Hiranyagarbha

Recent scientific discoveries state that in a small fraction of a second, the universe went from being contained in a small point less than the size of an atom to being close to its current size. However, this claim raises concern for many religions, as it does not agree with many of the creation theories stated in various religious books. Thus, it is necessary to look at the Hindu view of the cosmos and compare how well it reconciles with modern scientific thought.

Hinduism recognizes an eternal pattern in the rise and fall of universes. The Matsya Purana details the start of the current universe. After the dissolution of the previous universe, there was a period of complete darkness in which nothing existed. Out of the nothingness, Swayambhu (Self-Manifested Being) arose and created the primordial waters. In the water, it laid the seed of creation, Hiranyagarbha (“Golden Womb”). Upon creating the egg, the Self-Manifested Being entered into it. The egg opened, from which all matter was created.

There are several slight variations mentioned throughout the various texts, including the Rig Veda, Aitreya Upanishad, and Vishnu Purana. Variations exist amongst the exact order of events leading to the creation of the universe, but they all have two main points in common. The first point recognizes that nothing existed in a manifested state before the universe. The second points to the fact that after the Swayambhu (also referred to as Brahman or Purusha) arose, the entire matter of the universe was contained within a single point (Bindu) from which the universe was created.NASA-copy

Photo Credit: NASA

The first observation is explained by the cosmological view of creation in Hinduism. According to the Upanishads, the universe infinitely undergoes repeated cycles of creation and destruction.

There are four Yugas, or eras, that repeat indefinitely. These are the Satya (1,720,000 years), Treta (1,296,000 years), Dwapara (864,000 years), and Kali Yugas (432,000 years). One cycle lasts a total of 4.32 million years.

Ten complete cycles of the four Yugas are found within a Kalpa (known as a “Day of Brahma” and equal to 4.32 billion Earth years). A universe persists for one Kalpa, after which it is destroyed (pralaya).Another 4.32 billion years (Night of Brahma) pass in a period of complete non-activity, until once again, a new universe is created. This cycle repeats for 100 Years of Brahma (1 Year of Brahma = 360 Days of Brahma).

According to the Bhagvad Purana, an infinite number of such universes exist. It states “There are innumerable universes besides this one, and although they are unlimitedly large, they move about like atoms in You. Therefore You are called unlimited” (Bhagavata Purana 6.16.37).

Interestingly, modern science has some strong correlation to what is written in the texts. The Big Bang Theory speculates the existence of a gravitational singularity, or a point with an infinite density and temperature existing at a finite time in the past. This agrees with the concept of the Bindu found in the Puranas. Additionally, String Theory, a theory that attempts to bridge the gap between quantum mechanics and general relativity in physics, necessarily speculates about the existence of multiple universes. Carl Sagan, a well respected astrophysicist, once said “Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang.”