Our world is teeming with men and women, but in the very beginning, the Rig Veda informs us, there was only one man, a massive giant, who was so big he reached up to the heavens. Instead of one head, he had a thousand heads; from them thousands of eyes surveyed the world, and thousands of feet took him where he wished to go. He was so huge he encompassed the whole earth, and his hands extended beyond the world. He subsisted by eating all the food of the earth. All Heaven he had in him; the earth and its inhabitants formed a tiny part of him. Woman, too, was a part of him; when desire arose in him, she became separate, so they could come together to bear children, and all the creatures of the earth.
Awed and humbled by his size, the gods decided to honour him with a sacrifice. But since he filled the whole earth and the heavens, the sacrifice had to be in proportion; moreover, since all beings were an extension of himself, his body would have to be used to perform the sacrifice. Instead of using clarified butter or a fire of sticks, the gods used the seasons for the rituals-spring, with the sweet trilling of birds; summer, with its scorching sky; autumn, which wears a gentle cloak of verdure, and winter, with its snowy vistas as far as the eye can see. When all the preparations were ready, the sacrifice began. A great gathering of gods and sages took part in the event. From the giant’s enormous body, the creatures of the world took shape-the birds who sing sweetly in the trees, the cows and buffaloes that give us milk; the trees that fill up the forests; the fishes that teem in the oceans, and the flowers and fruits that give sustenance to man.
His severed members formed parts of people; his mouth formed the Brahmins, his arms evolved into the warlike Kshatriyas, his thighs resulted in the businesslike Vaishyas, while his feet were modified into the humble Shudras. And since he was the world himself, out of his form came the celestial bodies-the sun and the moon; his breath formed the wind, while from his head emerged the vast canopy of the sky. He was sacrificed as a sacrifice to himself-to create the world and ensure harmony among all living beings.