Encyclopedia for Epics of Ancient India

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SURYA. [Source: Dowson's Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology] The sun or its deity. He is one of the three chief deities in the Vedas, as the great source of light and warmth, but the references to him are more poetical than precise. Sometimes he is identical with Savitri and Aditya, sometimes he is distinct. "Sometimes he is called son of Dyaus, sometimes of Aditi. In one passage, Ushas, the dawn, is his wife, in another he is called the child of the dawns; he moves through the sky in a chariot drawn by seven ruddy horses or mares."

Surya has several wives, but, according to later legends, his twin sons the Aswins, who are ever young and handsome and ride in a golden car as precursors of Ushas, the dawn, were born of a nymph called Aswini, from her having concealed herself in the form of a mare.

In the Ramayana and Puranas, Surya is said to be the son of Kasyapa and Aditi, but in the Ramayana he is otherwise referred to as a son of Brahma. His wife was Sanjna, daughter of Viswakarma, and by her he had three children, the Manu Vaivaswata, Yama, and the goddess Yami, or the Yamuna river.

His effulgence was so overpowering that his wife gave him Chhaya (shade) for a handmaid, and retired into the forest to devote herself to religion. While thus engaged, and in the form of a mare, the sun saw her and approached her in the form of a horse. Hence sprang the two Aswins and Revanta. Surya brought back his wife Sanjna to his home, and her father, the sage Viswakarma, placed the luminary on his lathe and cut away an eighth of his effulgence, trimming him in every part except the feet. The fragments that were cut off fell blazing to the earth, and from them Viswakarma formed the discus of Vishnu, the trident of Siva, the weapon of Kuvera, the lance of Karrtikeya, and the weapons of the other gods.

According to the Mahabharata, Karna was his illegitimate son by Kunti.

He is also fabled to be the father of Sani and the monkey chief Sugriva. The Manu Vaivaswata was father of Ikshwaku, and from him, the grandson of the sun, the Suryavansa, or Solar race or kings, draws its origin.

In the form of a horse Surya communicated the White Yajurveda to Yajnawalkya, and it was he who bestowed on Satrajit the Syamantaka gem.

A set of terrific Rakshasas called Mandehas made an attack upon him and sought to devour him, but were dispersed by his light.

According to the Vishnu Purana he was seen by Sattrajita in "his proper form," "of dwarfish stature, with a body like burnished copper, and with slightly reddish eyes." Surya is represented in a chariot drawn by seven horses, or a horse with seven heads, surrounded with rays. His charioteer is Aruna or Vivaswat, and his city Vivaswati or Bhaswati. There are temples of the sun, and he received worship. The names and epithets of the sun are numberless. He is Savitri, 'the nourisher;' Vivaswat, 'the brilliant;' Bhaskara, 'light-maker;' Dinakara, 'day-maker;' Arhapati, 'lord of day;' Lokachakshuh, 'eye of the world;' Karmasakshi, 'witness of the deeds (of men);' Graharaja, 'king of the constellations;' Gabhastiman, 'possessed of rays;' Sahasrakirana, 'having a thousand rays;' Vikarttana, 'shorn of his beams' (by Viswakarma); Maranda, 'descended from Mritanda,' etc. Surya's wives are called Savarna, Swati, and Mahavirya.

Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM