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.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
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
Creation/Creator/ Creationism/Hindu Creationism
Hiranyagarbha/World egg/Golden Embryo
Rg Vedic Cosmology
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic
Article written by: Sara Kafashan (April 2009) who is solely responsible for its content.