Hinduism regards God as both personal and impersonal. The Vedas declare that in the beginning God manifested Himself as the Creator of the universe, the collective totality encompassing all things. He is said to be beyond the perception of the mind and senses which can only visualise and conceive objects and identifies this Atman as the Supreme Brahman. To simplify the understanding of this concept, the Bhakti tradition where God is considered in various forms as the object of love came into existence. The knowledge and practice of worship of the various Gods awakens in the devotee a spirit of reverence and understanding wherein he attains self-realisation and the deep mysteries of creation are unfolded to him. Surya or Sun God occupies a prime place in the pantheon of Gods as he is the chief solar deity in Hinduism. Sauram or the worship of the sun is one of the Shanmathas or six schools of Hindu religion.
Forms of Surya
Surya is worshipped in many forms though the two most common forms are Arka and Mitra. The Arka form is worshipped in Northern and Eastern India and temples dedicated to this form are the Konark temple in Orissa, Balarka in Rajasthan, Lolarka and Uttararka in Uttar Pradesh, Modhera in Gujarat and many others in India. The Mitra form of Sun temples is worshipped mostly in Gujarat where the name Mitra has originated from a clan of Suryawanshi kings known as Mitrawanshi Kshatriyas.
Brahma once recounted to the sages the one hundred and eight sacred names of Surya. The Brahma Purana lists these names and it is reproduced in nine groups of twelve names each below.
The 108 Names of Surya
| 1) Surya, Archana, Bhagavana, Tvashta, Pusha, Arka, Savita, Ravi, Gabhastimana, Aja, Kala, Mrityu.
2) Dhata, Prabhakara, Prithivi, Jala, Teja, Akasha, Vayu, Parayana, Soma, Brihaspati, Shukra, Budha.
3) Angaraka, Indra, Vivasvana, Diptamshu, Shuchi, Shouri,Shanaishvara, Brahma, Vishu, Rudra, Skanda, Vaishravana.
4) Yama, Vaidyuta, Jathara, Agni, Aindhana, Tejohapti, Dharmadhvaja, Vedakarta, Vedanga, Vedavahana, Krita, Treta.
5) Dvapara, Kali, Sarvasurashraya, Kala, Kashtha, Muhurta, Kshapa, Yama, Kshana, Samvatsara, Ashvattha, Kalachakra.
6) Vibhavasu, Shashvata, Purusha, Yogi, Vyaktavyakta, Sanatana, Kaladhyaksha, Prajadhyaksha, Vishvakarma, Tamonuda, Varuna, Sagara.
7) Amsha, Jimuta, Jivana, Ariha, Bhutashraya, Bhutapati, Sarvalokanamaskrita, Shrashta, Samvartaka, Vahni, Sarvadi, Alolupa.
8) Anata, Kapila, Bhanu, Kamada, Sarvotamukha, Jaya, Vishala, Varada, Sarvabhutasevita, Mana, Suparna, Bhutadi.
9) Shighraga, Pranadharana, Dhanvantari, Dhumaketu, Adideva, Aditinandana, Dvadashatma, Ravi, Daksha, Pita, Mata, Pitamaha.
From pre historic times, man has realised the significance of the sun in the preservation of life and has been worshipping the Sun God. The Vedas extol Surya as the primal cause of the whole universe. He is the God who incorporates the effulgence and power of the Vedas. He is said to be the eye of Agni, Varuna and Mitra in the Vedas. He is said to be the conqueror of diseases and the bestower of good health. The Rig Veda mentions the image of Surya where he is said to sit on a lotus in his chariot of seven golden horses. The chariot is sometimes depicted with only one horse with seven heads surrounded by rays. Aruna, the deity of dawn is his charioteer who is the elder brother of Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. Aruna’s strong and vast body is said to shelter the world from Surya’s blaze as he stands in front of Surya. There are a number of hymns extolling Surya as the destroyer of darkness and the harbinger of good. He is adored by the Rig Veda in the morning, by Yajur Veda at mid day and in the evening by Sama Veda. The Vedic Rishis believed in the mystic unity of the whole creation with the view that the Sun’s light and the inner divine light were in reality not different. Rituals and sacrifices were coordinated with seasons with Surya as the dominant God and as the controller of all animate and inanimate objects. He was said to move around in his golden chariot across the sky watching the good and bad deeds done by all with his wheel said to be the Kaalchakra or the wheel of time and the seven horses as the days of the week. Sage Narada is said to have propitiated the Sun God to reach the fulfilment of his desires.
The most important Mantra dedicated to the Sun God Savita is the Gayatri Mantra from the Rig Veda.
Om Bhur Bhuvah Swaha Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat
“Let us meditate on the Supreme Glory of the Divine Lord who illumines all the three worlds, May He awaken spiritual intuition in us”
One of the oldest ever books written more than two million years ago is the Surya Siddhanta of the Vedic era. This book covers day and night pertaining to Lord Brahma, period elapsed since creation, rotation, revolution, length of the year pertaining to Gods and demons, the earth’s circumference, diameter, eclipses, aspects of the sun and moon and other doctrines pertaining to astronomy quoted by famous astronomers Aryabhatta and Varahamihira later in their expositions. It also formed the basis of modern Trigonometry.
In Vedic Astrology
Surya is one of the most important planets in Vedic astrology. He is associated with success, fame, authority and will power. Vedic astrology dedicates a complete chapter to Surya. The palm of the hand containing the Sun line is the indicator of Surya. A strong sun line indicates success in life. The presence of Surya in the tenth house is said to be the strongest. The three stars or Nakshatras which come under the sun is Uttara Phalguni, Krithika and Uttara Ashadha. Those with a weak sun line are recommended the gem stone rubyas Surya is associated with the colours red and copper. Wheat is the food grain associated with him.
In the Upanishads and Puranas
The Sun God is elaborately worshipped in the Upanishads as the creator of day and night, the giver of light and heat and the God of Vegetation and fertility. The Suryopanishad states that any worshipper of the sun will become intelligent, all powerful and will enjoy a long life. According to the Brahma Sutras the Word Sun (or light) implies Brahman. The Puranas have instances where the Surya mantra was chanted to remove various afflictions. The Sun’s glory and greatness has been eulogised in practically all the Shrutis, Agamas and epics in Hindu scriptures.
One of the most famous Mantras of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad venerates the Sun god while praying for illumination of the inner Divine light.
Asato Maa Sadgamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotirgamaya
Mrityormah Amritam Gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shantih
Lead me from Untruth to Truth
From Darkness to Light
From Death to Immortality
Om Peace Peace Peace
There are many references to the Sun in the epic Ramayana. Lord Rama belonged to the Suryavanshi dynasty and he learnt the Sun mantra Aditya Hridaya Stotra from Sage Agasthya. Surya is the father of Sugreeva and the celestial teacher of Hanuman.
Karna was said to be born of Surya whom Kunti Devi invoked to try out her boon. Yudhishtira is said to have worshipped the Sun God with the Surya mantra taught by Sage Dhaumya and pleased with him, Surya bestowed on him the Akshaya Patra which ensured a never ending supply of food during their exile in the forest.
The sun is the centre of the universe with planets orbiting around it. The Sun is the nearest star to the Earth and the reason for life on earth. It kills harmful bacteria and its rays provide vitamins, vitality and energy to mankind. The day-night cycle, respiration, photosynthesis, rainfall and almost all processes are governed by the sun. Ultra violet rays in the right proportion like sunbathing, chromo therapy and phototherapy causes healing of a number of skin ailments and it is also used to sanitise tools and water. Solar energy and solar power is being harnessed in recent times as it is an important source of renewable energy which would reduce pollution, global warming and dependence on other exhaustible sources of energy and power.
In Tantric tradition
Surya Vidya is a whole branch of tantric science in which the tantric yogis use Surya Namaskar along with breathing and energization exercises to absorb solar energy into their bodies. An advanced form of Surya Namaskar in tantric tradition is direct experience of the sun
In other Religions
In ancient Egypt, the most dominant figure among the Gods was the sun God Re. In Greek mythology, Helios was the personification of the Sun though he was later closely identified with Apollo the God of light. In Roman history, nearly all Gods were said to have solar qualities leading to ‘solar monotheism’. The Meso- American, Egyptian and Indo-European cultures had developed solar religions. Sun worship was a prominent feature in the pre Columbian civilisations of Peru and Mexico. In Aztec civilisation, there were human sacrifices for the Sun Gods. The Sun Goddess Amaterasu in Japan was considered the supreme ruler of the world and the titular deity of the imperial clan. To this day Japan is represented by sun symbols. The Sun Dance of the Indians of North America was the most famous type of solar cult. In Sumerian and Akkadian religion, the Sun God occupied central position. In Zorastrianism, the Sun is described as the ‘eye of Ahura Mazda’ and the religion is based on the worship of fire. The Zunbil dynasty of Afghanistan worshipped the Sun God Zun who was said to be synonymous with Surya.
Story of Surya in mythology
Aditi was one of the thirteen daughters of Daksha who was married to Sage Kashyapa. She bore him twelve sons who were known as the Adityas (Gods). The creator Brahma bestowed the rulership of heavens to the Gods and allowed them to accept a share of the offerings bestowed in the Yagnas. The demons were enraged and fought a fierce battle against the Gods gaining victory after a thousand cosmic years. The Gods then had to give up their supremacy. Aditi was pained and decided to propitiate the Sun God with rigorous penances. She wished to beget a son who could destroy the demons and restore the rightful glory of the Gods. Pleased with her devotion, the Sun God appeared before her and granted Aditi’s wish to be born to her as a son. Since the Sun God was too effulgent and powerful for her he assumed a thousandth part of his being. He then entered her womb with his ray called Sushmna. Aditi was overjoyed and began undertaking rigorous disciplines to keep her mind and body pure. Sage Kashyapa asked her if she wished to kill the foetus with her stringent disciplines. This annoyed Aditi who delivered the glowing foetus to show Kashyapa its divinity. He worshipped it with the hymns of the Rig Veda and it transformed into a baby who came to be known as Surya and Marthanda (Sun God). Surya burnt the demons in battle by his scorching looks. Pleased with him, Vishwakarma gave him his daughter Sanjana in marriage. As days passed by, Sanjana found the heat and brightness of Surya difficult to withstand and created her duplicate Chhaya from her own shadow. She then instructed Chhaya to take care of her two sons Vaivasvata Manu and Yama and daughter Yamuna and left for her father’s place, taking a promise from Chhaya never to disclose the truth to anyone including Surya. When Sanjana reached her father’s house and informed him, he was dismayed and asked her to return to her husband’s house. Sanjana was upset and changed into a mare proceeding to live northward on grass and vegetation. Meanwhile Chhaya lived happily with Surya who was unaware of the reality and she bore two sons Saavarni Manu and Shani. She began to shower greater love on her own children. Yama was upset and complained to his father. Surya then questioned Chhaya as to her difference in behaviour among her children. Chhaya could not give any satisfactory answer. Then Surya with his yogic powers divined the truth and confronted her. She begged for forgiveness explaining all that had occurred. Furious he rushed to Vishwakarma who calmed him down and explained to him that it was his brilliance that Sanjana could not withstand. Remorseful, Surya then set out in search of Sanjana and found her as a mare. He then reduced his intensity and lived happily with her bearing the Ashvini twins, the divine physicians. According to legends, Surya is said to have had two more wives, Ragyi and Prabha and had two more sons, Revanta and Prabhata from both of them respectively. Thus his sons Yama and Shani are said to be responsible for judging human beings, one by results of deeds after death while the other by results of deeds during one’s lifetime.
The Surya Namaskar or ‘Salutations to the Sun’ were incorporated into the daily obligatory routine followed by Hindus from Vedic times. These physical prostrations to the Sun were a form of indicating complete surrender of oneself to the Almighty God. Surya Namaskar is practised in many forms which vary from school to school and region to region, the most popular practices being Aditya Prasna and Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah. The water offered to the Sun with the Surya Namaskar performed daily is said to ensure longevity, good health and freedom from diseases.
Aditya Prasna is popularly practised in South India and uses verses which are taken from the first chapter of Yajur Veda, the Taittiriya Aranyakam. This chapter contains 132 Anuvakas (hymns) and after recitation of each Anuvaka, Sun salutations with prostrations are done.
Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah is taken from the Rig Veda. Trucha means a group of three mantras (Rucha). In this, Surya Namaskara is performed using three Ruchas from the Veda. They were originally composed by Rishi Kanva who divined that the Sun God would be pleased if the Surya Namaskar was accompanied by the chanting of 12 sacred mantras arranged in a specific way and taken from the Rig Veda. One complete Surya Namaskar consists of twelve postures for each of the twelve mantras. 108 Namaskars or 9 full rounds in a day was the ancient practice.
The 12 Names of Surya ( the Sun God )
1. Om Mitraya namah (The friend of all)
2. Om Ravaye namah (Praised by all)
3. Om Suryaya namah (The guide of all)
4. Om Bhanave namah (The bestower of beauty)
5. Om Khagaya namah (Stimulator of the senses)
6. Om Pushne namah (The nourisher of all)
7. Om Hiranyagarbhaya namah (The creator)
8. Om Marichaye namah (Destroyer of disease)
9. Om Adityaya namah (The inspirer)
10. Om Savitre namah (The purifier)
11. Om Arkaya namah (The radiant)
12. Om Bhaskaraya namah (The illuminator)
Aditya Hridaya Stotra
This famous shloka of propitiating the Sun God is described in the Section (Canto) 107 of the Yudha Khanda of the Valmiki Ramayana. This procedure of saluting the sun was taught by Sage Agasthya to Lord Rama before his fight with Ravana.
Aditya Hrudayam Punyam Sarva Shatru Vinashanam
Jayaavaham Jape Nityam Akshayam Paramam Shivam
This sacred hymn dedicated to the Sun deity will destroy all enemies, chanting it daily will bring victory and never ending bliss.
There are temples dedicated to Surya all over India. There are sun temples in Orissa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and in most of the states in India though the most famous among them is the Konark Sun temple of Orissa.
Legend of Konark Sun temple
Lord Krishna had a son named Samba. There are various versions regarding the story of Samba. It is said that Samba was mischievous and notorious and caused many problems to Krishna. Another version says that he was proud of his form and one day ridiculed Sage Narada who decided to teach him a lesson. He tricked him to bathing in a pool where unknown to him the wives of Krishna (his stepmothers) were bathing. Krishna was furious at this and cursed him with leprosy. When he learnt that Samba had been tricked by Narada, he advised him to pray to the Sun God who was said to be the healer of all diseases. Samba is said to have performed twelve years of arduous penance and Surya appeared before him pleased with his devotion. According to the Skanda Purana he asked him to bathe in the sea and Samba was cured. In gratitude, he decided to build a Sun temple for the Sun God and it was called Konark with ‘Kona’ meaning angle and ‘Arka’ meaning sun. This temple can be seen to this day with further additions being made later by King Narsimhadeva in the 13th century.
The temple was built in the form of a giant chariot of the Sun God and follows the traditional Kalinga style of architecture. It has been oriented in such a way towards the East that the principal entrance is struck by the first rays of sunrise. The wheels of the temple are sundials which are said to calculate time accurately to a minute in the day and night.
This auspicious festival is the most important harvest festival dedicated to the Sun God and marks the Sun’s Northward journey from the tropic of cancer to the tropic of Capricorn marking Uttarayana. It is celebrated all over India as Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Uttarayan in Gujarat, Maghi in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana and Bihu in Assam.
This is a thanksgiving festival to the Sun God celebrated on the sixth day of the month of Kartik (Nov/Dec) as the presence of the Sun ensures prosperity, progress and longevity of life through its healing powers and effulgence. It is celebrated for a period of four days which include fasting, holy bathing and prayer offerings to the rising and setting sun.
This festival is generally celebrated in Odisha on the 10th day of the bright half of the Paush (Dec/Jan) month in which the women offer special food items to the Sun God before sunrise. Samba was the son of Krishna who was afflicted by leprosy and later cured by Surya after twelve years of penance. This festival is celebrated to pray for the health and well being of the family. They then return and prepare special cake like dishes called Pitha which they then take along with a bowl of turmeric water with betel in it to a small temple like structure with a Tulsi plant overhead. The Sun God is then viewed through the bowl and offered the dishes. They read the ‘Samba Dasami Bratha Katha’ and pray for the prosperity and well being of their family members. In the evening, the Mahakala Puja is observed to propitiate Lord Yama, the son of Surya.
This festival is celebrated on the seventh day of the bright half of the month of Magha (Jan/Feb). It is celebrated as Surya Jayanti as it marks the birth of the Sun God Surya. It follows the sun’s northerly movement of vernal equinox from Capricorn (Makara). In many temples Lord Vishnu is propitiated in his form as Surya. Holy bathing, chanting of the important prayers offered to the Sun God like Gayatri Mantra, Aditya Hridaya Stotra, Suryashtakam and other prayers are done generally an hour after sunrise. Ceremonial processions are carried out in many places of the icon of Surya, the Surya Mandala. Arka leaves are held on the head while bathing. It is celebrated in all Surya temples across the country with great fervour. Rangolis of coloured rice powder depicting Surya’s chariot drawn with seven horses is found in front of the houses of devout Hindus on this day. On this holy day, a one day Brahmotsavam is held at Tirupati.
This Vrata is observed to propitiate the Sun God on any Sunday associated with the Hasta star in the month of Shravan especially in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Sashti and Saptami days in Shravan are also dedicated to the worship of the Sun God. The sun is worshipped with the fuel sticks (28 or 108) of the Arka plant with ghee and honey which are offered in the homa (fire sacrifice).
All Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism are revered as objects of worship to help the devotee understand the mysteries of creation, transcend suffering and one pointedly worship the deity of his choice. This helps in developing concentration, faith and devotion which slowly deepens to pure and unsullied love for the Lord. Lord Surya is revered as the source of heat, light and energy in the universe. He is the deity of all sustenance and the dispeller of darkness. Chanting his name is said to increase purity of mind and mitigate all sorrows. He is the pivot over which the universe functions and bears great significance in Hinduism in freeing the mind from miseries and leading the devotee to happiness and peace.