In the Beginning: Ancient India Creation Stories


Indian carvings main

Ancient India began in 5000 BCE. A rich collection of creation accounts arose to help explain the meaning of their existence. A polytheistic religion, Hinduism, developed. It is concerned with discovering a person’s place in the universe. The universe continues a complex cycle of existence. No matter how it began (maybe as a cosmic sacrifice, a golden womb, or thoughts of Brahma, the creator god), our rightful place is the ultimate concern. 

Creation Stories 

Many couples have a story about how they met or when they decided to get married. These “creation stories” often improve in the telling, details being added and changed.  

Ancient peoples also had creation stories. They wanted to know how they came to be, which also helped to provide meaning to their existence. Creation myths were not only intended to provide a scientific analysis of what happened. Often, more importantly, they explained why

The different classical civilizations understood their origins in a variety of ways. Creation stories provide helpful insights into the remarkable complexity of ancient cultures.  

Ancient India 

India takes its name from a large Asian river, the Indus, which might mean “large body of water.”  It is one of the most long-lasting societies in world history.

There are signs of civilization from about 5000 BCE in fertile land around the Indus River. The history of Ancient India spans over five thousand years until 550 CE. 

Learn About Ancient India’s Government

Hinduism 

Hinduism is sometimes labeled the oldest religion in the world. The roots of the religion arose in the Indus Valley, fertile land around the Indus River in the northwest (Punjab region). 

Hinduism is a vast collection of beliefs that developed over thousands of years. 

The Vedas (“knowledge”) are a collection of sacred texts providing a window into Hindu beliefs. The Vedas dealt with the nature of existence and the individual’s place in the universe.  

Hinduism believes there is an order and purpose to the universe; happiness is obtained by accepting this and living by its dictates. The universe is in a continual cycle of existence. 

The cycle of existence provides a different view of the universe than the beliefs reflected in many creation stories. There is no simple “start” and “finish” of life, death, or creation. 

Purusha

The long history of Hinduism contains a diverse range of creation stories.

An early Vedic text discusses the gods sacrificing a cosmic being (Purusha). The parts became the universe. Purusha later became a concept explaining the universal stuff of existence. 

Purusha uniting with Prakṛti (matter) created life. Creation became understood as a process that provided order out of chaos.  

Hiranyagarbha

In the beginning, was Hiranyagarbha, The seed of elemental existence, The only Lord of all that was born, He upheld heaven and earth together, To what God other than Him, could we dedicate our life?

Hiranyagarbha (“golden womb”) is another version of creation. It is something like the cosmic egg of Ancient Egyptian traditions. People also might think of the opening of Genesis.  

The universe was chaos, a dark void. A womb floated in the chaos. The womb opened, creating the earth and heavens. Different gods are associated with this account. It also became understood as a metaphor for the overall act of creation and how order came from chaos. 

Prajapati  

Prajapati (“Lord of the Creatures”) is sometimes the father of all creation. 

In one version, the Lord of Creation is lonely. He is all alone in the universe. He creates a man and woman out of his body. The woman runs away, worried about incest. She flees, becoming different animals. The male follows, becoming the male form of animals.  

Of course, there are many other versions. In one version, Prajapati creates all the gods. He changes into a stag and mates with Dawn, forming humans. 

Brahman 

Brahma developed in later myths, replacing earlier gods such as Prajapati in the creation accounts. Brahma, for instance, brings the universe into creation through his thoughts. 

The world passes through a series of ages, representing the continuing cycle of existence. Different gods have roles in each stage. A triad of gods plays a central role. Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver, and Shiva is the destroyer. 

Brahman is sometimes another name for Brahma. Nonetheless, Brahman also became a term to explain the ultimate reality in the universe. The many gods are ultimately part of this reality. 

The Mystery of Existence 

Walt Whitman

Hinduism is a polytheistic religion. The gods play diverse, sometimes contradictory roles in the many creation accounts. The different accounts, often expressed in mysterious poetic ways, can be confusing. At some point, however, the exact details of creation are unimportant. 

The lesson is that we need to live in a way that fits the order of the universe. Creation myths teach this truth. An ancient hymn (Rigveda) tells us:

Some people rejected this agnostic approach. Nonetheless, they could not agree on the details. Thus, we have a diverse range of creation myths.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

RELATED ARTICLES: