Ever since the creation of the universe, the sun has been illumining it and has impressed not only the human race but also all other creatures. His name occurs in the records of the Kassites and Mitanni but in the Indian context, he enjoys an important position in the Vedic as well as the post-Vedic literature. In the epics some of the others claimed their origin to the Sun. The Buddhist and Jain literature too provided him an important place in their respective religious treatises. In the Puranas however, he became a an important cult god and not only regular system of his worship is found presecribed therein, but also his images were required to be lodged in exclusive shrines dedicated to the deity.
The Epics and the Puranic texts present Surya in human Form and also define the family of Surya as well his progeny. The wife of Surya is described as Sanjna (or awakening), daughter of Visvakarman, beside Chaya (shadow); and Revanta and Sani as his sons.
Surya is also conceived as a great healer and quite generous to his devotees. He is the prominent leader of the entire solar system and the Navagrahas, the panels of which are frequently found in the Brahmanical shrines. He is also believed to be the controller of time, and the maker of days and nights. The twelve Adityas are supposed to represent the twelve months of the year.
The present work aims at providing glimpses of the variousaspect of the Sun god and different angles from which he has been viewed by the ancient sages, the artists, the thinkers besides those involved in the study of the sciences of astrology, astronomy and the connected subjects.
Shri S.L. Nagar, a Graduate of the Punjab University, has served in Curatorial capacity in the Central Asian Antiquities Museum, New Delhi, the Archaeological Museum, Nalanda , and Archaeological Section of the Indian Museum, Calucutta. He was credited with the scientific documentation of over fifty thousand antiquities, representing the rich cultural heritage of the country and comprising of sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, beads, seals and sealings, ancient Indian numismatics, wook work, miniature and paintings, textiles and Pearce collection of gems, ranging from the earliest times to the late medieval period. He was also awarded, in 1987, a Fellowship for his work on the Temples of Himachal Pradesh, by the Indian, Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. The author has also written the following books:
Mahiibhiirata, Vana Parvan, 2. 67-68.
(Like a wheel that is incessantly whirling, every creature, from ignorance, acts and desires, roves in various states in the world, wandering from one birth to another, ranging from Brahma to a blade of grass, and taking birth again and again, now in water, now in earth and now in the Sky).
The Hindu religious thought, enjoins upon each mortal to lead the human life in a way which leads ultimately to emancipation. For this purpose one has to listen to wise men who are intent on virtue and inspire others to lead a truthful life devoid of sinful actions; such holy people, in the past had been successful to instil confidence in the people by introducing them to some kind of devotional practices in a variety of forms. This spirit of devotion was mainly responsible for the emergence on the Indian religious firmament, of a number of deities, in the past. While some of them disappeared from the Indian religious horizon as rapidly as they had mushroomed; some of them-faded in oblivion, with the passage of time; still there are certain deities, which though claiming their genesis to a great antiquity, never lost their relevance, and have come down to us to be handed down to the posterity, with the same sense of religious fervour as we had from our ancestors. Surya, the Sun-god, happens to be one of them. The adoration of the Sun, is as old as the mankind or the civilization itself, though the earliest reference to the Sun-god is found in the Vedic literature followed by the literary works of the subsequent period.
If reference to Surya is not found in literature beyond the Vedic period, it does not mean that Surya did not exist or did not enjoy a place of importance before the Vedas. His everlasting luster, sunshine, and the part it had to play in the agricultural growth, was realised well before the advent of the Vedic people on the horizon of the Indian Sub-continent. This aspect could be witnessed from the testimony of the sun-symbols available over numerous antiquarian remains of Harappan and post-Harappan sites.
The Sun has been a great source of attraction to mankind and was adored by the people right from the time of their coming into existence. It attained an eminent position amongst the deities of nature in ancient times. The glory and prominence of solar orb, its splendour and beauty, its luster, and the capacity to form days and nights, and thus regulating the entire universe; his primal role in the cosmic evolution and the consequent mystery surrounding it, has secured for him a history of interest and importance, un-matched by anyone else, to which every age and every race has contributed considerably in literary field. This was possibly the reason which made Sir William Jones to observe that the great fountain of all idolatry in the four quarters of the globe was the veneration paid by men to the Sun.
Though the evidence of Sun worship in India could be traced back to the Neolithic period, but the earliest expression of the same was by means of symbols which were inseparable part of the religious life of the protohistoric people. With the emergence of the Aryans, on the horizon of the country, new streams of religious Thought started flowing which aimed at a strong belief in the supernatural properties of the Sun. The Vedic Aryans adored Surya in a variety of forms including Savitr, Mitra, Visnu, Pusan, Asvin, Adityas and the likes and separate set of Vedic hymns of praise and prayer were dedicated to each one of them.
The Upeniseds conceived Surya as the best manifestation of the Supreme power, having a powerful spiritual background. But up to the period of Upanishads, the Sun retained his natural form. However, the epics almost revolutionized the very concept of the Sun-god, projecting him in human form. The process which was initiated in the Valmiki Ramayana was further developed in the Mahabharata; and in the Puranas, Surya was completely humanised. This is not the case with the Indian religious thought alone. He was conceived in human form in other countries of the world, the best examples of which are available in the antiquarian remains of Greek and Egypt. The Sun-god was worshipped in Mesopotamia, while in Assyria, he was adored in the name of Marduk. In Babylonia, he was named as Shamash, the source of human life and joy. He was regarded as the "judge of the world who guides the mankind and as a lord of law who judges according to unchangeable principles. Here he also appeared in human form. According to Plato, both Hellenes and Barbarians were accustomed to greet the rising and setting Sun with prostrations and kissing of the hands.
In the Greeko-Roman culture, Sun was worshipped under the names of Helios and Phoebus and given the anthropomorphic form. He was conceived by Romans as Mittiras and with the early Persians he was also a deity to be venerated. Herodotus goes on to testify that the Persians offered sacrifice to the Sun-god. The ancient people of Mexico and South America were also Sun-worshippers. The Aztecs offered bleeding human hearts to the Sun to seek greater vigour.
Besides the adoration of the Sun as a timeless deity, he was, on occasions, called upon by the royalty to witness the donations made by the kings for the maintenance and of repairs of some religious edifices and for this purpose; symbols of Surya (a disc) and Candra (a crescent) were embossed over the concerned documents; or copper plate grants were embossed, to mean that as long as the Sun and moon illumine the world the donor would continue to earn the merits of the donation. The same symbols were carved over the seti- pillars to signify, that the fame of the hero would be remembered as long as the Sun and the moon continue to adore the sky. But curiously enough, though the donors and the donees have all disappeared from the world, and in some cases even the relevant documents, both the astral divinities continue their normal daily functions un-interrupted.
The present work has been based on the literary as well as archaeological evidence. The literary evidence starts from the Vedic texts and also takes into consideration, the treatment of the Sun-god in the Brahmanas, Upaniseds, the Epics-Ramayana and Mahabharata the Purana, the works on astronomy, Indian Polity and Grammar, besides the Grhys-Sutras, Samhitas, etc: Though this section has been enriched by the evidence of the Silpa-Sastras, the Tantric texts, some Buddhist and Jain chronicles, but the projections about the god in the classical works of eminence, have also not been lost sight of while dealing with the subject. Another attraction of this section is the description of the Sun-god, available from Persian, Arabic, Chinese and Greek accounts, which stand included in this work. The epigraphically records provide mine of information on Surya from the earliest times, glimpses of which have been provided in an exclusive chapter in this work.
An exclusive chapter deals with the iconography of the Sun-god, based on the literary sources. For the benefit of the readers two extensive charts showing the iconography of Surya, (exclusively) and Navagrahas, have also been added.
Based on the iconography as propounded by the texts, is the chapter on the presence of Surya in Plastic art. The chapter deals with the presence of Surya, from the earliest times in sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, Numismatics, Indian seals and sealings, besides the paintings. The composite forms of Surya have been projected in an exclusive chapter. Other attractions are an exclusive chapter on the twelve Adityas, Primitive Ideology about the Sun, Surya in other religious beliefs, like Jainism and Buddhism; Navagrahas, and many other details on the Multifaceted Personality of Surya, based on several texts. An exclusive chapter highlights some of the prominent Sun temples in the country.
While concluding this work, I express extreme gratitude to Dr. H.N. Singh, who was kind enough to provide me all the necessary help and guidance, whenever, I approached him. He has even gone through some of the chapters in this work, for which, I shall ever remain grateful to him.
I am also indebted to Smt. Poornima Ray, Librarian (Archaeological Survey of India) who has been helpful to me not only in tracing the required references, but has also helped me in preparing the Bibliography. Similar help was forthcoming from R.K. Pandey and Digvijaya Sharma of the Central Archaeological Library. I record my highest appreciation for the helping hand extended to me by all of them.
The work has been illustrated by Suriti Nagar, Devendra Nagar and many other sources, which have been indicated individually in the list of illustrations. I am indeed indebted to them all. I also intend to record here the deep love and affection of Ravindra, Sadhana, Pratiksa and Sukanya, which have added to the speedy and detailed composition of this work. They will always be remembered by me in this regard.
The Sun or Surya, the visible celestial luminary, has been illuminating the universe ever since it came into being. Surya, therefore, because of his luster which removes darkness is being abroad from times, immemorial. In fact numerous religious beliefs and cults have appeared ever since the evolution of man on earth. While some of them having lost their relevance disappeared from the global scene as rapidly as they had mushroomed, others faded from human memory or lost their importance with the passage of time. Still there remain till date certain cults and beliefs, which never lost their relevance, though during the long period of history, they got eclipsed for short spells of time. The Cult of Surya happens to be one of such beliefs, whose relevance is yet to diminish.
In the vast Indian literature as well as the epigraphically records, there are numerous references in which the grandeur of a particular god or monarch is equated to the luster of the Sun. There are also instances in which it was claimed that the fame of a particular monarch would last as long as the Sun and the moon illumine the universe. The case of Sati pillars is an interesting example. In these Sati pillars the Sun and Moon in symbolic from were invariably carved to give vent to the idea that the fame of the lady performing Sati would last as long as the Sun and Moon Shine in the sky. But strangely enough, though such monarchs passed away or even the Sati pillars vanished and were long forgotten, the Sun-god, Surya remains eternal, and as bright as ever.
The adoration of the Sun possibly started with the origin of the man on earth, when he was still savage roaming over the earth in the prehistoric times; since he could have better visibility, better movement for food collection, etc, during the day when the earth was filled with Sun-light, than in the darkness of night after sun set. He could better accomplish his feat like hunting or collecting food during the day time as compared to nights. He also realized the utility of the Sun during winter and gradually became aware of the role played by the Sun in food production. The more he became conscious of the importance of Sun, the more he started adoring it, initially in a symbolic manner, supplemented by other forms. These aspects can be witnessed even to this day in the evidence left by the Paleolithic man in the cave art around the globe, though in the Indian Context, such symbols are too conspicuous.
The Sun-worship has been described as the real and the most ancient religion of India. It is not difficult to understand, how in a low-land flooded with sunshine, where every phase and function of life is dependent on the kindly warmth of the Sun and his destructive powers are felt in the utmost extremes of heat, it should have been man's primary business to placate him and win his favour. The-historic Cave-man conceived Surya in a symbolic form in his own way. This symbolic adoration of the Sun continued during the subsequent period as well. There has been a school of thought which has tried to interpret some of the symbols available over the Harappan seals as representing the Sun. The Prehistoric cave art also preserves numerous specimens of symbols representing the Sun. Indeed with the passage of time the worship of the sun became a way of life with the people as would be evident from their religious practices.
Though currently there is no distinct sect adoring the Sun-god exclusively, still the image of Surya are found in most of the Saiva, Vaisnava, and Sakta temples, either individually or in the company of other gods or in the form Navagraha panels. The essentials of Sun-worship, however, are present everywhere and in all sects; more or less avowedly or in disguise and combined with other cults and his practical and decisive influence on daily life is universally recognised.
While viewing the genesis and evolution of Sun-worship in India and beyond the Indian frontiers, it may be mentioned that one of the earliest temples of the Sun-god has been reported from Ne-Weser-re at Abu Ghurab in Egypt which is said to belong to 243 B.C. This evidences as well other connected evidence of Sun-worship in other parts of globe has been discussed in some detail in the relevant Chapter in this work. However, reverting to the Indian religious field, it may be brought out that in order to trace the earliest evidence of Sun-worship; one has to peep into the Vedic literature. During the Vedic Age, Surya as a deity had already developed in the most concrete form; the name (which designates the orb of the Sun as well as the god) showing that his chariot as a luminary, was always present in the minds of the Vedic seers. As the all- seeing god, he is often called the eye of Mitra, Varuna, Agni and other gods. The dawns produce Surya and he is said to be the son of Aditi, a Vedic goddess and of Dyaus. He is also conceived as a ruddy bird or an eagle that soars through the space. He is cognate with Avestic hvare, "Sun" who has swift horses and who is conceived as the eye of Ahura Mazda.
In the Rgvedic hymns Surya is adored under many names and forms. The three chief aspects under which he represents himself to his devotees are the rising, culminating and the setting positions. These are not separated or distinguished as separate deities but are different forms of one and the same god, in each one of which he displayed himself with different attributes, exercising different powers.
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