Purusha Sukta (पुरुषसूक्तम्)

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Purusha Sukta (Samskrit: पुरुषसूक्तम्) is one of the famous cosmological suktas, and given in all the four Vedas. The expression of 'Purusha' has been construed by many in the sense of 'man' (a human being) though the Vedas have never employed it so. Purusha has been described as a 'man' with thousand heads, feet and hands etc. Purusha became the causal reason for the origin of this animate and inanimate creation. It is ascribed to the introduction of the Varna system seen in the Bharatiya parampara. People of the four varnas have said to originate from the parts of this Virat Purusha. In this Sukta it was said that Srshti or creation involves the processes of Yajnas. Purusha is said to be everything, the past, present and future of this creation.[1] Based on the various meanings there are many versions about the identity of Purusha.

Many discourses and lectures have been given on this topic emphasizing its powerful effects on beings as well as its importance to a seeker of Brahman.


First recorded in Rigveda Mandala 10, Sukta 90 consists of 16 mantras given in Trishtubh chandas according to Pt. Kapildev Dvivedi. It is the main sukta describing the "Purusha" or Paramathma (according to one school of thought) or Cosmic Being from whom sprang forth this universe and beings. Different bharatiya paramparas and darshanas describe the Purusha in various ways.

Katyayana's Sarvanukramani (60,5) gives Narayana as the seer (rshi) and Purusha as the deity invoked (devata). The lineage of the seer has not been mentioned. And the deity Purusha is the well-known element as the twenty-fifth principle of Sankhyas, and not to be mistaken for a human person. Ananda-tirtha mentions that Purusha is so called because of his fullness and because he represents totality of existence. Sayana explains that the being is called Purusha to distinguish him from Prakrti (with twenty-four principles) characterized by avyakta, mahat and so on as explained in Samkhya darshana. Purusha is the creator, the source of the universe, according to Shaunaka. The first fifteen verses are in anushtup-chhandas, the last one being in trishtup. In Vajasaneyi-Samhita, the anushtup chandas used here is more specifically termed as nichrd-anushtup chandas.[2]


The expression Purusha etymologically signifies at least five meanings. It is derived from the root "पृ Pr" which is used in the sense of पालनपूरणयोः (palana-puranayoh) meaning protecting, pervading, and filling.[2]

Amarakosha, takes the word Purusha as synonymous with 'Atman' (3.3.218). Purusha, as the ultimate and unitary cosmological principle as well as the subtlest psychic reality, occurs in Rig Veda, and in the Upanishads.

In the Sankhya school of thought, Purusha (masculine gender) is distinguished from prakrti (matter, nature, feminine gender), prakrti evolves, changes and binds; but it is inert and has therefore to depend upon the presence of Purusha, to enliven, impel and vivify. Elsewhere Purusha corresponds to Savitr in the sense of stimulator or creator of all things. All things in their individual forms are regarded as 'embodied' (viz, having bodies or पुराः puras, which are filled by Atma). In the Bhagavata (7.14.37) we find that Purusha is so called because he creates all the species of the beings (puras), the humans, beasts, sages and devatas, and lies in each of the beings in the form of Atman.[2]

Purusha and Prajapati

Just like the Nasadiya Sukta, Purusha Sukta also refers to Srishti or Creation of the Universe, indirectly through the reference of Purusha. Here in the Purusha Sukta we find the description of Purusha and subsequent origin of the beings. However, it is in the Taittriya Aranyaka that we find a detailed introductory account as to why Purusha originated, takes on the creative role and how he became responsible for srishti. It is important to note that Taittriya Aranyaka calls the Purusha as Prajapati.

आपो वा इदमासन्त्सलिलमेव । स प्रजापतिरेकः पुष्करपर्णे समभवत् । तस्यान्तर्मनसि कामः समवर्तत । इदँ सृजेयमिति । तस्माद्यत्पुरुषो मनसाऽभिगच्छति । तद्वाचा वदति । तत्कर्मणा करोति । तदेषाऽभ्यनूक्ता, इति । (Tait. Aran. 1.23.1)[3]

Summary: At the beginning there was only water, and Prajapati took shape and floated on its surface on the leaf of a lotus plant (pushkara-parna). In his interior, in his mind, there then arose a desire (urge, impetus, primordial will) to create all this (what we see now). Whatever now a Person desires, he gives expression to it in speech and in action.

This 'desire' is the bridge between what exists not and what exists. The passage is accomplished by what is known as 'tapas', which word means austerity, penance, reflection, brooding, intense heat. Creation proceeds only through 'tapas'. In the exhilaration of tapas, Prajapati shook his form vigorously. From the flesh-like constituents of his form came forth the sages known as Arunas, Ketus and Vatarashanas; from his nail-like parts the sages known as Vaikhanasas; and from his hair like parts, theValakhilyas. However, the essential aspect of the watery mass solidified in the form of a tortoise and issued out. Prajapati inquired if this was the offspring of his own skin and flesh. The tortoise replied: 'No, I have been there all the time, even prior to all these beings that have now come out'. The tortoise-form was what appeared now, but the Inner Self of it was always there, and this was Purusha. This indeed is the Purusha nature (purushatvam) of the Purusha; the expression 'Purusha' signifying 'what was there earlier' (purvam samabhut). The Purusha, to demonstrate his power, arose then with a thousand heads, with a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. The number 'thousand' indicates vastness and immeasurable immensity of creation and not to the human being itself in this context.[2]

The first words of the mantra of the Purusha sukta are repeated here, with the suggestion of the context; illustrating the Purusha nature of the Purusha (purushasya purushatvam). The innumerable forms of creation are all emanations from a common foundation: the kama of Prajapati (viz. Purusha). The text of Purusha sukta presupposes this. The primeval tortoise, which is but the essence (rasa) of the waters on which Prajapati floated, represents Prakrti; and Prakrti, in the presence of Purusha, unfolds its manifold power and evolves into the entire universe. This is called the 'Virat' (illumining itself in different and multiple forms), an aspect of Prakrti, which also is referred to in the Purusha sukta.[2]

प्रजापतिः प्रथमजा ऋतस्य । आत्मनाऽऽत्मानमभिसंविवेशेति, इति । सर्वमेवेदमाप्त्वा । सर्वमवरुध्य । तदेवानुप्रविशति । य एवं वेद ( ९) इति ।। (Tait. Aran. 1.23.9)[3]

The above cited mantra explains that Prajapati, the first-born of rta constituted (viz. created) all the worlds, all the beings and the entire space, out of the material provided by the primordial waters, or by their essence in the form of the tortoise. And, having created all things out of himself, he himself enters into all things (atmana atmanamabhisamvivesha). In other words, he becomes the inner entity of all the worlds, all the beings, and of all space. The universe is but an emanation or unfoldment of Prajapati. The Aranyaka-passage adds that by 'entering' is meant pervasion and accommodation. He pervades over all things, in the sense that he obtains all these things (aptva) and he accommodates all these things in himself so that they are all restrained by him, and nothing over-reaches him (avaruddhya). The created universe does not exhaust him; in fact, he transcends it and abides in his own nature. This aspect of Prajapati is known as Purusha.


  1. Dvivedi, Kapil Dev. (2000) Vaidika Sahitya evam Samskrti (Vedic Literature and Culture). Varanasi: Vishvavidyalaya Prakashan. (Pages 53)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Dr. S. K. Ramachandra Rao (2006) Purusha Sukta (Text, Transliteration, Translation, Commentary) Bangalore: Ari Aurobindo Kapali Sastry Institute of Vedic Culture
  3. 3.0 3.1 Taittriya Aranyaka (Prapatha 1 Anuvaka 23)