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Who is Surya?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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Surya is the primary god of the sun in Hinduism. The word Surya is also used simply to refer to the sun, even outside of a divine context. He is depicted as a beautiful radiant man, with hair of bright gold and arms of gold as well. He is depicted both with two arms and with four. When he has two hands he usually holds two lotuses, and when he has four hands he usually holds a conch shell, a lotus, a chakra, and the fourth in the symbol of protection. He is carried through the sky on a chariot pulled by seven horses, one for each color of the rainbow and for each colored chakra.

Surya has many different names, as well as sometimes being associated with the major gods Vishnu or Shiva. He is known as the Life Giver, as Savita, the Ray, as Arka, the Fire Bird, as Ravi, the Maker of Light, as Bhaskar, Light, as Bhanu, the Creator of the Day, as Divakar, and the Lord of the Grahas, as Grahapati.

Surya has three different wives: Ragyi, Prabha, and Saranya. Of these, Saranya, sometimes known as Sangya, figures most heavily in Hindu myths. She bore many children to Surya, including the lord of death, Yama, and his twin sister Yami, Vaivasvata Manu, and the divine horsemen, the Ashwins. Saranya also split herself into two women once, so that she could avoid having the face the constant radiance of Surya. Her shadow-self, Chhaya, gave birth to a number of other children, including the planet Saturn, Shani Dev.

As the sun plays such an important role in daily life, so too does Surya play a central part in daily worship. One of the forms this worship takes most famous in the west is the devotional Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskara. Ten different yogic positions make up a namaskara, and while a namaskara is being undertaken a mantra is recited. There are twelve mantras for namaskara, and it is suggested that a truly devout person complete nine full cycles of these mantras, for a total of 108 Sun Salutations, each day.

Worship of Surya continues to this day, and some of the most beautiful ancient temples in India are dedicated to him. The most famous of these is undoubtedly the Sun Temple at Konark, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are also important temples to Surya at Tamil Nadu, Arasavalli, and Modhera.

The tone of most of the prayers to Surya is very reverent, and has many similarities to the worship of sun gods in other religions, most notably the Greek worship of Helios. One of the most famous prayers to Surya gives a good example of this reverent tone. It reads: “Throughout the firmament of dusk advancing, laying to rest both immortal and immortal, borne in his golden chariot he arrives, the life giver, god who looks on every creature.”

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Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On Mar 11, 2011

@fify--I'm a yoga devotee and I do Surya Namaskara every morning. Surya Namaskara has 12 steps, each being a yoga position or asana. You start out by saluting the sun, then bending forwards, backward, stretching, doing downward dog and so forth. These steps can be repeated as much as you like. It can also be accompanied by breathing exercises and meditation. There are prayers that you can learn and recite.

It's a very good exercise to energize yourself for the day, burn some calories and relax. I do Surya Namaskara early morning before breakfast, this is usually what is advised. It doesn't make much sense to do it later in the day, it is called "salutation to the sun" after all. Most do this as the sun rises. I suppose you could do it anytime, but it wouldn't really be Surya Namaskara, just yoga.

By fify — On Mar 09, 2011

How exactly is Surya namaskara performed? Can it be done anytime of the day? How long does it take? I'm a teacher and I had a student ask me about this but I honestly have no idea!

By ysmina — On Mar 08, 2011

My name is Aaditya, which is another name for the sun god Surya. (Surya is also used as a male name in India, like the famous south Indian actor, Surya).

Aaditya, literally means "the son of Aditi" because Surya or the sun is believed to have been born to Aditi and Kashyap.

The sun is considered to be lucky too. Many people place Surya pictures in their homes and stores hoping that it will bring them good luck. We have it in our store, right on top of our door too.

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