- Brahma is a divinity who makes his appearance in the post-Vedic Indian epics (c. 700 B.C.E.–100 C.E.). He has an important role in the stories of the great gods in the epics and PURANAS. He is often listed in a trinity alongside Vishnu and Shiva, where Brahma is the creator god, Vishnu is the sustainer of the world, and Shiva is the destroyer of the world. Brahma is generally considered the creator of the universe, but there are many differ-ent accounts of this act within Indian mythology; in fact, some stories credit other divinities or enti-ties with the creation.Unlike the other two members of the trin-ity (and to a lesser extent the Great Goddess), Brahma has never had a wide following of exclu-sive devotees. There are only two temples in all of India devoted solely to Brahma; one is at PUSH-KARA Lake near Ajmer in Rajasthan and the other is near Idar, on the border between Rajasthan and Gujarat. Brahma is born in the lotus that emerges from Vishnu’s navel as he lies on the primordial MILK OCEAN. In this image he is the creator god, but still quite subsidiary to VISHNU. Iconographi-cally Brahma’s vehicle is the swan (Indian goose). Brahma’s wife is SARASVATI, the goddess of the arts and learning. He is depicted carrying a vessel that pours water, prayer beads, and sometimes the VEDAS.Brahma is always depicted as having four heads. The story is told that he was once in the midst of extended austerities in order to gain the throne of Indra, king of the gods, when the latter sent a celestial dancing girl, Tilottama, to disturb him. Not wanting to move from his meditative position, when Tilottama appeared to his right, he produced a face on his right; when she appeared behind him, he produced a face behind his head; when she appeared at his left, he produced a face on the left, and when she appeared above him he produced a face above. When SHIVA saw this five-headed Brahma he scolded him for his lust and pinched off his head looking upward, leaving Brahma humiliated and with only four heads. He did not attain the role of king of the gods.There are a great many stories about Brahma in Indian mythology. Most commonly he is known as a boon giver who was required to grant magical powers as a reward for ascetics, whether animal, human, god, or demon. Often these beings, ascet-ics, gods, and the like would become problems for the gods when they became too powerful.Further reading: Greg Bailey, The Mythology of Brahma (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983); Cornelia Dim-mitt and J. A. B. van Buitenen, Classical Hindu Mythol-ogy: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); E. Washburn Hopkins, Epic Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986); Rajani Mishra, Brahma-Worship: Tradition and Iconogra-phy (Delhi: Kanishka, 1989).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.