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  • Darshan Gaikwad

Mythologically speaking: Sun Gods around the world ( Part 1 )

There are extremely few phenomenon that everyone around the globe has shared experiences of. The sun is one such. However different the geographical location of a person might be, everyone saw the same sun, moon, skies and stars. And as most people’s attention traveled heavenwards to see the famed ‘ring of fire’ or the ‘crescent sun’, it seemed like a good time to delve deeper into myths about sun gods around the world.

Monotheistic religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism- tell myths where there is one single God who created entire nature for man; polytheistic religions derive a host of deities from their surroundings. These gods have complex relations with each other along with dynamic power structures.

It’s quite interesting to look at the sun gods in polytheistic mythic traditions originated in India, Egypt, Japan, South America, and Europe. These gods have varying degrees of significance in each tradition. Let’s start from home and begin this glorious journey with Surya, the Hindu god of the sun and his chronicles in the Navagraha purana, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. He is also a deity in Buddhist and some Jain traditions.

Surya is one of the few deities who survived the shift from the 4000 year old Vedic system to the 2000 (or less) year old Puranic system. This can be attributed to his ethereal presence in the sky even as everything under the sky kept changing. Surya, in literature, iconography and temple art is depicted as a resplendent and benevolent being riding a chariot of seven white horses whose charioteer is the god of dawn and dusk, Aruni; hailing the arrival and departure of the great Surya. He is the son of Sage Kashyap and Aditi, making him Aaditya; the son of Aditi. (Just as the sons of Kashyaps other wife, Diti are called, Daityas). He is married to Samajna, the daughter of Vishwakarma, the architect of the gods. But Suryas brilliance was such that she couldn’t even look at him, let alone be with him. So, to solve this problem, Samjna creates an entity that looks and behaves exactly like herself, but who can bear Suryas radiance. She befittingly names her Chaya (literally, shadow) and sends her to Surya, while she herself decides to live in forests as a mare. But Surya was not only radiant in body, but also in mind. He identifies Chaya and then goes on to find the mare Samjna and mates with her as a horse, giving birth to the horse headed twins, Ashwini Kumars- who become divine healers. Samjna is dismayed. She goes to her father and asks him to tackle this problem. Vishwakarma then asks Surya to shed away his radiance just enough that his daughter could bear it. Surya does so and Samjna comes to him happily. This discarded radiance of the sun is then molded into various weapons for the gods by Vishwakarma including the Sudarshana chakra carried by Vishnu.

Surya is also the head of the Navagrahas and holds an important role in the celestial pantheon. But Surya is not limited to affairs in the sky. He sired many children like the Ashwini Kumar as well as Yama and Yami, deities of death and the river Yamuna respectively. Surya also starts the first royal dynasty on Earth, the Suryavanshis. Ikshavaku, Raghu, Dasratha, and most notably Ramchandra; or simply Ram are some of the illustrious kings of this clan.

But Surya isn’t best known as the father or forefather of Yama or even Ram. No; the honour of being referred as ‘Suryaputra’ or the son of Surya, goes to Karna; the illegitimate son of Kunti, daughter of Kuntibhoj, whom she abandons at birth only to be found by a charioteer Adhirath, and his wife Radha. Keeping his story aside for some other time, let it suffice to know that he was no well-wisher of the Pandavas or their wife, Draupadi. Despite such circumstances, it’s interesting to note Suryas involvement in the epic. Despite knowing the enmity between his son and Draupadi, he gifts her the Akshaya patra, a cornucopia like vessel that will give food all through the day and will only stop when Draupadi eats her meal for the day. Surya is an extremely wise being who knows and sees all; hence, one might say that upon seeing the plight of Draupadi, the benevolent light giver intervenes. But this incident doesn’t mean he loved his son any less. Karna’s divine armor and earrings attached to his body from his birth are Suryas gift to him. When Indra in the guise of a poor Brahmin, tries to take them away, Surya warns Karna; although in vain.

Another son sired by Surya, plays an important role in the Ramayana. He is known to us all as Sugreev; the monkey king of Kiskindha and brother of Vali, son of Indra. The story goes that Aruni, Suryas charioteer is of an ambiguous sex and and can become both male and female. Once, Indra sees Aruni in their female form and is enamored by their beauty. Indra then lies with Aruni and Vali is born from their Aruni. Aruni gifts this child to the childless monkey king in Kiskindha. When Aruni in their female form lies with Surya, Sugreev is born. This child too, Aruni gives away to the kingdom of Kiskindha.

Surya has many names; Dinkara, Bhaskara, Mitra, Ravi and Hiranyagarbha being a few of them. It is after him that our beloved ‘Sun’day is called ‘Ravi’vaar. Those who do Surya-namaskars, or sun-salutations to him are said to be blessed with a healthy body.

Facts state that the sun is but an insignificant star around which a host of celestial entities revolve, one of which we happen to inhabit. There are stars a thousand times larger and brighter than the sun .But to us, the sun really is the radiant life giver, the ever present, all seeing divinity in the sky; and hence, an irrationally reverential human psyche bows down to this insignificant life sustaining star, and hails it as God.

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Some mythological books you may like -

  1. The Palace of Illusions - Link

  2. Legend of Suheldev- Link

  3. Sita: The warrior of Mithila - Link

  4. Krishna: the man and his philosophy- Link

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