Hinduism has many creation stories. While some of these tales may seem to Western notions of linear time to contradict each other, it is important to remember that the Hindu concept of time is cyclical. Also, Hinduism allows for many different universes and planes of being. Hinduism further differs from Judeo-Islamic-Christian traditions in that it does not posit a dualistic universe in which a divine being creates a mundane world separate from himself. Instead, Hindus view the divine as immanent in the world.
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One Hindu creation story tells of the god Vishnu asleep within the coils of a huge cobra afloat on a vast ocean of darkness and nothingness. From the depths, a humming sound arose, forming the primal syllable of Om. The darkness dispersed, the air vibrated with energy, the god awakened and a beautiful lotus flower grew from his navel. Brahma, Vishnu's servant, sat within that lotus, and Vishnu ordered him to create the world before Vishnu himself disappeared. Brahma divided the lotus flower in three, with one part becoming the heavens, another the earth and the third the sky. This story explains why the syllable Om is one of the syllables of the Hindu religion. The Upanishads say this word contains the past, present and future.
Rebirth and Cosmic Cycles
For Brahma, who created the universe, one day equals 2,160,000,000 human years. At the end of one of these cosmic cycles, called a Kalpa, Brahma sleeps and the god Shiva dances the destruction of the world. Later, Brahma awakes and again creates the world. According to Hindu sacred texts, each Kalpa is divided into four stages, or yugas. In the first, peace and tranquillity rule, but in each succeeding age, the world devolves further as people behave out of ignorance and greed. The Surya Siddhanta, an ancient Hindu astronomy text, identifies the current age as the Kali Yuga, the fourth and final stage of disorder before destruction.
Paradox: Dismemberment and Connection
The Rig Veda tells of a primal being, Purusha, with a thousand eyes, feet and hands. This being encompasses all places and all life. Purusha became bored and split himself to create the world. From Purusha's dividing of himself came all of the elements, the gods, men and all the myriad forms of life. All the world is therefore a part of this original being.
Purusha divided himself in order to have a loving, playful relationship with the beings that resulted from his splitting. Hinduism sees the universe is a form of divine play, or "lila." Humans can live either participating in this playfulness and creativity, perceiving a sense of the infinite, or under the veil of illusion, or "maya," believing in the world as finite and divided.
The tenth book of the Rig Veda tells of the creation of the world by Prajapati. Prajapati (who may be a form of Brahma) hatched from a golden egg. With his first breath, he created Agni, the god of fire, Indra, the god of lightning, and Soma, the lord of plants. With his next breath, Prajapati made the darkness. The tears he wiped away became the air, while those that fell became the oceans and those that were flung upward became the sky. While some tales state that his first wounds led to the creation of the seasons and planets, some stories explain that his first words created them instead.
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