Traditions of Sun Worship in Hinduism: "Adi Deva Namastubhyam”

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आदिदेव नमस्तुभ्यं, प्रसीद मम भास्करः/दिवाकरः नमस्तुभ्यं, प्रभाकरः नमोस्तुते”- “I bow to the primordial god (Adi Deva), he who is the originator of days and luminscience, I prostrate in front of him.” The first line of the Rig Vedic “Suryashtakam”, a hymn dedicated to the divine opulence of the Hindu Sun god Surya, dates the tradition of Sun worship in India to its earliest civilizations. From the Vedas to the Puranas and the epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata, the glories of Surya who dispels darkness, negativity, illness, and evil forces through his heavenly light, are evoked. As Indians across the subcontinent prepare for the festivities of Makara Sankranti, a Hindu festival dedicated to Bhagwan Surya, we are here to follow the shining trail of the solar deity, through different periods of Indian culture. One finds that in comparison to other Hindu deities such as Krishna, Rama, Shiva and the goddesses, temples dedicated to Surya are far fewer in number. However, in texts, icons, and symbols, Bhagwan Surya can be found in every Hindu shrine, as an ancient symbol of power and divinity.

In The Vedic Period

The brightly shining Sun, moving ceaselessly throughout the day was undoubtedly one of the first heavenly beings to be encountered by early humans. Soon, the powers of Surya were identified and the fiery object in the skies became a deified being. The Rig Veda mentions the different forms of the Sun- Mitra, Savitra, Surya, Vishnu, Varuna, Pushan, and so on. The Sun and the Moon (Chandra) are compared to the two eyes of God. In the Gayatri Chanda (meter) of the Rig Veda, Surya is described as Brahma in the morning, Shiva in the afternoon, and Vishnu during the evening.

 

Lord Surya on His Seven Horses Chariot In Brass

The Family of Surya

Vedic sources mention Aditi and sage Kashyapa as the mother and father of Surya. According to these texts, Aditi bore seven or eight children, the eighth one out of whom was “Martanda”- one who was born from a dead (marta) egg (anda). Martanda not only survived but also positioned himself in the skies, where he came to be known as Surya, the god of light and divine strength. Surya married Sanjana, also known as Serenu (golden powder), Suvarchasa (mighty splendor), Prabha (light), and Dyauh (primordial celestial wife). Yama, the Hindu god of Death and Yami (later river goddess Yamuna), along with Ashvini Kumar, Manu and Revanta were the heavenly off springs of Sanjana and Surya, who went on to be worshipped as individual deities in their own right.

Adityas

The sons of Devi Aditi were collectively known as Adityas, and their number was finalized as 12. The twelve Adityas were associated with different phases and forms of the Sun, which is why the name Aditya in the common tongue is used for Surya, the foremost solar deity. Savitru, one of the Adityas was the beginner of all activities, Pushan became the guardian of travelers, roads, and a pastoral deity, Vivasvat was the rising sun, and Mitra was worshipped as an Indo-Aryan divinity. Vedic legends tell us that when the seven sons of Aditi were unable to comprehend death and decay (being immortals themselves), she approached her eighth son Martanada or Surya, who then formulated day and night, symbolizing life and death, to strike a balance in nature. 

Sun in Ancient Symbols

Symbolically, the Sun was represented as the Swastika, with its four arms signifying the position of Surya in the sky in different phases of the day. Another ancient motif used to denote the Sun is the eight-petalled lotus, which blossoms according to the rising and setting of the Sun. 

Ashwamedha Yajna and Surya

One of the most popular Vedic sacrifices performed by rulers and royals seeking to legitimize and profess their power was the Ashwamedha yajna. The presiding deity of the rituals of Ashwamedha was none other than Bhagwan Surya, who was the recipient of the Ashwa (horse) that was sacrificed. A gold emblem with Surya etched on it was placed on the horse to be used in the Ashwamedha which was ritually offered to the god at the end of the sacrifice.

In Puranas

 

Puranas in the Hindu religion are repositories of divine grace, which is expressed through stories that can be understood by everyone. The Markandeya Purana narrates to us the story of Surya and how his unbearable light for Sanjana was regulated by the divine sculptor Vishwakarma. From the powerful rays of the Sun that he removed, Vishwakarma created weapons for all the gods- Shiva’s Trishula, Vishnu’s chakra, Danda, or the stick of Yama. This story is crucial in understanding the assimilation of Surya by every Hindu sect, by making his powers a part of the divine strength of their deities. In this way, Bhagwan Surya came to symbolize the glorious prowess of every deity and is often used to describe the aura of Hindu gods and goddesses.

Another Puranic tale mentions Prabhas Patan tirtha (pilgrimage center) of Gujrat as the place where Vishwakarma trimmed Surya. The event led to the emergence of heavenly light, after which the spot was named Prabhas (radiance), and Arka Sthala (place of Surya).

In the time of the Puranas, icons of Surya were installed in Surya temples, such as the ones at Modhera (Gujarat), Konark (Orissa), and Martand (Kashmir). The Vishnudharmottara Purana lays down the iconographical rules of making a Surya murti. According to the text, Bhagwan Surya should be Chaturbhuja (four-armed), dressed in the style of the northern region, wearing a waist belt (Yaviyanga), holding a danda (staff), and surrounded by his family members. The most prevalent forms of Surya in Hindu iconography are his standing idols or the ones where he is sitting in his chariot. Some sculptors believe that since the feet of Surya was left untrimmed by Vishwakarma, they carry incomprehensible brilliance, and thus the artists refrain from showing the Sun god’s bare feet in their art.


In Ramayana and Mahabharata

The two Hindu epics in India are perennial sources of popular beliefs and practices. The presence of Surya Deva in Mahabharata is prominent, especially due to his son with Kunti, Karna. Surya Deva bestowed on Suryaputra Karna his benevolence and affection in the form of golden Kavacham (armor) and Kundala (earrings), which gave him unending powers for any battlefield in life.

In the Ramayana, the practice of Sun worship is mentioned several times, in incidents that describe Devi Sita or Bhagwan Ram worshipping Surya. Hanuman Ji before starting for Lanka bowed before the Sun, Brahma, and the lord of winds (Pawan Deva). On his way to wage a war on Ravana, Sri Rama meets the divine sage Agastya, who advises him to pay obeisance to Surya. Sri Rama evokes the Sun god for his victory, in a powerful hymn known as “Aditya Hridaya Stotra”, which is chanted to date by the worshippers of Surya to remove negativity, enemies, and darkness from their lives.

The glories of Surya which originated in the cultural belief system of Vedic Aryans, in the form of hymns, mantras, and symbols continue to be an active part of Hindu religious practices in the present time. The Panchayatan system (Pancha- five) of worship popularized by Shankracharya includes Surya (among Ganesha, Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi), a prominent Hindu deity, whose daily worship brings everlasting material and spiritual benefits. Surya is also a part of the Navagraha (nine planets) mandala, as their king, and is worshipped alongside the planetary deities to gain relief from astrological issues and bring positive impact of planets on life. Parallel to this, Surya Bhagwan is the presiding lord of the Hindu zodiac system (Rashichakra) as well.

From physical health, mental well-being, and emotional stability to success in work and victories on the battlefield, Bhagwan Surya’s kindness assures the devotee of positive outcomes. It is because of this that a practicing Hindu offers respect to the rising sun through Suryanamaskar (Sun salutations), ritually offering water, singing hymns, chanting the Gayatri mantra, or celebrating the festival of Makara Sankranti. From the dawn of civilizations, the Sun has been a constant source of energy and the exaltations of Lord Surya will continue to live on as long as human beings walk on this earth, perhaps even longer. 

 

SOURCE-

 

1.)  Surya: The Sun God (by Shakti M. Gupta, Somaiya Publications)

2.)  A Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism 

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