Lord Brahma: The Creator God and First God in Hindu Triumvirate

Brahma is the creator god in Hinduism. He created the world and everything that is in it.

In Hinduism, Brahma is revered as one of the most eminent gods. A member of the Trideva in Hinduism, Brahma is worshiped as “The Creator”.  In ancient Vedic texts, he is associated with the creator god Prajpati. Some worshipers believe that Brahma emerged from a golden egg (Hiranyagarbha); while others say that he rather emerged from a lotus that was lodged in Lord Vishnu’s navel. Following his emergence, he proceeded to create the world and all things in it.

Compared to other members of the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma has been the least worshiped god for quite a long time. It’s believed that his worship gradually waned because he has finished creating everything that there is to be created; what is left is for the other two deities in the supreme divinity – i.e. Vishnu and Shiva – to preserve the things created by Brahma, pending when all that will be destroyed by Shiva. As a result there are fewer temples dedicated to Brahma compared to Shiva or Vishnu temples in India.

Below, World History Edu present everything that you need to know about Brahma in Hindu mythology and religion. It includes origin story, meaning, family, powers, and symbols of the god.

Fast facts about Brahma, the creator god in Hindu mythology

God of: creation

Residence: Satyaloka or Brahmaloka

Other names: Svayambhu, Virinchi, Prajapata

Consort: Saraswati

Daughters: Sandhya, Shatrupa

Sons: Atri, daksha, Angira, Pulastya, Rudra, Shatarupa, Himavan, etc.

Association: the Trideva – Vishnu and Shiva

Symbols: Lotus flower,

Mount: Hamsa (crane or swan)

Festivals: Srivari Brahmotsavam, Kartik Purnima,

Weapons: Brahmastra, Brahmanda astra, Brahmashirsha astra

Epithet: The Creator, Self-born (Svayambhu)

Origin story and the Golden Egg

Golden cosmic egg

Brahma self-created himself in a golden egg called Hiranyagarbha |Image: Pahari painting of Golden cosmic egg Hiranyagarbha by Manaku, c. 1740.

Due to the belief that he was the being who created the world and everything in it, Brahma appears extensively in many creation legends and ancient Indian texts. Usually identified with a Vedic god called Prajapati, Hindus believe that Brahma self-created himself.

In some ancient Indian literature, his self-creation took place in a golden egg called Hiranyagarbha, a sort of ‘universal womb’ from which everything in the cosmos owes its origin to. Prior to the egg, there was absolutely nothing, pitch-darkness and silence until Svayambhu (Self-manifestation) came alive to create the vast primordial waters. Subsequently, the seed of creation was placed into the primordial waters. It was that seed that ultimately turned into the Golden Egg of Creation, which is also known as the “Soul of the Universe”.

The egg floated in the vast ocean of nothingness and emptiness for a while until Brahma self-created himself in the egg. It is believed that he Brahma took the form of the formless Brahman, a Supreme Being who is said to be within and without the universe.

According to a Sanskrit text called the Brahmanda Purana, Brahma, known as the source of creation of universe, set about to create the world and everything in it, including human beings, animals and plants.

How and why Brahma emerged from the lotus lodged in Vishnu’s navel

In some myths, it was believed that the Creator God Brahma emerged from a lotus that was lodged in Vishnu’s navel. When he came out he appeared very drowsy and confused, not knowing the purpose of life. All he could see was the vastness and emptiness of space. To make sense of his environment, he sprouted five heads; however, his bewilderment did not abate, as he roamed about aimlessly. To better understand his purpose, he meditated for a sometime. While meditating, he was able to tap into the energy of Hari (Vishnu). Brahma would go on to meditate for 10,000 Mahyugas (12, 000 Deva years – 4, 320,000 years) and thereafter understand what his true purpose was. He was also able to activate his creative powers.

Using part of Lord Vishnu’s body, Brahma began creating the universe. He combined Prakriti (nature/matter) and Purusha (spirit or soul) to create the different living creatures that we see on earth, including human beings. Thereafter, he imbued everything that he created with both good and evil qualities.

Brahma’s creations

In some ancient texts in Hindu religion, Brahma is believed to have started creating for the sake of creation. He began with massive celestial bodies like the stars, planets, moons before moving to things like land, mountains, and among others. He then proceeded to populate the world with six massive kinds of plants/vegetation. Shortly after, he created 28 bird species and 28 animal species.

He tapped into the energy of Vishnu to create the Four Kumaras, four young boys considered the incarnations of Vishnu in Hindu mythology, to help him in the creation process. To his dismay, the Four Kumaras refused his plea for help and instead committed themselves to advancing their spiritual lives.

Brahma’s disappointment and anger turned into Ardhanarisvara, an androgynous being that emerged from the union of the storm god Rudra and the force Rudrani. Similar to the Four Kumaras, Ardhanarisvara abandoned Brahma and sought a spiritual life.

Brahma’s frustration grew with each passing moment as none of his creations wanted to help him. After several appeals to Rudrani and Rudra, Brahma was able to get the duo to help him. Rudra got straight to work, creating ten powerful men similar to his strength. Rudra and his creations would go on to be called the Rudras. The ten Rudras in turn created a woman each, which they later married. Rudra’s counterpart Rudrani also created more women to populate the world.

Manu and Shatrupa

Brahma then proceeded to create a number of goddesses, including Gayatri. He also created music, the Sanskrit text, time, and units of measurement.

From Brahma’s hand came forth a man and a woman. The man was called Manu, while the woman was called Shatrupa. Both Manu and Shatrupa are considered the first man and woman in Hindu mythology.

Brahma’s Manas Putras, the mind-born sons of Brahma

Brahma was overjoyed by the help he received from Rudra and Rudrani. He continued creating more beings, including creating the ten Manas Putras from his thoughts. He hoped those beings would counterbalance the very aggressive nature of the Rudras. The ten Manas Putras are: Marichi, Atri, Pulaha, Pulastya, Angiras, Kratu, Vashishta, Narada, Daksha, and Bhrigu.

As time went by, the Kardama Rishi and Dharma emerged from Brahma’s shadow and conception.

Kama and Sandhya

From Brahma’s mind came forth an extremely beautiful woman. The woman’s beauty left sages, devas, the Manas Putras, and Brahma himself awestruck. Triggered by the woman’s beauty an extremely handsome popped out of Brahma’s mind. The man, who was born with a lot of love, knelt before Brahma and begged Brahma for a wife. Brahma bequeathed the beautiful woman to the man. The Manas Putras (mind-born sons of Brahma) then went ahead to name the man and woman Kama and Sandhya respectively.

The Golden Womb or Egg

The Supreme Being (Narayana), according to the Bhagavata, embodies the principles of creation (Brahma), sustenance (Visnu), and dissolution (Shiva). All of that existed in the Golden Egg, a Supreme Seed of all Creation that is larger than the largest, and more glorious than all things, and more internal than the mind and the intellect.

Meaning of Brahma

Brahma

A Sanskrit text titled Maitrayaniya Unpanishad states that the Brahman exists in every soul. This means that he a Universal God found in every living being as well in the numerous Hindu gods.

In some ancient texts, the Hindu Creator God Brahma is known as the masculine manifestation of the Brahman, who is formless and genderless.  Brahma is also seen as the personification and the visible aspect of the Brahman who is universal and impersonal.

He has also been known as Rajas (tendencies), one of the three Gunas. The other two are Sattva (goodness or balance) and Tamas (destruction or chaos). Rajas refers to the deep or cosmic tendency to move and create or act. It refers to passion. And that passion can either result in good or bad acts. Without the Rajas, the other two Gunas cannot be actualized.

The Trimurti

Hindu creation story

From left to right: Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva

Also known as the triumvirate or the Trideva, the trimurti refers to a group of three very revered gods in Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Those three gods are in charge of creation, maintenance and destruction of the world.

Brahma’s role is to create things in the world, while Vishnu and Shiva are responsible for maintaining and destroying respectively.

Decline in worship

Prior to 7th century CE, i.e. during the post-Vedic period, Brahma was the most prominent deity in Hindu mythology. However, beginning around the 7th century CE, his importance in the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses faded. Worship of the god also declined.

As Brahma’s worship faded, deities like Vishnu, Shiva and Devi (also known as Mahadevi) gained more popularity. Today, he is the deity with the fewest temples among the Hindu Trimurti. However, the Trimurti still remains prominent among Hindus. In Shiva or Vishnu temples, there are images of Brahma.

The Brahma Temple, Pushkar in Rajasthan, is just one of the few temples dedicated to him in India. Outside India, there is a temple called the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok dedicated to Brahma.

Why Brahma’s worship declined

There are only a few temples in India devoted to Brahma | Image: Brahma at a 6th/7th century Aihole temple.

As stated above, Brahma is the least worshiped god among the Trimurti. Whereas there are thousands of temples devoted to the other two – Vishnu and Shiva – there are only a few temples in India devoted to Brahma. So the question that begs to be answered is: why did Brahma’s worship decline?

In Hindu mythology, there are a number of stories that explain Brahma’s worship steadily declined.

In one account, Brahma was cursed by Shiva. The two gods were in a competition to reach the top of pillar. Brahma won, however, it turned out that Brahma had cheated by lying to Shiva that he had made it to the top of the pillar.

In another account, Shiva cursed Brahma because the latter had tarnished the name of the gods pursuing desires of the flesh. Brahma had gotten infatuated with Shaturupa, a woman he created to help him during the creation of the world. It’s believed that Brahma simply could not take his eyes of Shatarupa, who was embarrassed and tried to evade the advances of Brahma. Shatarupa decided to flee; however, in every direction that she went, Brahma followed her by growing a new head. By the end of the day, he had grown four heads so that he could track her movements. As a last-ditch effort to evade Brahma, Shatarupa jumped up only for Brahma to grow a fifth head. She then went on to became every creature on earth to avoid Brahma. Not the kind to back down, Brahma also changed to the male version of whatever she was. Having had enough of Brahma’s irrationality, Lord Shiva cut off Brahma’s fifth head, calling out Brahma for his incestuous nature. Shiva then placed a curse on Brahma, ordering people not to worship Brahma.

To atone for his misdeeds, Brahma has been reciting the four Vedas [one from each of his four head] since that incident.

In another account, it’s stated that Brahma’s worship declined simply because there is not anything left to be created. All that is left is for Vishnu to preserve the creations of Brahma; while Shiva embarks on a path of cosmic reincarnation.

Historically, decline in the worship of Brahma can be partly attributed to the growth of Shaivism and Vaishnavism.

Depictions

Brahma is also revered as the arbitrator of conflicts. |Image: 17th century painting of four-headed Brahma as an aged man, holding manuscript (Vedas), a ladle and a kamandalu;

The commonest depiction of Brahma sees him with four heads, which represents the four Vedas. Brahma is shown as bearded man with four eyes, with each eye representing the four Vedas, or the four yugas (“ages”), or the four varnas (social classes). Some accounts claim that the four heads represent the four cardinal directions on the compass. Brahma has four arms; in one hand can be seen an alms bowl; in the remaining three hands are a bow, prayer beads and a book.

He is either depicted seated in or standing on a lotus throne. In some cases he can be seen on his mount, a goose or a swan.

Often times, he is accompanied by Savitri and Sarasvati, goddess of wisdom.

In some other depictions, he can be seen holding the sacred texts of Vedas, which symbolizes knowledge and creation. Other common symbols associated with him are the mala (rosary beads), a symbol of time; sruva or shruk, symbol of sacrificial fire; and Kamandalu (utensil with water), a  symbol of the source of creation.

More on Brahma

Here are few more detail about the worship and characteristics of Lord Brahma:

  • According to a number of hindu myths, Brahma earned himself a very good reputation as a helpful deva (god) who many devas could seek help or advise. He also has the reputation of intervening during conflicts.
  • Following Lord Brahma’s emergence from the cosmic egg (i.e. the Golden Egg), he earned the name Swayambhu, which means ‘self-created’.
  • Brahma is believed to reside in Brahmapura, a heavenly city in Satyaloka, the highest loka* (realm) of the universe. There are three lokas (worlds or realms) in Hinduism. They are Satya (heaven), earth, and netherworld.
  • Some examples of Lord Brahma’s weapons are the Brahmastra, a powerful weapon that can destroy the whole universe; the Brahmadandastra, a weapon powerful enough to withstand the Brahmastra; and Brahmashirsha Astra, a weapon stronger than the Brahmastra.
  • Sixty-four thousand Pitrs (souls of the dead) emerged from Brahma’s perspiration.
  • It was Brahma who set up the marriage between the goddess Sati and Lord Shiva. Brahma even performed the marital rites between those two gods.
  • In the Bhagavata Purana, he was born from Rudra, a being known in the Rigveda as the ‘mightiest of the mighty’.
  • In some accounts of the myths, Brahma was created by the goddess Devi, a primordial Goddess, i.e. the Divine Mother who holds all strength, all riches, all beauty, all fame, and all knowledge. Also known as Parvati, Devi is believed to be the deity who created the empirical world by combining the three Gunas – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas – into matter  (Prakrti).
  • Brahman has sometimes gone by the epithet “One who rises from the Ocean of Causes”.
  • The names Brahma and Brahman often cause a lot of confusion; however, the important to know is that Brahma is a major god, while Brahman is the supreme or cosmic force that permeates everything in the universe.
  • Even though there are not as many Brahma temples as there are temples dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu, images of Brahma often feature in the temples of Vishnu and Shiva.

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