Who is Brahma? What God is Brahma?
By Amy Underdown, London, UK
Brahma is the first god in the Trimurti, or triumvirate of Hindu gods, joined by Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. Not to be confused with Brahman, Brahma was responsible for the creation of the universe and all its creatures. Alongside this, he is considered to be the god of knowledge and of the Vedas (ancient texts.)
There are varying accounts of how Brahma came into existence and how his creation came to fruition. In some stories, he created himself through a golden egg (called Hiranyagarbha), but this varies from sect to sect. In Vaishnavism (the Hindu sect with a focus on Vishnu), Brahma emerged from the navel of Vishnu in a lotus, whereas in Shaivism (the Hindu sect with a focus on Shiva), it is said instead that Brahma was borne of Shiva.
This isn’t the only origin story that has many variations. Brahma is known for his four heads, but the reasoning behind this is widely debated. One of the main explanations for this depiction is that the four heads represent the four Vedas. Another story suggests they were sprouted in order to have a permanent view of his womanly creation, Shatarupa, who went significantly out of her way to avoid his immovable gaze. In fact, she turned into every animal on earth, only for Brahma to do the same.
This latter story offers one explanation as to how our many animal species came to be, but it is also one suggestion as to why Brahma is worshipped significantly less than Vishnu and Shiva. Others suggest that this decline is mostly in relation to the fact that Brahma’s role and power are over, having fulfilled his expectation of creating the universe. Shiva is responsible for any re-creation that needs doing, quite frankly leaving Brahma out of a job!
Nevertheless, there are still a few temples that are dedicated solely to Brahma. Though these are far less common than the temples for his counterparts, his inclusion in the triumvirate and his recognition as the Creator are not something to be put to one side.