Surya and Savitri are two names by which the Sun is commonly addressed in the Vedic hymns. Sometimes one name is used exclusively, sometimes they are used interchangeably, and sometimes they are used as though they represented quite distinct objects. It is supposed that Savitri refers to the sun when invisible; whilst Surya refers to him when he is visible to the worshippers. This at any rate gives some reason for the two names being employed, though it may not explain the case satisfactorily in every instance.
Although the hymns in which Surya is addressed are not very numerous, his worship was most common in the olden time, and has continued to the present hour. It is to him that the Gayatri, the most sacred text of the Vedas, is addressed at his rising by every devout Brāhman. Simple in its phraseology, this short verse is supposed to exert magical powers. It is as follows:—
“Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine Vivifier;
May he enlighten (or stimulate) our understandings.”
As a specimen of the language employed in some of the later writings in reference to this verse, read the
following few lines from the Skanda Purāna”:—”Nothing in the Vedas is superior to the Gayatri. No invocation is equal to the Gayatri, as no city is equal to Kasi (Benares). The Gayatri is the mother of the Vedas, and of Brāhmans. By repeating it a man is saved. By the power of the Gayatri the Kshetriya (Warrior caste) Vishvamitra became a Brāhmarsi (Brāhman saint), and even obtained such power as to be able to create a new world. What is there indeed that cannot be effected by the Gayatri? For the Gayatri is Vishnu, Brahmā, and Siva, and the three Vedas.” With promise of such blessings, it is not to be wondered at that the worship of Surya should continue.
The following translation of hymns from the Rig-Veda gives a fair specimen of the language used in addresses to Surya
“Behold the rays of Dawn, like heralds, lead on high
The Sun, that men may see the great all-knowing god.
The stars slink off like thieves, in company with Night,
Before the all-seeing eye, whose beams reveal his presence,
Gleaming like brilliant flames, to nation after nation.
With speed, beyond the ken of mortals, thou, O Sun!
Dost ever travel on, conspicuous to all.
Thou dost create the light, and with it dost illume
The universe entire; thou risest in the sight
Of all the race of men, and all the host of heaven.
Light-giving Varuna! thy piercing glance dost scan,
In quick succession, all this stirring, active world,
And penetrateth too the broad ethereal space,
Measuring our days and nights, and spying out all creatures.
Surya with flaming locks, clear-sighted god of day,
Thy seven ruddy mares bear on thy rushing car.
With these, thy self-yoked steeds, seven daughters of thy chariot
Onward thou dost advance. To thy refulgent orb
Beyond this lower gloom, and upward to the light
Would we ascend, O Sun! thou god among the gods.”
Surya, as we have already noticed, is regarded as a son of Aditi; at other times he is said to be a son of Dyaus. Ushas (the Dawn) is called his wife, though in another passage he is said to be produced by the Dawn. Some texts state that he is the Vivifier of all things; whilst others state that he was formed and made to shine by Indra, Soma, Agni, and others.
From the character ascribed to Savitri in some hymns, it seems more natural to regard him as the sun shining in his strength, and Surya as the sun when rising andsetting. Savitri is golden-eyed, golden-handed, golden- tongued. He rides in a chariot drawn by radiant, white-footed steeds. He illuminates the earth; his golden arms stretched out to bless, infusing energy into all creatures, reach to the utmost ends of heaven. He is leader and king in heaven; the other gods follow him, and he it is who gives them immortality. He is prayed to for deliverance from sin, and to conduct the souls of the departed to the abode of the righteous.
In the Purānic Age, Surya sustains quite a different character. He is there called the son of Kasyapa and Aditi. He is described as a dark-red man, with three eyes and four arms: in two hands are water-lilies; with one he is bestowing a blessing, with the other he is encouraging his worshippers. He sits upon a red lotus, and rays of glory issue from his body. In addition to the daily worship that is offered him by Brāhmans in the repetition of the Gayatri, he is worshipped once a year by the Hindus of all castes, generally on the first Sunday in the month of Māgh; and in seasons of sickness it is no uncommon thing for the low-caste Hindus to employ a Brāhman to repeat verses in his honour, in the hope that thus propitiated he will effect their recovery.
In the “Vishnu Purāna” we find the following account of Surya. He married Sangnā, the daughter of Visvakarma; who, after bearing him three children, was so oppressed with his brightness and glory that she was compelled to leave him. Before her departure, she arranged with Chhāya (Shadow) to take her place. For years Surya did not notice the change of wife. But one day, in a fit of anger, Chhāya pronounced a curse upon Yama (Death), a child of Sangnā’s, which immediately took effect. As Surya knew that no mother’s curse could destroy her offspring, he looked into the matter and discovered that his wife had forsaken him, leaving this other woman in her place. Through the power of meditation, Surya found Sangnā in a forest in the form of a mare; and, in order that he might again enjoy her society, he changed himself into a horse. After a few years, growing tired of this arrangement, they returned in proper form to their own dwelling. But in order that his presence might be bearable to his wife, his father-in-law Visvakarma, who was the architect of the gods, ground the Sun upon a stone, and by this means reduced his brightness by one-eighth. The part thus ground from Surya was not wasted. From it were produced the wonder-working discus of Vishnu, the trident of Siva, the lance of Kartikeya (the god of war), and the weapons of Kuvera (the god of riches).
The “Bhavishya Purāna” says, “Because there is none greater than he (i.e. Surya), nor has been, nor will be, therefore he is celebrated as the supreme soul in all the Vedas.” Again, “That which is the sun, and thus called light or effulgent power, is adorable, and must be worshipped by those who dread successive births and deaths, and who eagerly desire beatitude.” In the “Brahmā Purāna” * is a passage in which the sun is alluded to under twelve names, with epithets peculiar to each, as though they were twelve distinct sun-deities:—
“The first form of the sun is Indra, the lord of the gods, and the destroyer of their enemies; the second, Dhata, the creator of all things; the third, Parjanya, residing in the clouds, and showering rain on the earth from its beams; the fourth, Twasta, who dwells in all corporeal forms; the fifth, Pushan, who gives nutriment to all beings; the sixth, Aryama, who brings sacrifices to a successful conclusion; the seventh derives his name from almsgiving, and delights mendicants with gifts; the eighth is called Vivasvan, who ensures digestion; the ninth, Vishnu, who constantly manifests himself for the destruction of the enemies of the gods; the tenth, Ansuman, who preserves the vital organs in a sound state; the eleventh, Varuna, who, residing in the waters, vivifies the universe; and the twelfth, Mitra, who dwells in the orb of the moon, for the benefit of the three worlds. These are the twelve splendours of the sun, the supreme spirit, who through them pervades the universe, and irradiates the inmost souls of men.”
Surya is said to have Aruna (Rosy), the Dawn, the son of Kasyapa and Kadru, as his charioteer.
According to the Rāmāyana, Sugriva, the king of the monkey host which assisted Rāma in his great expedition to regain possession of Vita his wife, was a son of Surya by a monkey. According to the Mahābhārata, the hero Karna also was the son of this deity; and when he was in the form of a horse, he became father of the Asvins, and communicated the white Yajur-Veda.
When speaking of the planets, Surya will be noticed again under the name of Ravi.
Among the many names and epithets by which this deity is known, the following are the most common:—
Dinakara, “The Maker of the day.”
Bhāskara, “The Creator of light.”
Vivaswat, “The Radiant one.”
Mihira, “He who waters the earth;” i.e. he draws up the moisture from the seas so that the clouds are formed.
Grahapati, “The Lord of the stars.”
Karmasākshi, “The Witness of (men’s) works.”
Mārtanda, “A descendant of Mritanda.”