Sun - in Hindu Mythology
By Anindita Basu
Hindu mythology, like Greek, includes many elaborate tales of the lives of the divine beings who are represented by the planets and luminaries of our solar system. In
the Hindu tradition, of all planetary beings, the Sun is most important and worthy of praise. Sun is seen as generous and powerful, a sustainer of life and a destroyer of foes. In the words of an ancient hymn, I
worship the Sun, he of the lustre of a red hibiscus, Kashyaps son, he of the greatest brightness, who dispels darkness, destroys all sins, and makes the day.
The ancient Hindu scriptures known as the Puranas say that the Sun travels in a huge chariot that rises in the east and sets in the west and causes day and night. But he also makes first a northward and then a southward course in his travels over the year. The Vishnu
Purana describes the Sun as turning his chariot toward the northern hemisphere in an annual event that will be taking place in a few weeks. The northward journey of the sun is called the Uttarayan and happens just after the winter solstice (uttarayan bindu),
which occurs around December 22 each year. When Sun enters the Vedic zodiac sign of Capricorn on January 14, this day is called the makar sankranti. (Makar means Capricorn and sankranti means ingress.) The auspicious half of the year begins on this date.
Thereafter, Sun continues into Aquarius and Pisces and then, making the day and night equal, enters the equinox (vishuva). A few signs later, he enters the
zodiac sign of Cancer and turns his chariot towards the south. The southward journey is called Dakshinayan and the gods are said to sleep or rest during this period. In the epic Mahabharat, the
patriarch and great warrior Bhishma, when wounded in battle, refused to die during Dakshinayan and waited for Suns northward journey to let his soul leave his mortal body and join the gods.
It is said that Sun, called Surya, was born of Kashyap and Aditi; hence another name for Sun is Aaditya, meaning Aditis son. There are twelve such sons.
Sun takes the form of a different Aaditya for each solar month. Each Aaditya has six helpers: a sage who chants hymns to his glory; a divine musician or gandharva; a divine dancer or apsara; a guardian of wealth or yaksha; a serpent for carrying
the chariot, and a giant who walks behind as a guard. These groups of seven, which are different for each month, are responsible for the heat, cold, rain and other conditions for that month. Besides, from sunrise to
sunset the 64,000 balkhilyas, who are thumb-sized rishis of great erudition, surround Sun and lead him on.
Suns chariot has seven horses, which are nothing but the seven Vedic metres or poetic rhythms, called Gayatri, Brhati, Usnik, Jagati, Tristubh, Anustubh and Pankti. The great wheel of time is fixed onto
Suns chariot. The wheel of time has three centres, five tyres and six spokes and is fixed onto the indestructible year. One end of the axle of the great chariot-wheel rests on the pole star. The other end of
the axle rests on Manasottara, mythically the highest mountain on Earth and the colour of burnished gold. The Sun is said to travel on this circle, around the Earth, like a fly sitting on the circumference of
a potters wheel, covering one-thirtieth portion of the Earth in 1 muhurta (48 minutes), making one day and one night. The directions of east and west originate from his rising and setting. The Sun does
not shine on the palace of Brahma, the creator god, on the top of Mahameru because its rays are driven back by the radiance of the palace. This Mount Meru is described as north of all islands and
countries, and hence, on one side of that mountain it is always day and on the other side, it is always night.
In the beginning, the Sun was a dazzling orb of light, so dazzling in fact that his wife, Sanjana, could not stand his heat and went to
complain to her father about this. Her father was Vishwakarma, the divine sculptor. He caught hold of Sun, placed him on his wheel and smoothened his jagged, fiery edges, which dimmed Suns radiance
somewhat. Vishwakarma then gathered up the remnants of the fiery energy of Suns outer edges and fashioned the Sudarshan Chakra, the discus-weapon of Vishnu. Many scholars take this Sudarshan Chakra to mean the ecliptic plane.
Sun and Sanjana had three children: Manu, Yama and Yami. The daughter, Yami, later became the Yamuna River on Earth. Yama is
the god of death, while Manu is the father of mankind. Human beings are called Manuj because they have descended from Manu. Thus, Sun is the progenitor of the human race, through Manu, and also its
destroyer, through Yama.
Sun also fathered Shani (Saturn) by Chhaya, whose name literally means shadow and who was the shadow of his wife, Sanjana. It is
said that whenever Shani enters the asterism Rohini, great disasters occur on Earth. (Rohini is Moons favourite place. Its main star is Aldeberan in the constellation Taurus.)
Once, Sanjana took the form of a mare and came to Earth to perform penance. Sun could not bear to be separated from his wife
for long, so he took the form of a horse, descended upon Earth and soon located her. A pair of twins was born of this union. Known as the Ashwini Kumars, they are divine physicians who are ever
youthful. They rule the month of Ashwin (October 15 to November 15) and it is said that anyone who performs oblations - makes ceremonial offerings - with ghee (clarified butter) during this month
attains physical beauty, courtesy of these ever-young healers.
No story about Sun is complete without mentioning the most famous of his sons, Karn, born of princess Kunti. Karn was as generous as his
father, and he gave unstintingly to whoever asked for alms. He was so generous that he gave away his armour plate when begged for it by a trickster in disguise just before the epic battle of Bharat,
although Karn knew full well that doing so would mean certain death. To this day, a generous person is called a Karn.
Sun is said to have yellow eyes the colour of honey, a square frame and a bilious constitution. He is sometimes described with two arms
and sometimes pictured with four. He is intelligent, masculine and tends towards baldness. He has the lustre of a red lotus, causes lotuses to bloom, and wears a ruby in his crown. His power blazes in
the three original Vedas and destroys all sins. The Vedas, which now number four, are central among Hindu sacred writings, and their name derives from the root word vid, meaning knowledge. The most
beloved of all Hindu mantras, which is the Gayatri, is dedicated to Sun and speaks of the RigVed praising Sun at dawn, the YajurVed praising him at noon and the SamaVed praising him at dusk. In this
form, Sun is said to manifest in the trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh, signifying birth, sustenance and dissolution at morning, noon and evening.
The idea of Sun as the giver of food is connected with his role as a sustainer. The epic Mahabharat describes how the exiled prince
Yudhishthir, when faced with the problem of daily sustenance, prayed to Sun and obtained from him the Akshay Patra, the pot of endless food.
The various Puranas and the two epics describe Sun as the destroyer of all foes, whether internal or external. Aadityahridayam,
a poem in praise of Sun, is said to vanquish all enemies and was recited by Prince Ram before he killed his physical enemy, the demon king Ravan, while also conquering his own internal foes of self-doubt
and a sense of defeat.
The Shukla YajurVed says that the only way one can go beyond death is by knowing that Great Being who is effulgent and is called the Sun. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna declares, Of the shining
ones, I am the Sun.
Thus, the Hindu view also brings the Sun within. Since Krishna (God) resides in each of us, the Sun is our soul.