Hiranyagarbha (hiranya, gold; garbha, seed, egg, womb, embryo) is the Golden Embryo, Golden Egg, or Golden Womb identified in the Rig Veda (X.121) as the cause of the universe. Paradoxically, it has both a masculine and a feminine aspect. It is referred to as “he,” but it is also the “womb” of manifest reality.
   From the beginning the term hiranyagarbha has had multivalent and sometimes contradictory meanings. In Rig Veda X.82 it is the cosmic egg that separates into two hemispheres, in the begin-ning of the world, its upper portion forming the sky and its yolk becoming the Sun. This vision is elaborated in the PURANAS, where other elements of the egg make up elements of the manifest uni-verse: the water in the cosmic egg, for instance, becomes the ocean.
   Various Hindu traditions have offered vari-ous and quite different understandings of this ancient image, even within the same tradition. Influenced by SAMKHYA concepts, some say that the PURUSHA (the transcendent divine) with the cooperation of PRAKRITI (nature) made the cos-mic egg from which the world emerges. In one context BRAHMA, the creator, emerged from the egg to create the universe. In other contexts, however, Brahma is himself the hiranyagarbha; the word can be used as an epithet or alternate name of Brahma.
   In Shaivite (see Shaivism) contexts hiran-yagarbha is seen as a creation of SHIVA that embodies aspects of him. From hiranyagarbha, in turn, Brahma or the universe can emerge. In Vaishnavite (see VAISHNAVISM) mythology, VISHNU inspires or creates the hiranyagarbha, from which the universe derives. In the VEDANTA of SHANKARA the term takes on various meanings depending on the lineage and tradition expounding upon it. In this tradition it is often associated with a state of consciousness rather than an entity per se. For example, in Shankara’s own commentaries hiranyagarbha is considered synonymous with the manifest universe, which is the product of M AYA.
   Further reading: Cornelia Dimitt and J. A. van Buite-nen, eds., and trans., Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger, Rig Veda (London: Penguin Books, 1981).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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