Aditya, Savita, Suryah, Gabhastiman, one with thousand eyes, the thousand-footed and the thousand-handed are all some of the names used in Vedas to denote the Sun god. He is also recognised as the primordial visible god of the Universe - Pratyaksha Paramesvara, all the other gods can be seen only through knowledge. He is extolled as the soul of the world (surya atma jagatah) and is the eye of the universe ('Cakshuh'). Surya wakes up all living beings from slumber and stimulates them to undertake their works as he rises. As he comes on the horizon, the cowherds see him and the women who bring waters also see him (Utainam Gopaas adrsan, adrsan udaharyah). He makes the cultivators to plough the field as 'mitra kristin'. The learned Brahmanas with folded hands and reciting the Vedas welcome him for the prosperity of the worlds. The birds and animals rising up fluttering and singing, move here and there. He is the one who removes
the darkness of ignorance. He rises in the east and traverses the mid sky and sets in the west and so he is extolled in the Vedas as with three great steps, 'tridhoru gayah.' By every one of his constant movement he creates the time as minute, hour, day night, days, weeks, months and year (nimisha, nadi, sandhi, naktam, diva, tithi, vara, nakshatra, yoga, karana, masas, ritus and samavatsara) and so is called the creator of Kala. Through benevolent heat he creates vegetation and food to grow and so sustains all lives on earth and so is called Creator, and sustainer of the universe.At the end of the aeons, dissloves the universe by his terrific heat. So he is also called Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, Indra and other gods. The most repeated Vedic mantras, the Sata Rudriyam (Sri Rudram), Purusha Suktam, Narayana Suktam and others extol him. The most ancient
prayer in the world that has been recited for the past several thousand years by millions of people and continued to this day is the Vedic Gayatri, which is addressed to Surya as God Savita, to stimulate one's intellect and obtain critical knowledge - jnana. This was the prayer from Afghanistan, Pakistan, whole of India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, right across a great part of the world.
Surya is worshipped in all temples, in Siva temples as Siva Surya and in Vishnu temples as Surya Narayana. The lotus flowers blossom so he is shown in his image with two lotuses in his hands. As is also
shown standing on a chariot drawn by seven horses representing the seven days of the week in most cases and in some cases with seven swaras Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni in music. Surya is also shown standing on a lotus. He is said to circumambulate (pradakshina) the mount Meru on the Himalayas, the coldest region of the
earth. He is shown with his chest covered with a golden kavaca in images in the whole of northern India and this is called Udichya Vesha i.e. northern attire. As he combines in himself the acts of Brahma, Visnu, Siva, and also his own manifestation, he is often shown with four heads and eight arms holding the weapons of all the four gods. In such aspects he is called Marthanda Bhairava mostly in the northern part of India, from eastern part of India like Bengal, Assam, Manipur, Orissa, and across Aryavarta, Kashmir, West and Madhya Pradesh. Such figures are also found as in the Chola country. In Darasuram near Kumbakonam he is shown as Marthanda with four heads and as Ardhanari. His worship was so popular throughout India, monumental
temples were built for Surya in Kashmir (Maranda temple), Konark (Orissa), Modhera (Gujarat), Chitrakaranam Gupta temple at Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) and Suryanar temple in Tamil Nadu.
Some of the best Marthanda images were made in eastern India like Bengal, eastern Bihar, Asssam, Manipur, including modern Bangladesh by the Pala rulers. One of the most influential aspects of Hindu
worship is what is known as Panchayatana worship, both as individual worship and temple in which, Aditya, Ambika, Vishnu, Gana Natha and Mahesvara. In this form of worship, Aditya is worshipped with other four deities. In ancient times, lingas were worshipped with four images of Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Surya - each on one face as chatur mukhas. Such images of lingas were worshipped even in Indonesia in ancient times. The worship of Surya as the primordial deity is called Saura form of worship and according to traditions Adi
Shankaracharya established this form of worship along with other five forms of worship and hence he is called as Shanmatha Sthapanacharya.
Surya worship conferred all round fulfilment and victory. When Lord Rama was standing in front of Ravana in the battle field, the divine Rishi sage Agastya appeared before Rama and advised him to worship Surya: "Pujayasva vivasvantambhaskaram bhuvaneswaram Yena sarvan arin Vatsa samaree vijayshyati." This stotra almost appearing as another Gita, called Aditya Hridayam (the heart of Surya worship), is recited daily by thousands of men and women to this day from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. There is an ancient composition in Sanskrit by one poet Mayura Kavi, consisting of one hundred verses, called Surya satakam. This was inscribed on stone over one thousand years ago at Kanchipura. The Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha used to visit the Surya shrine inside the Kacchapesvara temple in Kanchi where the inscription is still preserved and read.
(The author is an archaeologist and former V-C, Kanchi University)