Throughout India, there has been a large variation of religions that people follow. While there are many cohesive religious systems, what makes Hinduism unique is that it is categorized as many Indian religious ways formed together to make one single religion. (Fisher, 73). In Hinduism, there have been three gods that are vital in the religious aspect life of Hinduism. These three gods, Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva, represent the three forces of creation, preservation, and destruction in Hinduism and when they are linked together, primarily in philosophy and art, they are often called the Trimūrti, which means “triple form.” Brahmā represents the god of creation, Vishnu represents the god of preservation, and Shiva represents the god of destruction and re-creation (Molloy, 95-96).
Brahmā represents creation in the universe and is considered the “personal aspect” of Brahmān, which is divine reality in Hinduism and Brahmā, has also been thought of as the biggest benefactor for the Brahmin caste. Brahmā is sitting on his throne, portrayed as a king with four faces and each facing in different directions. He also has eight arms, each holding symbols of power in Hinduism. A white goose also accompanies him (Molloy, 95-96). In some instances, Brahma has a very clear and known personality. He is troubled by religion, the diffusion of sacred knowledge, and power. It was around this time that Brahma created and conserved the concept of dharma, which is the task of doing one’s social duty, as a vital part in the procedure of creation, and the Vedas as well, which he shared with society. This gave Brahma the self-proclaimed title of “reciter of the Vedas.” In this view, it is stated that each of Brahma’s four heads represents each one of the Vedas (Bailey, 159).
The multitude of the mythology that is found in the Hindi epics and Puranas is about the three heads of the Trimūrti, Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma, and the groups of gods that are linked to them. The trimūrti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva first appear in these Indian texts in the Maitrī Upanisad, before they were even identified as the creator, preserver, and destroyer, where they are linked together with three three gunas. The three gunas, which can be used to identify the personality of somebody, are sattva, meaning pure, rajas, meaning emotional, and tamas, meaning dull (Coward, 127). In the Mahābhārata, Brahma and Vishnu are both often portrayed as the creator and preserver and Shiva, while not as often as Brahma and Vishnu, is still obviously noted as the destroyer in several of the myths. In the Puranas, we see the three heads of the Trimurti mentioned together quite often, which makes sense because we see their development as individual gods turn into the creation of one powerful divine ruler. In the Puranas, it also states that three gods of the trimūrti are connected with three Vedas as well (Bailey, 152-153). Vedas are the earliest form of Indian scriptures (Molloy, 79-80). Brahma is relevant to the Rg Veda, which is a composition of hymns, Vishnu is related to the Yajus Veda, which is a composition of ritual prayers, and Shiva is related to the Sama Veda, which are also hymns and ritual instructions.
Brahmā’s mythology is derived largely from that of the god Prajāpati in the Brāhmanas. In the Mahābhārata, it states that they are looked at as two names for the same deity, which is a divine or Supreme Being. The Brāhmanas states that Prajāpati is identified as the creator, while in the epics and Purānas; Brahmā takes over as the name for the main creator. In Sullivan’s article, we can see this when it states, “…in the following typical verse (12.121.55): ‘Brahmā Prajāpati the Grandfather was of old creator of all the worlds with their gods and asuras and rāksasas and humans and snakes; indeed, he is the maker of creatures” (Sullivan, 379).
The Brāhmanas, which is a collection of ancient Indian texts that gives detailed descriptions and rules about different Hindu ceremonies and rituals. For example, it states that Prajāpati can ejaculate into sacrificial fire in the place of an alternate offering. Strangely, Prajāpati can also create milk, clarified butter, and fire through “manipulating his own body by ‘rubbing’…” (Caldwell, 87). What also makes Prajāpati unique is that he has the characteristics of both genders (while still being identified as male). He can separate a female from his androgynous form and have sex with her. However, Prajāpati can also practice asceticism, which he uses in order to generate heat, from which his children are born. From this we can see how Prajāpati creates fire, wind, the sun and moon and the all of the gods and demons (who are his sons). He also creates men and animals and then the rest of the universe (Doniger, 1023).
In the epics and Purānas, when Brahmā is identified as the main creator, his main method to create is by using his mind; he can think of something and it begins to exist. Brahmā is called upon whenever somebody needs something to be created or to give power to a potential villain so that certain conflicts between people can happen. However, Brahma lets his influences impact what he creates. If Brahma is under the influence of a dark element, also known as tamas, he creates demons and when he is under the influence of goodness, known as sattva, he creates the gods. Brahma can also mutilate himself and create “sheep from his breast, cows from his stomach, horses from his feet, and grasses from his hairs” (Doniger, 1023-1024).
Brahmā isn’t as important as the other creator gods in mythology. His status isn’t equal to that of Vishnu or Shiva. However, Brahmā still appears in more myths than almost every other Hindu god, very often including Vishnu and Shiva, especially in the Puranas. One very popular myth is when Shiva appears before both Brahmā and Vishnu in the form of a flaming phallus and tells Brahmā that he will never again be worshipped in India because he was being punished for having wrongly declared that he saw the tip of the infinite pillar (Doniger, 1023). We can also see in the many versions of the “Submarine Mare” myth that Brahma plays a large role as well. In this myth, a giant fire was threatening the universe so “Brahma put the fire in the body of a mare with fiery ambrosia in her mouth and then put the mare in the ocean to be kept until the final flood” (Caldwell, 86). Another incident where the three gods of the Trimurti are classified together in a myth is when Prithu, an ancient Hindu king, was being sanctified as a king. The three gods of the Trimurti were each giving Prithu a gift at the celebration with Brahma giving him “an armour of Vedic incantations,” Vishnu giving him “the sudarśana discus, and Shiva giving him “a sword engraved with ten moons like marks.” Brahma’s gift intentionally was to relate to spiritual force, while Vishnu’s related to physical force and Shiva’s gift to fertility (the moon being a symbol of production) (Bailey, 157-158). Another example of the Trimurti functioning together develops in a description of the lingodbhava myth. In this scenario, Brahma is described approaching Vishnu, who was reclined on his snake couch with many servants to his beckon call and his great power was on display as Vishnu was personifying himself as a female. A quarrel brews between the two of them about who is more superior to the other. Eventually, Shiva appears “…in the form of a fiery lingam, a symbol of Shiva, whereby he proves his superiority over the other two gods because neither of them is able to find a beginning or an end to the lingam, which is also representing fertility (Bailey, 158). Besides these examples of myths, there is another reason for concluding that the three gods of the Trimurti are characterized together as one. Each of their vāhanas, which are beings, usually an animal or mythological creature, which are used as a mode of transportation, relate well to what each of the gods represent and stand for. Brahma is represented by a swan, or hamsa, which is also a symbol of wisdom, Vishnu has a Garuda, king of birds, which is portrayed as very warlike, and Shiva has Nandin the bull, which is the symbol of male fertility (Bailey, 158).
Brahma plays a very significant part of the Hindu Trinity of Trimurti. He has a very substantial role in ancient Hindu mythology because he created not only very important Hindu concepts, like the difference between good and evil, and had vital responsibilities for the Trimurti, but he is given credit for creating the universe and all of the living beings on the planet. Today, while he might not be recognized as the most important deity in India and even not as important as Vishnu or Shiva, he is still highly praised in many ancient Hindu texts, like the Mahābhārata, as the creator of everything.
Bailey, G. M.. “Trifunctional Elements in the Mythology of the Hindu Trimūrti”. Numen 26.2 (1979): 152–163.
Caldwell, Richard. Origin of the Gods A Psychoanalytic Study of Greek Theogonic Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.
Coward, Harold. Scripture in the World Religions. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000. Print.
Doniger, Wendy. “Brahmā.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 1023-1024. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011. Print.
Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 2013. Print.
Sullivan, Bruce M. “The Religious Authority of the Mahabharata: Vyasa and Brahma in the Hindu Scriptural Tradition.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 62. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. 377-401. JSTOR. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1465271