layers of fuel were
prepared, When the Gods, offering sacrifice, bound, as their victim,
16 Gods, sacrificing, sacrificed the victim these were the earliest
holy ordinances. The Mighty Ones attained the height of heaven, there
where the Sidhyas, Gods of old, are dwelling.
In the following Rigvedic hymn we hear for the first time the creation of the
worlds emerging from Hiranyagarbha, the primeval egg.
1. IN the beginning rose Hiranyagarbha, born Only Lord of all created beings.
He fixed and holdeth up this earth and heaven. What God shall we adore with our
2 Giver of vital breath, of power and vigour, he whose commandments all the Gods
The Lord of death, whose shade is life immortal. What God shall we adore with
3 Who by his grandeur hath become Sole Ruler of all the moving world that
breathes and slumbers;
He who is Loord of men and Lord of cattle. What God shall we adore with our
4 His, through his might, are these snow-covered mountains, and men call sea and
Rasa his possession:
His arms are these, his are these heavenly regions. What God shall we adore with
5 By him the heavens are strong and earth is steadfast, by him light's realm and
sky-vault are supported:
By him the regions in mid-air were measured. What God shall we adore with our
6 To him, supported by his help, two armies embattled look while trembling in
When over them the risen Sun is shining. What God shall we adore with our
7 What time the mighty waters came, containing the universal germ, producing
Thence sprang the Gods' one spirit into being. What God shall we adore with our
8 He in his might surveyed the floods containing productive force and generating
He is the God of gods, and none beside him. What God shall we adore with our
9 Never may he harm us who is earth's Begetter, nor he whose laws are sure, the
He who brought forth the great and lucid waters. What God shall we adore with
10 Prajapati! thou only comprehends all these created things, and none beside
Grant us our hearts' desire when we invoke thee: may we have store of riches in
In this verse, the mighty germ, Hiranyagarbha, created not
but Agni and then other divinities. The last few lines of the hymns
clarify Brahma or Prajapathi as Hiranaygarbha or the creator of
all gods and heaven. This is in line with the early Vedic thought of
Brahma as the creator. In the later Vedic period, Brahma was replaced by
Lord Vishnu as the Hiranyagarbha while followers of
Lord Siva considered
him to be the creator. Brahma, who lost his status as the highest god,
retained his function as a creator and became one of the Trinity of
In some of the later Rigvedic hymns we find a significant departure from the
earlier notions of creation. In the following hymn, for the first time, we find a clear
reference to an absolute or infinite
being as the source of creation.
1. THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky
What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed
depth of water?
2 Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's
and night's divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was
3 Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated
All that existed then was void and form less: by the great power of Warmth was
born that Unit.
4 Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of
Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship
in the non-existent.
5 Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and
what below it?
There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up
6 Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence
comes this creation? The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first
came into being?
7 He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps
he knows not.
The hymn tries to presents a visual picture of the
beginning of all beginnings, when there was nothing whatsoever, neither
existence nor non-existence and how from that great void of indiscriminate
chaos came existence with desire as the primal seed. It represents the
beginning of all subsequent Hindu thought regarding creation proposed in
various sects of Hinduism and schools of
philosophy. It presents
an imagery of the beginnings of creation that is at once honest,
timeless, grandiloquent and unparalleled in any other religion that we
know so far.
The creator is described in the hymn as "That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own
nature." It conveys the indefinable nature of the creator. In essence
"That being" is the
same as the Brahman of the Upanishads. Non existence and existence refer
to the distinction between Saguana Brahman
(Brahman with qualities)
and Nirguna Brahman (Brahman without
qualities) and also the birth of
worlds and beings from an unfathomable void.
Theories of Creation
Most schools and sects of Hinduism follow one of the following three
predominantly popular Hindu theories of creation to explain the origin and creation of
our worlds and the beings and objects that inhabit them.
1. God is the creator. He is either the efficient cause or the
material cause of creation or both. He creates the worlds out of
himself. He creates his own energy or primeval matter (mula-prakriti).
Differentiating himself into innumerable souls and differentiating the primeval
matter into various elements (tattvas) and by establishing the
them he manifests the worlds and their beings. Maya, which
is one of the tattvas of prakriti, clouds their true consciousness and
makes them behave like limited beings separate from God and the rest of
the creation. When the individual souls
overcome maya and realize their true nature, they return to
merge into him. This approach is accepted by the followers of monism (advaita)
and with some modifications by the followers of qualified monism (vishishtadvaita).
2. God is the creator. But He neither creates the individual souls
nor the the primeval matter. They preexist and like God they are also
eternal. When God initiates the creative cycle prakriti brings forth
various tattvas. Once activated, Prakriti takes over most of the creative
process. The souls unite with the elements and qualities of prakriti and
manifest themselves as limited purushas or jivas.
Maya clouds their true
consciousness and make them act and behave like limited and ignorant beings. When they
overcome their illusion and realize their true nature, they return to their
original state and exist eternally. They would never merge with God. They
will continue to exist as separate souls eternally even after the
dissolution of the worlds at the end of the creative cycle. This theory of
creation is accepted by the
followers of dualism (dvaita) and with some modifications by other schools
3. According to the third approach, there is no God. There is no absolute cause of the creation.
Individual beings or purushas and primeval matter (prakriti) exist eternally. The
individual beings join the primeval matter and become subject to the
laws of nature. Maya which is an aspect of
Prakriti deludes their nature
and subjects them to the cycle of births and deaths. When the individual
soul overcomes its ignorance or illusion and realizes its true nature it
regains freedom and exists eternally in a state of freedom. This view is
accepted by followers of the atheistic schools such as Samkhya,
Vaiseshika and also by Buddhism and
Jainism. The Purva Mimansa school
goes one step further and asserts the static nature of universe, that it
has always been the same and that
at no time the world is otherwise than it is 1 .
Among the schools that accept God as the ultimate source of creation, God is
named differently as
Brahman (Vedanta), Paramatman
and Mahashakti (Shaktism).
The Puranas, which are books of ancient genealogies and religious
history of several gods and goddesses, contain stories of creation in a
narrative form. Though they agree in general with the basic processes of
creation described above, the Puranas identify a particular god or goddess as the
initiator of creation and proceed there from to explain the
manifestation of different aspects of visible and invisible worlds and their
beings through that source. Thus we have Puranas which consider Lord Vishnu as the
creator, some which consider Lord Siva as the creator and some which
consider Shakti as the creator.
In the first version, Lord
Vishnu wakes from his eternal sleep and rests on the waters. From his
navel arises Brahma who initiates the process of creation. At the end of
creation, Vishnu brings forth Rudra who destroys the worlds and brings
the creative cycle to an end.
In the second version, Lord Siva is
the supreme self. He manifests himself in five forms: creator,
preserver, destroyer, concealer and bestower of grace. He brings forth
individual jivas. He awakens his dynamic power of
Prakriti which divides
itself into several tattvas or
principles. United with these tattvas or
elements of Prakriti, the individual jivas become subject to the three
impurities: egoism or atomicity (anava), binding action
(karma) and illusion (maya). Caught
in samsara, they undergo births and deaths, till they realize their true
nature through the grace of Siva.
In the third version, Shakti
is the mother of all worlds. Both real and unreal, she is the supreme
source who creates
the universe, preserves and destroys the worlds she creates and in the end resolves all creation into herself.
God, the supreme Siva, by himself is passive and inactive. United by
Shakti, he remains in the beings as an onlooker or witness
Followers of Shakti do
not accept either Vishnu or Brahma as the cause of the manifestation.
According to them if Brahma said to have arisen from the navel of Vishnu
and Vishnu himself rests on a thousand hooded serpent which in turn
rests on waters, Vishnu cannot be the highest supreme self because he,
the serpent and the waters need another support to stay in place and
that supporter of all is Shakti whose sattvic form is Maha Laskhmi,
whose rajasic form is Maha Saraswathi and whose tamasic form is Maha
Kali. Manifestation of these three powers is known as sarga (creation).
These three powers then resolve into Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesa for the
purpose of creation, preservation and dissolution od the universe. And
this is called pratisarga (secondary creation)2 .
Theory of Evolution and Involution
It is believed that the process of creation is cyclical and happens
in two phases. The first phase is the phase of evolution in which the soul
consciousness descends or expands first into subtle matter or subtle energy and
then into gross matter or gross energy. Once the soul consciousness
enters into gross physical bodies, the second phase begins, which is
called the phase of involution. In this phase the soul gradually
withdraws from the gross physical body into the inner subtle bodies and finally into itself.
At the individual level, the first phase usually involves the jivas
or beings getting caught in the web of samsara (phenomenal world) and
developing attachment with the sense objects through the play of the
triple gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) and the activity of the senses.
In the second phase the jivas develop detachment, withdraw their
into their minds and their minds into their subtle planes and inner
states of consciousness through yoga and other contemplative
processes and finally experience oneness with their true
consciousness in a state of samadhi.
The same process happens at the macrocosmic level also. In the first process,
Brahman expands outwardly set in process by the sound of AUM and in the
next withdraws into Himself to become one indivisible silence and
It is interesting to note that, if we set aside the consciousness aspect
of Brahman (Purusha) and focus only on the physical or material or
energy aspect of the universe (Prakriti), the modern scientific theories of creation and
dissolution of the physical universe more or less agree with the Hindu
theory of evolution and involution.
According to the big bang theory, the universe existed in the
beginning as a primeval matter floating in the void (non-existence) of
the universe in the form of
an egg (Hiranyagarbha). By some process of gravitational pressure it exploded
probably with an incredible sound into
galaxies, stars, planetary bodies, gaseous substances, infrared
radiation, individual molecules and other cosmic energies.
The initial thrust given by the big bang continues till date and the
universe is in a state of expansion. One day this phase of expansion of
the universe will come to an end and the universe will start withdrawing into itself
to become a big blackhole suspended somewhere in the form of an egg. With
that one cycle of creation, expansion and dissolution of the universe
comes to an end.
Suggested Further Reading
1. na kadachit anidrsam jagat
2.Devi Bhagavatam Chapter 2