The sun, Surya, is referred to as a devta (god)by all
Hindus and life begins with its rise and ends when it
sets. The hymn to the sun, the Gayatri mantra, is
considered the holiest verse of the Vedas and was
supposed to be whispered into the ears of a male
child at birth so that no profane ears could hear it. So
afraid were the translators of the Vedas of contaminating it, that they
refrained from translating it! The Skanda Purana says that nothing in
the Vedas is superior to the Gayatri and by repeating it, a man can
The Gayatri is the link between the Vedic and the post-Vedic Sun/a.
In the Vedas, Surya is the eighth son of Aditi (Infinity), who had cast him
away. The eight sons were supposed to be the eight spheres of existence.
Surya's wife is Usha (Dawn), but in the Ramayana, he is called the son
of Aditi and Kashyapa and also the son of Brahma, the Creator. In this
story, his wife is Sanjana, the daughter of the architect of the gods,
Vishwakarma. Sanjana was so dazzled by her husband's radiance that
she could not live with him and left him, substituting Chayya (Shadow)
for herself. Surya lived with Chayya for years without discovering the
truth, and it was only when Chayya cursed Sanjana's child and the
curse took immediate effect that Surya realised that she was not the
child's mother, nor his wife. His prayers revealed Sanjana's hiding
place in the forest and he lived with her for some time, she as a mare
and he as a horse.
When they returned, his father-in-law
Vishwakarma, cut off one-eighth of his brightness so that
his daughter Sanjana could live in peace. With these
parts which were taken off, he fashioned Vishnu's mace and Shiva's
trident, besides other weapons of the gods. In the Mahabharata, he is
named as the father of Kama. Kunti wished to have a son by Surya,
because of a boon given her by Sage Durvasa. Surya, being the
repository of energy, power and radiance, is also the sustainer of life.
He is represented in the Vedas as a handsome man, riding a chariot of
light, drawn by seven horses, representing each day of the week. In the
Puranas he is described as a red man with three eyes and four arms,
two arms bearing water-lilies, while the other two are in the uarada
mudra or gesture of bestowing blessings and encouraging his worshippers.
He sits on a red lotus while rays of brightness emanate from his body.
Later, in the post-Vedic age, the sun was seen as the precursor of the
Trinity - the concept of God as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer. He
represents the cycle of birth, life and death, fertilising the earth with his
warmth and giving new life. His energy preserves life and his heat burns
everything in the end.
There are three important shrines to Surya, one in Modhera in
Gujarat, one in Martand in Kashmir, and of course the most famous,
Konarak in Orissa, all of them over a thousand years old. But Surya
does not need any images, for he is seen every day by his worshippers,
galloping across the sky, while they offer the suiya-namaskar to him,
thanking him for his generosity, which prompts him to give everything
of himself without asking for anything in return. He is golden-eyed and
golden-tongued, a benevolent god who moves according to fixed laws,
thereby granting stability to the world. His symbol is the swastika.
He distributes energy to gods, men, animals and plants, since he is
said to be the original source of amrit (nectar) which he passes on to the
moon for distribution in the Universe.