Hinduism is unique among major world religions in that its teachings, founders and sacred texts are not set in stone. Over thousands of years, Hinduism has evolved and changed, influenced by other religious traditions, philosophies and writings, and today the beliefs and practices of Hindus vary widely. Because of its long and complex history, there is no one Hindu creation story, but several stories that seek to explain creation, all grounded in a few basic principles.
Nature of Creation
Hinduism does not view the universe as a concrete reality, put into motion by God at a point in time long ago, nor the Earth and Heaven as distinctly separate places. Instead, the universe and everything in it is an expression of Brahman, the divine power that makes up all of existence. Humans perceive this divine unity as many different solid things and beings, collectively called maya. But maya is only an illusion; its purpose is to help the human soul, known as atman, fulfill its own desires so it can return to a state of oneness.
In Hinduism, the universe was not created once; it is created and destroyed over and over again by the Trimurti, the three manifestations of the Brahman. The god Brahma is the creator of the universe, the god Vishnu preserves it and the god Shiva destroys it so it can be created again. The universe is created from Brahman, sustained by it, and returns to it when destroyed. Human beings are also part of this cycle of being born, dying and being reborn onto this earth or onto another plane of existence over and over.
In Hindu philosophy, the universe is made up of five elements which lie on a scale of highest, or subtle, to lowest, or gross. The most subtle element is ether, which manifests as sound, or vak. In metaphysical terms, vak is the source of all creation, and the sound aum is believed to be the first sound that spurred the existence of everything else.
Many sacred Hindu texts provide creation stories, telling how God created the earth from timber, cracked an egg or simply breathed the universe into creation. The oldest, the Rig Veda, tells how the universe was created through the sacrifice of a primeval man, Purusha. The Earth was borne out of the lower quarter of his body, and the heavens were created from the rest. Different parts of Purusha's body also became the different castes, or social classes, of Hindu society.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images