It would be ignorant to believe that there is only one explanation for the
creation of the universe. The Vedic hymns present several cosmogonies.
There are many interpretations for these myths resulting from there
documentation on various levels of culture. It is purposeless to quest for
the origin of each of these cosmogonies because most of these ideas and
beliefs represent a heritage transmitted from prehistory all over the
There are four essential types of cosmogonies that seem to have fascinated
the Vedic poets and theologians. They are as followed: (1) creation by
fecundation of the original waters; (2) creation by the dismembering of a
primordial giant, Purusa; (3) creation out of a unity-totality, at once
being and nonbeing; (4) creation by the separation of heaven and earth.
The first cosmogony relates to the celebrated hymn of the Rg Veda. The god
imagined as Hiranyagarbha (the Golden Embryo) hovers over the Waters,
Hiranyabarbha enters the waters and fecundates them. This gave birth to
Agni (the god of fire).
The second cosmogony can be found in a hymn, the Purusasukta. Purusa is
represented at once as cosmic totality and as an androgynous being.
Creation proper is the result of a cosmic sacrifice. The gods sacrifice
Purusa. From his dismembered body proceed the animals, the liturgical
elements, the social classes, the earth, the sky, the gods: “His mouth
became the Brahman, the Warrior was the product of his arms, his thighs
were the Artisan, from his feet was born the servant” (strophe 12, after
the translation by Renou). His head became the sky, his feet turned into
the earth, the moon resulted from his consciousness, the sun from his gaze,
his mouth transformed into Indra and Agni, and the wind from his breath.
The hymn clearly states that Purusa precedes and surpasses the creation,
though the cosmos, life, and men proceed from his own body.
The Purusasukta parallels those which are found in China, among the ancient
Germans and in Mesopotamia. They illustrate a cosmogony of an archaic type:
creation by the sacrifice of an anthropomorphic divine being.
The third cosmogony, being the most famous hymn of the Rig Veda, is
presented as a metaphysics. The question is asked, how Being could have
come out of non-Being, since, in the beginning, neither “non-Being existed
nor Being.” There was neither men nor gods. The only thing that existed was
its own impulse, without there being any breath.” Nothing else existed, but
Brahman which derived from heat. From the germ potential develops desire.
This same desire “was the first seed of consciousness.” This was an
astounding declaration which anticipated one of the chief theses of Indian
philosophical thought. The first seed then divided itself into “high” and
“low”, into a male principle and a female principle. “Brahman precedes the
universe and creates the world by deriving from its own being, without
thereby losing its idealism.
The myth of the separation of heaven and earth is related to the
Purusasukta. In both there is a violent division of a totality for the
purpose of creating the world. Finally there is the creation by a divine
being, the Universal Artisan, Visvakarman forms the world like a craftsman.
This mythical motif is connected by the Vedic poets with the theme of the
creation-sacrifice. Some of these myths are found among other Indo-European
peoples. There are many myths similar to these which are documented in many
traditional cultures. India is the only place to have given rise to
sacrificial techniques, contemplative methods, and speculations so decisive
for the awakening of a new religious consciousness as a result of these
The Vedic Cult did not have one specific place were all rites were to be
performed. These rituals were to be performed in the sacrificer’s house or
on a nearby open space with a grassy ground, on which the three fires were
placed. There were both flesh and non flesh offerings. Among the non flesh
offerings were milk, butter, cereals, and cakes. The goat, the cow, the
bull, the ram, and the horse were also sacrificed. From the period of the
Rg Veda the soma sacrifice was the most important one.
The rituals are divided into either the domestic class or the solemn class.
Other than keeping up the domestic fire and the agricultural festivals,
there are four things that are most important to private rituals. They are
sacraments or consecrations in connection with the conception and birth of
children, the introduction of the boy to his Brahmanic preceptor, marriage,
and funerals. These are all basic ceremonies that involve non flesh
oblations and offerings. As for the sacraments, also included are ritual
gestures accompanied by formulas the master of the house would announce.
The most important sacrament is the upanayana. This ritual constitutes the
homologue of the puberty initiation. The preceptor transforms the boy into
an embryo and keeps him for three nights in his belly. The preceptor
conceives at the moment when he puts his hand on the child’s shoulder, and,
on the third day, the child is reborn in the state of brahmanhood.
The simplest ritual of those of the solemn is the agnihotra (“the oblation
of fire”). This ritual takes place at dawn and twilight and consists in an
offering of milk to Agni. The essential sacrifices, particularly part of
the Vedic cult, are those of soma. The agnistoma (“praise of Agni”) is
performed once a year during the spring. Agnistoma consists in three days
of “homage.” The soma is squeezed in the morning, at noon, and in the
evening. At the midday squeezing there is a distribution of honorariums: 7,
21, 60, or 1,000 cows, or , on occasion, all of the sacrificers’s
possessions. In this ritual all the gods are invited to participate.
The most important and most celebrated Vedic Ritual was the asvamedha
(“horse sacrifice”). This ritual was performed by a victorious king, who
has obtained the dignity of “Universal Sovereign.” The purpose of asvamedha
was to cleanse pollution and insure fecundity and prosperity throughout the
country. The preliminary ceremonies were performed in a period of one year.
During this time the stallion was given liberty and put with one hundred
other horses. It was not to approach the mares, in order to keep this from
happening 400 young men were put on guard. The actual ritual itself lasted
three days. At first some specific ceremonies such, as mares being shown to
the stallion, the stallion being harnessed to a chariot, and the chariot
being driven to the pond, were performed. On the second day many domestic
animals were sacrificed. Finally the stallion was suffocated. The four
queens, each accompanied by a hundred female attendants, circled the body.
The principle wife laid next to the stallion, covered with a cloak, and
performed sexual acts. While this went on the priests and the women also
performed sexual acts. As soon as the queen rose, the horse and the other
victims were cut up. Other rituals were performed on the third day, and
finally the honorariums and the four queens or their attendants were
distributed to the priests.
Eliade, Mircia. A History of Religious Ideas: volume one, From the Stone
Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Il.
Hiltebeitel, Alf. `Hinduism’ The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion,
history and culture selections from The Encyclopedia of Religion. ed.
Mircea Eliade. MacMillian Publishing Company, New York, NY. 1989.