Water Cosmogony

The Universal Womb

Water Cosmogony/ Universal Womb
Kailash Thanka An investigation about the semantic of the element water and its attributes within India’s cultural background

In reply to the question, what is Cosmos? Is it Brahman? The Shvetasvatara Upanishad says thus, The world is the river of God, Flowing from Him and flowing back to Him. On this ever revolving wheel of being, The individual self goes round and round, Through life after life, believing itself To be a separate creature, until It sees its identity with the Lord of Love. And attains immortality in the Indivisible Whole. He is the eternal; Reality. Speculations about the origin of the Universe have occupied considerable space in the primitive religions. Cosmogony may be defined as ‘attempts at finding out the common origin of the diverse phenomena of nature, in nature itself’. Such speculations started- not from unknown principle, but from the tangible and knowable concrete.
Vedic symbol of human seed, butter

Cow: An image applied to Mother nature and principle of motherhood The doctrine of the Cow has multiple meanings in the Rigveda. Elements of the same like The Calf, Milk, Butter, her lowing, her movement, her fodder, pastures for grazing, cow-pen make up an elaborate symbolism, having a definite place and significance in building up of the cosmogonical thought. The Cow is called Aditi. She is the principle of motherhood, identified with universal Nature or Infinity. Her Calf is the life principle Prana, Cosmos is the Milk she produces. The butter churned out of the milk is the seed which creates cosmic form on one hand and individual forms on the other. It is established beyond all doubt that the Universal Cow is the great Mother nature who sustains with her Milk the Rishis, gods, men and Asuras- infact everything in the Universe. ‘When the gods were firmly established in this salila There is one seer (i.e., a sentient principle) who is without a second in the salila SaÅ is the swan, Brahman who resides in salila as Agni. Agni may be equated to tapas ‘heat’ Verily this world was salila. There, Prajapati was born alone on a lotus-leaf. In his mind desire (kama) arose’


- The hymn in which this occurs is a cosmological hymn which describes the genesis of gods and mortals from Aditi.

The concept of Aditi stands for infinity, eternity, immensity, unbondage. She is all that is born and all that will be born (ÎV, 1.89.10). In the present quotation salila stands for the womb of mother Aditi. The AV equates her with primal waters. Thus, salila is the primordial substance containing the emergent world together with the energy necessary for emerging activity. However, the idea of water being the carrier of important entities continues to hold good even though there is no clear evidence that they are primal waters.

Creation of universe

Salilani, Apani, Apa, Samudrah, Arnavah all refer to the primeval material cause that exists and carries within its womb all the possibilities of existence. The cosmic primal Waters (Salilani) represent the state of equilibrium, the stillness of the infinite ocean, which becomes excited or agitated for the sake of creation. The greatest achievement of the Waters which contain within their womb the universal germ, is to give birth to Agni, which is the first concrete manifestation of the Life PrinciplePrana (also identified as Surya or Narayana, son of Aditi in later Puranic legends). Aditi, had Varuna (lord of the ocean, controller of waters) as one of her chief sons. He is the deity of the ocean (samudra), the latter signifying the primeval source of the universe in which all matters exist in an undifferentiated form, and which conceals within its womb all the possibilities of existence. Prithvi, the earth (female) and Dyaus, the sky or heaven, were symbolised as cow and bull respectively. Ushas (the dawn) was their daughter and Indra (storm god) and Agni (fire god) were their sons. Cosmogony A theory about the origin and the evolution of the universe and the branch of astrophysics that studies the origin and evolution of specific astronomical systems and the universe as a whole. The significance of water cosmogony in the religious history of India has been documented in studies of Hinduism. The ‘Vishnu Purana’ shows us a complex understanding of cosmogony. It is a mixture of traditions into an integrated structure. The cosmogony, which is to be found Vishnu Purana, is split into four bonded creation stories. The first is the evident evolution of Vishnu in terms of pradhana (womb of the world without a beginning). The second creation is the Vishnu as Varaha (the boar), who dives into the waters for prithivi (earth). The third myth is a creation through meditation or austerity. The forth is the creation through the churning of the ocean. The Purana links these together as orders of creations, proceeding from what can be called a primordial creation down to the pratisarga, or secondary creation of this age (kalpa).

Varaha Avtara, Raja Ravi Verma Press

Mount Meru

Time and the Creation of the Universe Our earth is shaped like a wheel and is the innermost of seven concentric continents. In the centre of the world is Mount Meeru, whose summit 84,000 leagues high, is the site of Brahma’s heaven, which is encircled thrice by the river Ganges and is surrounded by the cities of Indra and other deities. The foothills of Meeru are the home of benevolent spirits such as Gandharvas, while the valleys are peopled by the demons. The whole world is supported by the hood of the giant serpent Shesha, who is sometimes coiled upon the back of a tortoise floating on the primal waters. At the beginning of each cycle of creation the waters of the cataclysmic flood covers the universe. According to the Vedic version of new creation, the cosmic egg (Rg Veda 10-12-1), symbol of fire, was floating on the waters for a thousand years. At the end of this period, the egg burst open to reveal the Lord of the Universe, who took the form of the first eternal man, Hiranyagarbha or Akash Purusha. He then divided himself into two, male and female. Purush is the first tatva (element), principle, pure Consciousness, the primordial materiality.

Upanishad clearly says, ”O Shwetkatu, precede thou from effect to cause and learn that solids (earth) proceed from liquids, Apah (water) from Tejah (fire) whose properties are heat and light etc, and Tejah from the uncreated Prakriti. This Prakriti is the source of all universes. Water thus plays a prominent role in Vedic cosmogony. The genesis of the Universe takes place in the primeval water. Once the chaotic condition existing before the genesis is overcome through creative process, the emergent one abhu emerges into an orderly cosmos. Thereafter, waterelement ap-tattva appears as one of the products of creative process. It has a role to play in the further development of the Universe through its transformations. A striking feature of Vedic Cosmology is the distinction made between ap and salila, i.e., ‘waters’ and ‘creative waters’ respectively. ‘Was it water, deep and fathomless (i.e., beyond the limits of knowledge The emergent principle lay concealed by the worthless (water)’


Hymn of the Rigveda (10.129)


Let us return first to the Satapatha Brahmana, XI.1.6.1-3. There we read: Verily, in the beginning this [universe] was water, nothing but a sea of water. The waters desired, “how can we be reproduced?” They toiled and performed fervid devotions [or, and became heated]; when they were becoming heated, a golden egg was produced. The year, indeed, was not then in existence; this golden egg floated about for as long as the space of a year. In a year’s time a man, this Prajapati, was produced therefrom.... He broke open this golden egg. There was then, indeed, no resting place, only this golden egg. At the end of a year he tried to speak. He said “bhuh”; this [word] became this earth-bhuvah: this became the air-svah: this became yonder sky. Prajapati, according to this text, then continues to create through self-impregnation. The Chandogya Upanishad, III.19, has a variation upon the same theme. In the beginning this world was non-existent. It was existent. It developed. It turned into an egg [an.dam]. It lay for the period of a year. It was split apart. One of the parts of the eggshell became silver, the other one gold. That which was silver is this earth. That which was gold is the sky. What was the outer membrane is the mountains. What was the inner membrane is cloud and mist. What were the veins are the rivers. What was fluid within is the ocean. Yet another version considers Prajapati, a potter, to be the creator of the universe, as clay is mixed with water. Viraj is a creation of Prajapati and is, furthermore, called the earth (sat. Br. XIII.2.5.3; XII.6.1.40). More significantly, viraj is also identical with vac in the Chan- dogya Upanishad, 1.13.2. As we have already noted, Vac is the creative power of the “cosmic giant”. In Rig Veda X.121.1 we read that In the beginning, he [Prajapati] became a golden embryo [the famous hiranyagarbha]. When born, he alone was the lord of creation. He established the earth and this sky. ... When the mighty waters came,

conceiving All as the embryo, ... then arose out of it the one spirit of life of the gods. This egg (anda) is described as a coconut which has an interior seed (or fluid) with outer parts (meat and husk). The outer sections of this egg are prakriti, mahat, the threefold ahamkara and the elements. The inside, a great womb, contains the waters, the oceans, mountains, gods, demons, and mankind. The mythical sage Manu, claims in his code that he created mankind though not universe. He acknowledges the superiority and precedence of Brahma- whom he recognizes as his father. Manu says “This universe was enveloped in darkness, unperceived, indistinguishable, undiscoverable, unknowable, as it were entirely sunk in sleep. Then the irresistible, self existent Lord, undiscerned, causing this universe with the five elements and all other things to become discernible, was manifested. He who is beyond the cognizance of senses, subtle, indiscernible and eternal and is the essence of all beings, and inconceivable, shone forth. He desiring, seeking to produce, various creatures from his own body, first created the waters, and deposited in them a seed. This (seed) became a golden egg, resplendent as the sun, in which he himself was born as Brahma, the progenitor of all the world. That lord having continued a year in the egg, divided it into two parts by his mere thought. With these two shells he formed the heaven and the earth, and in the middle he placed the sky, the eight regions and the eternal abode of the waters.” (From Sacred books of the East edited by Max Muller.) Day and night follow each other; creation follows dissolution and dissolution follows creation. Both precede each other. Prior to formation, particular universe comes in a state of emptiness where all its material elements exist in form of potential as space particles. This has been the eternal process. So universe has neither a beginning nor an end. Universe is eternally in Pravah (flow), following each other in alternative succession. Prakriti Symbolically, water is a source and grave of life a vehicle of cleansing a centre of regeneration The mass of water represents the infinite nature of possible, the formless potential represented by the Apsara. The primaeval waters, the image of prima matter, also contained all solid bodies before they acquired form and rigidity. Limitless and immortal, the waters are the beginning and end of all things on earth, forever in flow (pravah). It is the preserver of life, circulating throughout the whole of nature, in the form of rain, sap, milk, blood. In Vedas, water is referred to as matritamah (the most maternal), because in the beginning everything was like a sea without light. ‘Water, you are the one that brings us life force. Help us to find nourishment so that we may look upon great joy... waters yield your cure as an armor for my body, so that I may see the sun for a long time. Waters carry away all of this that has gone bad in me, either what I have done is malicious deceit or whatever lie I have sworn to.’

The Rig Veda hymns praise the water, which cleanses at both-spiritual and physical planes.

The great Indus valley civilizations of Harrapa and Mohenjadaro grew along the river Indus. The idea of the presence of energy/heat in primal waters, later gave rise to the conception of va·av¡nala being present in waters. Ap¡m Nap¡t, according to Oldenberg, was originally a water-dragon. He, later on, got identified with Agni because of latter’s relation to the cloud-water in the form of lightning. The presence of lightning in the water-laden cloud gave rise to the concept of fire being a child who resides in the watery womb of cloud before its birth. The jar stands as a divine womb sometimes in the Vedas; the water-filled jar is a symbol of the mother goddess in present times. The jar is also considered to be symbol of Parvati’s organ, which when holds the organ of Shiva (linga) forms the source of manifestation, the union, along with an arrow, which symbolises the generative organ. Poorna Kalash- the lotus flower, represents the whole universe and the lotus petal, one petal of the flower represents the earth. A lotus is also the symbol of the womb, spreading fertility to each and every direction. It stands at the base of all cosmos.
‘The gods Mitra and Varuna once saw the nymph Urvasi and got passionate. They could not resist the release of their semen; and as the semen fell off, they collected it in a jar. From the top portion of the water mixed semen Vasistha was born, while Agastya was born from the lower portion‘. (RV VIII.33.10-13)

The ordinary rural earthen pot when filled with water symbolises fullness of life, Purnakumbha with inter-connectedness and inter-relatedness with nature; had a divine status of a temple. Ukha vessel- mother or womb of the sacrificial fire The symbol of earth is square, as it is most stable. In the fire altar, the lateral walls either atmosphere or the surrounding ocean. The water in a pot used for constructing this Yajnakunda symbolises the primordial waters as well as the sky which holds water. Panchamahabhuta According to Hinduism there are 5 subtle elements which are responsible for life. They are called the Panchamahabhutas: Earth or Prithvi; Water or Jal; Fire or Agni; Air or Vayu and then Ether or Akasha. It was not that they were created in random order. All the elements were created from the subtle energy called ‘Tanmatra’. Another meaning of tan is mother, and matra also means matter- the mother of matter. The mother of this whole world is the tanmatras. The tanmatras are in the womb of the Cosmic Mother, Prakruti. It is this energy that gives rise to the objective five elements. Each element is related primarily to one tanmatra but can contain a portion of the others as well. The elements were created in the following order from the 5 tanmatrasEther comes out of shabda tanmatra (sound) Air out of shabda and sparsha tanmatras (sound and touch) Fire out of shabda, sparsha and rupa tanmatras (sound, touch and sight)


Water out of shabda, sparsha, rupa and rasa (sound, touch, sight and taste), and Earth out of shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa and gandha (sound, touch, form, taste and odor) Indian Symbology The Vedic (Hindu) tradition believes that the whole cosmos consists of two forces- Male and Female. Male forces- Sun, Fire, Wind Female forces- Water A symbol can be visual or audio (like, Omkar). Swastika, Trishul Shiva Linga symbol- the Panchamahabhutas are contained in it. The Circle symbolises water. Water is also symbolised by crescent shape, coloured as white/ silver/ blue. Water goddesses are white. The symbol and colour of water and sky sometimes get interchanged. The colours of the five elements are symbolised in the icon of Vishnu: Body - blue - vayu Clothes - yellow - earth Discus/ sudarshana - red - agni Conch shell - white - water The shapes and colours of five elements are also represented in Yogic concepts of the body and the six centres of psychic energy (chakras). In Sanskrit, every letter has its own meaning. Ya is Vayu tatva, it has Gati, is dynamic, life giving. Ra is all pervading Fire tatva, life force La is Earth tatva Va is Water tatva, the liquid These four elements are embraced by Akasha. Varna- Waha, Va are the seed words for the waters of life. It is the quality of life revealed psychologically. Ranga- from the element of fire The symbolism of the cosmic coupling of jar of Water (called Pranita- the carried one, from river to sacrifice place) and Fire explains the protophilosphic concept of the primeval dark watery abyss through which darted the first ray of light. Story of Ganga She is the elder daughter of Himavan and Mena. She was married to the gods and remained in heaven until she was brought down to earth through the efforts of Bhagiratha, grandson of Sagara, king of Ayodhya. Sagara decided to perform the horse sacrifice as a sign of his universal dominion, and planned to dethrone Indra. But Indra took the form of a demon and drove the horse away. Sagara ordered his 60,000 sons who had been given the task of guarding the horse to search for it. The sons dug deep into the earth and found the horse near the hermitage of a sage Kapila, but upon breaking his meditation and for theft, the sage burned all the sons to ashes. Sagara could bring back his sons to life only if the sacred waters of Ganga could be made to descend to earth and to flow over their ashes in Patala (Hell). It took thousands of years, and Ganga

was still very unwilling to leave heaven. The gods realised she would fall as heavily as she could. Shiva agreed to break the violence of Ganga’s fall on to Mount Kailasa by catching her waters in his tangled hair. Thus, Ganga emerged in seven separate streams as Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Sutlej. Ganga then filled the dug earth/ocean (sagara) and seeped down into Patala, moistening the ashes of Sagara’s sons, and having purified them, released them for admission into Swarga. Ever since she flowed from heaven through earth and into the ocean and Patala, Ganga is said to be the water of the three worlds. That is why our ashes (rakh or parwaha ) after cremation is parvaha (or put) in water or ganga water. Many pools are holy, for they are presided over by its special deity or Apsara (Ap-water). The ocean is the true realm of the evil spirits where they are watched over by Varuna. Vishnu in his incarnation as a boar, rescued Earth (goddess Prithvi or Bhu) from the depths of the ocean on its tusk. He sleeps on the waters, on the serpent, and from his navel grows the a lotus enthroning Brahma. Lakshmi ‘she of the lotus‘, is also ocean born. In Satyanarayan puja, Lord Ganesha is worshipped as betel nuts. A small jar full of water (symbolising primeval waters from which the whole universe came out) has a small twig of the mango tree dipped in it (symbolising the first green sprout coming in this world). The leaves of the mango tree (for fertility) if kept in a particular way, can represent the lotus. The nine betel nuts represent the nine planets, as though the puja is performed on a heavenly plane. There is an ancient relationship between water and the moon was born from the sea during the churning of the ocean (samudra manthan) by the dev and danav. This suggests a relation between moon and sea tides. Ganapati and Durga visarjan into the river symbolises karma- cause and effect, wherein, earth is given back to the river from where the clay of the idol had been originally taken from. Immersion symbolises return to the primordial state of purity, death to the old life, and rebirth into the new and also the immersion of the soul in the manifested world. Alpana painting (rangoli) in Bengal, put as many fertility symbols on earth in order to secure the fertility of this world. So rice is combine with water, because the two form the most fundamental fertility symbols of life. Kolams prevent evil spirits from entering the home, so they are bigger than the door width. Water has always been a very important part of any Hindu festival- it was always kept in a symbolic kumbha made of brass or clay or any other material. Water in Indian Rituals • Water keeps the spirits away- feet have to be washed with water fully before sleeping • A pot of water is to be kept near the head while sleeping under peepul tree • Water offered to the sun in the morning helps it to rise... by becoming arrows that kills demon of darkness. Scientifically, at the time of sunrise when water is offer to the rays coming from

• • • • • • • •

the water are auspicious due to presence of low intensity UV rays Water is sprinkled around the food to keep spirits away Hindus take bath if they came in contact with a wicked person Water is sprinkled when clothes return from washerman Mandatory to bath after a funeral Water is used to transfer energies eg charnamrit or ganga jal Rain water has 20 times more fertility power than the water from a well, in agriculture Cremation is cosmogony because all the 5 elements are dissolved and transferred back to their origin from which they are redistributed again. Women open their karva chauth fast with water Let him who knows presently declare it: what is the securely founded station of this Beautiful Bird The Cows draw milk from his head, and wearing his vesture, drink water with their foot.
Rigveda 1.164-1-52, Mantra 7

Lotus at the base of all cosmos

This riddle symbolises Head as milk and Feet as water. Head is the symbol of Heaven, of immortality and the devas. The Feet are the symbol of the Earth, inanimate existence and asuric darkness. Both are fluid in nature, but Milk represents Life and Immortality (ambrosia, elixir, nectar), the best sustaining food that nature has created for man; whereas Water in itself has not been able to sustain the Life-principle. There is a principle of Motherhood in Cow, as it converts water to milk. Milk is also water but it contains an infinitely number of tiniest of globules of butter- Ajya or Ghrita, the Vedic symbol of the human seed. Butter is also the symbol of Prana/ Life. Dyaus is my Father, my Begetter; his kinship is in me. The great Earth is my kin and mother Between the two recumbent Bowls is the Womb of the Two Parents. The Father deposited his Germ in the Daughter in that Womb.

Rigveda 1.164-1-52, Mantra 33

Heaven (Dyauh) is not just the sky over our heads, but symbolises Mind, immortality, amritam, divinity, light and truth. As against this, Earth (Prithivi) is the symbol of Matter (bhuta) Mrityu (darkness) and asura. On the biological plane- heaven = father, earth= Mother They are the two parents who exist in the unmanifested universal as Svayambhu and Parameshthi and in the manifested individual as Surya and Prithvi. The two are like inverted bowls forming a Common Womb. Iconic figures must be depicted with ‘disproportionately’ large faces and eyes, must look directly at the viewer, and cannot be shown to have muscles. These imperatives issue from the idea that the power of deities is transcendent, unlocatable in bodily instrumentality, its only visible manifestation a kind of effulgence of benign effects via the face, eyes, gesture and decorative surface. (Kapur, Anuradha. 1993. Deity to Crusader: The

changing iconography of Ram)


Indian Symbology, proceedings of the Seminar. 1985. Editor Kirti Trivedi. IDC. The Thousand Syllabled Speech. Being a study in Cosmic Symbolism in its Vedic Version. Vision in Long Darkness. 1963. Vasudeva S. Agalwala, BHU. Indian Mythology. 1983. Veronica Ions. Beyond Appearances, Visual practices and ideologies in Modern India. 2003.Editor Sumathi Ramaswamy. Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum brochure. 2006. Pune. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. 1996. Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant. Hindu religion- customs and manners by P. Thomas. A document compiled by Aditi Kulkarni Shilpa Bisht Niharika Manchanda


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