Category Archives: The Hindu Universe

Navagrahas: The Nine Planetary System

The worship of nine planetary gods, the navagraha, is widespread among Hindu sects.  Nava is translated as “nine” and graha as “planets,” although it etymologically means ‘one which is seized’ (Yano 381).  The concept of graha as a heavenly body has evolved into the current nine planetary system, the navagrahas.  First, a demon which eclipses the Sun and Moon was recognized, which was later given the name Rahu and his truncating tail, Ketu, was considered separately.  Next, five planets were included in this system followed by incorporating the Sun and Moon which brought the count of celestial bodies to nine.

Navagraha (Nine Heavenly Forces) Temple, Assam

The nine “planets” in the system followed, in order by the days of the week, are the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, with Rahu and Ketu added as influential bodies but not lords over a weekday.  The order of the planets aligning with the days of the week is thought to have originated during the third century and became widespread amongst Hindus during the following century (Yano 383).  Most Sanskrit texts describing the planets in the weekday order, therefore, should be dated past the third century.  By this time, it became a general, widespread and unbreakable rule that the planets were to be named in accordance with their corresponding days of the week (Pingree 251).  Before this, many arranged the planets by how advantageous they were beginning with the most positive as Venus and Jupiter, the neutral planet of Mercury next, and then the unfavourable Mars and Saturn (Pingree 251).  The study of the heavens (astronomy) at this point in time in India was thought of as sacrosanct among the educated classes.  The celestial beings were thought of as gods and the worship of them is reflected in the Vedas (Das 197).

Navagraha (Nine Celestial Forces) Shrine, Veerammakaliamman Temple, Singapore

The nine grahas worshipped by the Hindus are seen as heavenly bodies that bring fortune or misfortune to people’s lives (Coleman 128).  The Hindus who worship these celestial bodies are mainly those who believe in astrological influences over their lives (Pingree 249).  Within Sanskrit texts, descriptions and characters of the nine planets are given in such a way so they can be applied to the lives of those born under the planets influence (Pingree 250).

The most powerful is the Sun known as Surya or Ravi.  Surya is seen as the personification of the orb of light and heat and is portrayed with a golden complexion and rays of glory surrounding his head.  He will sometimes be seen as having two or four arms and holds a lotus in one hand.  Some have even termed him “the lord of the lotus” (Coleman 128).  Surya is complex as he is believed to be tri-form; Brahma or creation in the morning (east), Visnu or preservation at noon and Siva or destruction in the evening (west) (Coleman 129).

The next graha is the moon known as Candra or Soma.  Candra is depicted as a young, beautiful male who has two arms, one holding a club and the other a lotus, and is generally riding an antelope drawn cart.  Occasionally, the moon is depicted as a female and is then known as Candri.  Candra is of the warrior caste and presides over Monday.  It is believed that those born under Candra will have many friends, high distinctions and an enjoyable life (Coleman 131).  The daily positions of the moon are considered the twenty-eight lunar mansions in the zodiac called naksatra.  They are thought to be invented by Daksa and are the personification of the daughters of Daksa and the mythological wives of Candra (Coleman 131).

Mangala, or Mars, presides over Tuesday.  This planet is also believed to be of the warrior caste and produced from “the sweat of Siva’s brow” (Coleman 132).  Mangala is represented as red of flame-coloured with four arms, holding a trident, club, lotus and spear, while riding on a ram (Coleman 132).  The disposition of Mangala is said to be fierce and those born under him are thought to undergo great misfortunes and losses.  However, to battle under him is considered to be fortunate.

Mercury is the next graha known by the Hindus as Budha, and rules over Wednesday.  He is thought to be the son of Candra/Soma and Rohini and thus the firstborn of the Candrabans which are considered to be the “lunar race of the sovereigns” (Coleman 133).  He is represented in many different ways including on a carpet, on an eagle, cart drawn by lions, mounted on a lion or mounted on a winged lion.  In some depictions he is holding a sceptre and lotus and in others a scimitar, club and shield.  Budha is the god of merchandise and the protector of merchants and being born under him is considered fortunate.

The regent of the planet Jupiter and preceptor of the gods, called their guru, is Brhaspati.  He is of the Brahmin caste and rules Thursday.  He is depicted in a golden or deep yellow hue, sitting on a horse holding a stick, lotus and his beads (Coleman 133).  Hindus are in strict worship of him and believe it is fortunate to be born under him.

The planet Venus and the god Sukra, comes next.  He is Brahmin as well and is the preceptor or guru of the ‘giants’ and is held in great esteem within Hinduism (Coleman 134).  Sukra presides over Friday and is thought to be the son or grandson of Brghu.  He is depicted as middle aged with a white complexion and is mounted in a variety of ways including on a camel or an animal resembling a rat or a horse and is holding a large ring, stick, beads, lotus or sometimes a bow and arrows (Coleman 134).  Being born under Sukra is said to bring great fortunes such as the gift of the power of omniscience and blessings of life which include many wives.

Sani, the planet Saturn, presides over Saturday.  He is of the Sudra caste and is depicted as a dark, old, ugly and lame with long hair, nails and teeth and an evil disposition.  He is usually clothed in black, mounted on a black vulture, raven or elephant holding a sword, arrows and two daggers in his hands (Coleman 134).  To be born under him is considered unfortunate as the tribulations of life are attributed to Sani’s influence and wickedness (Coleman 134).  Ceremonies held in worship of him are often just to appease him so no bad will come to those partaking in the ceremony.

Varuna, the planet Neptune, is the Hindu god of waters and regent of the west side of Earth.  He is illustrated as a four armed light skinned man riding a sea animal with a rope in one hand and a club in another (Coleman 135).  He is worshipped daily as one of the regents of the earth, especially by those who fish the lakes in Bengal before they go out.  People also often repeat his name in times of drought to obtain rain (Coleman 135).  It is believed that his heaven was formed by Viswakarma and is 800 miles in circumference.  Varuna and his wife, Varuni, are said to reside there seated on a throne of diamonds while they are attended by others (Coleman 135).

The next, and last of the navagrahas are Rahu and Ketu.  Rahu is thought to be the son or grandson of Kasyapa and is the planet of the “ascending node” (Coleman 134).  He is often worshipped to avert evil spirits, nasty diseases, earthquakes and other unfortunate events, and especially during an eclipse (Coleman 135).  He is portrayed in numerous ways including being mounted on a lion, flying dragon, an owl and a tortoise and sometimes with a spear in his hand.  As well, Rahu is generally portrayed without a head as it is thought to belong to the other part of him, Ketu.  Ketu is the planet of “descending node” (Coleman 135) and is described as sitting on a vulture or as a head on the back of a frog.  Ketu is thought to be Rahu’s tail by some while others believe Ketu to be comets (Yano 383).

Woman appeasing Rahu (Navagraha temple, Assam)

The navagrahas represent more than just a system of astrology within Hinduism, but a belief system that alters how the believers live from the moment of birth.  With the seven planets of varying fortune residing over each weekday, the timing of events is essential.  Within this study of the heavens has come a deeper understanding of the surrounding universe early on in Indian culture, as can be seen through further research, such as in Das’ Scope and Development of Indian Astronomy as well as in articles by Pingree (such as Representation of the Planets in Indian Astronomy and Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic).  The magnitude of worship of the grahas is certainly rooted deep within Hindu practices as people strive to achieve the ultimate fortunes that each day offers in this life.


Coleman, Charles (1995) The Mythology of the Hindus. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Das, Sukumar Ranjan (1936) “Scope and Development of Indian Astronomy.” Osiris. Vol. 2. pp. 197-219.

Pingree, David (1965) “Representation of the Planets in Indian Astrology.” Indo-Iranian Journal. Vol. 8. pp. 249-267.

_____ (1989) “Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic.”  Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. Vol. 52. pp. 1-13.

Yano, Michio (2005) “Calendar, Astrology, and Astronomy.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Gavin Flood (ed.). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 376-392.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brishput or Vrihuspati
Shuni or Sani
Brahman Caste
Sudra Caste
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Samantha Ludwig (2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Creation in the Markandeya Purana

The Brahmanical tradition encompasses a vast body of literature commonly referred to as the Puranas (Pintchman 261). The Puranas are categorized as smrti (i.e., literature that has been passed on by human beings to the next generation through oral tradition), but often claimed as sruti-like or “divinely heard” (Coburn 343-344). For instance, the Markandeya Purana states that “as soon as Brahma, whose origin is inscrutable, came into being, this Purana and the Vedas issued from his mouths” (Mark. P. 219). The Puranas are classified according to sectarian perspectives; a majority of the eighteen Mahapuranas, or major Puranas, are Vaisnava or Saiva in orientation as the gods Visnu and Siva are deemed to be Brahman, the Absolute reality (Pintchman 261).  Four of the eighteen Upapuranas, or minor Puranas, celebrate the goddess Sakti, and are thus Sakta in orientation (Pintchman 261).  Other Puranas, however, such as the Kurma Purana and the Markandeya Purana do not appear to have any clear sectarian orientations (Rodrigues 290).

The Puranas mainly comprise several myths on “creation, renewal, genealogies, manvantara periods of time, and tales of genealogical figures” (Rodrigues 290). According to Pintchman (262), the Puranas distinguish between the two significant phases of universal creation. The sarga, or primary, creation phase occurs after a major dissolution, while the pratisarga, or secondary, creation phase refers to the renewal of the universe after a minor dissolution. These two stages illustrate the Hindu notion of eternal repeating cycles whereby the universe is constantly being created, dissolved, and renewed (Miller 63-66). In the Markandeya Purana, both the sarga and pratisarga creation phases are explained through a dialogue between three rsis (sages): Jaimini (the first inquirer), Kraushtuki (the second inquirer), and Markandeya (the informer).

Markandeya begins the creation myth by claiming that Brahma is the cause and effect of everything in the universe (Mark. P. 220). Within Brahma, the three gunas, or qualities, exist in equilibrium: Brahma is one-third sattva (pure/luminous), one-third rajas (active/passionate), and one-third tamas (passive/dark). In accordance with Sankhya philosophy, Markandeya states that the disruption of Brahma’s gunas lead to the creation of the Mahatattvas, or great categories (Pintchman 263; Mark. P. 220). First the Pradhana, or the Imperceptible, came into existence; from this, came the Mahat, or Intellectual principle, which can be identified by goodness, passion, and ignorance. Mahat in turn led to the creation of the Ahankara, or principle of Individuality. Ahankara, much like Mahat, has three characters: the Modifying, the Energizing, and the Evolving.   The Evolving Ahankara then creates the subtle elements; from each element, a complementary element was created:  From sound came ether, from touch came air, from form came light, from taste came water, and from smell came earth (Mark. P. 220-221). Following these creations, the Modifying Ahankara generated the eleven human organs. Of the eleven, five were organs of the buddhi, or intellect, and five were organs of the taijasa, or action (Mark. P. 221). These ten organs constitute the ten Vaikarika deities, while the manas, or mind, is the eleventh organ. Markandeya then continues by stating that Mahat, along with the other tattvas, give rise to a hiranya-garbha, or cosmic egg, which floats on a cosmic ocean (Mark. P. 222). [The notion of a cosmic egg that holds the universe in its incipient form is consistent with Rg Vedic accounts on creation, for an example, see Bhattacharyya 2-5]. This hiranya-garbha contains the Absolute and the universe in its embryonic form.

At this point, Markandeya is interrupted by Kraushtuki, a third rsi, who wishes to know what happens “when things are not created, and nothing exists, everything has been destroyed by time at the end of the dissolution of the universe” (Mark. P. 224). In response to this question, Markandeya commences by declaring that Brahma possesses three qualities that are manifested as Brahma the creator, Visnu the maintainer, or nurturer, and Rudra the destroyer. He continues by stating that Brahma, who is the first of all gods, lives for a hundred years. These years, however, are different from the years of human beings and deities (Mark. P. 226).  Markandeya explains that the fundamental unit of time is an age, or yuga.  There are four yugas that make up a mahayuga: the krta yuga, the treta yuga, the dvapara yuga, and the kali yuga. A thousand mahayugas constitute one kalpa, while seventy-one cycles of a mahayuga form a single manvantara. Thus, one kalpa can be divided into 14 manuvantaras; manvantaras are presided by divine beings known as Manus (Mark. P. 226-227). A single day of Brahma comprises two kalpas (For a thorough explanation of the computation of Brahma’s life, see Appendix A).

After computing Brahma’s lifespan, Markandeya continues with the creation myth. Markandeya explains that at the end of each kalpa, Brahma sleeps and a minor dissolution, which is referred to as a causal dissolution or naimittik pralay, takes place (Mark. P. 227). During the naimittik pralay, residents of the triple-world, which includes the bhurloka (earth), bhuvarloka (atmosphere or mid-region), and svarloka (heaven), temporarily relocate to the maharloka, while the residents of the maharloka travel to the janaloka (Mark. P. 227-228). [For a more detailed explanation of the triple-world system, see Prakash 55-61 and Miller 83-86]. The entire universe is also submerged in the cosmic ocean at the time of the naimittik pralay. When Brahma awakens, he starts to create the universe.

First, Brahma creates Narayana, or ‘the one who dwells in water’, who assumes the body of a boar, to dive into the cosmic waters to bring up the previously submerged world (Mark. P. 229). Markandeya continues by claiming that “the earth floated like an immense boat on that ocean, but [did] not sink by reason of the amplitude of its size” (Mark. P. 229). Narayana then began creating the triple-worlds, as well as the maharloka. Brahma is extremely satisfied with Narayana’s creations, but desires to create other superior beings to inhabit the worlds. He begins to meditate, and through this process, he creates nine classes of creations. As Brahma had already created mahat (intellect) and the subtle elements, he began meditating to create the vikaras. The vikaras comprised of sense capabilities (i.e., seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling) as well as action capabilities, such as grasping, speaking, walking, procreating, and excreting (Pintchman 270). These three creations (i.e, the mahat, subtle elements, and vikaras) are thought to evolve from Prakrti, and are thus deemed to be prakrta, or primary, creations (Mark. P. 232).

The fourth class comprised the vegetables, which are described as the “creation incapable of causation” (Mark. P. 230). The fifth class comprised the four-legged animals, such as cattle, that can be characterized by ignorance. Brahma realized that even these creations were incapable of causation, and thus, he continued to meditate and created the sixth class of beings known as the urdhva-srotas, or the gods. According to Markandeya, Brahma was exceptionally pleased with this creation because the gods are primarily characterized by goodness, pleasure, and affection. Brahma prolonged his meditation to create the seventh class that was capable of causation, and characterized by ignorance and passion; these were the human beings. Since “the streams of life in them moved downwards”, human beings were deemed the arvak-srotas. The eighth class of beings was the anugraha, characterized by goodness and ignorance. These latter five creations are thought to derive from the Vikaras, and are thus known as the vaikrta creations. The ninth and final creation was the kaumara creation; kaumara consisted of both prakrta and vaikrta (Mark. P. 232).

Markandeya continues reciting the creation myth to Kraushtuki by explaining the details of Brahma’s four created beings: the asuras, or demons, the suras, or gods, the pitrs, or ancestors, and the humans. Brahma created each being from a different and separate body (Mark. P. 233-234). After using each body to create a specific being, Brahma discards the body to form different periods of the day. Night came from the body that created the asuras, while day emerged from the body that created the suras. Twilight, or dawn, derived from the body that created the pitrs, and moonlight came from the body that created the humans. According to Pintchman (270), Brahma “then creates all other existing entities from his own bodily form.” One such notable category of entities include Brahma’s manasa, or mind-born, sons (Mark. P. 247-248).

Brahma created nine sages from his mind alone (Mark. P. 247). These sages were named Bhrigu, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Angiras, Marici, Daksha, Atri, and Vasishtha. These mind-born sons were supposed to continue Brahma’s work of creation. However, the sages disregarded Brahma’s work and, instead, pursued a renouncer-like life typified by contemplation, meditation, and asceticism (Pintchman 271).  Realizing that his creations were at great risk of meeting an abrupt end, Brahma grew angry (Mark. P. 248). Amidst his anger, Markandeya explains, Brahma creates a divine being that is half male and half female (Mark. P. 248). In order to sustain his creations, Brahma orders the being to “divide thyself” to create several other females and males (Mark. P. 248).  With several other beings created from the half male and half female divine being, Brahma generates Manu Svayambhuva to guard these numerous beings.

Markandeya’s account of how the world came to be is one of several in the Hindu tradition. Although many Hindu texts bear close resemblance to the account in the Markandeya Purana (e.g., Brahmada Purana, Garuda Purana, and Padma Purana), several other texts describe differential versions of creationism. For instance, the Purusa Sukta hymn, in the Rg Veda, depicts the universe as an enormous cosmic being, known as Purusa, that is three quarters transcendent and one quarter manifest (Rg Veda 10.90). From Purusa, a feminine principle named Viraj, or the widespread, is generated. Together, Viraj and Purusa beget a son, also named Purusa; this son is sacrificed by the gods, and from this sacrifice Purusa creates the cosmos (Rodrigues 89). As this account of creationism is vastly different from Markandeya’s account, it is worth noting that many creationist accounts in the Hindu literature may be contradictory. Although most Puranic creationist accounts are valued by Hindus worldwide, the Puranas have not been granted a sruti status, and thus, Vedic accounts of creationism, such as the Purusa Sukta hymn, may be deemed more significant.


Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (1983) History of Indian Cosmogonical Ideas. New Delhi: Munishiram Manoharlal.

Chatterji, Suniti Kumar (1936) “Purana Legends and the Prakrit Tradition in New Indo-Aryan.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London 8, no. 2/3: 457-466.

Coburn, Thomas B. (1980) “The Study of the Puranas and the Study of Religion.” Religious Studies 16, no. 3: 341-352.

Knipe, David M (1991) Hinduism: Experiments in the Sacred. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Miller, Jeanine (1985) The Vision of Cosmic Order in the Veda. London: Routledge & Kegan.

Pargiter, F Eden (1981) The Markandeya Purana: Translated with Notes. New Delhi: Indological Book House.

Pintchman, Tracy (1998) “Gender Complementarity and Gender Hierarchy in Puranic Accounts of Creation.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66, no. 2: 257-282.

Prakash, Satya (1985) Hindu Religion and Morality. New Delhi: Asian Publication Services.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Hinduism – The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

Shourie, Arun (1979) Hinduism: Essence and Consequence. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.

Singh, Jai Pal, & Khan, Mumtaz (1999) “Hindu Cosmology and the Orientation and Segregation of Social Groups in Villages in Northwestern India.” Geografiska Annaler, Series B, Human Geography 81, no. 1: 19-39.

Related Topics for Further Investigation











Brahmada Purana




Creation/Creator/ Creationism/Hindu Creationism


Dvapara Yuga

Garuda Purana

Genealogical figures


Hindu cosmology

Hiranyagarbha/World egg/Golden Embryo



Kali Yuga





Krta Yuga

Kurma Purana






Major dissolution




Manu Svayambhuva




Markandeya Purana

Minor dissolution


Naimittik pralay

Padma Purana














Rg Veda

Rg Vedic Cosmology







Sankhya philosophy






Supreme Being







Treta Yuga

Triple-world system












Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Sara Kafashan (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Astrology

Symbols are part of every culture and an essential part of astrology. Those who practice Hinduism believe that symbols reveal the relationship individuals have or should have with the universe. According to Hindu beliefs the “seers” [semi-Divine beings] created astrology, and believed that the purpose of astrological symbols was to understand everyone’s role in the cosmic order of things (Behari 21). They believed that symbols represented the various Divine beings and provided a way for the world to relate to one’s soul (Behari 21). Symbolism also allows for consistency among different time eras. A modern male on his way to becoming a renouncer will still learn the same concepts through symbols as a male in ancient times. As males and females advance to different stages in their own lives (sacred thread or a renouncer), symbols reveal more profound and significant meanings (Behari 22). Some symbols conceal their true meaning, and individuals can spend their entire life unveiling one meaning after another (Behari 23).

The cross, circle, and arrow are commonly used symbols (Behari 22). While they convey similar meanings, different cultures add their own values and beliefs to their representations. The Hindu cross symbolizes humanity. Its North, East, South, and West points represent birth, life, death, and immortality. The vertical line represents eternal matter and the male gender, Purusha, while the horizontal line represents one’s eternal spirit and the female gender, Prakriti (Behari 28). The horizontal line contains manifestation elements in a golden egg called Hiranyagarbha (Behari 28). Hiranyagarbha consist of the five sensory qualities know as Tanmantras, five sense organs known as Indriyas, five elements known as Bhutras, and three prime qualities known as Trigunas (Behari 28). All these aspects provide the potential to either undergo moksa [self realization and liberation] or hide one’s pure nature due to the illusion created by maya [ignorance] (Behari 28). The horizontal line represents an individual’s destiny ready to be fulfilled. The vertical line on the cross represents positive potential and commitment to fulfill cosmic duties (Behari 28). To achieve cosmic goals, sacrifices must be made and discipline must be followed. Manifestations of the vertical line consist of the Absolute dividing itself into two, Mula Prakriti (matter), and Daivi Prakriti (spirit) (Behari 28). Both the positive potential and destiny of an individual can only be met once the vertical and horizontal elements of the cross have intersected. The cross is significant across Hindu society. Brahmatma, a chief of Hindu priests, wore a head dress with two keys arranged as a cross, indicating its religious and spiritual value (Behari 26). It has also been noted that the ancient temples of Ellora, Elephanta, Varanasi and Mathura in India are all cross-shaped (Behari 26). The circle is another symbol that the Hindus believe represents the cosmos. It stands for unity and harmonious movements (Behari 30). The circle is where the sexless become female or male, and parts become whole. In Hindu astrology the circle also stands for polarity, and is demonstrated in the God Siva. In some myths, Siva shares his body with the Goddess Shakti. Male and female divine beings represent the polarity of the circle – also known as Ardha Nariswara (Behari 31). Lastly, the arrow also has a cosmic meaning with regards to direction and movement. The arrow is dynamic and similar to nature, always moving and always changing. In the Upanisads, the arrow is meant to be shot in the direction of one’s Atman [Divine Self] because reaching your Atman is the ultimate goal of Upanisadic life (Behari 34). The arrow represents the spiritual efforts and instrument in achieving liberation (Behari 34).

In the Hindu tradition, almost all symbols are representative of a god or goddess. Gods and goddesses can also be considered as symbols for the one supreme God Brahman (Gibson 28). The objects that the gods carry and the animals with which they associate, carry significant meanings as well. A symbol commonly linked with divine beings is the Swastika. This symbol means ‘well-being”, is supposed to bring good luck (Gibson 28). It is drawn on floors during festivals or ceremonies of importance. Its four arms stand for space, the four Vedas, the four stages of life, and time (Gibson 29). Om is another very important and significant symbol to Hindus, as it means “sound of creation” (Gibson 28) It is believed to be the first sound ever made, and the basis for which all other sounds are made. It is used in meditation and chants. The lotus flower represents purity, another central value of Hindus. The flower grows in mud, but flourishes into a beautiful pure blossom. Gods and goddesses are shown sitting or stand on this flower to display the idea that evil has no hold on them (Gibson 29). Ash represents an individual’s everlasting soul. The body deteriorates but one’s Atman is eternal. Lastly, water is seen as a source of purification and life. It is often sprinkled on the ground to eliminate evil (Gibson 31). These common symbols pertain to beliefs and traditions within the Hindu society. Specific rituals and ceremonies can sometimes be centered around these astrological symbols.

Astronomy plays a large part in Hindu astrology. In Hinduism, constellations and planets have religious significance, and exercise influence over mundane affairs. The belief is that all divine spirits move around the earth in the circular formation known as the zodiac (Charak 10). The zodiac serves as a border or boundary within which gods, goddesses, constellations and planets can move. There are 27 groups of stars in Vedic astrology known as the Naksatras which stand for “a means of worship” (Harness xv). The Naksatras are thought to be static divine beings that arc east to west on the zodiac. The moon is said to have divided the zodiac into these 27 Naksatras (Harness xiii). According to myth, the moon god Soma was given 27 wives by the god Prajapati (creator god) (Harness xxiv). Each wife is tied to Soma, and this symbolizes the connection that the moon has with each mansion or division of the stars (Harness xxiv). According to Hindu belief, the moon passes through each mansion at some point during a month. The Naksatras store and transfer karma for individuals, and represent the consequences of their actions on earth (Harness xvi). Hindu rituals and ceremonies such as weddings are only carried out if the Naksatras indicate an appropriate time. When an individual is making predictions for upcoming events, there are characteristics of the 27 groups of stars that should be taken into account. In Hinduism each Naksatra has certain powers related to a particular god or planet. Some groups of Naksatras are male oriented, while others are female (Harness xxiv). Lastly, the Naksatras represent the three qualities of life, Sattva (harmony), Rajas (high energy) and Tamas (dullness and darkness) (Harness xxiv). The combination of these characteristics helps decide what is to come. In addition to these static groups of Hindu divine beings, it is also believed there are also gods and goddess in constant motion around the zodiac. These beings are referred to as Grahas (Charak 10). They are thought to move west to east along the zodiac. There are nine of them: the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu, and Ketu (Charak 10). The Sun and the Moon serve as the most significant and powerful planets, while Rahu and Ketu are simply particular points on the zodiac.

In Hindu astrology the Naksatras and Grahas are strongly connected with 12 signs or Rashi along the zodiac, which represent existence (Charak 11). Throughout the day, six signs will rise above the eastern horizon and the other six will rise at night along the western horizon (Charak 19). Each sign is called a house, and is supposed to represents an aspect of existence. For example, the first house, also known as lagna, signifies the Sun and one’s own character – the way an individual chooses to live their life (Charak 84). Other house include materialism, family, education, karma, obstacles in life, desires, status of a women, religious wisdom, professionalism, acquisition, and loss (Charak 84-86). In Hindu astrology individuals read these houses to understand how they should conduct their everyday lives, rituals and religious ceremonies.

The Sun and Moon are two of the most significant forces in Hindu astrology. Both are associated with extremely powerful gods and are believed to hold great influence over the universe. The Sun is often referred to as Atman (Divine self), and is represented by the god Surya (Behari 40). According to the Vedas, the Sun was granted the power to create and destroy life. The name Loka Chakshu, “the Eye of the World” is given to the Sun because it watches all activity in the universe (Behari 39). According to Hindu belief it creates matter, and nurtures it while being a part of it. In today’s Hindu culture, spiritual healing rituals are centered on the power of the sun. As well, an individual’s experiences are directly affected by their relationship with the Sun. In Hindu mythology the Sun God, Surya symbolizes success and power. His relationship with women is vast, and represents cosmic expansion (Behari 43). He and his wife Sanja have many children; however he also conceives many illegitimate children. He creates many gods including, Yama, the god of death, which essentially brings about the end of life (Behari 43). The horoscope connected with the sun has to do with quality of life and the cosmic energy that flows through an individual (Behari 48). Hindus believe that the Sun is the motivating factor to match your internal desires with your external life (Behari 48).

According to Hindu astrology the Moon is a mysterious and complex Grahas. It is known as the “cosmic mother” and is represented by the goddess Chandrama (Behari 50). The moon is thought to influence emotions and provides goals that are to be achieved. The rays of light emitted by the moon are important to the lotus flower, a significant symbol in Hindu culture. They are able to guide the flower out of the mud and allow it to flourish. This symbolizes the moon’s ability to guide individuals down a path of purity and liberation (Behari 51). The phases of the moon are found within everyday life as well. The different phases have relevance to a woman’s body cycle as well as sexual impulses of both males and females (Behari 53). Meditation and rituals are connected with each phase of the moon (Behari 53). It serves as the creator of goals and emotions.

Hindu astrology is quite complex and detailed. The universe is always in motion, and individual lives are constantly changing. Unlike western cultures, horoscopes and astronomy readings are taken seriously when planning events and rituals. Hindu symbols are significant both in ritual teachings and everyday life.


Behari, Bepin (2003) Myths & Symbols of Vedic Astrology. Bangalore: Lotus Press

Harness, Dennis (1999) The Nakshatras: The Lunar Mansion of Vedic Astrology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press

Charak, K.S. (2002) Elements of Vedic Astrology. Unknown city: Institute of Vedic Astrology

Gibson, Lynne (2002) Hinduism. Unknown City: Heinemann

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Article written by Stefanie Brown (March 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Cosmogonies in the Vedic Samhitas

A cosmogony is a theory about how the universe originated; it may take on a mythological form as a creation story, or it may be presented in the form of a philosophical treatise, a divinely inspired revelation, or a scientific theory. The aim of any cosmogonic postulation is to provide an answer to the questions “How did we get here?” and “How did our universe originate?”, and in doing so, help us to lay some groundwork for asking the bigger questions of “Who, or what, am I?” Within the Hindu tradition there is much speculation on these fundamental questions, and many different theories have been put forth from theistic creation by a supreme being to the evolution of order from primordial chaos.

A striking characteristic of the Hindu religion is the wealth of diversity found within the traditions that are subsumed under the umbrella term of “Hinduism”; this characteristic diversity is particularly evident when we consider the many distinct perspectives on cosmogony which are accepted as orthodox. Compared to traditional Judeo-Christian cosmogony, where there is essentially one perspective of the creationary act which is primarily expounded in the first couple chapters of the book of Genesis, the range of perspectives on cosmogony found in the Hindu tradition can appear quite intimidating. Though the expansiveness of the tradition’s cosmogony can seem daunting, and the somewhat obscure nature of the traditions cosmogonic postulations may seem impregnable, distinct streams of thought can be seen running through the traditions which help us delineate the different theoretical systems at play, allowing us to group related cosmogonic traditions together categorically. We are able to categorize the cosmogonies of ancient India into those that view our universe as being begotten from the activity of material principles, those which view our universe as resulting from the activity of abstract principles, and those which view our universe as resulting from the work of a divine agency, or divine principles (Bhattacharyya 2). Material principles can be defined as substances that are clearly observable matter such as water, wind, fire, and earth. Abstract principles are human concepts such as desire, being, non-being, time, and chaos, and creative energy. The divine principles found within the Vedic Samhitas are cosmic beings such as Brahma-Prajapati, Brahman, and Visvakarman. According to Bhattacharyya (2) a process of evolution is evident in Indian ideas of cosmogony, developing from primitive materialistic conceptions, through abstract formulations, and then to cosmogonies which explain our universe as resulting from the actions of a supreme being or divine presence.

Theories that view our nascent reality, including the gods, as emerging from pre-existent matter appear to be the oldest Hindu cosmogonies, though this may seem counter-intuitive to those in the modern occident where the inheritors of the Enlightenment thinking and dogma have a tendency to presuppose that primitive man was hopelessly ensnared in “superstitious” supernaturalism, creating his gods and his myths to answer any difficult question that might arise. According to Bhattacharyya (2) it seemed “perfectly reasonable to the primitive peoples who saw land growing from the accumulations of river-borne silt and desert wastes rendered cultivatable by irrigation, to conclude, for instance, that water was the primary element and the source of all that existed.” The belief that our cosmos developed out of primordial water is very common in the ancient world, and can be found in the cosmogonies of the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Egyptians, and there are even hints of it in the Hebrew Bible, although here the water is subjugated to the presence of the divine YHWH (“And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” American Standard Version). The similarities between this passage and the creation account found in Nasadiya hymn (Griffith) of the Rg Veda are striking. I reproduce this account in full because of its centrality to the early Vedic understandings of cosmogony, and also because it represents a confluence of many different Hindu conceptualizations of the creative act in that it includes elements from the cosmogonic formulations beginning with material principles (water), those beginning with abstract principles (night, chaos, desire, warmth) and those beginning with divine principles (God/ the One. Verse.7). An interesting characteristic of this hymn is that it does not really seem to make truth-claims the same way as we find in say, the first couple chapters of Genesis. Instead the writers seem to be asking questions, and following different lines of inquiry, instead of trying to lay out a calculated and definitive answer to the cosmogonical issue.

HYMN CXXIX. Creation

“1. THEN was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it.

What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

2. Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider.

That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.

3. Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos.

All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.

4. Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit.

Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.

5. Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it?

There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder

6. Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?

The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

7. He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it

Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.

The gross elements which are credited as the foundational substances of reality came to be called the bhutas, a concept which is found in an embryonic form in the Rg Veda and is developed in the later Vedic literature, including the Upanisads (Lal 7) Aside from primordial water (apah), the other well established bhutas include agni (fire), vayu or vata (wind), dyaus or akasa (sky), and prthivi (earth) (Lal 7). These principles have a dual nature as both material elements and also, later, as deities such as Agni, Vayu and Dyaus. Exegesis of the Rg Veda and critical reflection lead to the hypothesis that these elements were first observed empirically in the environment and recognized as “natural” phenomena, and only later sacralized as personal deities who could be approached by man and propitiated through rituals. This chronology goes against the accepted “wisdom” of many dogmatic materialists who have created a historical myth which perceives humanities intellectual development as an upward evolution from “superstitious supernaturalism” and “blind faith” towards “rationality” and “empirical science.” These individuals imply that belief in the unseen is necessarily a vestigial relic of the primitive mind which is unwilling to grasp the stark reality that there can be no ultimate reality which transcends empirically observed phenomena and lies outside the grasp of man’s rational mind; there can be no realms beyond our perceptual capacities, and no realities unfathomable to the rational mind. The reality is that the intellectual development of the ancient Hindus probably followed a chronology antithetical to their dogma; at the level of the intellectual elite, the Hindus first conceived of creation as resulting from material principles, then abstract principles, and then the divine principles. Closely related to these cosmogonies based on basic material principles is the concept of hiranya-garbha (the Golden Embryo, or World Egg) which, again, ancient Hindu cosmogonies share with other ancient cultures. In most of its many incarnations this concept envisions our embryonic cosmos as existing in the form of an enormous egg which floats on top of a fathomless deep (Bhattacharya 3). With the hatching of this egg, the cosmos spring into life, just as a young chick bursts forth from its shell when the appointed time has come. The idea here is that just as the life of a reptile or a bird lies dormant within its shell, the primordial Life of the cosmos at one time lied dormant within a cosmic World Egg. Again we see the ancient Indian’s conceptualizing the cosmic nativity in terms of things that they had observed empirically in the world around them.

The second stream of thought within ancient Hindu cosmogonies is the idea that the universe emerged from abstract principles, as opposed to merely evolving out of matter or being created by a divine being. The Nasadiya creation hymn I reproduced earlier exhibits the influence of this stream of thought in verse three where “darkness,” “void,” “indiscriminated chaos,” and “Warmth,” are spoken of as primordial principles which played a role in the emergence of the universe as we know it. These formulations are, again, not unique to Hindu thought, but are found throughout many cultures around the world. The primary characteristic that distinguishes the material principles from the abstract ones is that the material cosmogonies are based on observable substances such as water (apah) or fire (agni), whereas the abstract cosmogonies are based on immaterial human concepts such as desire, disorder, being, or non-being. Some particularly important abstract principles for Hindu cosmogony are the ideas of sat, asat, and of tapas. The word sat can be translated as being, the word asat as non-being, and the word tapas, which is literally translated as flame, can in respect to cosmogony be considered to refer to a creative cosmic fire, or spark. According to Miller (51) tapas is what drives the universe forward, causes the primordial elements to blossom into the universe as we know it, then drives the cycle its conclusion only to restart anew. This idea of a cyclical universe may not have been envisioned by the rsis as it is laid out in the Puranas, and scholars debate when the concept of a cyclical reality developed in Hindu thought (Miller 64). In the Rg Veda we read that the universal order, or rta, as well as Truth, were both created through the action of the tapas. Griffith translates the beginning of this creation hymn (Rg Veda XCX. 1) as follows: “FROM Fervour kindled to its height Eternal Law and Truth were born: Thence was the Night produced, and thence the Billowy flood of sea arose.” In this hymn we see the abstract concepts of Night, Eternal Law, Truth, and Fervour (tapas) giving rise to the material concept of the primordial sea. Furthermore, in the Atharva Veda (XI.8) we read that “Both Tapas and action were within the mighty ocean. Tapas arose from action; that did they worship as highest.” (Roth and Whitney)

Keeping with what appears to be a philosophical method of extrapolating cosmogonic theories from observable, empirical phenomena, the rsis envisioned the conception of the cosmos in procreative terms. In this way, the Vedic Samhitas put forth the idea of a fundamental sexual dualism which draws a distinction between a paternal Sky Father named Dyaus and a maternal Earth Mother named Prthivi, The Samhitas claim in several places that it is these two beings that gave birth to the gods as well as men, and that they sustain all created beings (Rg Veda I.159.2; 160.2; 185.1) According to Bhattacharyya (5) the concept of heaven and earth as universal parents eventually developed into the idea of Prakrti who “began to be conceived of as the germinal productive principle- the eternal mother capable of evolving all created things out of herself but never so creating unless united with the eternal spiritual principle, the Purusa.” In a later work entitled the Purusa-sukta, the idea is put forth that our universe was created by a cosmic being who sacrificed his own body to himself, and so from the various parts of his body different parts of our reality were born; the gods Indra and Agni arose from his mouth, the sun emanated from his eyes, etc. We have now started to shift from abstract principles to beings that much more closely resemble conventional divinities. Dyaus and Prthivi can be conceived of as “proper” gods with personalities, or they can be seen as cosmic principles of masculinity and femininity. Just where they fall on the spectrum between these two conceptions appears to remain convoluted in the texts of the early Vedic Samhitas; the same goes for the concepts of Prakrti and the Purusa.

The variety of perspectives on cosmogony within the Samhitas becomes apparent when one realizes that although the heavens and earth are said to have given rise to the gods, in other passages it appears as if the gods were responsible for the creation of the heavens and earth! We see the rsis in the first mandala of the Rg Veda (I.189.1) asking how the heavens and earth first came into being, and how they were created, while maintaining that they still support all things that exist: “WHETHER of these is elder, whether later? How were they born? Who knoweth it, ye sages? These of themselves support all things existing: as on a car the Day and Night roll onward.” (Griffith). Bhattacharyya (19) shows that in another passage (Rg Veda X.81.2-4) this question is repeated, and the answer is given that the sole creator is a being called Visvakarman: “ He who hath eyes on all sides round about him, a mouth on all sides, arms and feet on all sides, He, the Sole God, producing earth and heaven, weldeth them, with his arms as wings, together. What was the tree, what wood in sooth produced it, from which they fashioned out the earth and heaven? Ye thoughtful men inquire within your spirit whereon he stood when he established all things.” (Griffith) Here we see the movement towards the idea of the deva ekah or the one god or being from whom existence found its origin.

Part of the reason that the Samhitas seem to have such a convoluted system of cosmogony, if it can be called a system at all, is because the texts take a henotheistic approach to their worship of the divine and their hymnology. This means that although the system is polytheistic and there is a sense that each god has their own specialized role in the cosmos, when the worshippers approach each deity they elevate it to the supreme position in the pantheon and address the deity as if addressing the Supreme. It can be argued that this is a prefiguring of later developments in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita where all the gods are seen as extensions of the one god, or the one Being. Just some of the Vedic gods who are attributed with a significant role in creation include, Usas, Brahmanaspati, Soma, Varuna, Agni, Brahma-prajapati, and Mitra. The development towards the idea of a single divinity who was primarily responsible for creation finds its expression with the developments of deities like Brahma Prajapati, Visvakarman, and eventually the later development of the idea Brahman, the all pervading eternal presence which is the immutable and all-encompassing Self. According the Bhattacharyya (18) it appears as if the development of the idea of a single Creator responsible for the establishment of the cosmic order was an unfolding process that took place over time, a process which was proceeded by a period in which the “various departments of nature were distributed to different gods, each to preside over his own area.” Each of these gods was deemed to be responsible for some part of the creation, depending on what their exact role was in the preservation of the cosmos, what status they held within the pantheon, and the process by which the deity themselves were allegedly created.

Originally then, the name Visvakarman, or the “great architect of the universe” (Bhattacharya 18), was used to refer to a number of gods who were believed to play some special role in the creation of the universe; this word only later came to refer to a single creative divinity. In this way we find both Surya the sun-god (Rg Veda X.170.4) and Indra (Rg Veda IV.17.4) referred to as Visvakarman in the Vedas. When conceived as a single creator god, Visvakarman is envisioned as all seeing, with eyes, faces, arms and feet protruding from all sides of his body. Furthermore, it is maintained that he is responsible for endowing the gods with their abilites and their names, and also for creating the heavens and the earth (Bhattacharyya 19).

Brahma Prajapati, or Hiranyagarbha, the other Vedic god who is seen as being important for creation, is described in similar terms; he is seen as having arisen from the primordial waters and is responsible for the creation of the world and the preservation of the sky and the earth. It is also maintained that the gods derive their power from him and that they are subject to his will for he is the “god over all the gods” (Bhattacharyya 19). With the later theological, cosmological, and mythological developments of the Upanishads, the Puranas, and the Epics we see a flowering of this concept of the Ineffable One, and also the development of some new conceptions of cosmogony and the relationship between the Supreme Being and its creation. The various modern traditions subsumed under the umbrella term “Hinduism” are still influenced by the ancient cosmogonies which envisioned material, abstract, and divine principles as having each been responsible for the creation of our universe, either working alone or in concert. To this day Hindus the world over, and indeed individuals of all faiths and creeds, continue to ponder the origins, destiny, and meaning of our universe, as well as mankind’s place in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (1983) History of Indian Cosmogonical Ideas. New Delhi: Munishiram Manoharlal.

Gombrich, Richard F. (1975) “Ancient Indian Cosmology.” In Ancient Cosmologies. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Kuiper, P.B.J. (1983) Ancient Indian Cosmogony. New Delhi: Viskas Publishing House.

Kumarappa, Bharatan (1986) Realism and Illusionism in Hinduism. New Delhi: Mayur Publications.

Lal, J. K. (1995) Pancamahabhutas, Origin and Myths in Vedic literature, in volume two, Vedic Buddhist and Jain Traditions, of the seven-volume, multi- author collection Prakrti: The Integral Vision. Kapila Vatsayayan (ed.). New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Miller, Jeanine (1985) The Vision of Cosmic Order in the Veda. London: Routledge & Kegan.

Muir, John (1873) Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and Progress of the Religion and Institutions of India. London: Williams and Norgate.

Prabhavananda, Swami, & Manchester, Frederick (2002) The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal. New York: Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

Ralph T. H. Griffith (1974) The Hymns of the Rgveda. Orient Book Distributors

Vatsayayan (ed.) (1995) Prakrti: The Integral Vision, a seven-volume, multi-author work. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Whitney, William Dwight (2002) Atharvavedasamhita: Sanskrit text, English translation, notes & index of verses according to the translation or W.D. Whitney and Bhasya of Sayanacarya (encluding 20th Kanda). Delhi: Parimal Publications.

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Written by Caleb Ostrom (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.