Guest Author - Sangeetha Ekambaram
Each religious tradition explains of the origin of the universe in various ways. In the Hindu tradition itself, many different narratives concerning the origin of the universe exist. One text where many of these narratives can be found is the Vedas, the oldest Hindu text. Other philosophical musings concerning the origins of the universe can be found in the Upanishads (a prominent philosophical Hindu text). Many of these stories have been passed down orally and have been modified in the retellings. Below is one of several creation narratives that involves the deities Vishnu (the Preserver) and Brahma (the Creator). The narrative is found in the Puranas (a text from the Vedas).
The narrative assumes that there are many different eras (yuga) in the universe and that each era lasts for eons. The narrative begins at the end of the last era in which nothing existed other than a vast sea. In this vast sea, Vishnu lay sleeping on a large serpent that protected Him. When He woke from His sleep, a giant lotus of immense beauty and fragrance sprung from his navel. Brahma (the Creator) was fascinated by what he saw and approached Vishnu. The two Gods then exchange words with one another. Brahma asked Vishnu to introduce himself. Vishnu described Himself as the creator and destroyer of all and that all creation rests within Him, including Brahma.
Vishnu then asked Brahma to introduce Himself. Brahma replied in a similar manner to Vishnu, claiming that He is responsible for the creation of the universe. Vishnu wanted to see this for Himself and therefore entered Brahma’s body through concentrated meditation (yoga). He was amazed to see the three worlds in Brahma’s belly. Vishnu then emerged and challenged Brahma to enter His body. When Brahma entered Vishnu’s body, he saw the entire universe without beginning and end. But he was also unable to find an exit and therefore emerged from Vishnu’s navel, seated on the giant lotus. Brahma was now ready to serve Vishnu. Vishnu ordered Him to create the three worlds-- the dwelling places of gods, humans and demons-- from the lotus. Brahma then created the basic elements of the universe, water, wind, fire and earth. He then created all living beings from different parts of His body.
Just as many narratives exist, the specific details of a this narrative vary in each account. I have attempted to condense and simplify various versions into a readable format. While both Vishnu and Brahma demonstrate that each holds and is responsible for creation, they work together in this narrative to manifest the current era (yuga). This differs from other Hindu narratives in which a sole deity or entity is responsible for creation.