jñānena tu tad ajñānam yeṣāṃ nāśitam ātmanaḥ | teṣām ādityavaj jñānaṃ prakāśayati tat param
“As the sun dispels darkness and illuminates everything, so divine knowledge destroys ignorance and reveals the transcendental Absolute Truth.” — Bhagavad-Gītā 5.16    

Creation and dissolution of the material world

In the Vedas, the course of creation and the population of the universe is described in various ways. We will content ourselves here with a simple description. The creation of the material world is not a one-time process; creation and annihilation are eternal and repeat themselves cyclically. Creation can be divided into the manifestation of the material elements and Brahmā's creation of the fourteen worlds, the living conditions and the living entities.

The manifestation of the material elements

The Supreme Lord in His expansion as Mahā-Viṣṇu first manifests from His māyā-śakti ("shadow energy") pradhana (the three guṇas sattva, rajas, tamas in the unmanifested state). From this emerge – stimulated by the time factor (the Lord's gaze) – the three guṇas (modes of material nature – sattva, rajas, tamas) and then the mahat-tattva, the unmanifest totality of the material elements. From this, the 24 elements of the body and the universe are produced as transformations: ahankāra (the false ego from which arise the material constituents, material knowledge and material activities), manas (mind), buddhi (intelligence), avyakta (the unmanifested state of prakṛti, material nature), the 5 tanmatras (sense objects), the 5 knowledge-acquiring senses, the 5 working senses and the 5 mahābhūtas (great elements – space, air, fire, water, earth). First, ahankāra is manifested. From the false ego in tamo-guṇa emerge the 5 mahābhūtas and their subtle forms, called tanmatras; from the false ego in rajo-guṇa emerge the 5 knowledge aquiring, the five working senses and buddhi and from the ahankāra in sattva-guṇa emerge manas ten main demigods.

As these elements are separately incapable of producing the material universe, they combine with the help of the energy of the Supreme Lord (personified by Goddess Kali) and produce a golden egg. In the Manu-Saṃhitā it is said that the Lord (Mahā-Viṣṇu; Nārāyaṇa) resting on the water (the ocean of causes) gave his seed into the water and that from this seed a golden egg came forth. In other words, this means that the Lord impregnated the mahat-tattva by His gaze with the living beings, the spiritual souls, who entered into Him in their subtle bodies after an annihilation of the world, and that from this union of material and spiritual energy universes gradually manifested in consequence. The Lord then entered that egg as Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu and laid down there on the Garbhodaka ocean, which fills that egg halfway, on Ananta-śeṣa, His serpent bed. Then from his navel sprouted a lotus, which is the receptacle of all living beings, and from the lotus the mighty Brahmā, who is also called Svayambhuva (the Self-born), appeared as the first living being.

The above figure illustrates the creation of the material elements in three categories: jñāna-śakti, kriya-śakti, dravya-śakti (material knowledge, activities, matter). Jñāna-śakti is the power by which from the self-centred ego in satta-guṇa manas and ten devas which govern movements etc. in the universe and in the body of living beings arise. Kriya-śakti is the power by which from the ego in rajo-guṇa the ten senses and buddhi (intelligence) arise and dravya-śakti is the power, by which the 5 mahābhūtas (elements) with their 5 main properties, which constitute the sense objects, emerge from the ahankāra in tamo-guṇa.

The 24 elements (5 material elements, 5 sense objects, 5 knowledge-acquiring senses, 5 working senses, mind, intelligence, ahankāra and avyakta or mahat-tattva) are the constituents from which Brahmā creates the bodies of living beings and other things in the universe.

Brahmā's Creation

Brahmā could not see anything and did not know who he was or where he was. He searched everywhere in the lotus in all directions for his origin, but he did not find it. Then he gave up his search and focused his mind on the Supreme Lord until finally he could see Him resting inside his heart on the body of Sesa-naga and everything became visible to him. This scene and the prayers that the Self-born then offered to the Lord are described in Srimad-Bhāgavatam. Having been blessed and instructed by the Lord on how to create the universe, he performed tapasya (tapasya or tapas means spiritual discipline) for one hundred celestial years (an inconceivably long time for us), occupying himself in the service of the Lord through meditation. Matured in knowledge, Brahmā saw that the lotus he was on was spread throughout the universe and he began to divide it into three divisions of worlds – the lower, middle and upper worlds. The lower world includes the infernal realm, the middle the earth and the upper the heavenly realm. The highest realm, which is the residence of Brahmā, is called Satyloka or Brahmāloka, followed by Tapoloka, Janaloka, Mahārloka and Dhruvaloka, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Venus, Moon, Sun, Rahu, the planets of the siddhas, caranas, yaksas, rakṣasas, the earth, celestial realms below the earth such as Atala, Vitala, Sutala etc., Pitṛloka and finally 28 infernal worlds starting with Tamisra, where sinful people are punished after their death.

Then Brahmā created from his mind and body the immobile living beings (trees etc.), the lower forms of life (insects, reptiles, birds, mammals etc.), the devas and human beings. The creation of the Devas is of eight kinds: (1) demigods, (2) pitṛs, (3) asuras, (4) gandharvas and apsaras, (5) yakṣas and rakṣasas, (6) siddhas, caranas and vidyadharas, (7) bhutas, pretas and piśacas and (8) kinnaras and other superhuman beings.1

Before the Self-born One undertook the creation of living beings, He created from His shadow their conditions of life, the coverings of ignorance, which in Sanskrit are called andhatamisra (fear of death because one believes, that everything is over with death), tamisra (anger after disappointment), maha-moha (false possessiveness), moha (illusion), tamas (darkness in the knowledge of the self) and ajñāna (ignorance) or avidya. This is an interesting philosophical point. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada makes the following comments on this in his translation of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:

“As long as a living soul does not forget its real identity, it is impossible for it to exist under the material conditions of life. The first condition of material existence is therefore the forgetting of one's true identity. And when one has forgotten one's true identity, it is certain that one is afraid of death, although a pure, living soul knows neither birth nor death. This false identification with material nature is the cause of false possession of things offered through the provision of a higher power. Through false identification, however, the conditioned soul becomes imprisoned by the false sense of possessing the property of the Supreme Lord . . . .”

“. . . .almost all conditioned souls languishing in the material world abuse their independence, and therefore five kinds of ignorance are imposed on them. As an obedient servant of the Lord, Brahmā creates all these things as a matter of necessity, but he is not happy in this, for a devotee naturally does not like to see anyone deviate from his real position and fall. People who do not care for the path of knowledge are given every opportunity by the Lord to pursue their inclinations to the fullest extent, and Brahmā helps in this without fail.”

Worshipful Brahmā created four great sages in the beginning named Sananda, Sanaka, Sanātana and Sanat-kumara. When they were unwilling to produce offspring and populate the universe, Brahmā became angry. Anger emerged from his forehead and produced Rudra. This incarnation of anger destroys the entire universe at the end of Brahmā's life. After Rudra, the self-born created ten sages – from his breath Vasistha, from his thumb Daksa, from his deliberation Narada, from his sense of touch Bhrgu, from his mouth Angira, from his eyes Atri, from his ears Pulastya, from his hand Kratu, from his mind Marici and from his navel Pulaha. From his breast manifested religion, from his back irreligion, from his heart lust and desire, from his mouth speech, from his penis the ocean and from his anus base and vile activities. Despite Brahmā's power, things did not always go smoothly in his creative activity, just as everything in material existence never goes as one imagines. But we do not want to report on that here.

One day, when Brahmā was absorbed in deep thought, wondering why the universe was still not sufficiently populated, two human forms were produced from his body, one male and one female, which instantly united sexually. The male form became known as Svayambhuva and the female as Shatarupa. With them begins the history of mankind, they are the ancestors of mankind. They begat two sons – Uttanapada and Priyavrata – and three daughters named Akuti, Devahuti and Prasuti, who were married to Ruci, Kardama and Daksha respectively, and produced countless descendants over time. Svayambhuva is a Manu, an avatāra who looks after the welfare of the universe.2 After Manu had ruled for a long time, he retired to the forest and handed over his office to Priyavrata. Priyavrata's successor was Agnidhra, Agnidhra was succeeded by Nabhi, whose successor was Ṛṣabha, an incarnation of the Lord, and Ṛṣabha's successor was Bhārata, after whom the earth was later named (bhārata-varṣa).

In the course of Brahmā's day, 14 Manus appear, each of whom rules the world for 71-72 caturyugas. Brahmā's day lasts a thousand caturyugas (a caturyuga – cycle consisting of four ages – lasts 4,320,000 years). Brahmās night lasts the same length of time. During this time, the universe up to Satyaloka is destroyed and uninhabitable. Brahmā lives for one hundred years according to this chronology, which is 1000*365*100 caturyugas. Multiplying this number by 4,320,000 gives the duration of the universe according to the human calendar.

Dissolution of the universe

The Vedic scriptures distinguish four types of dissolution:

  1. Continuous dissolution – Dissolution of the bodies of living beings after the soul has left the body.
  2. Occasional dissolution – After each of Brahmā's days, a partial dissolution of the universe takes place. Then all the planets below Brahmāloka (the realm of Brahmā) are non-existent.
  3. Elemental dissolution – When Brahmā's life span has expired, the whole universe is dissolved; the 24 elements re-enter their primordial state and the spiritual souls rest in Mahā-Viṣṇu until the next creation when they are again transferred to a new body and move from body to body in the wheel of life.
  4. Final dissolution – liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and death and entry into the eternal spiritual kingdom of God.

The dissolution of the universe takes place in the reverse order to its creation: the grossest element – earth – deprived of its properties, enters the element water, water enters fire, fire enters air, air enters space and space enters the false ego in tamo-guṇa. The false ego in rajo-guṇa absorbs the senses and intelligence and ahankāra in sattva-guṇa absorbs the mind and the chief demigods. Then the false ego dissolves in mahat-tattva, mahat-tattva in the three guṇas and the three guṇas in pradhana. Pradhana is the primordial substance and basis of material creation. It is without properties and therefore indescribable. Pradhana is finally absorbed by Mahā-Viṣṇu.

“As clouds appear in the sky and then are dispersed by dissolution of their constituent elements, so the material universe is created and destroyed by manifestation and dissolution of its elemental constituents in the Absolute Truth.

O king, it is said in the Vedānta-sutra that the cause inherent in a manifested product can be seen as a separate reality, just as threads from which a cloth has been woven can be seen separate from the cloth.”
— Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 12.4.26–27
“There is no material duality in the Absolute Truth. The duality that an ignorant person perceives is like the difference between the space in a pot and the space outside the pot, or like the difference between the reflection of the sun in a body of water and the sun itself, or like the difference between the vital air in one living being and the vital air in another living being.

According to different purposes, people use gold in different ways and therefore gold is perceived in different forms. Similarly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is inaccessible to material senses, is described in different ways by different kinds of people.

Although a cloud is a product of the Sun and is made visible by the Sun, it creates darkness for the observing eye, which is another partial extension of the Sun. Similarly, the false ego, which is a specific product of the Absolute Truth – made visible by the Absolute Truth – hinders the individual soul, which is another partial extension of the Absolute Truth, from realising the Absolute Truth.

When the cloud, originally created by the sun, is dispersed, the eye can see the actual form of the sun. Similarly, when the spiritual soul destroys its material covering of false ego through transcendental knowledge, it attains its original awareness.

My dear Pariksit, when the illusory false ego that binds the soul is destroyed with the sword of discriminating knowledge and one has attained realisation of Acyuta, the Supreme Soul, this is called atyantika or final dissolution of material existence.”
— Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 12.4.30–34


1 “Below the planets Vidyadharaloka, Caranaloka and Siddhaloka, in the region of the sky called antariksa, are the places of enjoyment of the yakṣas, rakṣasas, piśacas, spirits (bhutas, pretas) etc.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.24.5)

2 The Sanskrit word manuṣya (man) is derived from Manu. The German word “Mann” and the English word “man” derive from the Sanskrit word Manu.