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Of Golden Brilliance – Surya God of Light

“Tat savitr varenyam bargo devasya dimihi dhiyo yonaha pracodayat” We meditate on the splendour of the Sun, who may enlighten our intellect. (Gayatri mantra)

In an issue devoted to the discovery of the gourmet’s fascinations it is not surprising that the sun should figure as the presiding deity. The source of all energy, the master chef, the sun wishes we live.

In Vedic imagery, Surya or the Vedic gold of light is pictured as riding a golden chariot with just one wheel, driven by several powerful steeds that carry him at the speed of three hundred and sixty-four leagues per wink! Riding through the sky he keeps a watchful eye on the world.

Who can match the brilliance of the sun! meditate upon the celestial object for but a second and it rises to create everlasting wonder. Who created the sun on whom al life is dependent? Is the big dying star just a scientific phenomenon or is it the powerful and majestic Lord Surya, or Savitr who embodies the spirit of the Vedas and represents the Trinity, Brahma during the day, Shiva at noon and Vishnu in the evening. Were there many suns as some sun – worshipers believe or was that just a manner of saying the sun can be fierce. The source of all energy, light and heat, when did man begin to worship the sun?

The solar deity perhaps became an object of veneration as soon as man became conscious. Sun worship is common to all ancient civilization. In Egypt sun worship is believed to have reached its zenith in 16-14th centuries BC. That was perhaps the most ancient date that can be quoted with some evidence. The rest of the story whether it comes from Babylonia or Iran or the Greek-Roman culture, talk of the different attributes of the sun and the glory of the glowing ball of fire. In India the Vedas, the earliest Hindu texts, begin with a salutation to the sun. There is a story of a great sage called Ygnyavalkya who is said to have learnt the Vedas from the sun for it embodies them.

Many communities distinguish themselves on the basis of their worship of the sun. There are tribes who pray directly to the sun and one such group of tribes are in Arunachal Pradesh, the north-eastern state of India. Here people believe sun is feminine as she is the source of all creation.

Prayers are offered to the sun in many ways. Sometimes totems and symbols are used to invoke the sun. The eagle was worshiped as symbolizing the sun and so by the derivation the snake, on which the eagle preys represented darkness. The sun is also represented by a golden wheel or as a circle with radiating rays or even the open flower of a lotus. The most abstract and common representation is in the form of a swastika. The swastika symbol is used all over the world and has penetrated even into the folk art forms of floor drawings and wall paintings.

Naturally then, when life is derived from the sun how can sun’s origin be even thought of. And yet it is not necessary that wherever the sun shines, there is not life. So by that logic the sun perhaps preceded creation.

Story goes that Aditi, the primeval power, the endless and boundless heaven who is at times identified with mother earth, Prithvi, and at other times as the wife of sage Kashyapa, was the beginning. She begot eight children. She retained seven. The eighth was deceptive. It was in the form of an egg. Aditi called it Martanda or son of a dead egg, and discarded him. He went into the sky and positioned himself in all glory to then be called the sun. Another story goes that Aditi asked the first seven sons to create the universe, but they were unable to for they knew only of birth, they did not know of death. But for a life cycle to be established, immortal life could not form the pattern. So Aditi then called for Martanda who created day and night, as symbolic of life and death.

Equally where the sun was venerated as the life giver, there are those who look at the sun as the killer. He kills with his rays just as he gives sustenance with them. For each attribute of his, he has a name. As Savitr, he is the stimulator of everything. As Pushan he is the beneficial aspects of the sun. Vivasvat represents the rising sun while Bhaga refers to the evil in the sun.

All the while when we praise and sing the glory of the sun, we are simultaneously talking of his consort, Samjna is the personification of fame and glory. Samjna was a good wife to Surya and bore him children. Yama and Yami were two of them who later came to embody death and the river Yamuna respectively. But somewhere along the line, Samjna agot the itch. She found her husband rather too bright for her. She left her shadow Chaya behind and ran off. Chaya impersonated Samjna for a very long time till one day, the secret was out. Surya who was desperately in love with Samjna launched a search for her. Many versions explain the manner in which Samjna came to an understanding with her husband’s brilliance, but the important point that remains is that Samjna returned to live with her husband ever after.

Over time, when the forces of nature seemed fierce but more and more comprehensible, man began to reshape his conceptions. Surya as the main deity gave way to the embodiment of aspects of the sun in every God. Personas replaced the elements and the sun though vital became an attribute. The wheel or chakra in Lord Vishnu’s hand, the trident in Lord Shiva’s hands, the mace of Kubera, the spear of Skanda and the rod of Yama were all representative of the sun. Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu is himself believed to have been born in the Surya vamsha (dynasty).

Most temples have a sculpture representing the solar deity. He is never shown with bare feet. There is reason for this when Samjna came back to live with her husband, her father, pared off his excessive effulgence for Samjna’s comfort. The sun did not allow his father-in-law to pare his feet and so they are very brilliant. That is why the Sun God always wears boots. Any architect trying to fashion Surya’s feet, is believed to fall ill.

All over the country there are many temples devoted to the Sun God, the most famous of which is the Sun Temple of Konark.