Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Sun Salutation


From time immemorial the Sun has exercised a strange fascination over the
Indian mind. The radiant light and energy-packed brightness of the Sun fired the imagination of the Vedic Aryans to glorify the ‘orb of the day’ as Hiranyagarbha ---
A storehouse of inexhaustible power and radiance. The Vedic seers regarded the Sun as the embodiment of the divine triumvirate—Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara. The Vedas are aglow with scintillating hymns in adoration of the Sun - the source and sustainer of all forms in the universe. The Sun’s resplendent golden rays are considered to be the harbinger of joy, enlightenment and prosperity .In addition, the Sun is specially associated with the power to cure such dreaded ailments like leprosy and blindness

. During the ancient Vedic times, Surya was worshipped through chants and rituals but there were no idols to be found in India. Neither was there any temple dedicated to Surya. It is believed that the idols of the Sun were first brought into this country by foreign rulers –the Greeks, the Persians and Shakhas who traversed the land. A glance at the early idols installed in the country establishes this foreign influence –as they are clad in long coats, trousers and boots. This is evident from the fact that the idols of the Sun and his attendants found during the 2nd Century B.C.and 5th Century A.D wear these garments.. It is only when a cult of Sun worshippers sprang up in India that the idols assumed Indian dress. From the 5th Century A.D. onwards, temples to Sun God in India became popular.

Acharya Shankara, the celebrated champion of Advaita, has accorded a place of importance to Surya in the Shanmata School of idolatry worship instituted by him. Apart from the general worship of the Sun as has been in vogue from Vedic times, there were classes of people called “Sauras” who worshipped the Sun God exclusively. It is said that these solar votaries were so much devoted to the Sun God that they never used to eat until they had seen the Sun. Varahamihira, India’ s greatest astronomer of the 7th century A.D., makes repeated references to the intricacies of ceremonies connected with the installation of the Surya idol. According to the Vishnu Puranam [2-4-71], Eastern Iran, which in ancient times was known as Saakadwipa [Saakasthan], was a staunch seat of solar worship. An exclusive group of solar votaries in Iran called ‘Magas’ used to get royal patronage for propagating the cult of solar worship. According to history, some of these Maga priests came to India by about the 2nd Century A.D, and introduced certain of their own special features in the worship of the Sun God

History records that the tradition of building exclusive temples for the Sun God started in India by about the 5th Century A.D. during the Gupta period. The iconography of Surya bears a remarkable influence of the Persian style. Persia was then a flourishing centre of Surya worship. The direction of the solar votaries from Persia called the Magas, who came to India from Persia, was sought in many rituals related to the worship of the Sun. The early Sun temples belonging to the 5th and 6th Centuries A.D.were built by the kings belonging to the Gupta, Maurya, Bhoja and Kadamba dynasties. This activity continued till about the 12th Century A.D. and thereafter this form of Sun worship gradually waned.

The following are some of the important Sun Temples of India

The Marthanda Sun Temple at Kashmir: Kashmir was the first and foremost seat of the solar cult in India. According to the celebrated Kashmiri chronicle ‘Rajatarangini’ written by the Kashmiri poet Kalhana in Sanskrit, the emperor Lalitaditya who ruled Kashmir between 701-757 A.D., was mainly responsible for building the first magnificent Sun Temple at Marthanda, at a distance of about 40 miles from Srinagar The awe-inspiring remains of this temple provide ample testimony to the fact that Kashmir was once a powerful centre for Sun worship. The temple was erected either to commemorate the victory of Lalitaditya over his neighboring kingdom or to ensure victory on the eve of a new expedition.

A few years back, when the courtyard of the present temple was excavated, the removal of accumulated debris which had collected for centuries revealed a very important factor. According to the geologists who inspected the site, previous to the construction of the existing temple, there existed another temple of somewhat smaller dimensions at this very site. When the existing temple was built, the older temple base was not completely demolished since its foundations were used to found the existing temple.

The Sun Temple at Multan [now in Pakistan]: The site of the second oldest Sun Temple in India is at Multan, now in Pakistan. Believed to have been established by the Magas, the remnants of this temple, left after Mohamed of Ghazni’s desecration, were finally demolished by Aurangazeb. The renowned Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang who visited the shrine in 641 A.D. has recorded his impression thus: “Thousands of men from all countries came here to offer their prayers”

The Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat: The solar cult which had its origin in Kashmir appears to have spread through Punjab into Gujarat and from there to Orissa until it reached its most glorious achievement in the Konarak Sun Temple in Orissa.
Relics of a beautiful Sun Temple on the banks of the river Pushpavati in Modhera in Gujarat, about 100 kms from Ahmedabad bear strong imprints of the Maga influence. It is believed that the officiating priests at the Multan shrine came over to Gujarat consequent on the Islamic invasion of the region and strove to establish Sun cult in the Eastern coast of India. The crumbling walls of the temple which are situated in the midst of sand dunes have representation of the Sun God wearing a peculiar west Asian belt and boots. King Bhima of the Chalukyan dynasty who was ruling Gujarat the earlier part of the 11thCentury believed to have patronized the construction of the temple
The temple is facing east. The temple has been so designed that the direct early morning Sun rays reach the idol of the sanctum sanctorum all the year round through the doors and specially designed screen windows.

The Sun Temple at Konarak, Orissa: The greatest and the grandest of Sun Temples in India is at Konarak in Orissa. This thirteenth century monument, which now wears a worn-out look with its crumbling side walls, is one of the brightest gems of Indian Temple Architecture. Situated at about 20 miles from the holy city of Puri, the place came to be called as ‘Konarak’ [which is a combination of the two words Kona plus Arka Kona means corner and Arka means Sun in Sanskrit], meaning ‘Corner Sun’,
owing to the fact that it is situated in the north-east of Puri. The term ‘kona’ is used in relation to its position to Puri.

There is an interesting mythological legend about the origin of the Konarak Sun Temple. It is said that once Samba, son of Lord Krishna, ridiculed Sage Narada and there was a fracas between them. The clever and tricky Narada wanted to teach a lesson to Samba. Once he led Samba to a place where the Gopis were having their bath in a river.
Samba, extremely handsome as he was, could easily excite the bathing ladies. When Krishna came to know about the misdemeanor of his son, he cursed him to become a leper. When Samba pleaded innocence and begged for redemption, Krishna directed him to go to a place near the present Konarak and worship the Sun for getting rid of his leprosy. Accordingly Samba meditated at Konarak by repeating the twelve names of the Sun [Dwadasha Adityas]. On doing so, he found a magnificent idol of Sun god seated on a lotus in the water of the Chandrabhaga River.. When he consecrated this image of divine splendor, he was cured of leprosy. It is said that the present temple is built on the same site

Konarak marks the great culmination of the artistic splendor and devotional fervor associated with Sun worship. The temple is in the form of the Sun’s chariot drawn by seven horses. Built by the Ganga ruler, Narasimhadeva Varma, in the thirteenth century, it is a glowing tribute to the daring artistic vision coupled with unique architectural skill.
The twelve superbly decorated wheels carved on either side of the edifice are breathtaking for their size as well as for the details of artistic carving. It is learnt that more than 1,200 sculptors worked for a period of sixteen years. It is unfortunate that the temple could not be fully completed as conceived earlier for some reason or the other. and hence the temple remained an incomplete monument of the Kalinga art.

The Indian idea of blending the architecture of the temple with its natural environment can be seen at its best in the choice of the surroundings at Konarak Temple. Not only does one get a beautiful view of the rising Sun, but it also makes the temple red, like a coy bride. The first rays of the Sun would touch the feet of the deity. Slowly as the Sun rises in the firmament, the whole edifice is lit up. It is said that the main idol was removed by some Portuguese navigators many years back and presently housed in a museum.


Created: Friday, July 13, 2007


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