Creation of the Universe

by Araceli Perez

It would be ignorant to believe that there is only one explanation for the creation of the universe. The Vedic hymns present several cosmogonies. There are many interpretations for these myths resulting from there documentation on various levels of culture. It is purposeless to quest for the origin of each of these cosmogonies because most of these ideas and beliefs represent a heritage transmitted from prehistory all over the ancient world.

There are four essential types of cosmogonies that seem to have fascinated the Vedic poets and theologians. They are as followed: (1) creation by fecundation of the original waters; (2) creation by the dismembering of a primordial giant, Purusa; (3) creation out of a unity-totality, at once being and nonbeing; (4) creation by the separation of heaven and earth.[2]

The first cosmogony relates to the celebrated hymn of the Rg Veda. The god imagined as Hiranyagarbha (the Golden Embryo) hovers over the Waters, Hiranyabarbha enters the waters and fecundates them. This gave birth to Agni (the god of fire).[3]

The second cosmogony can be found in a hymn, the Purusasukta. Purusa is represented at once as cosmic totality and as an androgynous being. Creation proper is the result of a cosmic sacrifice. The gods sacrifice Purusa. From his dismembered body proceed the animals, the liturgical elements, the social classes, the earth, the sky, the gods: "His mouth became the Brahman, the Warrior was the product of his arms, his thighs were the Artisan, from his feet was born the servant" (strophe 12, after the translation by Renou). His head became the sky, his feet turned into the earth, the moon resulted from his consciousness, the sun from his gaze, his mouth transformed into Indra and Agni, and the wind from his breath. The hymn clearly states that Purusa precedes and surpasses the creation, though the cosmos, life, and men proceed from his own body.[4]

The Purusasukta parallels those which are found in China, among the ancient Germans and in Mesopotamia. They illustrate a cosmogony of an archaic type: creation by the sacrifice of an anthropomorphic divine being.

The third cosmogony, being the most famous hymn of the Rig Veda, is presented as a metaphysics. The question is asked, how Being could have come out of non-Being, since, in the beginning, neither "non-Being existed nor Being." There was neither men nor gods. The only thing that existed was its own impulse, without there being any breath." Nothing else existed, but Brahman which derived from heat. From the germ potential develops desire. This same desire "was the first seed of consciousness." This was an astounding declaration which anticipated one of the chief theses of Indian philosophical thought. The first seed then divided itself into "high" and "low", into a male principle and a female principle. "Brahman precedes the universe and creates the world by deriving from its own being, without thereby losing its idealism.[5]

The myth of the separation of heaven and earth is related to the Purusasukta. In both there is a violent division of a totality for the purpose of creating the world. Finally there is the creation by a divine being, the Universal Artisan, Visvakarman forms the world like a craftsman. This mythical motif is connected by the Vedic poets with the theme of the creation-sacrifice. Some of these myths are found among other Indo-European peoples. There are many myths similar to these which are documented in many traditional cultures. India is the only place to have given rise to sacrificial techniques, contemplative methods, and speculations so decisive for the awakening of a new religious consciousness as a result of these myths.[6]

Other Rituals

The Vedic Cult did not have one specific place were all rites were to be performed. These rituals were to be performed in the sacrificer's house or on a nearby open space with a grassy ground, on which the three fires were placed. There were both flesh and non flesh offerings. Among the non flesh offerings were milk, butter, cereals, and cakes. The goat, the cow, the bull, the ram, and the horse were also sacrificed. From the period of the Rg Veda the soma sacrifice was the most important one.

The rituals are divided into either the domestic class or the solemn class. Other than keeping up the domestic fire and the agricultural festivals, there are four things that are most important to private rituals. They are sacraments or consecrations in connection with the conception and birth of children, the introduction of the boy to his Brahmanic preceptor, marriage, and funerals. These are all basic ceremonies that involve non flesh oblations and offerings. As for the sacraments, also included are ritual gestures accompanied by formulas the master of the house would announce.[7]

The most important sacrament is the upanayana. This ritual constitutes the homologue of the puberty initiation. The preceptor transforms the boy into an embryo and keeps him for three nights in his belly. The preceptor conceives at the moment when he puts his hand on the child's shoulder, and, on the third day, the child is reborn in the state of brahmanhood.[8]

The simplest ritual of those of the solemn is the agnihotra ("the oblation of fire"). This ritual takes place at dawn and twilight and consists in an offering of milk to Agni[9]. The essential sacrifices, particularly part of the Vedic cult, are those of soma. The agnistoma ("praise of Agni") is performed once a year during the spring. Agnistoma consists in three days of "homage." The soma is squeezed in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. At the midday squeezing there is a distribution of honorariums: 7, 21, 60, or 1,000 cows, or , on occasion, all of the sacrificers's possessions. In this ritual all the gods are invited to participate.[10]

The most important and most celebrated Vedic Ritual was the asvamedha ("horse sacrifice"). This ritual was performed by a victorious king, who has obtained the dignity of "Universal Sovereign." The purpose of asvamedha was to cleanse pollution and insure fecundity and prosperity throughout the country. The preliminary ceremonies were performed in a period of one year. During this time the stallion was given liberty and put with one hundred other horses. It was not to approach the mares, in order to keep this from happening 400 young men were put on guard. The actual ritual itself lasted three days. At first some specific ceremonies such, as mares being shown to the stallion, the stallion being harnessed to a chariot, and the chariot being driven to the pond, were performed. On the second day many domestic animals were sacrificed. Finally the stallion was suffocated. The four queens, each accompanied by a hundred female attendants, circled the body. The principle wife laid next to the stallion, covered with a cloak, and performed sexual acts. While this went on the priests and the women also performed sexual acts. As soon as the queen rose, the horse and the other victims were cut up. Other rituals were performed on the third day, and finally the honorariums and the four queens or their attendants were distributed to the priests.[11]



Eliade, Mircia. A History of Religious Ideas: volume one, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Il. 1978.


Hiltebeitel, Alf. `Hinduism' The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, history and culture selections from The Encyclopedia of Religion. ed. Mircea Eliade. MacMillian Publishing Company, New York, NY. 1989.