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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Creation Myths



Should we call this Creation Myth or Manifestation Myth? Creation needs a creator and a motive. Manifestation leaves us wondering how it started. If you like definitive answers, you will be happy with creation myths. If you can live with indefinite answers and mystery, you will like the idea of manifestation. Fortunately, the Vedic tradition provides for both alternatives.

All myths try to answer the same questions:  Where did all this come from? How did something come from nothing? How did order come out of chaos? How did one become many?  All myths try to speculate about the “after”. That is  after life began or after the earth came about. None can reach THAT which must have been before all this.

There is no one single canonical creation or manifestation myth in Hinduism. There are several, starting from the Vedic to the puranic period. Hindus consider these legends as allegories or metaphors rather than absolute truth.

The most humble and honest view was expressed in Nasadiya Suktam. It is the 129th hymn, in Chapter 10 of the Rg veda. It is attributed to Rishi Prajapathi and it is about Parabrahman and it is in Anuhstup chandas, 4 lines of 11 syllables each. It is called Nasadiya because it starts with the words: naasat aasit no sad aasit   which means “in the beginning there was no asat (opposite of sat, non-existent, un-manifest, non-being), nor was there any sat, being”.

Here is my own translation of the Sukta with one word of caution. I am no scholar in either Sanskrit or Rg Veda.

“In the beginning there was no asat (non- existent, un-manifest, non-being), nor was there any sat, being. Then, there was no earth, no sky. In that state, who (what) was covering what? And for what purpose? Was there deep water?                                                                                       (Sloka/Stanza1)

There was no death; no immortality either; There was no means for finding out the difference between day and night. Not moved by any wind, it was breathing by its own power. There was nothing else.                                                                                                                                                    (Sloka/Stanza 2)

Some say that there was darkness or there was water enveloped in darkness. But, that all powerful Brahman covered by Maaya came into manifestation by austerity and transformation from that one Brahman.                                                                                                                        (Sloka/Stanza 3)

The seed of the mind of this, which first came into existence, became desire (kaama) (to create the world). Great minds have seen that this is the initial relation between the sat (the manifest, the being) and the asat, the unmanifest Parabrahman.                                                            (Sloka/Stanza 4)

A ray fell transversely between them. If you say It was below, It was also above. Some of these grew bigger pervading on one side by Its own prowess and pervading everything on the other side.

                                                                                                                                                (Sloka/Stanza 5)       

Who is there who can explain how the sat (the manifest) developed and from whom? Who knows for sure? Even the gods came only after the sat came into being? Then, who is to know from where it came?                                                                                                                                           (Sloka/Stanza 6)

The adhyaksha (the Primordial One) may know how the development of the Sat came about or did not come about. Perhaps, even He may not know that!       (Sloka/Stanza 7)


Rg Veda refers to Purusha and Prajapati (?the first human) who gets sacrificed as described in Satapata Brahmana of Sukla Yajur veda. Purusha of the Veda becomes the Prajapati of the Puranas. Purusha sukta (R V 10:90) says that the universe came out of the parts of Purusha, Brahman or Prajapati.

Three creative divinities mentioned in the Vedas are Prajapati, Vishnu and Rudra. In the puranic period Prajapati became Brahma; Rudra became Shiva.

In Satapatha Brahmana, Prajapati, the first creator or the father of all  felt lonely and felt a desire to be many. He differentiated himself into two beings, man and woman. The man wanted to unite with the woman he had created from himself. The woman (Ushas) got scared and regarded union with her producer as incest. She fled from his embraces assuming various animal disguises. He became the male of the species. The male of each species pursued the female, and from these unions sprang the various species of animals.  (Satapatha Brahmana, xiv. 4, 2)

A related story in Satapata Brahmana says that when Ushas runs away from his incestual embrace, a hunter appears and sends an arrow at Prajapati. The arrow strikes Prajapati and creates a wound. This story is repeated with variation in Maha Bharata. Pandu wounds a male deer during the act of mating. The deer curses the king that if he ever unites with a woman, he will die. That means an end to his line of succession to the throne. That is why Satyavati requests Vyasa to beget sons through the queens of Pandu.

After the idea of yuga cycles came into use, for each creation cycle there was a Brahma to create, Vishnu to sustain and Shiva to dissolve and merge with the ONE. In some myths, Vishnu is the remaining power at the end of a cycle. He is alone floating on a leaf or sleeping on a serpent. At Vishnu’s will  the creation cycle starts, Brahma comes out of the lotus emerging from His navel.

According to the Satapata Brahmana, Manu is the originator of the current generation of humans. He was the only man who survived a great deluge and this legend is comparable to  flood legends in other traditions.

How did creation myth get connected with constellations? How did the Prajapati get connected with the constellation Mrga.   Mrga means an animal or antelope. This constellation is Orion or the Great Hunter in the Greek astronomy.  What a coincidence? In addition, when Prajapati takes the form of an antelope and chases Ushas in the form of a female antelope, she  runs towards Rohini. Rohini’s counterpart in Greek astronomy is Aldabaran, which is in the constellation Orion.

One scholar points out that these mythological deities came out of the observation of the stars which are easily observable to the naked eyes. The Milky way is the eternal river. The stars of the Milky Way were a rich source for mythological stories in the east and the west.

The Krittikas and Saptarishis have stories connected with them. In the western system, Krittikas are called the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades. The Sapta Rishis are the same as the Great Bear or the Ursula Major of the western system. The Krittikas are in the east and the Sapta Rishis are in the north. The seven rishis were married to the seven sisters and lived in the north at one time. One day Agni fell in love with the seven sisters. Trying to forget his predicament, Agni wandered into the territory of Svaha, which is in modern terminology the star Zeta Tauri.  Svaha disguised herself as six of the seven sisters and Agni believed he had conquered the sisters. The rishis heard the rumor and divorced their wives, except Arundathi, who stayed with her husband. The others became the current stars Krittika, or the Pleiades. Arundathi is Alcor in the western system.

It does not require too much imagination to believe that our ancestors were dramatizing celestial events such as location and movement of stars and planets and the cyclic movements of the sun and the moon in relations to the background movements of the stars and galaxies. When we add the fact that the galaxies themselves move and therefore the relative positions of the closer celestial objects will vary over millennia, some of the mythologies make sense. For example, based on ancient astronomical names in the Vedic literature, Prof. Kak has estimated that the Satapata Brahmana was probably written somewhere around 2700 BCE (almost 5,000 years back).  

There are other creation stories in the Vedic literature. For example, Rig Veda Book 10 Hymn 90 is Purusha Sukta. In this we read that the Primordial Force called Purusha had thousand eyes, thousand feet and face all over. It is symbolic of the suggestion that the One is in the Many. This poem suggests that the original Purusha remained on earth with the creatures and three-fourths went to heaven. All the worlds and all the creatures came out of the sacrificial fire when Purusha Himself was sacrificed. In yet another place (R V 10:63:6-7), Manu is mentioned as the person who performed the first sacrifice.

Rg Veda Book 10, Verse 190 says that Eternal Laws and Truth were born out of the force of Tapas (ardor). Then came the night and the ocean. From the ocean came the Year, the ordainer of days and nights. The great creator made the Sun and the Moon and Heaven and Earth and the region in between and also light.

After Prajapati or the first person  is sacrificed, the devas request his spirit to come back. Based on what they had observed, our ancestors thought that life must disappear to come back again. This concept was prevalent in all ancient societies as pointed out by Durkheim. The primary purpose of the sacrifice was reconstruction of life, not destruction. The reconstruction purpose of the sacrifice is seen in RV 10:58: 1-12 as follows:

THY spirit, that went far away to Yama to Vivasvān's Son,
We cause to come to thee again that thou mayst live and sojourn here.

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