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Brahma

Brahma is one of the aspects of the Trimurti – which could be compared to the divine Trinity in Christianity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Brahma represents the principle of creation in Hindu belief. Alongside Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the god of destruction, Brahma is regarded as the one who moves the universal One in the role of the unmoved. Brahma is time and at the same time he is subject to it.

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Who or what is Brahma?

The word Brahma is derived from the Sanskrit word “brahmá” and can be translated as “the growing one” or “he, the expansively grown one”.
 
Brahma is not only considered one of the main gods in Hinduism, but also the first created living being with whom the creation of the material cosmos began. By dwelling in deep meditation, Brahma created this world, which is therefore also regarded as a manifestation of Brahma’s thoughts by the Hindus.
 
Brahma is considered to be the husband of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, who symbolises muse and wisdom and is not only Brahma’s wife but also his daughter. There are also two other wives of Brahma – namely Savitri and Gayatri. Both figures are often considered to be one and the same, manifesting in the form of Saraswati.

What role does Brahma play in the Hindu pantheon?

The Hindu God has been named in many ways:

  • Surajyestah (who existed before the other gods)
  • Chaturmukha (four-headed one)
  • Chaturana (four-faced one)
  • Ashtakarna (eight-eared one)
  • Pitamaha (father of men)
  • Lokesha (god of the worlds)
  • Kamalasana (sitting on the lotus)
  • Abjayoni (Lotus-born)
  • Nabhijanmah (born from the navel of Vishnu)
Brahma’s important role as creator is still acknowledged in mythology. However, his worship no longer plays a significant role in the everyday life of many Hindus.
 
In the Hindu creation story, however, Brahma is still indispensable. He is mentioned both in the Brahma Sutra (also known as the Vedanta Sutra) and in the Puranas (the most important Hindu sacred scriptures) regarding the creation of the cosmos.
 
In Buddhism as well, Brahma is an important figure. It is said that it was none other than Brahma who helped Buddha to teach the knowledge of enlightenment.

The Legend of Brahma

According to some Puranas, Brahma was born before the creation by the god Vishnu from a lotus flower that grew out of his navel. In other Puranas he is seen as the son of Shiva and in the Skanda Purana it is even said that Parvati (Hindu mother goddess) created all three gods of the Trimurti.
 
Yet other Puranas see Brahma as the supreme god and refer to him as “Svayambhu” = the self-created one. And last but not least, there is the story of the golden egg from which Brahma is said to have sprung. According to the Manusmriti, chapter 1:
 
“The egg was shining as golden as the sun. Brahma, the great-grandfather of everything in the world created himself in it.”
 
Brahma is also considered to be the one who created the Ohm sound or caused the first vibration in the cosmos at the beginning of creation.
 
Caution – Brahma must not be confused with Brahman. Brahman is the ALL-One – the all-pervading, all-encompassing principle – the formless, unnamable, featureless, cosmic consciousness. Even though it is sometimes assumed that Brahma could represent a personification of the impersonal All-One.

The representation of Brahma

Most depictions of Brahma show him with four faces or heads and four arms.
 
It is said that Brahma originally had 5 heads. There are many stories about how he lost his 5th head. One of them says that he constantly used it to look at the woman he himself had created – Shatarupa – who complained to Vishnu. Vishnu warned Brahma about this and asked him not to do so. However, because he did not take his eyes off Shatarupa, Shiva cut off his head.
 
Brahma often sits on a lotus flower, which can be traced back to the legend of his birth by Vishnu. He is often depicted with his legs crossed in the so-called lotus seat – a sign of the mediation in which he dreams the world.
 
The four heads of Brahma symbolise the four cardinal points and are supposed to indicate that God has them all in view. The four arms and hands stand for the 4 basic forces in Hinduism and contain the following attributes:
  • Vedas = the ancient scriptures stand for wisdom and the laws of nature and mark him as the god of science.
  • Lotus flower = is the symbol for his creative power.
  • Japa Mala = the rosary stands for mediation and marks him as a world teacher, guru and patron of mantra recitation, Veda recitation and meditation.
  • Kamandalu = the begging bowl is considered a symbol for the fact that everyone comes into the world as a beggar and leaves it in the same way. Nothing can be taken away. Everything is transient.

Brahma’s mount – the mystical white goose or swan – Hamsa, presents Brahma’s infinite and pure freedom. With it, he travels spiritually to any place in the universe.

Brahma worship

As already mentioned, the worship of Brahma is not so widespread in India today, even though quite a few Veda hymns are addressed to Brahma.
 
Today’s Hindus rather pay homage to his female aspects. These include the goddesses Saraswati and Gayatri, which expresses that the creative energy is considered more feminine.
 
Nevertheless, Brahma is present in everything as part of the Trimurti, alongside Shiva and Vishnu. For example, when Hindus look at a candle, they see Shiva in the destruction of the wax, Vishnu in the preservation of light and Brahma in the creation of heat or even carbon monoxide.

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