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BRAHMA (masculine). [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The first member of the Hindu triad; the supreme spirit manifested as the active creator of the universe. He sprang from the mundane egg deposited by the supreme first cause, and is the Prajapati, or lord and father of all creatures, and in the first place of the Rishis or Prajapatis.

When Brahma has created the world it remains unaltered for one of his days, a period of 2,160,000,000 years. The world and all that is therein is then consumed by fire, but the sages, gods, and elements survive. When he awakes he again restores creation, and this process is repeated until his existence of a hundred years is brought to a close, a period which it requires fifteen figures to express. When this period is ended he himself expires, and he and all the gods and sages, and the whole universe are resolved into their constituent elements. His name is invoked in religious services, but Pushkara (hodie Pokhar), near Ajmir, is the only place where he receives worship, though Professor Williams states that he has heard of homage being paid to him at Idar.

Brahma is said to be of a red colour. He has four heads; originally he had five, but one was burnt off by the fire of Siva's central eye because he had spoken disrespectfully. Hence he is called Chaturanana or Chaturmukha, `four-faced,' and Ashtakarna, `eight-cared.' He has four arms; and in his hands he holds his sceptre, or a spoon, or a string of beads, or his bow Parivita, or a water-jug, and the Veda. His consort is Saraswati, goddess of learning, also called Brahma. His vehicle is a swan or goose, from which he is called Hansavahana. His residence is called Brahmavrinda.

The name Brahma is not found in the Vedas and Brahmanas, in which the active creator is known as Hiranyagarbha, Prajapati, etc.; but there is a curious passage in the Satapatha Brahmana which says: "He (Brahma, neuter) created the gods. Having created the gods, he placed them in these worlds: in this world Agni, Vayu in the atmosphere, and Surya in the sky."

Two points connected with Brahma are remarkable. As the father of men he performs the work of procreation by incestuous intercourse with his own daughter, variously named Vach or Saraswati (speech), Sandhya (twilight), Satarupa (the hundred-formed), etc. Secondly, that his powers as creator have been arrogated to the other gods Vishnu and Siva, while Brahma has been thrown into the shade.

n the Aitareya Brahmana it is said that Prajapati was in the form of a buck and his daughter was Rohit, a deer.

According to the Satapatha Brahmana and Manu, the supreme soul, the self-existent lord, created the waters and deposited in them a seed, which seed became a golden egg, in which he himself was born as Brahma, the progenitor of all the worlds. As the waters (nara) were "the place of his movement, he (Brahma) was called Narayana." Here the name Narayana is referred distinctly to Brahma, but it afterwards became the name of Vishnu.

The account of the Ramayana is that "all was water only, in which the earth was formed. Thence arose Brahma, the self-existent, with the deities. He then, becoming a boar, raised up the earth and created the whole world with the saints, his sons. Brahma, eternal and perpetually undecaying, sprang from the ether; from him was descended Marichi; the son of Marichi was Kasyapa. From Kasyapa sprang Vivaswat, and Mana is declared to have been Vivaswat's son." A later recension of this poem alters this passage so as to make Brahma a mere manifestation of Vishnu. Instead of "Brahma, the self-existent, with the deities," it substitutes for the last three words, "the imperishable Vishnu."

The Vishnu Purana says that the "divine Brahma called Narayana created all beings," that Prajapati "had formerly, at the commencement of the (previous) kalpas, taken the shape of a fish, a tortoise, etc., (so now), entering the body of a boar, the lord of creatures entered the water." But this "lord of creatures" is clearly shown to be Vishnu, and these three forms, the fish, the tortoise, and the boar, are now counted among the Avataras of Vishnu. (See Avatara).

This attribution of the form of a boar to Brahma (Prajapati) had been before made by the Satapatha Brahmana, which also says, "Having assumed the form of a tortoise, Prajapati created offspring." The Linga Purana is quite exceptional among the later works in ascribing the boar form to Brahma.

The Mahabharata represents Brahma as springing from the navel of Vishnu or from a lotus which grew there out; hence he is called Nabhija, `navel-born;' Kanja, `the lotus;' Sarojin, `having a lotus;' Abjaja, Abjayoni, and Kanjaja, `lotus-born.' This is, of course, the view taken by the Vaishnavas. The same statement appears in the Ramayana, although this poem gives Brahma a more prominent place than usual. It represents Brahma as informing Rama of his divinity, and of his calling him to heaven in "The glory of Vishnu." He bestowed boons on Rama while that hero was on earth, and he extended his favours also to Ravana and other Rakshasas who were descendants of his son Pulastya.

In the Puranas also he appears as a patron of the enemies of the gods, and it was by his favour that the Daitya King Bali obtained that almost universal dominion which required the incarnation of Vishnu as the dwarf to repress.

He is further represented in the Ramayana as the creator of the beautiful Ahalya, whom he gave as wife to the sage Gautama. Brahma, being thus inferior to Vishnu, is represented as giving homage and praise to Vishnu himself and to his form Krishna but the Vaishnava authorities make him superior to Rudra, who, they say, sprang from his forehead.

The Saiva authorities make Mahadeva or Rudra to be the creator of Brahma, and represent Brahma as worshipping the Linga and as acting as the charioteer of Rudra.

Brahma was the father of Daksha, who is said to have sprung from his thumb, and he was present at the sacrifice of that patriarch, which was rudely disturbed by Rudra. Then he had to humbly submit and appease the offended god.

The four Kumaras, the chief of whom was called Sanatkumara or by the patronymic Vaidhatra, were later creations or sons of Brahma.

Brahma is also called Vidhi, Vedhas, Druhina, and Srashtri, `creator;' Dhatri and Vidhatri, `sustainer;' Pitamaha, `the great father;' Lokesa, `lord of the world;' Paremeshta, `supreme in heaven;' Sanat, `the ancient;' Adikavi, `the first poet;' and Drughana, `the axe or mallet.'

BRAHMA-PURA [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The city of Brahma. The heaven of Brahma, on the summit of Mount Meru, and enclosed by the river Ganga.

British Museum Compass: "It is often said that there is a trinity of Hindu gods: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Siva the destroyer. But while Vishnu and Siva have followers and temples all over India, Brahma is not worshipped as a major deity. Brahma is the personified form of an indefinable and unknowable divine principle called by Hindus brahman. In the myth of Siva as Lingodbhava, when Brahma searches for the top of the linga of fire, Brahma falsely claimed that he had found flowers on its summit, when in fact the Siva linga was without end. For this lie he was punished by having no devotees. There are very few temples dedicated to Brahma alone in India. The only one of renown is at Pushkar, in Rajasthan. [...] Brahma originally had five heads but Siva, in a fit of rage, cut one off. Siva as Bhairava is depicted as a wandering ascetic with Brahma's fifth head stuck to his hand as a reminder of his crime."

Webonautics Mythology: "Brahma is shown as having four heads though originally he had five. The acquiring of five heads and the subsequent loss of one head makes an interesting legend. According to myths, he originally possessed only one head. After cutting a part of his own body Brahma created a woman named SATRUPA (a face with hundred beauties). She is also called VAC or SARASWATI, SAVITRI - the solar hymn, GAYATRI - the triple hymn and SANDHYA (twilight). As soon as Brahma saw his female creation, he fell in love with her and could not remove his gaze from her extraordinary beauty. Naturally Satrupa felt shy and tried to evade his eyes by moving away on all sides. To follow her wherever she moved, Brahma created more heads-one on the left, second on the right and the third at the back of the original first. Satrupa then rose towards the sky to escape his eyes and Brahma created the fifth head on top of all the four. This way he came to have five heads. It is mentioned in the scriptures that the fifth head was chopped off by Siva. He spoke most disrespectfully about Siva, who in anger opened his third eye and the fire burned off his fifth head."

BRAHMA, BRAHMAN (neuter). [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The supreme soul of this universe, self-existent, absolute, and eternal, from which all things, emanate, and to which all return. This divine essence is incorporeal, immaterial, invisible, unborn, uncreated, without beginning and without end, illimitable, and inappreciable by the sense until the film of mortal blindness is removed. It is all pervading and infinite in its manifestations, in all nature, animate and in animate, in the highest god and in the meanest creature. This supreme soul receives no worship, but it is the object of that abstract meditation which Hindu sages practise in order to obtain absorption into it. It is sometimes called Kalahansa.

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM