Sun Cult in Pracyadesa - History, Religion & Iconography

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Item Code: NAY689
Author: Bijoy Kumar Sarkar
Publisher: Pratibha Prakashan, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788177022179
Pages: 236 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 11.00 X 9.00 inch
Weight 1 kg
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Book Description
About the Book
The Suryadevata (Sun-god), the celestial luminary, was an object of great veneration to the ancient Indians from a very early time. The god was given many names like Savita, Pusa, Bhaga, Vivasvan, Mitra, Aryama and Viand).u, empha-sizing his different aspects and a number of qualities and functions were assigned to him.

The metaphysical background of the Sun-god came to be enriched and developed in the Epic-Puranic period.

The Epics and the Puranas profusely eulogized the grace of the solar deity in his divine power of removing diseases, bestowing vigor, strength and long life.

Historical evidence regarding the existence of Saura-cult in medieval Bengal and Bihar comes from the epigraphic and iconographic records of the Pala-Sena dynasty.

The present work, is not a start- ling discovery of hitherto unknown sources, but a patient compilation and scientific interpretation of information contained in known sources', including rare Photographs suggesting fresh approaches to the study of fresh investigations. It offers a wealth of information, both literary and archaeological, about the history and religious significance of the Sun-god. It is important both as a scholarly study and as a work of interpretation that explores the hidden relationship between Indian religion ‘and art.

About the Author
Bijoy Kumar Sarkar (b. 1958) was a student of the University of north Bengal, Darjeeling, West Bengal, wherefrom he did his post-graduate in History in the year 1981 and also received the Ph.D. degree on the "Sun- Worship and Sun Images in Early Bengal' in 2006.

Dr. Sarkar is the Head of the Department of History, University of North Bengal since 2008. Prior to the present assignment, he was Reader in History at Kurseong College (Darjeeling) and Principal of D.N. College (Murshidabad), West Bengal.

Dr. Sarkar teaches History at the.

University of North Bengal and the areas of his interest/specialization include early Indian art, iconography and sculpture and also Musicology on which he has published more than a dozen of papers in various journals of academic repute. He is the Editor of Karatoya, a journal of history and cultural studies of the University of north Bengal.

I have a great pleasure to contribute this Foreword to Dr. Bijoy Kumar Sarkar's book - Sun Cult in Pracyadesa, which portrays a comprehensive scenario of the history and evolution of the Sun cult and Sun-worship in early eastern India with special emphasis on Bengal.

The Suryadevata (Sun-god), the celestial luminary, was an object of great veneration to the ancient Indians from a very early time. The Sun is invoked in every morning and evening through muttering of the Gayata-mantrashowing the supremacy of that divine Sun, the godhead, who illuminates all, who recreates all, from who all proceed, to whom all must return. Again, the identification of the Sun with Time in the Vedic literature is an indication to the metaphysical background of the Sun- worship. The god was given many names like Savita, Pusa, Bhaga, Vivasvan, Mitra, Aryama and Vishnu, emphasizing his different aspects and a number of qualities and functions were assigned to him.

The metaphysical background of the Sun-god came to be enriched and developed in the Epic-Puranic period. In fact, his importance and empowerment lies in his diverse functioning in bestowing long life, prosperity and fame, apart from his other activities of removing sins and also all kinds of diseases. The Epics and the Puranas profusely eulogized the grace of the solar deity in his divine power of removing diseases, bestowing vigor, strength and long life.

Removing of all kinds of diseases, especially leprosy became the main trait of the cult-god, Surya, who assimilated certain foreign elements, not basically different from the indigenous one, after the immigration of some priests (Maga-Brahmanas) from Persia in North India during the Saka-Kusana rule. Varahamihira in his Bthatsamhita expressed specifically that the Sun image should not only be shown wearing a Northerner's dress (udtcyava) but should also be wearing a viyanga (a variant of avyanga). Varahamihira further mentions that it was the Magas who were only eligible priests for the installation of the image of the Sun-god. It is the re- oriented Sun-cult under the Magian influence that became the established cult from the Kusana period till the thirteenth century A.D. whose standard scriptures are the Samba and the Bhaoisya Purdnas (R. C. Hazra, Studies in the Upa-Purana, Vol. I, Calcutta, 1958). The Puranic evidences speak of the unquestionable supremacy of the deity, exclusiveness in the devotion, proper procedure and a body of sectarian Saura literature. Moreover, the names and titles like Varahamihira, Paramasaugata, Paramadityabhattaraka, etc. also testify to the sectarian character of the Sun-worship in the Puranic tradition. The popularity of the solar god is further developed in the subsequent times as is known from Mayura's (father-in-law of Banabhatta) SuryaSataka which is an exercise in the tune of sectarian Sun-worship.

Definite changes in the realm of the Sun-worship from the Vedic tradition can be perceived in terms of concept of the godhead, rites, rituals and institutions. It is to be noted in the connection that the daivaja-Acaryas, experts in astronomy and astrology, were regarded as descendants of the Maga-Brahmanas. Similarly, another class of Brahmanas named Bhojakas mentioned in the Deo-Baranark (Shahabad District, Bihar) Pillar Inscription of'jivitagupta II was possibly the descendants of the Magas through the women of the Bhoja race. Some scholars are of the opinion that 'They were merged in course of time in the vast mass of the Indian people, partially maintaining their individual entity by forming a separate caste. This was the caste from which the daivajnas, Grahavipras and Agradanis (who were given precedence in the presentation of food and gifts in times of sraddha ceremonies) were recruited.

Some of them took to the profession of the preparation of horoscopes, while others officiated as priests "especially for the performance of graha-puja to bring peace and prosperity to the house-holder".

Another important and significant change in the process of the Puranic Sun- worship is the influence and adoption of Tantricism. It is still an enigma to the scholars pertaining to the question of Tantric practices in the Sun-cult. It should be noted that Tantricism is a form of Sadhana (a practice, a ritual) like the bhakti form of Sadhana, jnana form of Sadhana, etc. for obtaining siddhi or salvation. In order to make the Tantric practices in the Sun-cult, the later Puranas (SiimbaPurii1Ja) are full of references and comprehensive descriptions. The method of initiation, mahamantra, mantranyasa, mandalas and six acts (vasikarana, akarsana, marana, uccatana, iodeosin and stambhana) are some of the essential traits indicating Tantric influence on the Sun-cult. Even the impact of Tantricism on the Sun-cult is discernable from the Knar (Orissa) Sun-temple with the Tantric scenes on the outer walls as observed by some scholars (V.C. Srivastava, Sun Worship in Ancient India, Allahabad, 1972). In fact, the Tantric tradition came to exert influence on the Sun-cult in the medieval period onwards, not earlier than the 12th century A.D., in eastern India where the Tantric tradition came to be displayed in plastic art of the contemporary period.

Among all the ancient images discovered in Eastern India especially in undivided Bengal, those of the Sun god numerically, occupy a position second to that of Vishnu alone. This clearly shows that the Sun god had been one of the most popular deities in this part of the country in pre-Mohammedan days. Even today, the Sun is one of the five conspicuous deities of the Hindu pantheon. But it is surprising to note that the Sun-cult of this region has not received its due attention as is given to other cults.

Broadly speaking, no individual study of this cult in this part of the country has been done so far, though a few articles have appeared on some of its different aspects here and there. The materials for the study of this cult still lie hidden in the original sources and scattered in innumerable journals. Therefore, I have been tempted to tread on this almost untraded field, which is full of possibilities and thought- provoking investigation.

The present study on Sun Cult in Pracyadesa is the result of quite a few years of an extensive library work and comprehensive field survey that I had painstakingly undertaken. It covers a long period from the earliest times to the end of the ancient period i.e. 12th _13th centuries A.D., though Sun worship in present times at the folk level has been discussed to hint at its currency among the rustic masses since time immemorial.

To have a proper understanding of the subject, the entire work is divided into six chapters, three appendices and a brief resume; All the chapters are again sub- divided into several sections and sub-sections highlighting proper importance and significance of the objects and legends.

Keeping in mind the objective of our study related to the worship of Sun in eastern India, we would like to discuss the subject comprehensively under several chapters as said above. Besides the introduction, we have dealt with the worship of the Sun in the Vedic literature in the second chapter followed by the discussion on the Sun worship in the Epic and Puranic literature in the next chapter. The worship of the Sun is closely related to a legend of the Samba Purana, and the role of the Iranian Sun-worshippers (Magi Brahmanas) has also been investigated in this context.

The fourth chapter deals with the growth and popularity of Sun worship in early Bengal and its neighboring regions, while in the fifth we have made a thorough probe into the different types of Sun-images discovered in various parts of eastern India and preserved either in the museums or in the private collections. The factors responsible for the subsequent decline in the popularity of Sun worship are the subject matter of the subsequent chapter. A brief resume of the entire work is incorporated highlighting the religious texts of the contemporary period and the archaeological objects so far available.

In the appendices, we have included some interesting matters about the Sun worship in early Bengal. These are:

(a) Sun Temples in Bengal;

(b) Sun Worship in Folk-tradition;

(c) Inscriptions (with proper translation) appearing on the Sun-images discovered in Bengal.

It is my humble submission to the scholars that the main feature of this work is not a startling discovery of hitherto unknown sources, but a patient and scientific interpretation of the information contained in the known sources. Some aspects of the subject were earlier treated by the competent scholars in books and monographs but a complete integrated study of all of them was not available in all its essential formative trends and evolutionary courses.

The present thesis has been completed under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Pranab Kumar Bhattacharyya, Former Jadunath Sarkar Professor, Department of History, and University of North Bengal. It was Dr. Bhattacharya who, for the first time initiated the importance of the subject of investigation to me, and also evinced a keen interest for guiding me during the greater part of my research-span. I am deeply beholden to him for his guidance and supervision at the time of my investigation.

While recasting the thesis, I have taken enormous guidance and help from Professor Pranabananda Jash, Visva-Bharati. I offer my profound respect to him.

Moreover, for his splendid Foreword and encouragement, a special word is due to Professor Jash whose true greatness lies in his knowledge of the human heart; and no words are adequate to express my gratitude to this renowned scholar of ontological Studies.

I am also indebted to Dr. Shyamal Chandra Guha Roy, Reader in History, Siliguri College, and Darjeeling for his guidance after the retirement of Dr. Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya. I sincerely acknowledge the academic guidance of Professor T. K. Roychoudhury of the Department of History, University of north Bengal in connection with my research work. I offer my deep respect to him. I also remember the colleagues and authorities of Kurseong College for their ungrudging help in completion of the work. I thank them all.

In the completion of the present work I have been helped by many in more ways than one and my acknowledgements are due to all without mentioning any particular name.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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