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Tridev – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva

by Anubhav Bakshi
Trinity of Hindus - Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva

Welcome to Decoding Hinduism. Holy Trinity of Gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the most revered Gods in the Puranas. They are also known as Tridev or the three Gods. They are the Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer of the universe. They are the Supreme Gods of Hindu mythology and are the most powerful of all the Gods.

So, today you are going to read two stories about Tridev of Hindus.

We do not find any story about the birth of Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva. They are Unborn or Swayambhu. However, the texts contain a story about the birth of Brahma.  

And that’s our first story.

Birth of Brahma

Long before the world came into existence, Lord Vishnu was once lying on the coils of Adisesh, in the middle of the Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk. Vishnu was in his deep meditative sleep called Yog-Nidra. 

His sleep was suddenly broken by loud chants of ‘Aum’ emerging from the vacuum of the universe. Woken suddenly from his slumber, Lord Vishnu looked in all directions to find the source of this sound, but there was no one around. The chants kept getting louder, but there was no source in sight. 

And then, suddenly from the navel of Lord Vishnu, a Lotus flower emerged. As the Lotus bloomed; a figure was sitting in it. This was Lord Brahma. He had five heads, four heads were looking in four directions and the fifth one looking upwards at the heavens. 

Brahma looked at Vishnu, then folded his hands to greet him. Vishnu did the same. And then with Lord Vishnu’s blessings, Lord Brahma set about the task of creating the universe. And that is the story of the birth of Brahma.

So, as we see, even the birth of Brahma is not natural. He has no mother or father. Like Shiva and Vishnu, he is also Swayambhu.

Understanding the Trimurti

Who are Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva?

Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are considered Unborn. But even they are not immortal. According to the Hindu belief system, the Supreme Being of this universe is an entity that has no start and no end, has no form, no gender. They call it Parabrahmañ(ॐ). 

And Parabrahman is divided into expansions for the creation and preservation of the universe. They are:

•     Aadibhagwan Parampurush(卐) the male expansion of genderless Parabrahmañ(ॐ).

•     Aadibhagwati Paramshakti(श्री) the female expansion of genderless Parabrahmañ(ॐ).

Our Tridev are the 3 expansions of Aadibhagwan Parampurush(卐). And Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati/Sati are 3 expansions of Aadibhagwati Paramshakti(श्री).

The stories of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are intertwined. Although they are responsible for different tasks, they are incomplete without each other. They are the most powerful of all Gods in the Puranas. They are worshipped by Gods, Demons, and all other beings of all the worlds.  

However, today only Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped in our temples, whereas one would rarely find any temples dedicated to Lord Brahma, the Creator. The biggest and only temple of relevance for Lord Brahma is the one in Pushkar, Rajasthan. 

There are multiple stories related to the reason why Brahma is not as revered as Vishnu and Shiv. And I am going to narrate the one I find to be the most dramatic and interesting. This story is from Shiva Purana.

Brahma Vs Vishnu

Once upon a time the while travelling through the universe, Lord Brahma, came to Vaikunth, the abode of Lord Vishnu, and found him resting on Sesh-nag, along with Garuda and other attendants. When Lord Brahma saw that Vishnu had not risen to welcome him, he was very angry. At that moment he was engulfed by pride.

He shouted at Lord Vishnu: “I am the creator of the universe, Lord of lords, Brahma. How dare you disregard me?”
Lord Vishnu remained Calm and said, “Welcome to Vaikunth Lord Brahma, the Creator of this universe. Your presence here is a blessing. But why are you angry?

Brahma said, “Vishnu! I am the creator of three worlds, Parampita (All-Father) and protector of all beings in this universe. You should bow before me and show me the respect I deserve.”

This time Vishnu could not control his anger and said, “Lord Brahma, I am Vishnu. The whole universe is situated within me. Even you were born from the lotus that sprang from my navel region. That makes you, my son. So it is you who should bow before me.”

Claiming to be each other’s masters, both succumbed to anger and pride and waged war against each other. They sat on their respective vehicles – Hans (Swan), and Garuda (Eagle), and started fighting. 

The entire universe became witness to this epic battle between two Super-Gods.

The fight raged for a very long time. Both used divine weapons so fierce that they threatened the existence of the entire universe. Every being in the universe feared for the safety of the world. 

All the deities from Heaven watched this battle in horror. They were worried when there was no sign of the battle ceasing. It seemed that their anger would consume the three worlds. The other Gods and Sages then decided to approach Lord Shiva to seek his help in ending this battle.

They reached Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva, and found him in a state of meditation. Shiva opened his eyes and welcomed all of them. 

Though he knew it all, Shiva pretended ignorance. He asked about the well-being of the world. The deities bowed before him and told him about the battle between Brahma and Vishnu. 

Lord Shiva thought for a while and then got up. He sat on Nandi and rode towards the battle scene.

Shiva Intervenes

When Lord Shiva reached there, the battle between Vishnu and Brahma had reached deadly proportions. They were about to use their deadliest weapons – Narayanastra and Brahmastra. These weapons were so terrifying that they could end the universe in a matter of seconds.

Lord Shiva knew the power of these deadly weapons. He knew that if these weapons were not stopped, the end of the universe was certain. Shiva closed his eye and manifested himself in the form of huge a pillar of fire (Anal stambha). 

Just as Brahma and Vishnu released their weapons of mass destruction, the blazing pillar of fire stood in the middle of their trajectory. Everyone was looking at this scene with bated breath, certain that these were the final few moments of their lives. All the world was engulfed in darkness and could end at any moment now.

However, to the utter surprise of everyone present there, including Brahma and Vishnu, the two weapons fell into the pillar of fire and were destroyed like two moths that enter a fire.

Brahma and Vishnu were very astonished at this turn of events. They saw in front of them a pillar of fire so enormous that it reached the sky and penetrated down the earth. They could not see the ends of this pillar on either side. They looked at each other in amazement. 

A New Race for Supremacy

Vishnu then suggested to Brahma that they should locate the ends of this divine pillar. And the one who finds it first will be the winner. Brahma agreed to the contest. 

Vishnu took the form of a Boar and started digging down to find the base of that ‘Pillar of fire’. Brahma transformed himself into a swan and flew up into the sky to find the upper Top of the pillar. 

Lord Shiva smiled at the futile attempts of Brahma and Vishnu. After searching for the base of that Pillar for a long time, Lord Vishnu realised that there was no end to this Pillar of fire and accepted his defeat. He bowed before that Anal Stambha and came back. 
When Shiva smiled at the efforts of Brahma and Vishnu, a Ketaki flower fell from his garland. On his way up, Brahma met the withered ‘Ketaki’ flower. It still had freshness and fragrance left in it. 

Brahma asked the Ketaki flower if it knew about the Top of that pillar. The Ketaki flower told Brahma that it had been present since the beginning of the Creation but did not know about the origin of that ‘Pillar of fire’. The flower advised Brahma against trying to find out, but it was no use.

But Brahma still wanted to assert his superiority over Vishnu. So, he devised a plan. He asked the Ketaki flower to lie in front of Lord Vishnu, saying that he (Brahma) was successful in locating the top of the Anal Stambha. Ketaki flower agreed. 

Both went down to where Vishnu was standing. Brahma told Vishnu that he had seen the end of the Pillar of fire. Ketaki flower gave witness. Vishnu accepted the superiority of Brahma and bowed in front of him.

Brahma’s Punishment

However, Lord Shiva who knew the truth became very angry with Brahma’s lie. He took his original form and raised his Trishul (Trident).  And then he proceeded to punish Lord Brahma for his falsehood. He was about to strike Brahma when Lord Vishnu stood between them and requested Lord Shiva to spare him. Shiva was pleased with Vishnu. 

But Lord Shiva knew that Brahma’s pride needs to be separated from him.  He knew that this pride would strike again, and it will again destroy the world.

He turned towards Brahma and opened his third eye, and from it manifested ‘Bhairav,’ the fiercest form of Shiva.

Shiva asked Bhairav to cut off Brahma’s fifth head. Bhairav severed the upward-looking head of Brahma with one swoop of his sword. Brahma became terrified and trembled in fear. 

Lord Vishnu felt pity for his condition and again requested Lord Shiva to forgive him. Lord Shiva then stopped Bhairav, but told Brahma, “You spoke a lie with a desire to become worshipable. It is my curse that you will not be worshipped by anybody. And you will possess only four heads from now on.”

When Brahma accepted the curse and asked for forgiveness. Lord Shiva being Ashutosh, the one who pleases easily, felt pity for Brahma. He gave him the boon of being the presiding deity of all the Yagnas. 

“No Yagna shall be complete without your presence in it,” he said to Brahma. Brahma folded his hands and thanked Shiva for this boon.

Then Shiv turned to the Ketaki flower. He prohibited the Ketaki flower from being used during his worship. But when Ketaki flower rendered its apology and prostrated before Shiva seeking mercy, he forgave it. He gave it a blessing that it would bring good fortune to those who offer Ketaki flower Lord Vishnu during worship.

After that Lord Shiva restored life to those who perished because of the battle fought between Brahma and Vishnu.

Five Duties by which the World function

Lord Shiva then preached to Brahma and Vishnu on the five duties called ‘Panchakritya’. He said that ‘Shrishti’ (Creation), ‘Sthithi’ (Position), ‘Samhar’ (Annihilation), ‘Tirobhav’ (Concealment) and ‘Anugrah’ (Obligation or Kindness) are the five duties by which this world functions.

Brahma and Vishnu were assigned to look after the two duties of Shrishti and Sthiti respectively.

Rudra and Mahesh (Shiva own forms) were entrusted with the job of Samhar and Tirobhav. He kept the fifth duty or Anughah for himself.

Then Lord Shiva initiated Brahma and Vishnu with the ‘OMKAR’ (OM) mantra.

And with this, the balance in the universe was restored, and the wheel of time started moving again.

The Hidden Message from the Story

Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva represent the Birth, Sustenance and Destruction or Death. All these jobs could have been assigned to a single God-like in any other religion in the world. But then it would have dissolved their importance. 

Birth, Sustenance, and Death are three cogs in the wheel of time. If one cog is loose, the wheel will collapse. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are one, even when they are different.  

Also, the story may depict some kind of order among the three supreme Gods, but in a lot of other stories that will be narrated in the future episodes, you will find that there is mutual respect amongst them and none of them considers himself superior to others.

There are many other versions of the story that tell us why Brahma is not as revered as the other two Gods. But our goal is to try and decipher the hidden truth behind this story. 

And if we give it a proper thought, we will notice that flaw in human nature is the reason for it. 

Let me explain. Brahma is the God of Creation or Birth. As soon as something or someone is created or born, it becomes past. We are always more inclined towards ‘what is’ i.e., ‘the present and ‘what will be’ i.e., ‘the future,’ rather than ‘what was’ or ‘the Past’. 

For Human Beings, the importance of Birth is magical but momentary. Whereas we marvel at the work of Lord Vishnu when we see the world flourishing and growing in front of our eyes. And Death always mystifies us. We are afraid of it, always trying to avoid it. But we are aware of its inevitability.  That mesmerises us.

And that is the reason Vishnu and Shiva are worshipped everywhere, but Brahma has only one big temple dedicated to him. 

However, we need to remember that the Present and Future cannot exist without a past. The cycle of life will be left incomplete. The Trinity of Gods or Tridev can only be complete with the presence of all three. 

So, let’s pay our obedience to the Creator, the Preserver and the Destroyer of the Universe by chanting their mool mantra
“Om Tridevaya Namah”

So this was the story of Trimurti or Tridev. There are countless stories in our Puranas. And these stories not only entertain but teach us important life lessons.

Don’t forget to checkout “Unfolding Beliefs,” a space where I decipher the real meaning of Hinduism.

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Hope you liked the story. Is there any specific story you want to read from Hindu Mythology? Let me know in the comment box.

Anubhav Bakshi

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