A 19th-century painting of Surya on his chariot
|Tamil Transliteration||ஞாயிறு அல்லது சூரியன்|
|Consort||Saranyu, Ragyi, Prabha, and Chhaya|
|Mount||Chariot drawn by seven white horses
/ by seven-headed horse
Surya is the chief of the Navagraha, Indian "Classical planets" and important elements of Hindu astrology. He is often depicted riding a chariot harnessed by seven horses or one horse with seven heads, which represent the seven colours of the rainbow or the seven chakras. He also presides over Sunday. Surya is regarded as the Supreme Deity by Saura sect, which now has a very small following. Smartas worship him as one of the five primary forms of God.
Surya as the Sun is worshipped at dawn by most Hindus and has many temples dedicated to him across India. He also enjoys worship as a part of the Navagraha. He is especially worshipped in the Hindu festivals of Ratha Saptami, Makar Sankranti, Chhath and Samba Dashami.
Surya is sometimes depicted with two hands holding a lotus in each hand.
Surya is worshiped in various forms throughout India. One of the most important epithets (forms) of 'Surya' is 'Arka'. The "Arka" form is worshiped mostly in North India and Eastern parts of India. The temples dedicated to the 'Arka' form of Surya are Konarka Temple in Orissa, Uttararka and Lolarka in Uttar Pradesh, and Balarka in Rajasthan. There was an old sun temple in (Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh) named Balarka Surya Mandir, built by King Tilokchand Arkawanshi in early 10th century AD. The temple was destroyed in the 14th century during the Turkish invasions.
The grandest Surya temple is Konark Surya Temples built by Ganga Vamsi king Narasimha Dev of Orissa.
'Mitra' form of Surya
'Surya' is also known as 'Mitra' (meaning friend) for his life nourishing properties. The Mitra form of 'Surya' had been worshiped mostly in Gujarat, where a clan of Suryawanshi kings was known as Mitrawanshi kshatriyas, also known by its distorted name Maitrakas (मैत्रक)
Religious role and relationships
Vivasvata (Surya) had three queens; Saranyu (also called Saraniya, Saranya, Sanjna, or Sangya), Ragyi, and Prabha. Saranyu was the mother of Vaivasvata Manu or Satyavrata (the seventh, i.e. present Manu) and the twins Yama (the Lord of Death) and his sister Yami. She also bore him the twins known as the Ashvins, divine horsemen and physicians to the Devas. Saranyu, being unable to bear the extreme radiance of Surya, created a superficial entity from her shadow called Chhaya and instructed her to act as Surya's wife in her absence. Chhaya mothered two sons – Savarni Manu (the eighth, i.e. next Manu) and Shani (the planet Saturn), and two daughters – Tapti and Vishti. He also has a son, Revanta, or Raivata, by Ragyi.
Surya's two sons, Shani and Yama, are responsible for the judgment of human life. Shani provides the results of one's deeds through one's life through appropriate punishments and rewards while Yama grants the results of one's deeds after death.
In the Ramayana, Surya is described as father of the King Sugriva, who helped Rama and Lakshmana in defeating the demon king Ravana. He also trains Hanuman as his guru. The Suryavanshi / Suryavansha dynasty of kings, Rama being one of them, also claims descent from Surya.
In the Mahabharata, Princess Kunti receives instruction for a mantra from the sage Durvasa; by reciting which, she would be able to summon any god and bear a child by him. Incredulous of the power of this mantra, Kunti unwittingly tests it on Surya, but when Surya appears, she gets scared and requests him to go back. However, Surya has an obligation to fulfil the mantra before returning. Surya miraculously causes Kunti to bear the child immediately whilst retaining her virginity so that she, as an unmarried princess, need not face any embarrassment or be subjected to questions from society. Kunti feels compelled to abandon the child, Karna, who grows up to become one of the central characters in the great battle of Kurukshetra.
Like some other deities, such as Shiva, who are worshiped by saints, normal worshipers and demons, Surya too has a following of the same types of beings. Group of Raksasas known as Yatudhanas were the followers of Surya and wandered with him. It is also mentioned that Bhauvana the Daitya offered a prayer to Surya with the Rathantara saman and was immediately turned into an elephant. His Greek counterpart is Helios and his Egyptian counterpart is Ra.
In the Vedas, Surya is frequently referred to as "the eye of Mitra, Varuna, and Agni" (RV 1.115.1, RV 6.51.1, RV 7.63.1, WYV 4.35, WYV 7.42, WYV 13.46, AV 13.2.35). Lord Surya is also considered to be the eye of the Virat Purusha (Lord Sri Krishna's Universal Form). This bears striking similarities to Zoroastrian scriptures, where the Sun is described as "the eye of Ahura Mazda".
In Vedic astrology Surya is considered a mild malefic on account of his hot, dry nature. Surya represents soul, will-power, fame, the eyes, general vitality, courage, kingship, father, highly placed persons and authority. He is exalted in the sign Mesha(Aries), is in mulatrikona in the sign Simha (Leo), and is in debilitation in the sign Tula (Libra). The strongest placement for Surya is directly overhead in the 10th house, and on the angles (the 1st, 5th and 9th houses). Surya is lord of three nakshatras or lunar mansions: Krittika, Uttara Phalguni and Uttara Ashadha. Surya has the following associations: the colors – copper or red, the metals – gold or brass, the gemstone – ruby, the direction – east and the season of summer. The food grain associated with him (one of Nava Dhanyas) is wheat.
There are Surya temples all across India. The most famous is the World Heritage Site of the Sun Temple, Konark, Orissa. Besides Konark, there are two other sun temples in Orissa called Biranchi Narayan Sun Temple in Buguda, Ganjam District and Biranchinarayan Temple, Palia, Bhadrak.
There are sun temples in Modhera, Gujarat, created by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty, in Arasavalli, Andhra Pradesh, Kanakaditya Temple in Kasheli (Dist. Sindhudurg) – Maharashtra, near the famous Galtaji's temple in Jaipur, Rajasthan and in clusters of Navagraha temples in Tamil Nadu and Assam. The Sun Temple at Martand in Jammu and Kashmir and Sun Temple of Multan are temples which were destroyed. The only and the famous Surya temple in northern India is Kattarmal surya mandir in Almora District, Uttarakhand created by King Kattarmal in the 12th century.
The Gurjars were essentially sun worshipers and some of the sun temples were erected by them during the medieval period. The sun temple known as Jayaditya was constructed by Gurjar king of Nandipuri, Jayabhatta II. This temple is situated at Kotipura near Kapika in the Bharukachha district. The Surya temple of Bhinmal known as Jagaswami Surya temple was also erected during this period.
There are Various Festivals dedicated to Sun God Surya in India.
Makara Sankaranti is the most widely celebrated Hindu festival dedicated to the Sun God. It is celebrated as Makara Sankranti throughout India and as Pongal by Tamils all over the world. People thank the Sun God for ensuring a good harvest and dedicate the first grain to him.
Chhath is another Hindu Festival dedicated to Surya. It is believed to started by Karna, the son of Surya, who became a great warrior and fought against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War. Chhath is unique to Bihar, Jharkhand and the some Parts of Uttar Pradesh, Nepal & Mauritius.
Ratha Saptami is a Hindu festival that falls on the Seventh day (Saptami) of the bright half of the Hindu month Maagha. This day is also known as Surya Jayanti because it celebrates the power of the Sun God who is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu in his form as Surya is usually worshiped on this day. Usually, Rathasapthami begins in households with a purification bath by holding a few calotropis leaves on one's head and shoulders while bathing and chanting a verse which is supposed to invoke the benevolence of the Lord in all that one takes up the rest of the year. It also involves doing a puja with the ritual 'Naivedyam', flowers and fruits. On this day at Tirumala (Andhra Pradesh), Lord Venkateshwara (Balaji) is mounted on Seven Vahanas (Celestial Vehicles) one after the other starting from Suryaprabha Vahana and ending with Chandraprabha Vahana. Other Vahanas are Hanumad vahana, Garuda Vahana, Peddashesha Vahana, Kalpavruksha vahana and Sarvabhupala vahana. Also chakrasnanam is performed on the same day. A devotee enjoys watching the Lord mounted on different vahanas in one day which is popularly known as Okka roju Brahmotsavam (Single day celebrations).
Surya is not mentioned as one of the Adityas in the first book of the epic Mahabarata, but may be regarded as the compound of the twelve solar deities mentioned there, to be understood in connection to the Jyotisha vedic astrology: Dhatri, Mitra, Aryaman, Sakra, Varuna, Amsa, Vaga, Vivaswat, Usha, Savitri, Tvashtri, Vishnu.
In Mahabharata, Surya is referred to as father of Karna, as he begot the latter on Kunti when she was virgin. With his grace and in order that Kunti is not spoken of badly in the world, Kunti could retain virginhood even after delivering a child.
The Kathi Darbar, Shri Amra Patgir developed the temple of Shri Surynarayan in Thangadh village of Surendranagar district in Gujarat. The Kathis were come in Saurashtra in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Surya namaskara, or the "Sun salutation"
A well-known Hindu mode of worship of the devotional movements of Surya is done at the rising of the Sun, known as Sūrya namaskāra (sun salutation). Ten yogic postures are assumed in successive flowing movements to complete one namaskar. Twelve sacred Hindu mantras uttered and for each mantra one complete namaskar is done. Ancient practice is to do 108 namaskaras a day. It is considered most auspicious by Hindus to do this.
The 12 mantras for surya namaskara:
- ॐ मित्राय नमः Om mitrāya namah
- ॐ रवये नमः Om ravayé namah
- ॐ सूर्याय नमः Om sūryāya namah
- ॐ भानवे नमः Om bhānavé namah
- ॐ खगाय नमः Om khagāya namah
- ॐ पुष्णे नमः Om pushné namah
- ॐ हिरण्यगर्भाय नमः Om hiranyagarbhāya namah
- ॐ मारिचाये नमः Om mārichāyé namah
- ॐ आदित्याय नमः Om ādityāya namah
- ॐ सावित्रे नमः Om sāvitré namah
- ॐ अर्काय नमः Om arkāya namah
- ॐ भास्कराय नमः Om bhāskarāya namah
The mantra frequently recited to praise the Surya comes from the Rig Veda, Book 1 Hymn 35:
- आ कृष्णेन् रजसा वर्तमानो निवेशयन्न अमृतं मर्त्यं च ।
- हिरण्ययेन सविता रथेना देवो याति भुवनानि पश्यन ॥
- Throughout the dusky firmament advancing, laying to rest the immortal and the mortal,
- Borne in his golden chariot he cometh, Savitha, God who looks on every creature.
The Gayatri Mantra is also associated with Surya. Another hymn associated with Surya is the Aditya Hridayam, recited by the great sage Agastya to Rama on the warfield before the fight with Ravana.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Surya.|
- An ancient hymn to Surya – from the Rig Veda
- Weekly podcast on Vedic Chanting and Vedic Mythology with stories from the Puranas
- Surya Upanishad (Wikisource)