Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BRAHMA - a short introduction

Brahma is the god first represented in the Hindu Triad (see Trimurti). He is the creator of the universe and all living beings are said to have evolved from him.

Brahma is depicted as red in color with four heads, bearded faces, and four arms. His hands hold a kamandalu, his bow or a rosary, a sacrificial ladle, and the Vedas. Brahma is sometimes depicted as sitting on a lotus. The four Vedas are said to have originated from his head. The four castes (see Varna) are also believed to have originated from Brahma: the Brahmins from his head, the Kshatriyas from his arms, the Vaishyas from his thighs, and the Shudras from his feet.

Brahma was assigned the work of creating the universe by Brahman, the Supreme Being to assist him in this endeavor, Brahma created 10 Prajapatis, who are believed to be the fathers of the human race. Their names, according to the Manusmriti are Marichi, Atri, Angirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vasishtha, Prachetas or Daksha, Bhrigu, and Narada. These Prajapatis are believed to be born from the mind of Brahma. He is also believed to have created the Saptarishi, or seven great sages, to help him create the universe.

The world is said to exist for one kalpa, or one day in the life of Brahma. At the end of a kalpa, the whole world is destroyed. Brahma is then believed to go to sleep for one night, which is as long as a kalpa. When he awakens, he recreates the world. This process (pralaya) is repeated for 100 years of Brahma, which is the life span of one Brahma. Then everything dissolves into its constituent elements. This whole process is repeated unendingly.

Brahma's abode is known as Brahmaloka, which is said to contain all the splendors of earth and of the heavens of the other gods. His vehicle or vahana is a white swan or goose, which has magical abilities: it can separate soma and milk from water. Therefore this bird is also a symbol of sifting good from evil. Unlike other deities, Brahma does not have a weapon. Being the lord of sacrifices, he is identified with a sceptre in the form of a spoon. However, some sources say that his weapon is the bow, which he is sometimes shown with.

His consort is Sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom and science, the mother of the Vedas, and the inventor of the Devanagari script. She is represented as a fair woman with four arms, dressed in white and seated on a white lotus. As goddess of the arts, she is shown playing, or holding, a veena. In one of her right hands, she holds a book of palm leaves, and in the other, a lotus. In her left hands, she has a string of pearls, and a damaru.

Although Brahma is considered equal to Vishnu and Shiva, he is currently not widely worshipped. There are only two temples in India dedicated to him, one at Pushkar near Ajmer in Rajasthan, and the other at Khedabrahma in Kerala. However, he is only worshipped by sanyasi (see Ashram). Apart from these temples, there are also some verses describing which are chanted by Brahmins every morning.

There are several reasons that Brahma is no longer worshipped. One belief is that being the creator, his work is complete, at least for the time being. Therefore he is not as revered as the other two gods of the triad (see Trimurti).

Another reason is based on a legend in the Skanda Purana. Attempting to prove his superiority, Brahma lied to Vishnu, while the ketaki flower stood false witness for him. For this, Brahma was cursed by Shiva that he would never be worshipped on earth, nor would the ketaki ever be offered in worship (see Jyotirlinga). And so it is, since time immemorial. Some of Vishnu's incarnations or avatars, like Matsya, Kurma, and Varaha, were earlier ascribed to Brahma, for both Vishnu and Brahma were described as 'Narayana', one who moves on the waters. However, as Brahma's importance declined and Vishnu's rose, these avataras were transferred to Vishnu.

According to Manu and the Shatapatha Brahmana (see Brahmana), Brahma emerged from Brahman, the Supreme Being. Brahman wanted to create the universe. To this end, he first created water, into which he deposited his seed. This seed became a golden egg, and from this egg, he was born as Brahma or Hiranyagarbha, born of the golden egg. Another account of Brahma's origin is found in the Mahabharata. It says that Brahma arose from a 1,000-petalled lotus that grew out of Vishnu's navel. According to the Puranas, Brahma is said to be the son of the Supreme Being and his female energy, Maya. Other sources however, state that Maya is the wife or daughter of Brahma.

Originally, Brahma is said to have five heads. The Matsya Purana explains the reason for this. It states that Brahma created a woman, known by different names: Satarupa, Sarasvati, Sandhya or Brahmi. Because of her beauty, he fell in love with her and stared at her longingly. To avoid his gaze, she moved to his left, then behind him, and then to his right. But a head sprang up wherever she moved to enable Brahma to continue looking at her. In desperation, she jumped into the air, but a fifth head appeared on top. Brahma then asked her to help him create the universe. He lived with her for 100 divine years at the end of which Manu was born.

There are different explanations for why Brahma only has four heads now, as opposed to his original five. According to the Puranas, Brahma and Vishnu were once arguing over who was superior of the two. They discovered from the Vedas that Shiva was the Supreme Being. Brahma however, spoke disparagingly about Shiva. In anger, Shiva cut off the head, which had spoken, and therefore Brahma was left with four heads.

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