Beginnings: Myths and stories from world religions
A curriculum for upper elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2014 Dan Harper.
THE HYMN OF PURUSHA: A STORY FROM INDIA
This is just one of many Hindu stories about how everything began.
Before the beginning of all things, a giant named Purusha existed. Purusha had thousands of heads, and thousands of eyes, and thousands of feet. He was huge and embraced the earth on all sides; and at the same time he filled a space only ten fingers wide, the size of the space which holds a human soul.
The giant Purusha is everything, all that had once been, and all that which shall be in the future. He is the god of immortality, and he now lives through sacrificial food which humans offer up to him. All beings and creatures make up one quarter of him; the rest of him is immortal life in a world beyond this world. Before the beginning, the three quarters of Purusha which was immortal life rose up high, and the remaining one quarter of him remained here.
Purusha gave birth to his female counterpart, who was named Virat. When she was born, she took the form of an egg. And then Virat in turn gave birth, and she bore her male counterpart, Purusha. As soon as Virat had given birth to Purusa, he spread to the east and to the west over the earth. Together, Purusha and Virat produced the universe.
Then the Deities prepared Purusha as a sacrifice. They did not sacrifice him as humans might sacrifice an animal; it was a spsiritual sacrifice, an imaginary sacrifice. The clarified butter or ghee which they used in preparing the sacrifice was springtime. The wood which they gathered for the fire to burn the sacrifice was autumn. And the sacrifice himself, the giant Purusha, was summertime. All the Deities, and all the celestial beings, and all the sages sacrificed with him.
The ghee from the sacrifice was gathered up. Purusha, who was born in the beginning, was sprinkled on the grass. He formed the creatures of the air, and he formed the beasts of the forest and the beasts of the village. From that sacrifice were born horses, and cattle, and goats, and sheep.
And from the sacrifice were born the hymns of the Rig Veda, and the melodies of the Sama Veda. From the sacrifice came the ritual, and from it came the meters of poetry.
When Purusha was divided up after the sacrifice, his mouth became the Brahmins or the priests; his arms became the warriors and soldiers; his legs became the traders and farmers; and his feet became the workers and the slaves.
When Purusha was divided up, the Moon was born from his mind and his spirit; the Sun was born from his eye; from his mouth were born both Indra, the god of storms and warfare, and Agni, the god of fire; from his breath was born Vayu, the god of wind and of blowing breath and of life.
When Purusha was divided up, his navel became the middle sky, his head became the heavens, his feet became the earth. And so it was that all the worlds were made, and all that is began.
The Mahabharata, Volume One: Book One: The Book of the Beginning. Ed. and trans. J. A. B. van Buitenen (University of Chicago, 1980).
UNIT TWO: MYTHS OF COSMIC EGGS
Session Eight: The hymn of Purusha, and closing celebration
0/ Attend the first 10 minutes of the main services with the rest of the congregation.
Light chalice with these words and the associated hand motions: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism: the church of the open mind, the helping hands, and the loving heart.”
Check-in: Go around circle. Each child and adult says his or her name, and then may say one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week (anyone may pass).
III/ Read “The hymn of Purusha.”
IV/ Conversation about the story
Ask some general questions: “What was the best part of the story for you? Who was your favorite character?” — or questions you come up with on your own. You may want to talk with the children about the similarities between this story and the story of Pangu [see session six].
V/ Closing celebration and snack
Remind the children that this will be the last meeting of this Sunday school class, and they will be starting the spring project next week. Tell them how much fun you’ve had being with them all year (assuming that is true).
Bring out the snack (maybe something that’s not too healthy—cupcakes, even). While you’re eating snack, look over the class bulletin board. You may wish to organize it better, or you may wish to simply look at all the drawings and photos and talk about them.
Remind the children that they can invite their parents to come look at the bulletin board after class is over. They may take home their art work when their parents come in to look at the bulletin board.
VI/ Closing circle
Before leaving, have the children hold hands in a circle. Hold hands the <a href=”#hands”)”right way.”
When the children are in a circle, ask them what they did today, and prompt them with questions and answers. If any parents have come to pick up their children, invite them to join the circle (so they can know what it is their children learned about this week).
When you’ve reviewed what the children learned for a couple of minutes, say together the unison benediction (which is posted in your classroom). Tell the children how you enjoyed seeing them (if that’s true), and that you look forward to seeing them again next week.