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Cosmology, Hinduism

The Vedic religion clearly displays a description of an ordered universe in which rta prevails. There are various accounts as to the evolvement of the universe, some implying agency, others emanation from a pre-existing state where there is no beginning or end. Important examples are Bramanda (the cosmic egg from which all creature came forth, [Rg Veda 10, 121.1; Katha Upanisad 3. 10]). The Hiranyagarbha (the golden embryo, the every-lasting plan) or aksara purusa, the indestructible person, who becomes the vibrating energy that generates all life; Visakarma as creator (the first to come from Brahmanda, the architect of the gods [Rg Veda 10. 82]) and Brahma (the source of the universe, presiding over all creation, preserving like Vishnu and destroying like Shiva, [Markandeya Purusa 46.14]). As important was the comprehension that the universe came forth from primordial sacrificeas described in the Rg Veda 10. 90 (See Purusa). Another belief is that the universe has no point of origin at all, but possibly was an emanation (anaddi-srsti) from a ground or source being, the latter being identified as Brahman. Thus Sankhara understood the emanation as a progress from the subtle to the gross constituents of the world. But before that, there had developed a sense of unending progress like a wave, with element rising into organized appearance, but dropping into a trough during "the sleep of Brahma," a period of dissolution (pralaya). Possible this way the way the cosmos arose from infinite space and consciousness, a belief expressed through Aditi.

In truth, the Indian religion accepts the fact that the origin of the cosmos could not be known, but the conditions of ordered life could be extremely well known. Cosmology presents the terms for achieving that understanding-cosmology, as in the arena of opportunity-while remaining agnostic about detail, as in the so-called "Hymn of Creation" (Nasadiya Sukta, Rg Veda 10. 129): "Neither being (sat) nor non-being was as yet. What was concealed? And where? And in whose protection?…Who really knows? Who can declare it? Whence was it born, and whence came this creation? The gods were born later than this world's creation, so who knows from where it came into existence? None can know from where creation has arisen, and whether he has or has not produced it. He who surveys it in the highest heavens, he alone knows-or perhaps does not know." In philosophy the self-generating nature of the universe was worked particularly in Samhkya. According to theistic terms, the universe is produced through maya, the power to bring all things into appearance.

From a great conference on cosmography the universe was understood to be vertically made up of seven continents (dvipas), arranged in circles with intervening oceans around the central point of Mount Manu. Vertically, viewed from a cross-section of Brahmanda, one sees a series of layers. At the top are the lokas of the gods and highest attainers; next are the planets, sky, and earth; next the underworlds, and finally the twenty-eight narakas or hells. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 240

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