Brahma | Brahma Deva

1. Brahmā

Brahmā is the Creator in Hindu mythology;
sometimes he is said to form a trinity with Viṣṇu as preserver and Śiva as destroyer.

Yet Brahmā does not have the importance that Creator gods usually have in mythology, nor is his status equal to that of Śiva or Viṣṇu.

He is also known as Svayambhu (self-born) or the creative aspect of Viṣṇu, Vāgīśa (Lord of Speech), and the creator of the 4 Vedas, one from each of his mouths.

Brahmā is consort of Sarasvatī and he is the father of Four Kumaras, Nārada, Dakṣa, Marīci and many more.

Brahma is sometimes identified with the Vedic god Prajāpati, he is also known as Vedanātha (god of Vedas), Jñāneśvar (god of Knowledge), Caturmukha (having 4 Faces), Svayambhu (self-born), as well as linked to Hiraṇyagarbha (the cosmic egg).

Though Brahmā appears in more histories than almost any other Hindu god, as the central figure in quite a few, and as a bit player in many more, he was seldom worshiped in India;

at least one important version of the story in which Śiva appears before Brahmā and Viṣṇu in the form of a flaming phallus explicitly states that Brahmā will never again be worshiped in India (to punish him for having wrongly sworn that he saw the tip of the infinite pillar).

Very few temples dedicated to Brahmā exist in India; the most famous being the Brahmā Temple in Pushkar, in Rajasthan.

Brahmā’s ability to create is little more than an expertise or a technical skill that he employs at the behest of the greater gods:

he is called upon whenever anyone is needed to create something, or even to create a pregnant situation—to give power to a potential villain so that the action of the conflict can unfold.

But if one were to create a functional trinity of gods who wield actual power in Hinduism, one would have to replace Brahmā with the Goddess.

Brahmā’s characteristics are derived largely from that of the god Prajāpati in the Brahmāṇas. Unlike Brahmā, Prajāpati is regarded as the supreme deity, and he creates in a variety of ways:

- he casts his seed into the fire in place of the usual liquid oblation;

- he separates a female from his androgynous form and creates with her through incestuous intercourse;

- or he practices asceticism in order to generate heat, from which his children are born.

In this way he creates first fire, wind, sun, moon; then all the gods and demons (the Devas and Asuras, who are his younger and older sons); then men and animals; and then all the rest of creation.

In the epics and Purāṇas, when Brahmā takes over the task of creation he still uses these methods from time to time, but his usual method is to create mentally:

- he thinks of something and it comes into existence.

While he is under the influence of the element of darkness (tamas) he creates the demons; under the influence of goodness (sattva) he creates the gods.

Or he may dismember himself, like the Ṛg Vedic cosmic man (Puruṣa), and create sheep from his breast, cows from his stomach, horses from his feet, and grasses from his hairs.

Paradoxically (or perversely), he usually employs less abstract methods (such as copulation) to produce the more abstract elements of creation (such as the hours and minutes, or the principles of logic and music).

Brahmā’s name is clearly related both to Brahman, the neuter term for the godhead (or, in earlier texts, for the principle of religious reality), and to the word for the priest, the brahmāṇa.

In later Hinduism Brahmā is committed to the strand of Hinduism associated with pravṛtti (“active creation, worldly involvement”) and indifferent, or even opposed, to nivṛtti (“withdrawal from the world, renunciation”):

He therefore comes into frequent conflict with Śiva when Śiva is in his ascetic phase, and competes with Śiva when Śiva is in his phallic phase.

Brahmā’s unilateral attachment to pravṛtti may also explain why he alone among the gods is able to grant the boon of immortality, often to demon ascetics: he deals only in life, never in death.

This habit unfortunately causes the gods serious problems in dealing with demons, who are usually overcome somehow by Śiva or Viṣṇu.

Immortality (or release from death) is what Brahmā bestows in place of the mokṣa (release from rebirth and re-death) that Śiva and Viṣṇu may grant, for these two gods, unlike Brahmā, are involved in both pravṛtti and nivṛtti.

This one-sidedness of Brahmā may, finally, explain why he failed to capture the imagination of the Hindu worshiper:

the god who is to take responsibility for one’s whole life must, in the Hindu view, acknowledge not only the desire to create but the desire to renounce creation.

2. Vedic literature

One of the earliest mentions of Brahma with Viṣṇu and Śiva is in the 5th Prapathaka (lesson) of the Maitrāyaṇīya Upaniṣad, probably composed in late 1st millennium BCE:

Brahmā is first discussed in verse 5,1, also called the Kutsayana Hymn, and then expounded in verse 5,2.

In the Kutsayana Hymn, the Upanishad asserts that one's Soul is Brahman, and this Ultimate Reality, Cosmic Universal or God is within each living being.

It equates the Ātman (Soul, Self) within to be Brahman and various alternate manifestations of Brahman, as follows:

"Thou art Brahmā, thou art Viṣṇu, thou art Rudra (Śiva),
thou art Agni, Varuṇa, Vāyu, Indra, thou art All. "

In the verse (5,2), Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva are mapped into the theory of Guṇa, that is qualities, psyche and innate tendencies the text describes can be found in all living beings.

This chapter of the Maitrī Upanishad asserts that the universe emerged from darkness (Tamas), first as passion characterized by action qua action (Rajas), which then refined and differentiated into purity and goodness (Sattva).

Of these 3 qualities, Rajas is then mapped to Brahmā, as follows:

Now then, that part of him which belongs to Tamas, that, O students of sacred knowledge (Brahmacharins), is this Rudra.

That part of him which belongs to Rajas, that O students of sacred knowledge, is this Brahmā.

That part of him which belongs to Sattva, that O students of sacred knowledge, is this Viṣṇu.

Verily, that One became 3-fold, became 8-fold, 11-fold, 12-fold, into infinite fold.
This Being (neuter) entered all beings, he became the overlord of all beings.
That is the Ātman (Soul, Self) within and without – yea, within and without!

— Maitrī Upanishad 5.2,

While the Maitrī Upanishad maps Brahmā with one of the elements of Guṇa theory of Hinduism, the text does not depict him as one of the tri-functional elements of the Hindu Trimurti idea found in later Purāṇa literature.

3. Post-Vedic, Epics & Purāṇas

The post-Vedic texts of Hinduism offer multiple theories of cosmogony, many involving Brahma.

These include Sarga (primary creation of universe) and Visarga (secondary creation):

ideas related to the Indian thought that there are 2 levels of reality, one primary that is unchanging (metaphysical) and other secondary that is always changing (empirical),

and that all observed reality of the changing reality is in an endlessly repeating cycle of existence, that cosmos and life we experience is continually created, evolved, dissolved and then re-created.

The primary creator is extensively discussed in Vedic cosmogonies with Brahman or Puruṣa or Devi among the terms used for the primary creator,

while the Vedic and post-Vedic texts name different gods and goddesses as secondary creators (often Brahma in post-Vedic texts), and in some cases a different god or goddess is the secondary creator at the start of each cosmic cycle (kalpa, aeon).

Brahma is a "secondary creator" as described in the Mahābhārata and Purāṇas, and among the most studied and described.

Born from a lotus emerging from the navel of Viṣṇu after emerging on order of Śiva, Brahma creates all the forms in the universe, but not the primordial universe itself.

In contrast, the Śiva-focussed Purāṇas describe Brahma and Viṣṇu to have been created by Ardhanārīśvara, that is half Śiva and half Pārvatī; or alternatively, Brahma was born from Rudra, or Viṣṇu, Śiva and Brahma creating each other cyclically in different aeons (kalpa).

Thus in most Purāṇic texts, Brahma's creative activity depends on the presence and power of a higher god.

In the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Brahma is portrayed several times as the one who rises from the "Ocean of Causes":

Brahma, states this Purāṇa, emerges at the moment when time and universe is born, inside a lotus rooted in the navel of Hari (deity Viṣṇu, whose praise is the primary focus in the Purāṇa).

The scriptures assert that Brahma is drowsy, errs and is temporarily incompetent as he puts together the universe.

He then becomes aware of his confusion and drowsiness, meditates as an ascetic, then realizes Hari in his heart, sees the beginning and end of the universe, and then his creative powers are revived.

Brahma, states Bhāgavata Purāṇa, thereafter combines prakṛti (nature, matter) and Puruṣa (spirit, soul) to create a dazzling variety of living creatures, and tempest of causal nexus.

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa thus attributes the creation of Māyā to Brahma, wherein he creates for the sake of creation, imbuing everything with good and evil, the material and the spiritual, a beginning and an end.

The Purāṇas describe Brahma as the deity creating time:

They correlate human time to Brahma's time, such as a mahā kalpa being a large cosmic period, correlating to 1 day and 1 night in Brahma's existence.

The stories about Brahma in various Purāṇas are diverse and inconsistent:

In Skanda Purāṇa, for example, goddess Pārvatī is called the "mother of the universe", and she is credited with creating Brahma, gods, and the 3 worlds:

She is the one, states Skanda Purāṇa, who combined the 3 Guṇas - Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas - into matter (Prakṛti) to create the empirically observed world.

The Vedic discussion of Brahma as a Rajas-quality god expands in the Purāṇic and Tantric literature.

However, these texts state that his wife Sarasvatī has Sattva (quality of balance, harmony, goodness, purity, holistic, constructive, creative, positive, peaceful, virtuous),

thus complementing Brahma's Rajas (quality of passion, activity, neither good nor bad and sometimes either, action as action, individualizing, driven, dynamic).

4. Iconography

Brahma is traditionally depicted with 4 faces and 4 arms. Each face of his points to a cardinal direction. His hands hold no weapons, rather symbols of knowledge and creation.

In one hand he holds the sacred texts of Vedas,
in second he holds mala (rosary beads) symbolizing time,
in third he holds a sruva or shruk — ladle types symbolizing means to feed sacrificial fire,
and in fourth a kamaṇḍalu – utensil with water symbolizing the means where all creation emanates from.

His 4 mouths are credited with creating the 4 Vedas.

He is often depicted with a white beard, implying his sage-like experience. He sits on lotus, dressed in white (or red, pink), with his vehicle (vāhana) – haṁsa, a swan or goose – nearby.

Chapter 51 of Mānasāra-Silpaśastra, an ancient design manual in Sanskrit for making Mūrti and temples, states that a Brahma statue should be golden in colour:

The text recommends that the statue have 4 faces and 4 arms, have matted hair of an ascetic, and wear a diadem (crown).

Two of his hands should be in refuge granting and gift giving mudra, while he should be shown with Kuṇḍikā (water pot), akṣa-mālā (rosary), and a small and a large shruk-sruva (ladles used in Yajña ceremonies).

The text details the different proportions of the Mūrti, describes the ornaments, and suggests that the idol wear bark strip as lower garment, and either be alone or be accompanied with goddess Sarasvatī

Brahma's wife is the goddess Sarasvatī: She is considered to be "the embodiment of his power, the instrument of creation and the energy that drives his actions".

5. Brahmā, Brahman, Brahmin and Brahmāṇas

a) Brahmā (Sanskrit: ब्रह्मा) is distinct from Brahman:

Brahmā is a male deity, in the post-Vedic Purāṇic literature, who creates but neither preserves nor destroys anything.

He is envisioned in some Hindu texts to have emerged from the metaphysical Brahman along with Viṣṇu (preserver), Śiva (destroyer), all other gods, goddesses, matter and other beings.

In theistic schools of Hinduism where deity Brahmā is described as part of its cosmology, he is a mortal like all gods and goddesses, and dissolves into the abstract immortal Brahman when the universe ends, then a new cosmic cycle (kalpa) restarts.

The deity Brahmā is mentioned in the Vedas and the Upanishads but is uncommon, while the abstract Brahman concept is predominant in these texts, particularly the Upanishads.

In the Purāṇic and the Epics literature, deity Brahmā appears more often, but inconsistently.

Some texts suggest that god Viṣṇu created Brahmā, others suggest god Śiva created Brahmā, yet others suggest goddess Devi created Brahmā, and these texts then go on to state that Brahmā is a secondary creator of the world working respectively on their behalf.

Further, the medieval era texts of these major theistic traditions of Hinduism assert that the saguṇa (representation with face and attributes) Brahmā is Viṣṇu, Śiva, or Devi respectively,

and that the Ātman (soul, self) within every living being is the same or part of this ultimate, eternal Brahman.

b) Brahman (Sanskrit: ब्रह्मन्) is a metaphysical concept of Hinduism referring to the ultimate reality.

According to some, the Brahman in the Hindu thought is the uncreated, eternal, infinite, transcendent, the cause, the foundation, the source and the goal of all existence.

c) Brahmin (Sanskrit: ब्राह्मण, brāhmaṇa) is a varṇa in Hinduism specializing in theory as priests, preservers and transmitters of sacred literature across generations.

d) The Brāhmaṇas, or Brāhmaṇa Graṁthas, (Sanskrit: ब्राह्मणग्रंथ) are one of the 4 ancient layers of texts within the Vedas:

They are primarily a digest incorporating stories, legends, the explanation of Vedic rituals and in some cases philosophy. They are embedded within each of the 4 Vedas, and form a part of the Hindu śruti literature.