Divine Artificer, Visvakarman

Visvakarman is a rather enigmatic Hindu deva. His role in Hinduism has changed greatly over the millennia he has been worshipped. In the Vedic context, Visvakarman is said to be “the maker of the universe” (Narayan & George 478). However, in more contemporary iterations, he is more of a “divine architect” responsible for only certain types of worldly creation since before the dawn of time (Narayan 111). Sometimes he is compared to the Roman god of fire and smithery, Vulcan (or Hephaestus, as he is known in his Greek variant). His place in modern Hinduism is as the patron of craftsmanship and artisanship, and the patriarch of tools and machinery (Mukharji 31). Though there was some prior interest in Visvakarman, it is truly thanks to the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty that scholarly attention was drawn to the significance of the artificer deva (Mukharji 31, Narayan and George 487).

Visvakarman has two well-known iconographic depictions: one, the most common, is mostly found in northern and western regions of India, and the other more so in the east (Narayan and George 479-480). The northern regions depict him as an old man with long white hair and a matching beard. He has four arms in which he holds various tools—a measuring stick, a plumb bob, a water pot, and a treatise on building (Narayan and George 479). He is often shown surrounded by his five sons, and his mount is a white swan. A halo of simple tools, such as hammers and chisels, encircle his head (Narayan 111-112). The eastern depictions show a much younger looking deva, with short, curly, black hair, and only a moustache on his face. In these he typically has an elephant as his mount. The tools he holds in his hands are far less standardized in this iteration, ranging from an axe, a hammer, occasionally even a kite or a bow and arrow. The halo above his head shows more complex mechanical devices rather than simple tools (Narayan and George 480). While the majority of Hindu devas hold weapons in their hands, Visvakarman is always shown holding tools instead. This directly relates to his role as a divine artificer. In fact, all of the weapons that the other devas are known for (i.e. Indra’s vajra, Siva’s trisula, etc.) were said to have been created by Visvakarman (Narayan 112).

Visvakarman is a much different deva in the Vedas than he is nowadays. In the Rg Veda, the deva that we now know as Visvakarman is more associated with the name Tvastr (“the fashioner”) (Narayan 112). Tvastr is given very minimal physical description, with only his arms and hands being talked about with any semblance of clarity, but his actions and purpose are very much in line with our contemporary Visvakarman (MacDonell 116). The name Visvakarman does, however, appear in the Rg Veda, though rather uncommonly. It is used as the name of the creator deva, along with the name Prajapati. This is especially so in the Brahmanas. His Vedic depictions describe him in a very similar way to the more modern creator god, Brahma: having a face on every side, four arms, and wings. The fact that both Brahma and Visvakarman have a white swan for a mount also suggests a historical connection. As a word, Visvakarman seems to have been an adjective for other devas, such as Indra or the Sun, emphasizing their creative ability. It was not until post-Vedic times that Visvakarman became a god in his own right, seemingly taking the place of Tvastr, similar to the way Brahma took the place of Prajapati (MacDonell 118).

Like any Hindu deva, there are a plethora of legends and myths surrounding Visvakarman. He has five sons, each of which are forefathers of specialist craftsperson castes: “carpenters, stonemasons, goldsmiths, copper or mixed metal smiths, and blacksmiths” (Narayan 112). He is also said to have a daughter named Saranyu, who marries the Sun. Together, Saranyu and the Sun give birth to three sons: Yama, Yami, and Manu. Saranyu realizes that the Sun is too bright to be around, so she creates a perfect duplicate shadow-version of herself, who then bears three more children with the Sun: Shani, Tapati, and a second named Manu. When the Sun realizes that this Saranyu is a shadow, he asks that Visvakarman shave off his excess brightness so that the real Saranyu can bear to be in his presence. Visvakarman does so, and uses the excess brightness taken from the Sun to create weapons for all of his fellow devas. Upon the reunion of Saranyu and her newly dimmed husband, they produce three more children: Revanta, and the twins known as the Asvins. In certain western parts of India, Visvakarman’s daughter is more associated with the double-goddess Randal Ma (Narayan 119).

Many groups of Hindu craftsmen claim direct lineage to Visvakarman, despite being of entirely different castes. They all consider themselves “Sons of [Visvakarman]” (Narayan 119). Craftsmen view their ability to create as a gift revealed to them by Visvakarman rather than a skill that has been perfected over many ages (Ramaswamy 549). The influence that Visvakarman has over the tools used by his descendents is somewhat vague, though it is generally understood that he is physically tied to them (Mukharji 36-37). There are many different kinds of craftsmen that claim lineage to Visvakarman, including: architects (sthapati), masons (kal tachchan), blacksmiths (kollan), carpenters (achchan), etc. (Ramaswamy 567). Interestingly, many groups of Visvakarman’s craftsmen use an image of the Hindu deva Hanuman, who played an integral role in the Ramayana, as a banner. It is said that Visvakarman accompanied the army of Rama to the kingdom of Lanka, which Hanuman had earlier burned down. Visvakarman helped rebuild the kingdom after Rama was victorious (Ramaswamy 565).

The direct worship of Visvakarman as a deva seems to be a rather recent development. For a long time—and still to this day in most cases—worship of Visvakarman is done as worship of the tools themselves. The common belief is that Visvakarman’s creative will is manifested through the actions of the workers who use his tools in their everyday lives (Narayan and George 479). The tool is more than just a man-made implement; it is a gift from Visvakarman, his own creation, and it is revered as such. Visvakarman’s sons are held in high devotional regard as the founding fathers of the craftsmen communities. There are also instances of groups who worship Visvakarman’s daughter, either as Saranyu or Randal Ma (Narayan 119).

The biggest Hindu celebration in honour of Visvakarman is the Visvakarman Puja. Celebrated on the 17th of September every year, it is a rather unusual Hindu celebration, as it falls on a day of the solar calendar as opposed to the more commonly used lunar calendar (Melton 908). The use of a specific date for such a celebration has caused some controversy, as many pujas are meant as a sort of birthday celebration for the deva that is being honoured. In the case of Visvakarman, however, many believe he has no birthday. Having played a key role in the creation of the world, he is said to have existed before there were such things as days. Most Hindu practitioners have no problem with this, simply desiring a day in honour of the divine architect. A response to the controversy has been the conception of another devotional day, Rsi Panchami Dinam (“The Day of the Five Rsis”). The five rsis in question are the five sons of Visvakarman (Melton 908). The celebration of either of these days is generally done by the craftsperson community—those that owe their livelihoods to Visvakarman. Because Visvakarman has few temples dedicated to him, common practice is to hold the celebration at the workplace in the presence of one’s tools (Melton 908).

Although his history is vague and detailed by several differing accounts, Visvakarman is nonetheless a highly regarded deva with an intricate mythology and a devout following. All Hindu devas have gone through revisional instances—such is the nature of being a part of an ancient tradition—but this does nothing to disenfranchise the reverence of his followers. We can see the different depictions that Visvakarman has gone through historically, as well as the different iterations that exist to this very day. We can come to understand him through anecdote and legend, as well as the role his children and grandchildren took. We can study his place in the lives of his devotees, and how they show reverence and respect for the one they call their divine patriarch. There is no simple one-way street to approaching something as complex as a Hindu deva, and Visvakarman is no exemption from this rule. But whether he has one head or five, white hair or black, a swan or an elephant, he is dearly beloved by those who wield the tool.











References and Further Recommended Reading

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1995) Vedic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Pvt. Ltd.

Melton, J. Gordon (2011) Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals,

Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, Volume 1. Santa Barbara:


Mukharji, Projit Bihari (2018) “Occulted Materialities.” History and Technology 34:1, 31-40.

Accessed October 3, 2018. doi:10.1080/07341512.2018.1516851

Narayan, Kirin (2014) “Narrative Creating Process.” Narrative Culture 1:1, 109-123.

Accessed October 2, 2018. doi:10.13110/narrcult.1.1.0109

Narayan, Kirin and George, Kenneth M. (2017) “Tools and world-making in the worship of

Vishwakarma.” South Asian History and Culture 8:4, 478-492. Accessed October 2,

  1. doi:10.1080/19472498.2017.1371506

Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2004) “Vishwakarma Craftsmen in Early Medieval Peninsular India.”

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47:4, 548-582. Accessed

October 15, 2018. doi: 10.1163/1568520042467154

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Dipesh Chakrabarty

Sons of Visvakarman

Saranyu/Randal Ma









kal tachchan 





Visvakarman Puja

Rsi Panchami Dinam


Noteworthy Websites


This article was written by: Chase Arsenault (October 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.