Brahma, the creator of the universe, is one of the most prominent gods within the rich Hindu pantheon. Together with Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer, he forms the Trimurti or “Hindu Trinity,” symbolizing the eternal cycle of creation, preservation and destruction in the universe. Although all the gods of the Trimurti are essential to the cosmic balance, Brahma is special because of his role in the origin of everything.
History and Origin of Brahma
The earliest references to Brahma go back to the Rigveda, although not in the exact form or function with which he is usually identified in later texts. In the Rigveda, the term “Brahman” referred to a cosmic power, possibly a precursor of the later personified deity Brahma. The same Vedic text speaks of “Hiranyagarbha” (the womb or golden egg), which could be the embryonic form of Brahma.
It was not until the Brahmanas and the Upanishads, supplementary texts expounding the rituals and philosophies of the Vedas, that the concept of Brahma began to take a more definite form. The Upanishads, in particular, began to hint at the triadic principle of the divine, which would later become the popular Trimurti: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer).
According to some versions of the Puranas, Brahma was born from the lotus that emerged from the navel of Vishnu, who was meditating in the primordial waters. Hence the name “Padma-bhushana“, meaning “Born of the Lotus“, which refers to Brahma.
Another perspective, found in the Manusmriti, offers a self-evolutionary origin in which Brahma is born by himself (Swayambhu) from the cosmic golden egg(Hiranyagarbha). Here, Brahma represents the primordial sound, the first differentiation of the undifferentiated and the beginning of time and existence.
The Fifth Head of Brahma
In the Brahma Purana, Brahma is said to have created Shatarupa, the first woman created by the god.
Brahma, enamored by Shatarupa’s beauty, began to gaze at her incessantly. Disturbed by his gaze, Shatarupa tried to evade him by moving in different directions. This caused Brahma to grow multiple heads, oriented in various directions, so as not to lose sight of her. This incestuous behavior, because Shatarupa was born of Brahma and therefore considered his daughter, enraged Shiva, who decapitated one of Brahma’s heads as punishment. This story also explains why Brahma is not actively worshipped in contemporary Hindu practices. The story underscores the importance of ethical conduct, even for divine beings.
Saraswati, the consort of Brahma
In some narratives, Saraswati is born of Brahma. According to one of these legends, at the beginning of creation, Brahma, in his endeavor to initiate the process of creation, sought a means of structuring and ordering the cosmos. From his thoughts came Saraswati, the personification of knowledge, wisdom and the arts. As an embodiment of wisdom, she was crucial to Brahma’s role as creator. Hence in this context she is considered his daughter.
Over time, as with many deities in Hinduism, the relationships between gods and goddesses became more intricate. In many traditions, Saraswati is also revered as the wife or consort of Brahma. This may symbolize the essential union between the creative impulse (Brahma) and the knowledge necessary to manifest that creativity (Saraswati). Their relationship, in this sense, exemplifies the inseparable link between creation and wisdom.
Symbology of God Brahma
The iconography that accompanies the representation of the gods and goddesses in Hindu mythology hides in itself a great number of profound spiritual teachings. We will describe below the symbols and characteristics with which the god Brahma is usually represented:
The Four Heads
Perhaps the most distinctive attribute of Brahma is his four heads. Originally, Brahma was said to possess five heads, but Shiva, in an act of anger after being offended by Brahma, cut off one of them. These heads have various symbolic interpretations:
- Cosmic Directions: Each head faces one of the four cardinal directions, symbolizing Brahma’s dominion and supervision over the entire universe.
- The Four Vedas: Each of the heads constantly recites one of the four Vedas (Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda). These ancient texts are the basis of spiritual and philosophical knowledge in Hinduism, so the Brahma heads emphasize the eternity and omnipresence of this knowledge.
The lotus is another omnipresent symbol associated with Brahma. There are stories that narrate how Brahma was born from a lotus that emerged from Vishnu’s navel. The lotus, which grows in the mud but remains pristine and unblemished, symbolizes purity, beauty, divinity and potential.
- Origin and Growth: Just as the lotus grows from the mud into the light, the universe, according to Hindu belief, emerges from chaos to form orderly creation, under the direction of Brahma.
The Four Hands and their Objects
Brahma is usually depicted with four hands, with each hand holding a significant object:
- The Rosary (Akṣamālā): represents time and the cycle of creation. Through the rosary, Brahma counts the cosmic days and nights, underscoring the cyclical nature of existence.
- The Book: This is usually the Vedas, which is the embodiment of divine knowledge. Its presence in one of Brahma’s hands highlights the importance of wisdom in creation.
- The Spoon or Water Vessel (Kamaṇḍalu): This symbolizes the medium through which Brahma brings the essence of life into the universe.
- The Scepter (Sruva): This is a symbol of authority and underscores Brahma’s role as the supreme creator.
The Swan or Goose
Brahma is often shown riding a swan or goose, which are known for their ability to separate milk from water, symbolizing the ability to discriminate between good and evil, the real and the unreal. This distinction is fundamental to the process of creation.
Brahma’s beard, often depicted in imagery, symbolizes the wisdom that comes with age. As the creator of the universe, Brahma possesses a deep and immutable knowledge of the cosmos.
The Absence of Weapons
Unlike many other Hindu gods, Brahma is not shown with weapons. This reinforces his peaceful nature and his unique role as a creator, not as a destroyer or warrior.
Meaning of Brahma
Contemporary interpretations often consider Brahma a symbol rather than a deity to be worshipped. From this perspective, Brahma represents the creative principle of the universe, the spark of life and the birth of consciousness. The cyclical nature of creation and dissolution in Hindu cosmology provides insight into the impermanence of life, and the role of Brahma underscores the ever-renewing aspect of the universe.
Why is Brahma not worshipped as much as other gods?
Despite his lofty status as a creator, there are few temples in India dedicated exclusively to Brahma. According to one legend, the reason for this is the curse of his consort, Saraswati. According to some traditions, Saraswati, frustrated by Brahma’s constant attention to creation and his neglect of her, cursed him so that he would not be widely worshipped. In other versions, it is Shiva himself who curses Brahma. However, Pushkar, in Rajasthan, houses one of the few temples dedicated to Brahma and is an important place of pilgrimage.
The Pushkar Fair is not only a religious event, but also a cultural and commercial celebration. However, at the heart of this festival is the worship of Brahma.
During the fair, thousands of pilgrims immerse themselves in the holy Pushkar Lake to purify themselves of their sins. There is a belief that the lake arose from a lotus flower that fell from Brahma’s hand, many devotees consider bathing here during the Pushkar Mela to be especially auspicious. After the sacred bath, pilgrims visit the Brahma temple to offer prayers.
Beyond the religious ceremonies, this fair is a colorful showcase of Rajasthani culture. Camel competitions, races, dance and music performances, and other activities attract both locals and international tourists. Traders take advantage of the occasion to sell handicrafts, textiles and jewelry.
This celebration provides an opportunity for ascetics, sadhus and other spiritual leaders to gather, share teachings and bless devotees. In addition, many families take advantage of the occasion to arrange marriages, as the fair also functions as a marriage venue.