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Brahma is said to have been born from Vishnu's navel through the great lotus. In the beginning, after the Great Deluge, on the inspiration of Mahadevi Vishnu invoked his own creative powers and created earth in the form of lotus rising from his navel. Brahma is said to have emerged from this lotus. The lotus is thus his birth symbol. Brahma suffered from the passion to create. He hence devoted himself to rigorous penance for acquiring power to create. The rosary symbolises his great hundred year penance. The pot, which the Brahma icon carries in its left hand, is the symbol of Earth, which Brahma created. Thus, the four attributes of Brahma iconography represent his birth, penance, creation and the light of knowledge, which he spread.
As has the 'Puranic' tradition, initially Brahma had only one head. In the course of creation he created by the power of his mind a number of sons. Alike, from his own half he created a maid. She was extremely beautiful and was hence named 'Shatarupa', the one who possessed a hundred beauties. Brahma wedded her. The passionate Brahma was so attached to her that he did not remove his eyes from her face even for a moment. One day the sportive Shatarupa, to cajole Brahma, began whirling around him. With his numerous sons scattered all around it was not graceful for him to move round with Shatarupa with his eyes fixed on her. He hence created on his neck four heads in all four directions. Shatarupa wished to tease him more. She flew into sky. Brahma then created a fifth head upon his matted hair. This fifth head was later destroyed by Shiva. On the strength of his five heads Brahma claimed superiority over Shiva. This enraged Shiva and he crushed Brahma's fifth head.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.