Brahma (Sanskrit: ब्रह्मा, romanized: Brahmā) is referred to as "The Creator" within the Trimurti, the triple deity of supreme divinity that includes Vishnu, and Shiva. He is also referred to as Svayambhu (lit. 'self-born') and is associated with creation, knowledge and Vedas. Brahma is prominently mentioned in creation legends, though there are many varying versions. In some Puranas, he created himself in a golden egg known as Hiranyagarbha.
Brahma is frequently identified with the Vedic god Prajapati. During the post-Vedic period, Brahma was a prominent deity and his sect existed; however, by the 7th century, he was frequently attacked and lost his significance. He was also overshadowed by other major deities like Vishnu, Shiva and Devi. Along with other such Hindu deities, Brahma is sometimes viewed as a form (saguna) of the otherwise formless (nirguna) brahman, the ultimate metaphysical reality in Vedantic Hinduism.
According to Vaishnava accounts of creation, Brahma was born in a lotus, emerging from the navel of Vishnu. The Shaivism sects believe that he is born from Shiva or his aspects, while the goddess centric Shaktism states that Devi created the universe, including Brahma.
Brahma is commonly depicted as a red or golden complexioned bearded man, with four heads and hands. His four heads represent the four Vedas and are pointed to the four cardinal directions. He is seated on a lotus and his vahana (mount) is a hamsa (swan, goose or crane). Goddess Saraswati is generally mentioned as Brahma's wife and she represents his creative energy (shakti) as well as the knowledge which he possesses. According to the scriptures, Brahma created his children from his mind and thus, they were referred to as Manasputra.
In present-age Hinduism, Brahma does not enjoy popular worship and has lesser importance than the other members of the Trimurti. Brahma is revered in ancient texts, yet rarely worshiped as a primary deity in India. Very few temples dedicated to him exist in India, the most famous being the Brahma Temple, Pushkar in Rajasthan. Brahma temples are found outside of India, such as at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok.
One of the earliest mentions of Brahma with Vishnu and Shiva is in the fifth Prapathaka (lesson) of the Maitrayaniya Upanishad, probably composed around late 1st millennium BCE. Brahma is first discussed in verse 5,1, also called the Kutsayana Hymn, and then expounded in verse 5,2.
In the pantheistic 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 atman (Soul, Self) within to be Brahma and various alternate manifestations of Brahman, as follows, "Thou art Brahma, thou art Vishnu, thou art Rudra (Shiva), thou art Agni, Varuna, Vayu, Indra, thou art All."
In the verse (5,2), Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva 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 Maitri Upanishad asserts that the universe emerged from darkness (tamas), first as passion characterized by innate quality (rajas), which then refined and differentiated into purity and goodness (sattva).
While the Maitri Upanishad maps Brahma with one of the elements of guṇa theory of Hinduism, the text does not depict him as one of the trifunctional elements of the Hindu Trimurti idea found in later Puranic literature.
Post-Vedic, Epics and Puranas
During the post-Vedic period, Brahma was a prominent deity and his sect existed during 2nd to 6th century CE. The early texts like Brahmananda Purana describe that there was nothing, but an eternal ocean. From which, a golden egg, called Hiranyagarbha, emerged. The egg broke open and Brahma, who had created himself within it, came into existence (gaining the name Swayambhu). Then, he created the universe, the earth and other things. He also created people to populate and live on his creation. However by the 7th century, Brahma lost his importance. Puranic legends mention various reasons for his downfall. According to some versions, Shiva cursed Brahma after he cheated during a competition, in which Vishnu tried to go to the top and bottom of the giant pillar while Brahma lied that he had reached its end in order to claim superiority to Shiva. Historians believe that some of the major reasons of Brahma's downfall were the rise of Vaishnavism and Shaivism, replacement of him with Shakti in the Smarta tradition and the frequent attacks by Buddhist, Jains and even by Hindu followers of Vaishnavas and Shaivites.
The post-Vedic texts of Hinduism offer multiple theories of cosmogony, many involving the Brahma. These include Sarga (primary creation of universe) and Visarga (secondary creation), ideas related to the Indian thought that there are two levels of reality, one primary that is unchanging (metaphysical) and other secondary that is always changing (empirical), and that all observed reality of the latter 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 Purusha 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 Mahabharata and Puranas, and among the most studied and described. Some texts suggest that Brahma was born from a lotus emerging from the navel of the god Vishnu. In contrast, the Shiva-focussed Puranas describe Brahma and Vishnu to have been created by Ardhanarishvara, that is half Shiva and half Parvati; or alternatively, Brahma was born from Rudra, or Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma creating each other cyclically in different aeons (kalpa). Yet others suggest the goddess Devi created Brahma, and these texts then go on to state that Brahma is a secondary creator of the world working respectively on their behalf. Brahma creates all the forms in the universe, but not the primordial universe itself. Thus in most Puranic texts, Brahma's creative activity depends on the presence and power of a higher god. Further, the medieval era texts of these major theistic traditions of Hinduism assert that the saguna (representation with face and attributes) Brahma is Vishnu, Shiva, or Devi respectively.
In the post-Vedic Puranic literature, Brahma creates but neither preserves nor destroys anything. He is envisioned in some Hindu texts to have emerged from the metaphysical Brahman along with Vishnu (preserver), Shiva (destroyer), all other deities, matter and other beings. In theistic schools of Hinduism where deity Brahma is described as part of its cosmology, he is a mortal like all deities and dissolves into the abstract immortal Brahman when the universe ends, then a new cosmic cycle (kalpa) restarts.
In the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma is portrayed several times as the one who rises from the "Ocean of Causes". Brahma, states this Purana, emerges at the moment when time and universe is born, inside a lotus rooted in the navel of Hari (deity Vishnu, whose praise is the primary focus in the Purana). 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 Bhagavata Purana, thereafter combines Prakriti (nature, matter) and Purusha (spirit, soul) to create a dazzling variety of living creatures, and tempest of causal nexus. The Bhagavata Purana thus attributes the creation of Maya to Brahma, wherein he creates for the sake of creation, imbuing everything with both the good and the evil, the material and the spiritual, a beginning and an end.
The Puranas describe Brahma as the deity creating time. They correlate human time to Brahma's time, such as a mahākalpa being a large cosmic period, correlating to one day and one night in Brahma's existence.
The stories about Brahma in various Puranas are diverse and inconsistent. In Skanda Purana, for example, goddess Parvati is called the "mother of the universe", and she is credited with creating Brahma, gods, and the three worlds. She is the one, states Skanda Purana, who combined the three Gunas - Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas - into matter (Prakrti) to create the empirically observed world.
The Vedic discussion of Brahma as a Rajas-quality god expands in the Puranic and Tantric literature. However, these texts state that his wife Saraswati 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 qua action, individualizing, driven, dynamic).
Brahma is traditionally depicted with four faces and four 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 kamandalu – utensil with water symbolizing the means where all creation emits from. His four mouths are credited with creating the four 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 (vahana) – hansa, a swan or goose – nearby.
Chapter 51 of Manasara-Silpasastra, an ancient design manual in Sanskrit for making Murti and temples, states that a Brahma statue should be golden in color. The text recommends that the statue have four faces and four arms, have jata-mukuta-mandita (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 kundika (water pot), akshamala (rosary), and a small and a large sruk-sruva (laddles used in yajna ceremonies). The text details the different proportions of the murti, describes the ornaments, and suggests that the idol wear chira (bark strip) as lower garment, and either be alone or be accompanied with goddess Saraswati. Brahma is associated largely with the Vedic culture of yajna and knowledge. In some Vedic yajna, Brahma is summoned in the ritual to reside and supervise the ritual in the form of Prajapati.
Brahma's wife is the goddess Saraswati. She is considered to be "the embodiment of his power, the instrument of creation and the energy that drives his actions".
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