Surya is a Sanskrit word that means the Sun. Synonyms of Surya in ancient Indian literature include Aditya, Arka, Bhānu, Savitru, Pushana, Ravi, Mārtanda, Mitra, and Vivasvāna.

Also connotes the solar deity in Hinduism, particularly in the Saura tradition found in states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Odisha.

Surya is one of the five deities considered as equivalent aspects and means to realizing Brahman in the Smarta Tradition.

Surya’s iconography is often depicted riding a chariot harnessed by horses, often seven in number which represents the seven color rays of the rainbow.

In medieval Hinduism, Surya is also an epithet for the major Hindu gods Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. In some ancient texts and arts, Surya is presented syncretically with Indra, Ganesha or others. As a deity is also found in the arts and literature of Buddhism and Jainism.

Surya is one of the nine heavenly “planets” (Navagraha) in the zodiac system of Hindu astrology. Surya or Ravi is the basis of Ravivara, or Sunday, in the Hindu calendar.

Major festivals and pilgrimages in reverence of Surya include Makara Sankranti, Pongal, Ratha Sapthami, Chath puja and Kumbha Mela.

Vedic

The oldest surviving Vedic hymns, such as the hymn 1.115 of the Rigveda, mention Sūrya with particular reverence for the “rising sun” and its symbolism as the dispeller of darkness, one who empowers knowledge, the good and all life.

However, the usage is context specific. In some hymns, the word Surya simply means sun as an inanimate object, a stone or a gem in the sky (Rigvedic hymns 5.47, 6.51 and 7.63); while in others it refers to a personified deity.

The Vedas assert Sun to be the creator of the material universe (Prakriti). In the layers of Vedic texts, Surya is one of the several trinities along with either Agni or Varuna and either Vayu or Indra, which are presented as an equivalent icon and aspect of the Hindu metaphysical concept called the Brahman.

In the Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature, he appears with Agni (fire god) in the same hymns. Surya is revered for the day, while Agni for its role during the night.

The idea evolves, states Kapila Vatsyayan, where Surya is stated to be Agni as the first principle and the seed of the universe.

It is in the Brahmanas layer of the Vedas, and the Upanishads that Surya is explicitly linked to the power of sight, to visual perception and knowledge.

He is then interiorized to be the eye as ancient Hindu sages suggested abandonment of external rituals to gods in favor of internal reflections and meditation of gods within, in one’s journey to realize the Atman (soul, self) within, in texts such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Kaushitaki Upanishad and others.

Epics

The Mahabharata epic opens its chapter on Surya that reverentially calls him as the “eye of the universe, soul of all existence, origin of all life, goal of the Samkhyas and Yogis, and symbolism for freedom and spiritual emancipation.

In the Mahabharata, Karna is the son of Surya and unmarried princess Kunti. The epic describes Kunti’s trauma as an unmarried mother, then abandonment of Karna, followed by her lifelong grief.

Baby Karna is found and adopted by a low caste charioteer but he grows up to become a great warrior and one of the central characters in the great battle of Kurukshetra where he fights his half-brothers.

He was killed unfairly by his brother and Karna, after fighting against misfortune throughout his life, finally returned back to his father.

Buddhist

Surya is celebrated as a deity in Buddhist artwork, such as the ancient works attributed to Ashoka.

He appears in a relief at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, riding in a chariot pulled by four horses, with Usha and Prattyusha on his sides.

Such artwork suggests that the Surya as symbolism for the victory of good over evil is a concept adopted in Buddhism from an earlier Indic tradition.

Greek and Persian influences

Sun is a common deity in ancient and medieval cultures found in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

The features and mythologies of Surya share resemblances with Hvare-khshaeta of pre-Islam Persia, and the HeliosSol deity in the Greek-Roman culture.

He is a Vedic deity, states Elgood, but its deity status was strengthened from the contacts between ancient Persia and India during the Kushan era, as well as after the 8th-century when Sun-worshipping Parsees moved to India.

Some Greek features were incorporated into Surya iconography in the post-Kushan era, around mid 1st millennium, according to Elgood.

Astronomy

Surya as an important heavenly body appears in various Hindu astronomical texts in Sanskrit, such as the 5th-century Aryabhatiya by Aryabhata, the 6th-century Romaka by Latadeva and Panca Siddhantika by Varahamihira, the 7th-century Khandakhadyaka by Brahmagupta and the 8th-century Sisyadhivrddida by Lalla.

These texts present Surya and various planets and estimate the characteristics of the respective planetary motion.

Other texts such as Surya Siddhanta dated to have been completed sometime between the 5th century and 10th century present their chapters on various planets with deity mythologies.

The manuscripts of these texts exist in slightly different versions, present Surya- and planets-based calculation and its relative motion to earth. These vary in their data, suggesting that the text were open and revised over their lives.

Zodiac and astrology

Surya’s synonym Ravi is the root of the word ‘Ravivara‘ or Sunday in the Hindu calendar. In both Indian and Greek-Roman nomenclature for days of the week, the Sunday is dedicated to the Sun.

Surya is part of the Navagraha in Hindu zodiac system. The Hindu astrology based on Sun and planets likely developed in the centuries Before the arrival of Greek astrology with Alexander the Great, their zodiac signs being nearly identical.

Technical horoscopes and astrology ideas in India came from Greece, states Nicholas Campion, and developed in the early centuries of the 1st millennium CE.

In Buddhism

In the Buddhism of the Far East, He is one of the twelve Devas, as guardian deities, who are found in or around Buddhist shrines (Jūni-ten, 十二天).

In Japan, he has been called “Nit-ten“. He joins these other eleven Devas of Buddhism, found in Japan and other parts of southeast Asia: Indra (Taishaku-ten), Agni (Ka-ten), Yama (Emma-ten), Nirrti (Rasetsu-ten), Vayu (Fu-ten), Ishana (Ishana-ten), Kubera (Tamon-ten), Varuna (Sui-ten), Brahma (Bon-ten), Prithvi (Chi-ten), Chandra (Gat-ten).

On the Mount Meru Buddhist cosmological system, Surya is considered a female deity, contrasting a male lunar god.

Surya Namaskar

Sūrya namaskāra literally means sun salutation. It is a Yoga warm-up routine based on a sequence of gracefully linked asanas.

The nomenclature refers to the symbolism of the Sun as the soul and the source of all life. A yogi may develop a personalized yoga warm-up routine as Surya-namaskar to precede his or her asana practice.

The Gayatri Mantra is associated with Surya (Savitr). The mantra’s earliest appearance is in the hymn 3.62.10 of the Rigveda.

Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine vivifying Sun,
May he enlighten our understandings. — Gayatri mantra, Translated by Monier Monier-Williams

References:

*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.