Brahma Read online

  Devdutt Pattanaik

  Brahma: the Creator



  About the Author

  Praise for the Book


  Author’s Note

  How to Read This Book: Author’s Recommendation



  The Circle of Brahma and Saraswati

  Glossary of Non-English Words


  Follow Penguin




  Devdutt Pattanaik writes, illustrates and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. He has, since 1996, written over 30 books and 600 columns on how stories, symbols and rituals construct the subjective truth (myths) of ancient and modern cultures around the world. His books with Penguin Random House India include The Book of Ram, Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata, Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, The Girl Who Chose and the Devlok with Devdutt Pattanaik series, among others. He consults with corporations on leadership and governance, and TV channels on mythological serials. His TV shows include Business Sutra on CNBC-TV18 and Devlok on Epic TV. To know more, visit

  Praise for the Book

  ‘Folklore hasn’t been written with such simplicity, economy of words, even humour … Recommended to every kind of reader—uninitiated or expert’—First City

  ‘Hitch-hikers, here’s your guide to the Hindu multiverse and all the thirty-three million deities. Mythology demystified but not dumbed down. Delves for the sat behind the mithya, and isn’t heavy-handed or maudlin about it; there’s real affection in these retellings’—Tehelka

  ‘Who doesn’t love a good story? Devdutt Pattanaik knows that it’s a human weakness [and] his Myth=Mithya tells lots of the glorious stories that make Hinduism so endlessly fascinating’—Time Out Mumbai

  To all the Gods, Goddesses, gods, goddesses,

  demons and angels there are

  Author’s Note

  The stories in this book are my own retellings, often simplified with a great deal of poetic licence, to accommodate—without losing the essence—details from various versions of the same story found in different scriptures

  No italics have been used to distinguish between English and non-English words

  Capital letters have been restricted to names and titles except where explicitly stated

  ‘Gods’ and ‘Goddesses’ spelt with an initial capital letter need to be distinguished from ‘gods’ and ‘goddesses’ in lowercase. The former are manifestations of the infinite divine while the latter are finite forms of the divine. Shiva is God but Indra is god. Durga is Goddess but Ganga is goddess.

  Sanskrit words are sometimes used as proper nouns and begin with a capital letter (for example, Maya, the Goddess who embodies delusion) and sometimes as common nouns spelt without capitals (for example, maya, delusion)

  This handbook is a decoding of Hindu mythology, firm in the belief that: Within infinite myths lies the eternal truth,

  Who sees it all?

  Varuna has but a thousand eyes

  Indra a hundred

  And I, only two.

  How to Read This Book:

  Author’s Recommendation

  You don’t have to go through this book sequentially. While that helps, you can also choose to dip into the book at random and read the captions under the illustrations and the tables and flowcharts. If you do decide to read it sequentially, do so at a leisurely pace. Take time to absorb and enjoy the ideas before you move on.


  The Hindu worldview can be startling to those accustomed to a Western thought process, until we challenge the old definition of myth (‘the irrational, the unreasonable, the false’) and embrace a new definition (‘subjective truth expressed in stories, symbols and rituals, that shapes all cultures, Indian or Western, ancient or modern, religious or secular’). The Sanskrit word for subjective truth is mithya—not the opposite of objective truth, but a finite expression of satya, that which is infinite.


  In which the meaning of myth, its value

  and expression are elaborated

  Everybody lives in myth. This idea disturbs most people. For conventionally myth means falsehood. Nobody likes to live in falsehood. Everybody believes they live in truth.

  But there are many types of truth. Some objective, some subjective. Some logical, some intuitive. Some cultural, some universal. Some are based on evidence; others depend on faith. Myth is truth which is subjective, intuitive, cultural and grounded in faith.

  Ancient Greek philosophers knew myth as mythos. They distinguished mythos from logos. From mythos came intuitive narrations, from logos reasonable deliberations. Mythos gave rise to the oracles and the arts. From logos came science and mathematics. Logos explained how the sun rises and how babies are born. It took man to the moon. But it never explained why. Why does the sun rise? Why is a baby born? Why does man exist on earth? For answers one had to turn to mythos. Mythos gave purpose, meaning and validation to existence.

  Ancient Hindu seers knew myth as mithya. They distinguished mithya from sat. Mithya was truth seen through a frame of reference. Sat was truth independent of any frame of reference. Mithya gave a limited, distorted view of reality; sat a limitless, correct view of things. Mithya was delusion, open to correction. Sat was truth, absolute and perfect in every way. Being boundless and perfect, however, sat could not be reduced to a symbol or confined to a word. Words and symbols are essentially incomplete and flawed. Sat therefore eluded communication. For communication one needs symbols and words, howsoever incomplete and flawed they may be. Through hundreds of thousands of incomplete and flawed symbols and words, it was possible to capture, or at least to indicate, the infinite perfection and boundlessness of sat. For Rishis therefore the delusion of mithya served as an essential window to the truth of sat.

  Myth is essentially a cultural construct, a common understanding of the world that binds individuals and communities together. This understanding may be religious or secular. Ideas such as rebirth, heaven and hell, angels and demons, fate and freewill, sin, Satan and salvation are religious myths. Ideas such as sovereignty, nation state, human rights, women’s rights, animal rights and gay rights are secular myths. Religious or secular, all myths make profound sense to one group of people. Not to everyone. They cannot be rationalized beyond a point. In the final analysis, you either accept them or you don’t.

  If myth is an idea, mythology is the vehicle of that idea. Mythology constitutes stories, symbols and rituals that make a myth tangible. Stories, symbols and rituals are essentially languages—languages that are heard, seen and performed. Together they construct the truths of a culture. The story of the Resurrection, the symbol of the crucifix and the ritual of baptism establish the idea that is Christianity. The story of independence, the symbol of the national flag and the ritual of the national anthem reinforce the idea of a nation state.

  Mythology tends to be hyperbolic and fantastic to drive home a myth. It is modern arrogance to presume that in ancient times people actually believed in the objective existence of virgin births, flying horses, parting seas, talking serpents, gods with six heads and demons with eight arms. The sacredness of such obviously irrational plots and characters ensures their flawless transmission over generations. Any attempt to challenge their validity is met with outrage. Any attempt to edit them is frowned upon. The unrealistic content draws attention to the idea behind the communication. Behind virgin births and parting seas is an entity who is greater than all forces of nature put together. A god with six heads and a demon with eight arms project a universe