Creation Stories from India

India has many creation stories -- in the Vedas, Brahamanas, and Upanishads.
Recurring motifs include creation as the spilling of the seed of the creator god,
the cosmic egg, and the primal waters. The central theme is that
reality comes into being as a spirit (manas) or soul (atman) from nothingness.
The following two stories illustrate this central theme and also the seed motif.
The selection from the Rig Veda dates from c. 2000-1700 BCE,
while the one from the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad dates from c. 450 BCE;
the date for the Chandogya Upanishad is unknown.


The Cosmology Hymn
Rig Veda (10:129)


At first was neither Being nor Nonbeing.
There was not air nor yet sky beyond.
What was wrapping? Where? In whose protection?
Was Water there, unfathomable deep?

There was no death then, nor yet deathlessness;
of night or day there was not any sign.
The One breathed without breath by its own impulse.
Other than that was nothing at all.

Darkness was there, all wrapped around by darkness,
and all was Water indiscriminate,
Then that which was hidden by Void, that One, emerging,
stirring, through power of Ardor, came to be.

In the beginning Love arose,
which was primal germ cell of mind.
The Seers, searching in their hearts with wisdom,
discovered the connection of Being in Nonbeing.

A crosswise line cut Being from Nonbeing.
What was described above it, what below?
Bearers of seed there were and mighty forces,
thrust from below and forward move above.

Who really knows? Who can presume to tell it?
Whence was it born? Whence issued this creation?
Even the Gods came after its emergence.
Then who can tell from whence it came to be?

That out of which creation has arisen,
whether it held it firm or it did not,
He who surveys it in the highest heaven,
He surely knows - or maybe He does not!

Translation by Prof. Raimundo Panikkar,
The Vedic Experience- Mantra-manjari
(Motilal Banarasidas), p. 58)


Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 1.4.1-7

In the beginning this cosmos was self (atman) alone, in the shape of a person. He looking round saw nothing but his Self. He first said, 'This is I', therefore he became 'I' by name. Therefore even now, if a man is asked, he first says, 'This is I' and then pronounces the other name which he may have. And because before all this he burnt down all evils, therefore he was a person. Truly the one who knows this burns down every one who tries to be before him. He feared, and therefore anyone who is lonely fears. He thought, 'As there is nothing but myself, why should I fear?' Thence his fear passed away. For what should he have feared? Truly, fear arises only from a second. But he felt no delight. Therefore a man who is lonely feels no delight. He wished for a second. He was as large as man and wife together. He then made his Self fall in two, and thence arose husband and wife. That is why it is said, 'We two are thus like half a shell.'

Therefore the void which was there is filled by the wife. He embraced her, and men were born. She thought, 'How can he embrace me, after having produced me from himself? I shall hide myself.' She then became a cow, the other became a bull and embraced her, and hence cows were born. The one became a mare, the other a stallion; the one a male ass and the other a female ass. He embraced her, and hence one-hoofed animals were born. The one became a she-goat, the other a he-goat; the one became a ewe, the other a ram. He embraced her, and hence goats and sheep were born. And thus he created everything that exists in pairs down to the ants. He knew, 'I indeed am this creation, for I created all this.' Hence he became the creation, and he who knows this lives in this his creation.


Chandogya Upanishad
TAT TVAM ASI (THOU THAT ART)

As the bees prepare honey by collecting the essences of different trees and reduce these essences to a unity, even so all creatures on earth, though they reach Being, know not that "We have reached Being." Like honey, that which is the finest essence--this entire world has that as its self. That is Atman. Thou that art.

These rivers flow--the eastern toward the east, the western toward the west. They go just from the ocean to the ocean. They become the ocean itself. As these rivers know not "I am this one," or "I am that one," even so all creatures here, though they have come forth from being, now not "we have come forth from Being." Whatever they are in this world, whether tiger or lion, or wolf or boar, or worm or fly or gnat--that they become. That which is the finest essence--this whole world has that as its self. That is Atman. Thou that art.

Bring here a fig. Divide it. What do you see? Now of the seeds within, divide one, what do you see now? Truly that finest essence which you do not perceive--truly from that finest essence this great sacred fig tree thus arises. Believe me. That which is the finest essence--this whole world has that as its self. That is Atman. Thou that art.

Place this salt in water. In the morning bring it to me. Where now is the salt? It is dissolved. Take a sip from the top. How is it? Salty? Using a straw, take a sip from the middle. How is it? Salty? Take a sip from the bottom. How is it? Salty? Yes, truly it is the same. You do not perceive Being here. Yet, indeed, it is here. That which is the finest essence--this whole world has that as its self. That is Atman. You that are (Thou that art).