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Religion Library: Hinduism

Sacred Narratives

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

There is no single story of a founder in Hinduism, since there is no founder. There is no single story or even collection of stories that lays out the divine realm. There is no single story of creation, since the world is recreated countless times. Indeed, in the vast corpus of Hindu myths there is not only tremendous variety and variation, but there are often what appear to be conflicting stories about the creation of the cosmos, about the deeds of the gods and goddesses, and about the ways humans should interact with these divine beings.

Purusha Shukta: opening verses
(Hymn 10.90 of the Rig Veda)
Verse OneThe Purusha (the Supreme Being) has a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. He has enveloped this world from all sides and has (even) transcended it by ten angulas or inches.
Verse TwoAll this is verily the Purusha. All that which existed in the past or will come into being in the future (is also the Purusha). Also, he is the Lord of immortality. That which grows profusely by food (is also the Purusha).
Verse ThreeSo much is His greatness. However, the Purusha is greater than this. All the beings form only a quarter (part of) Him. The three-quarter part of His, which is eternal, is established in the spiritual domain.

In the Rig Veda, one of the earliest Vedic texts, there are actually several creation stories. One of the best known is contained in the Purusha Shukta, and is sometimes referred to as the "Hymn of Cosmic Man." The myth describes the origin of the cosmos as the result of a primal sacrifice, the sacrifice by the gods of the first person, a giant named Purusha. The gods sacrifice this primal being, and out of the pieces of his body the divisions of the human world, and indeed the world itself, are formed. The Brahmins come from his mouth; the Kshatriyas from his arms; the Vaishyas from his thighs; and the Shudras from his feet. The first two verses of the Purusha Shukta This is often understood to be the first articulation of the caste system, although it is important to note that the myth itself does not present a divisive hierarchical ordering, but one which makes the different parts of society fundamentally interdependent (like the various parts of the human body).

The Purusha Shukta also reflects the Vedic emphasis on sacrifice as a creative act. After describing the formation of the human realm from Purusha's body, the hymn goes to describe the formation of the physical world: the moon comes from his mind, the sun from his eyes, wind from his breath, the earth from his feet, and so on. It ends, "Thus they [the gods] fashioned the worlds."


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