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.
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
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.
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-
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
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
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
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