Q: Are Prajapati in the Vedas and God the Father in the Old Testament the same?
A: This is a really interesting question, and not one that can be answered easily. In rough, general terms, they are definitely alike: both are designated as the creator of the universe. Prajapati is the creator of the world in the Vedas (as well as later Hindu scriptures), and God the Father is creator of the world according to the Old Testament.
Nevertheless, there are also significant differences that we need to take into account before we go too far in making the identification. First of all, we realize that “Prajapati” is essentially a title, rather than the designation of a specific personal deity. It means, “Lord of Creatures,” and it is applied to a number of individual gods in the early Vedas, particularly Indra, Agni, Savitri, and Purusha. In later Vedic writing, the title does become more and more focused on one individual personality that eventually emerges as the god Brahma, the one popularly known as “the Creator,” depicted with four heads in the iconography.
So, we see right away that there is a main difference between Prajapati and God in the Old Testament. Throughout the biblical scriptures, “God the Father” has only one referent, the one personal God who made himself known as Yahweh among the ancient Hebrews. He is the singular, personal creator, who also sustains and guides his creatures. It does not matter where we look in the Old Testament, if God is being spoken of, he is the subject of discussion. This feature makes him different from the somewhat diffuse, changing designation of Prajapati in the Vedic conception.
Second, there is a real difference in the way in which Prajapati and God the Father are understood in their respective functions as creator. Again, let us look at Prajapati first. With him, we never quite get away from the notion that the creator is in some ways identical with his creation. Take the deity Purusha, one of the early gods bearing the title of Prajapati. Purusha, which literally means “human being,” is known as a great god, and as such he bears the marks of transcendence from the world: a thousand heads and a thousand eyes. Now, when Purusha creates the world, he does so out of his own body. He presents himself as a sacrifice, and at the climax of this ceremony, the human
race emerges from his remains. This act of generation takes place in four categories as designated by the caste system: the highest (Brahmin) caste materializes from his head, followed by the Kshatriyas from his thorax, the Vaishyas from his abdomen, and the Shudras from his feet. The point is that at one and the same time Purusha is not only the creator, but he is also the essential building material of his creation. This is a pattern that remains for the concept of Prajapati; there is no clear line of distinction between the creator and creation.
Similarly, at the same time when the office of Prajapati became known as the characteristic function of the god Brahma, this god did not enjoy complete contrast to his creation either. For Brahma is lastly himself one of the emanations of Brahman, the ultimate reality of being. Brahma creates in the sense that he “fashions” something that already exists, but he does not ultimately bring the universe into being because true being (Brahman) can neither not-exist nor be brought into existence. For that matter, he himself is a part of this order of being. So, again, Prajapati as Brahma is not a creator who is absolutely distinct from his creation.
This feature, then, highlights the second difference between Prajapati and God the Father. In the biblical view, God the Father is the direct creator of all that exists. Before creation there was only God; then God spoke and the universe came into being. He did not create the world out of his own substance, nor is he in any way identical with the things he created. The world is dependent on him, but he is not dependent on the world. If he wished to do so, he could simply let everything he created slip back into non-being, but he himself would be just as much God as always. This point does not prevent God from actively working within the world, but it means that he is completely autonomous from his creation.
So, these are two important difference between Prajapati in the Vedas and God the Father in the Old Testament: Prajapati is a title that is at various times given to different gods, while God the Father always refers to one and the same God, and Prajapati is not held as strictly separate from his creation as God the Father always is.
These two points deserve a lot of thought. Creation implies ownership. In the normal course of events, if you make something, then it belongs to you, and you would not want to simply give up your title to it. If God created us, then he has a claim of ownership on us, and we would be amiss to ascribe creation to someone or something else let alone to classify him with the very creatures he has made. In the New Testament, the origin of human sinfulness is described this way: “They worshiped the things God made but not the Creator himself.” (Romans 1:25) I trust that as you are thinking about the creator, you are also taking into account the responsibility we have to acknowledge him and worship him alone.