Supriya Ghosh

Hindu views on evolution

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Hindu views on evolution

Hinduism includes a range of viewpoints about the origin of life, creationism and evolution. The Rigveda mentions the Hiranyagarbha ("golden embryo") as the source of the creation of the Universe, similar to the world egg motif found in the creation myths of many other civilizations. It also contains a myth of proto-Indo-European origin, in which the creation arises out of the dismemberment of a cosmic being (the Purusha) who is sacrificed by the gods. As for the creation of the primordial gods themselves, the Nasadiya Sukta of Rigveda takes a near-agnostic stand, stating that the Gods came into being after the world's creation, and nobody knows when the world first came into being. In the later Puranic texts, the creator god Brahma is described as performing the act of 'creation', or more specifically of 'propagating life within the universe'. Some texts consider him equivalent to the Hiranyagarbha or the Purusha, while others state that he arose out of these. Brahma is a part of the trinity of gods that also includes Vishnu and Shiva, who are responsible for 'preservation' and 'destruction' (of the universe) respectively.


Many Hindu texts mention the cycle of creation and destruction. The Shatapatha Brahmana states that the current human generation descends from Manu, the only man who survived a great deluge after being warned by the God. This legend is comparable to the other flood legends, such as the story of the Noah's Ark mentioned in the Bible and the Quran.

Some Hindu schools do not regard the scriptural creation myth as a literal truth. Often, the creation stories themselves do not go into specific detail; thus, leaving open the possibility of incorporating at least some theories in support of evolution. Some Hindus find support for, or foreshadowing of evolutionary ideas in scriptures. For example, the concept of Dashavatara can be seen as having some similarities to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.The first incarnation of Vishnu in the form of a fish resembles the evolutionary origin of fish in the Silurian Period.

In a survey of 909 people, 77% of its respondents in India agreed that enough scientific evidence exists to support Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and 85% of God-believing people said they agree with evolution as well. According to the survey conducted by Pew Forum in the United States, 80% of Hindus agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth. However, in India, there were minimal references to Darwinism in the 1800s. Elements of Victorian England opposed the idea of Darwinism. Hindus already had present notion of common ancestry between humans and animals. The Hindu dharma believes that the gods have animal features, showing a theory that humans can be reborn again as animals or with their features.

Hindu creationism

According to Hindu creationism all species on earth including humans have "devolved" or come down from a high state of pure consciousness. Hindu creationists claim that species of plants and animals are material forms adopted by pure consciousness which live an endless cycle of births and rebirths. Ronald Numbers says that: "Hindu Creationists have insisted on the antiquity of humans, who they believe appeared fully formed as long, perhaps, as trillions of years ago." Hindu creationism is a form of old earth creationism. According to Hindu creationists the universe may even be older than billions of years. These views are based on the Vedas which depict an extreme antiquity of the universe and history of the earth.

Creation myths

Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs. As a result, the Hindu texts do not provide a single canonical account of the creation; they mention a range of theories of the creation of the world, some of which are contradictory. Many Hindus regard these scriptural legends as allegories or metaphors rather than literal truth.


The Purusha Sukta of the earliest Hindu text Rigveda mentions Purusha, the primeval cosmic being. Purusha is described as all that has ever existed and will ever exist. This being's body was the origin of four different kinds of people: the Brahmin, the Rajanya, the Vaishya, and the Shudra. Viraj, variously interpreted as the mundane egg (see Hiranyagarbha) or the twofold male-female energy, was born from Purusha, and the Purusha was born again from Viraj. The gods then performed a yajna with the Purusha, leading to the creation of the other things in the manifested world from his various body parts and his mind. These things included the animals, the Vedas, the Varnas, the celestial bodies, the air, the sky, the heavens, the earth, the directions, and the Gods Indra and Agni. It is likely that this myth has proto-Indo-European origins, as it is similar to other myths found in the Indo-European cultures, in which the creation arises out of the dismemberment of a divine being (cf. Ymir of the Norse mythology).

The concept of Purusha is similar to the concept of Brahman described in the later texts. As for the creation of the primordial beings (such as the gods who performed the sacrifice of the Purusha), the Nasadiya Sukta states:

Rigveda (10.121) also mentions the Hiranyagarbha (literally, golden embryo/womb/egg) that existed before the creation. This metaphor has been interpreted differently by the various later texts. The Samkhya texts state that Purusha and the Prakriti made the embryo, from which the world emerged. In another tradition, the creator god Brahma emerged from the egg and created the world, while in yet another tradition the Brahma himself is the Hiranyagarbha. The nature of the Purusha, the creation of the gods and other details of the embryo creation myth have been described variously by the later Hindu texts.

The early hymns of Rigveda also mention Tvastar as the first born creator of the human world.


The Shatapatha Brahmana mentions a story of creation, in which the Prajapati performs tapas to reproduce himself. He releases the waters and enters them in the form of an egg that evolves into the cosmos. The Prajapati emerged from the golden egg, and created the earth, the middle regions and the sky. With further tapas, he created the devas. He also created the asuras, and the darkness came into the being. It also contains a story similar to the other great flood stories. After the great flood, Manu the only surviving human, offers a sacrifice from which Ida is born. From her, the existing human race comes into the being.


The Aitareya Upanishad (3.4.1) mentions that only the "Atman" (the Self) existed in the beginning. The Self-created the heaven (Ambhas), the sky (Marikis), the earth (Mara) and the underworld (Ap). He then formed the Purusha from the water. He also created the speech, the fire, the prana (breath of life), the air and the various senses, the directions, the trees, the mind, the moon and other things.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4) mentions that in the beginning, only the Atman existed as the Purusha. Feeling lonely, the Purusha divided itself into two parts: male ("pati") and female ("patni"). The men were born when the male embraced the female. The female thought "how can he embrace me, after having produced me from himself? I shall hide myself." She then became a cow to hide herself, but the male became a bull and embraced her. Thus the cows were born. Similarly, everything that exists in pairs, was created. Next, the Purusha created the fire, the soma and the immortal gods (the devas) from his better part. He also created the various powers of the gods, the different classes, the dharma (law or duty) and so on. The Taittiriya Upanishad states that the being (sat) was created from the non-being. The Being later became the Atman (2.7.1), and then created the worlds (1.1.1). The Chhandogya states that the Brahma creates, sustains and destroys the world.

Later texts

Belief in evolution is among the Samkhya philosophy. In the Samkhya philosophy, evolution is symbolized by the Sanskrit term parinama. Many Hindu reformers compare this term and philosophy with Darwinism. The prominent Vivekananda, based most of his cosmological and biological ideas off of the Samkhya. The Samkhya texts state that there are two distinct fundamental eternal entities: the Purusha and the Prakriti. The Prakriti has three qualities: sattva (purity or preservation), rajas (creation) and tamas (darkness or destruction). When the equilibrium between these qualties gets broken, the act of creation starts. Rajas quality leads to creation.

The later texts such as the Puranas identify the Purusha with the God. In many Puranic notes, Brahma is the creator god. However, some Puranas also identify Vishnu, Shiva or Devi as the creator.

In Garuda Purana, there was nothing in the universe except the Brahman. The universe became an expanse of water, and in that Vishnu was born in the golden egg. He created Brahma with four faces. Brahma then created the devas, asuras, pitris and manushas. He also created the rakshasas, yakshas, gandharvas. Other creatures came from the various parts of his body. (e.g. snakes from his hair, sheep from his chest, goats from his mouth, cows from his stomach, others from feet) . His body hair became the herbs. The four varnas came from his body parts and the four Vedas from his mouths. He created several sons from his mind, Daksha, Daksha's wife, Manu Svaymbhuva, his wife Shatarupta and the rishi Kashypa. Kashypata married thirrteen of Daksha's daughter and all the devas and the createures were born through them. Other Puranas and the Manu Smriti mention several variations of this theory.

In Vishnu Purana, the Purusha is same as the creator deity Brahma, and is a part of Vishnu. The Shaivite texts mention the Hiranyagarbha as a creation of Shiva. According to the Devi-Bhagavata Purana Purusha and Prakriti emerged together and formed the Brahman, the supreme universal spirit that is the origin and support of the universe.

The Advaita Vedanta states that the creation arises from Brahman, but it is illusory and has no reality. (Vivarta)

Hindu cosmological view

Many Hindu philosophies mention that the creation is cyclic. According to the Upanishads, the universe and the Earth, along with humans and other creatures, undergo repeated cycles (pralaya) of creation and destruction. A variety of myths exist regarding the specifics of the process, but in general the Hindu view of the cosmos is as eternal and cyclic. The later puranic view also asserts that the universe is created, destroyed, and re-created in an eternally repetitive series of cycles. In Hindu cosmology, a universe endures for about 4,320,000,000 years (one day of Brahma, the creator or kalpa) and is then destroyed by fire or water elements. At this point, Brahma rests for one night, just as long as the day. This process, called pralaya (cataclysm), repeats for 100 Brahma years (311 trillion, 40 billion human years) that represents Brahma's lifespan.

Modern Interpretations of Scriptural archetypes

Most Hindus accept the theory of biological evolution. They either regard the scriptural creation theories as allegories and metaphors, or reconcile these legends with the modern theory of evolution.


The order of the Dashavatara (ten principal avatars of the god Vishnu) is interpreted to convey Darwin's evolution. British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J. B. S. Haldane opined that they are a true sequential depiction of the great unfolding of evolution. Like the evolutionary process itself, the first avatar of God is a fish - Matsya, then comes the aquatic reptile turtle, Kurma, then an animal - the boar Varaha, then Narasimha, a man-lion being, Vamana, the dwarf then the rest four are humans; Kalki is not yet born. Various thinkers and authors like Helena Blavatsky, Monier Monier-Williams, Nabinchandra Sen, C. D. Deshmukh have associated the Dashavatara with evolution.


The Sanskrit epics of the Hindus mention several exotic creatures including ape-like humanoids. Some Hindus see this as a proof of the historicity of their mythological characters and as support for the theory of evolution in their texts. The Ramayana speaks of the Vanaras, an ape-like species with human intelligence, that existed millions of years ago. However, according to the Ramayana alongside these ape-men existed modern humans. Thus, according to these ancient writings, the status of such creatures was a state of coexistence rather than evolution. This is in opposition to common descent which is accepted by most scientists.

ISKCON and evolution

Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) say that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is wrong, but they do not necessarily reject evolution altogether. The views of the founder of ISKCON, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, on Darwin and evolution are found in his book Life comes from life.


International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) take a literal reading of Puranas which teach that time and space are cyclical, and that the earth goes through a cyclic model of yugas that says that life on earth devolves through four stages, or cosmic epochs, with each one becoming increasingly dark and alienated than the previous.

History therefore to ISKCON is a succession of four epochs called yugas, the first being the best a Golden age, then devolving to the present degenerate age, the Kali Yuga. After Kali Yuga, the process repeats itself, with the earth entering a stage of sleep and then being reborn. According to the teachings of ISKCON the current age we are now in, which began approximately 5000 years ago, is called Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga is a 432000-year-long devolution, a stage of degeneration on earth and for the human being.

ISKCON also teaches another process of devolution. Michael Cremo defines this process of devolution as "The process by which conscious selves descend to the realm of the material energy, and are placed in material bodily vehicles." Cremo proposes that human beings have not evolved from other animals, but they have devolved down from a spiritual world. This process of devolution is rooted in the Hindu teaching of Sat Desh, (translated "True Home") which teaches that a spiritual homeland exists eternally which is the location where spirits dwell before they enter material bodies on earth.

According to the Vedic texts the remedy to free oneself from the evil of devolution, is to cast off materialism, and realize one's real spiritual nature, which is that of Sat Desh, the homeland of spirits. Vishal Mangalwadi describes Sat Desh as "The highest region, made purely of spirit substance and inhabited by pure spirits — pure because they are uncontaminated by matter or mind. There are countless spirits and they enjoy the greatest conceivable happiness".

Cremo is a member of ISKCON and the author of Human Devolution: A Vedic alternative to Darwin's theory, published by ISKCON's Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing, which holds that man has existed on the earth in modern form far longer than that offered by the currently accepted fossil evidence and genetic evidence. Cremo suggests that Darwinian evolution should be replaced with "devolution" from the original unity with Brahman. His books have been met with considerable skepticism by the scientific community which charges that Cremo's theories are pseudoscience. Author Meera Nanda has dubbed these beliefs a form of "Vedic creationism."

As the cosmological theory of Hinduism teaches the four successively declining 'ages' of the yugas, ISKCON teaches that we should expect to see evidence for devolution in biology and other sciences due to the "reality of the past Vedic curse of decay and degeneration on the world of nature, as stated in the Puranas", ISKCON members claim that genes are being lost in animals and humans and this is evidence for devolution.

Intelligent design

In 2010 the ISKCON Bhaktivedanta Book Trust published an intelligent design book titled Rethinking Darwin: A Vedic Study of Darwinism and Intelligent Design chapters included contributions from Intelligent design advocates William Dembski, Jonathan Wells and Michael Behe as well as from Hindu creationists Leif A. Jansen and Michael Cremo.

Hindu opposition to Christian creationism

While the Creation–evolution controversy has seen much debate in the US and other countries, it is an insignificant issue in India, because of its Hindu-majority population. Hindus are among many faiths that have expressed apprehension about efforts to teach Christian creationism in public schools in the US. One objection to the teaching of creationism based on the religious texts of a particular faith is that in a pluralistic society this can result in the imposition of one religion.

Evolutionary interpretation

Some modern interpreters sequence Vishnu's ten main avatars in a definitive order, from simple life-forms to more complex, and see the Dashavataras as a reflection, or a foreshadowing, of the modern theory of evolution. Such an interpretation was first propounded by Theosophist Helena Blavatsky in her 1877 opus Isis Unveiled, in which she proposed the following interpretation of the Dashavataras:

  • Matsya - fish, the first class of vertebrates; evolved in water(Indicates origin of Fishes in Silurian Period
  • Kurma - amphibious (living in both water and land; but not to confuse with the vertebrate class amphibians)(Indicates origin of Amphibians in Devonian Period
  • Varaha - Mammal wild land animal(Indicates Mammals origin in Triassic Period
  • Narasimha - beings that are half-animal and half-human (indicative of emergence of human thoughts and intelligence in powerful wild nature)
  • Vamana - short, premature human beings
  • Parasurama - early humans living in forests and using weapons
  • Rama - humans living in community, beginning of civil society
  • Krishna - humans practicing animal husbandry, politically advanced societies
  • Kalki - advanced humans with great powers of destruction.
  • References

    Hindu views on evolution Wikipedia

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