Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, by W.J. Wilkins, , at sacred-texts.com
Brahma is regarded as the Supreme Being, the God of gods; of whom Brahmā, Vishnu, and Siva are manifestations. It is true that, in some verses of the Vedas, attributes ascribed to him are also ascribed to other deities, and in some of the Purānas various gods are said to be identical with the supreme Brahma; nevertheless Brahma is regarded by the Hindus (for which opinion there is abundant authority in their scriptures) as the Supreme God—the origin of all the others, and of whom they are manifestations. Thus we read in the "Atharva-Veda":— † "All the gods are in (Brahma) as cows in a cow-house. In the beginning Brahma was this [universe]. He created gods. Having created gods, he placed them in these worlds, viz. Agni in this world, Vāyu in the atmosphere, and Surya in the sky. And in the worlds which are yet higher, he placed the gods which are still higher. Then Brahma proceeded to the higher sphere [which is explained by the commentator to mean the Satyaloka, the most excellent and limit of all the worlds]. The gods were originally mortal; but when they were pervaded by Brahma, they became immortal." In the "Taittiriya Brāhmana" it is said:
[paragraph continues] "Brahma generated the gods, Brahma (generated) this entire world. Within him are all these worlds. Within him is this entire universe. It is Brahma who is the greatest of beings. Who can vie with him? In Brahma, the thirty-three gods; in Brahma, Indra and Prajāpati; in Brahma all things are contained as in a ship."
Prof. Monier Williams * says:—"Only a few hymns of the Vedas appear to contain the simple conception of one divine self, existent, omnipresent being; and even in these, the idea of one god present in all nature is somewhat nebulous and undefined." Further on he says: "In the Purusha Sūkta of the Rig-Veda, the one spirit is called Purusha. The more common name in the later system is Brāhman, neuter (nom. Brahma), derived from the root brih, 'to expand,' and denoting the universally expanding essence, or universally diffused substance of the universe . . . Brāhman, in the neuter, being 'simple, infinite being'—the only real eternal essence—which, when it passes into actual manifested existence, is called Brahmā; when it develops itself in the world, is called Vishnu; and when it again dissolves itself into simple being, is called Siva; all the other innumerable gods and demi-gods being also mere manifestations of the neuter Brāhman, who is eternal."
In the "Vishnu Purāna" † Brahma is translated as "abstract supreme spirit." Later on ‡ the question is asked, "How can creative agency be attributed to Brahma, who [as abstract spirit] is without qualities, illimitable, and free from imperfection?" The answer is, that "the essential properties of existent things are objects of observation, of which no foreknowledge is attainable; and creation and hundreds of properties
belong to Brahma as inseparable, parts of his essence, as heat is inherent in fire." The Purāna goes on to say that creation is effected through the agency of Brahmā, the first manifestation of Brahma; and then declares that Vishnu is one with Brahmā.
Again, the same Purāna * says: "There are two states of this Brahma—one with, and one without shape; one perishable, one imperishable; which are inherent in all beings. The imperishable is the supreme being; the perishable is all the world. The blaze of fire burning in one spot diffuses light and heat around; so the world is nothing more than the manifested energy of the supreme Brahma; and inasmuch as the light and heat are stronger or feebler as we are near to the fire or far off from it, so the energy of the supreme is more or less intense in the beings that are less or more remote from him. Brahmā, Vishnu, and Siva are the most powerful energies of God; next to them are the inferior deities; then the attendant spirits; then men; then animals, birds, insects, vegetables; each becoming more and more feeble as they are farther from their primitive source."
The "Vishnu Purāna" † gives the following derivation of the word Brahma:—It "is derived from the root vriha (to increase), because it is infinite (spirit), and because it is the cause by which the Vedas (and all things) are developed." Then follows this hymn to Brahma:—"Glory to Brahma, who is addressed by that mystic word (Om), ‡ associated eternally with the triple universe (earth, sky, and heaven), and who is one with
the four Vedas. Glory to Brahma, who alike in the destruction and renovation of the world is called the great and mysterious cause of the intellectual principle; who is without limit in time or space, and exempt from diminution and decay. . .. He is the invisible, imperishable Brahma; varying in form, invariable in substance; the chief principle, self-engendered; who is said to illuminate the caverns of the heart; who is indivisible, radiant, undecaying, multiform. To that supreme Brahma be for ever adoration."
In perfect harmony with this teaching of the "Vishnu Purāna" is the common belief of the Hindus. No phrase is more commonly used by them when speaking of the divine being than this: "God (Brahma) is one without a second." The word used by them for God as distinguished from his manifestations, is Brahma; and when charged with Polytheism, and of violating the primary law respecting the unity of God, they reply that Brahmā, Vishnu, Siva, etc., are only manifestations of the supreme Brahma. *
In the earliest writings Brahma signified a hymn or mantra, whilst Brahmā was the term used to denote a priest or worshipper. It is in the later parts of the Vedas that Brahma is identified with the supreme, and Brahmā becomes his great manifestation. Prajāpati, the lord of creatures, was the Creator according to the earlier teaching of the Vedas, and occupied the position in the earlier Pantheon that Brahmā did in the later. In several texts of the Vedas the two are identified, and thus authority is found for the idea that Brahmā is to be worshipped as the Maker of all things.
This Brahmā, though satisfactory to the priests, was not so to the common people. In process of time local gods absorbed their worship, and the non-Aryan deities of the people whom they had conquered exercised their influence on the Aryans themselves. Rather than lose their hold of the people, the priests adopted these new deities, and found a parentage for them from amongst the old Vedic gods. By the time the Epics were composed, Vishnu and Siva had been thus assimilated. The different names by which these deities are now known may possibly have been the local names of local or tribal gods; by retaining these the priests also retained their hold upon the people. In the "Satapatha Brāhmana" attempts are made to identify Siva with Agni, as though the writer wished to show that the later triad—Brahmā, Vishnu, and Siva—was identical with the older one composed of Agni, Indra-Vāyu, and Surya.
93:* It will be noticed that the final vowel in the name of this deity is short, whilst in that of the first incarnation it is long.
93:† Muir, O. S. T., v. 387 ff.
94:* "Indian Wisdom," p. 12.
94:† Page 2.
94:‡ Book i. chap. iii.
95:* Page 157.
95:† Page 273.
95:‡ This word occurs at the commencement of prayers and religious ceremonies. It is so sacred that none must hear it pronounced. Originally the three letters (a u m) of which it is formed typified the three Vedas; afterwards it became a mystical symbol of the three deities—Brahmā, Vishnu, Siva.
96:* The Theistic sect that arose in Bengal during the present century, for a long time gloried in the name Brahmo Somaj; i.e. the Society that worshipped the supreme Brahma or God.