A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of cosmogony—mythological and philosophical: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eleventh part in the series called the “the vedas, brahmanas and their philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 11 - Cosmogony—Mythological and philosophical

The cosmogony of the Ṛg-Veda may be looked at from two aspects, the mythological and the philosophical. The mythological aspect has in general two currents, as Professor Macdonell says,

“The one regards the universe as the result of mechanical production, the work of carpenter’s and joiner’s skill; the other represents it as the result of natural generation[1].”

Thus in the Ṛg-Veda we find that the poet in one place says,

“what was the wood and what was the tree out of which they built heaven and earth[2]?”

The answer given to this question in Taittirīya-Brāhmaṇa is

Brahman the wood and Brahman the tree from which the heaven and earth were made[3].”

Heaven and Earth are sometimes described as having been supported with posts[4]. They are also sometimes spoken of as universal parents, and parentage is sometimes attributed to Aditi and Dakṣa.

Under this philosophical aspect the semi-pantheistic Man-hymn[5] attracts our notice. The supreme man as we have already noticed above is there said to be the whole universe, whatever has been and shall be; he is the lord of immortality who has become diffused everywhere among things animate and inanimate, and all beings came out of him; from his navel came the atmosphere; from his head arose the sky; from his feet came the earth; from his ear the four quarters. Again there are other hymns in which the Sun is called the soul (ātman) of all that is movable and all that is immovable[6]. There are also statements to the effect that the Being is one, though it is called by many names by the sages[7]. The supreme being is sometimes extolled as the supreme Lord of the world called the golden egg (Hiraṇyagarbha[8]).

In some passages it is said

Brahmaṇaspati blew forth these births like a blacksmith. In the earliest age of the gods, the existent sprang from the non-existent. In the first age of the gods, the existent sprang from the non-existent: thereafter the regions sprang, thereafter, from Uttānapada[9].”

The most remarkable and sublime hymn in which the first germs of philosophic speculation with regard to the wonderful mystery of the origin of the world are found is the 129th hymn of R. V. x.

1. Then there was neither being nor not-being.
The atmosphere was not, nor sky above it.
What covered all ? and where ? by what protected ?
Was there the fathomless abyss of waters ?

2. Then neither death nor deathless existed;
Of day and night there was yet no distinction.
Alone that one breathed calmly, self-supported,
Other than It was none, nor aught above It.

3. Darkness there was at first in darkness hidden;
The universe was undistinguished water.
That which in void and emptiness lay hidden
Alone by power of fervor was developed.

4. Then for the first time there arose desire,
Which was the primal germ of mind, within it.
And sages, searching in their heart, discovered
In Nothing the connecting bond of Being.

6. Who is it knows ? Who here can tell us surely
From what and how this universe has risen?
And whether not till after it the gods lived ?
Who then can know from what it has arisen?

7. The source from which this universe has risen,
And whether it was made, or uncreated,
He only knows, who from the highest heaven
Rules, the all-seeing lord—or does not He know[10]?

The earliest commentary on this is probably a passage in the Satapatha Brāhmana (X. 5. 3. 1) which says that

“in the beginning this (universe) was as it were neither non-existent nor existent; in the beginning this (universe) was as it were, existed and did not exist: there was then only that Mind.

Wherefore it has been declared by the Ṛṣi (Ṛg-Veda X. 129,1),

‘There was then neither the non-existent nor the existent ’

for Mind was, as it were, neither existent nor non-existent. This Mind when created, wished to become manifest,—more defined, more substantial: it sought after a self (a body); it practised austerity: it acquired consistency[11].”

In the Atharva-Veda also we find it stated that all forms of the universe were comprehended within the god Skambha[12].

Thus we find that even in the period of the Vedas there sprang forth such a philosophic yearning, at least among some who could question whether this universe was at all a creation or not, which could think of the origin of the world as being enveloped in the mystery of a primal non-differentiation of being and non-being ; and which could think that it was the primal One which by its inherent fervour gave rise to the desire of a creation as the first manifestation of the germ of mind, from which the universe sprang forth through a series of mysterious gradual processes. In the Brāhmaṇas, however, we find that the cosmogonic view generally requires the agency of a creator, who is not however always the starting point, and we find that the theory of evolution is combined with the theory of creation, so that Prajāpati is sometimes spoken of as the creator while at other times the creator is said to have floated in the primeval water as a cosmic golden egg.

Footnotes and references:


Macdonell’s Vedic Mythology , p. 11.


R. V. x. 81. 4.    


Taitt. Br. II. 8. 9. 6 .


Macdonell’s Vedic Mythology, p. 11; also R. V. II. 15 and IV. 56.


R. V. x. 90.    


R. V. I. 115.


R. V. I. 164-46.


R.V. x. 121.


Muir’s translation of R. V. x. 71; Muir’s Sanskrit Texts, vol. V. p. 48.


The Rigveda , by Kaegi, p. 90. R. V. x. 129.


See Eggeling’s translation of Ś. £.,S. B. E. vol. XLiil. pp. 374, 375.


A. V. x. 7. 10.

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