March 7, 2011

hindu creation myths

Since I have a rather busy morning ahead of me, I thought I’d share the Hindu creation myths with you all. Hinduism has a large influence on my writing, and its myths are not well known in Western culture. I hope to rectify that over time.

This text is taken directly from The Encyclopedia of Ancient Myths and Culture, and this passage is cited from The Indian Way by John M Koller.

Some of the creation myths are very abstract struggling with the concepts of existence and non-existences, as in this extract from the hymn of creation from the Rig Veda.
Neither not-being nor being was there at that time; there was no air-filled space nor was there the sky which is beyond it. What enveloped all? And where? Under whose protection? What was the unfathomable deep water?... Upon it rose up, in the beginning, desire, which was the mind’s first seed. Having sought in their hearts, the wise one discovered, through deliberation, the bond of being and nonbeing… Whereupon this creation has issued, whether he has made it or he has not – he who is the superintendent of this world in the highest heaven – he alone knows, or perhaps, even he does not know.

There are other stories where the gods actively create the world. The story of Prajapati, who rose from the primordial waters weeping as he was lonely and did not know why he had been born, for example. The tears that fell into the water became the earth, the tears that he wiped away became the sky and the air. Then he created people and spirits, night and day, the seasons and finally death.

In a creation myth using the concept of the egg – also found in Chinese and many many other mythologies – Brahma is the creator. The golden egg grew from a seed floating on the cosmic ocean for a year, and shone with the lustre of the sun. Brahma emerged from the egg and split himself into two people, one male and one female, the incestuous union of these two being the creative force. Brahman is also called Narayana (he who came from the waters) who is described as lying on a banyan leaf, floating on primeval waters sucking his toe – a symbol of eternity.

One fascinating creation myth involves the sacrifice of Purusha, the cosmic person. The description of the sacrifice evokes the ritualistic atmosphere of the worship and the way in which the body of the victim is divided up is said to be the origin of the caste system. This is a translation of some of the verses of the Hymn to the Cosmic Person. It is part of the Rig Veda, the earliest book of the songs of the ancient seers which was composed by the Vedic Aryans who came into India from central Asia. They overran the already established Indus Valley civilization. The Vedic period spans approximately 2500 to 600 BCE. Indra was the most prominent god in the Rig Veda. He is identified with thunder and wields the vajra or thunderbolt, and his most significant deed is the slaying of the demon Vritra who holds captive the sun and the rain. This deed can be seen to represent either the conquest of India by Aryan warriors led by their champion, Indra; or as the cosmological allegory of the conquest of chaos and the release of the life forces of water, heat and light.

Agni is second only to Indra in the Vedic pantheon. He is the personification and deification of fire. His three forms are terrestrial as fire, atmospheric as lightning, and celestial as the sun. He is a messenger between mortals and the gods and therefore particularly important as the sacrificial fire.
A thousand headed is the cosmic person.
With a thousand eyes and feet,
Enveloping the earth on all sides,
And going ten fingers beyond.

When they divided the cosmic person,
Into how many parts did they divide him?
What did they call his mouth? What his arms?
What did they call his legs? What his feet?
His mouth was the priestly class,
His arms the warrior-princes.
His legs were the producers,
His feet the servant class.

From his mind was born the moon,
From his eye was born the sun.
Indra and Agni came from his mouth,
And the wind was born of his breath

From his navel came the atmosphere,
The sky came from his head.
From his feet came earth, from his ears the for regions.
Thus they formed the worlds.

1 comment:

  1. Holy cow, this is incredible. (Did I just say "holy cow?)