Category Archives: H. Major Hindu Sects, Deities and Purāṇic Myths

Iconography of Hanuman

The epic story of the Ramayana plays an important role all over South Asia. Many different versions exist, among these is the Valmiki Ramayana written somewhere before 600C.E. (Nagar 85). In this epic drama of over 20,000 verses, there are numerous characters idealized by Hindu society, including the god Hanuman. Known by many names, Hanuman, Maruti, Pavanakumara, Vayu-tanaya, Anjaneys… is an anthropomorphic monkey god whose divinity represents the divine within the human and animal kingdoms (Channa 33, Nagar 41). While Rama and Sita are seen as the ultimate icons of the ideal man and woman, Hanuman is the ultimate example in loyalty and servitude, displayed by his devotional relationship with Rama, an avatar of visnu.

Hanuman is the son of the wind god Vayu, and a langur monkey; thus he has a monkey face with an upright human-like body. As myth has it, Hanuman’s mother and langur monkey, Anjani, was standing in human form at the edge of a riverbank. When Vayu blew by and saw Anjani, he was captivated by her beauty, and with a strong gust of wind which blew off her clothes, she became pregnant (Channa 33-34). Various sections of India claim to be the birthplace of Hanuman, and thus it is unknown. Hanuman as a child was quite mischievous and knowing his incredible superpowers, was extremely brave and in a way, arrogant. He could not be tamed until a group of sages, angry with his conduct cursed him to forget his powers only to recover his memory when someone reminded him (Nagar 42). This someone would eventually prove to me Rama. Hanuman lives his life loyal to his master, playing a large role in the Ramayana. Later he appears in the Mahabharata, since thought his father Vayu, he his brothers with Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers (Nagar 89).

Hanuman possesses many mystical abilities, which include the ability to expand or shrink his invincibly strong body to the size of a mountain or that of a thumb and super strength (Nagar 237). These were awarded to him by other gods when Hanuman was a small child (Nagar 41). Often Hanuman is depicted displaying these abilities in service to Rama (Channa 33). At one point in the Ramayana, Hanuman is sent to get medicine from a mountain in the Himalayas. Upon arrival at the mountain, Hanuman forgets what he was sent to retrieve, so he enlarges himself to a size big enough to pick up the whole mountain and carry it with one hand back to Rama. As a result of this incredible act, pictures of Hanuman carrying a mountain in one hand are common. Another tale of the Ramayana, Hanuman jumps across the ocean from the tip of southern India to Lanka in search of Sita. Upon locating Sita, she insists Rama rescue her because it is his dharma to do so. Hanuman respects this, leaving Sita to destroy much Lanka. Ravana eventually captures Hanuman, and sets his tail on fire to humiliate him. Upon release, Hanuman lights the whole city ablaze with his tail. (Channa 33). It is important to remember that Hanuman displays such power in service to Rama. Given this fact, another common image of Hanuman is one in which he is opening his chest with both hands to show Rama and Sita that they are deeply loved within his heart. Hanuman’s strength is divine, and his service to Rama defines his character, he is depicted to emphasize these key attributes.

Hanuman is worshiped within Hinduism as the protector of evil forces. His name has even come to be known as SankatMochan which means “The one who delivers from all troubles.” Worshiped for good luck in any venture and also good health (Channa 34), Hanuman is worshiped commonly for gains of a materialistic nature as well (Aryan 88).

It should be noted that Hanuman is typically depicted at the side of Rama. Generally, Hanuman is standing in front and a little on the right side of Rama, only as tall as Rama’s hip or chest. By and large these images are sculpted, with Hanuman having two hands. One hand hangs down to his knees, representing the respectful manner servants should have towards their masters. The other hand, as a symbol of devotion to Rama, is raised up and placed over Hanumans mouth. Hanuman’s stance is intended to suggest to the onlooker empathy for Hanuman, should remind people of the faithfulness of Hanuman to Rama, and the willingness to serve (Nagar 250 Hanuman normally carries a golden gada or club, and may also have a golden crown on his head (Channa 34). He is sometimes depicted with hair all over his body. This hair is described as being yellow or golden. At other times, Hanuman is shown with no hair at all, and looks like he simply has a plain human body. Hanuman’s monkey face and complexion are described in various texts, suggesting color from bright white, golden yellow or copper red and usually is compared to sunlight (see Nagar 241). Hanuman has incredibly muscular shoulders, arms and chest. This is evident for the reason that typically he is clothed in a basic loin cloth (Channa 34). His face is described as incredibly beautiful with eyes said to be various colors varying from yellow to red, with the “sparkle of heated gold”. Hanuman also has a long tail, which when raised, looks like a flag (Nagar 245-248).

Hanuman is one of Hinduism’s most extraordinary deities, whose divinity is celebrated by millions of people. His role as faithful messenger and servant to Visnu’s avatar Rama has led Hanuman from being a semi-divine langur monkey, to the highest state of divinity to be worshiped among mainstream deities within the Hindu tradition. Not only does Hanuman rise up into his divinity with the help of Rama, he also shows that divinity is not only found within the human race, but the animal kingdom as well. Hindus have dedicated countless pieces of art to the monkey-god depicting Hanuman’s bravery, strength and supernatural powers. This may be what led people to worship him as they do, but Hanuman is more than power. He is a perfect icon of loyalty, devotion, servitude, honor and morality within Hindu culture. As the epic story of the Ramayana lives on in the hearts of Hindus, so will the great monkey god Hanuman.

References

Aryan, K.C. (1994) Hanuman Art, Mythology & Folklore. New Delhi: B. Nath for Rekha Prakashan.

Channa, V.C. (1984) Hinduism. New Delhi: National Publishing House.

Ludvic, C (1994) Hanuman in the Ramayana of Valmiki and the Ramacaritamanasa of Tulasi Dasa. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Nagar, S (2004) Hanuman Through The Ages. Delhi: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Further Recommended Reading

Rao, T.A. G. (1914) Elements of Hindu Iconography. Madras: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd.

Related Topics

Arjuna

Bhima

Brahma

Dharma

Durga

Forms of Hindu Worship

Ganesa

Ganga

Hindu Art

Indian Temples

Krisna

Kauravas

Laksmana

Lakshmi

Mahabharata

Maya

Moksa

Pandavas

Parvati

Rama

The Ramayana

Ravana

Sita

Siva

Surpanakha

Yoga

Vayu

Visnu

Notable Websites

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/hanuma.asp

http://www.sanatansociety.org/indian_epics_and_stories/the_life_of_hanuman.htm

http://www.dalsabzi.com/Wisdom_Scrip/sankat_mochan_hanuman.htm

http://www.webonautics.com/mythology/hanuman.html

http://home.att.net/~s-prasad/ramimage.htm

http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/prani/animals.htm

http://www.indiantravelportal.com/temples/

Article written by Carling Nugent (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Ganesa (Myths on his Elephant Head)

Ganesa, also known as Ganapati, is the infamous elephant headed deity that is worshipped throughout the Hindu religion. The worship of Ganesa extends from outside of the temple into the household, where he is a substantial figure (see Chennakesavan 94). Along with his one tusked elephant head is his short, chubby, childlike body with four arms, which all add to his distinct and popular appearance. His life and character are established within the Puranas and are dated back as far as 300 C.E (Brown 2). Ganesa’s head is his most well known feature, with numerous stories on how it came to be, and what it represents. It is noted that Ganesa’s head represents atman and his body represents maya which signifies the existence of human beings (Canadian Press).There are Puranic stories that declare he was born with his elephant head.However, that would defeat the purpose of the many myths explaining how he obtained his head.Along with those myths are others on why an elephant head was chosen.It is the numerous possibilities that add to Ganesa’s maturing cult.The most famous stories of where his head came from deal with: birth, doorstep guarding, battle, laughter and gloating.

The most well known myth is a story from the Siva Purana.It begins with Parvati wanting a son, but Siva not wanting to have one with her because of his asceticism.So Parvati created herself a son by rubbing scented oil mixed with powder all over her body. Then Ganesa appeared.Once Ganesa was born, Parvati used him as a doorkeeper while she was bathing and instructed him not to let anyone in the house.When her husband Siva came home and saw a mysterious little boy guarding his house refusing to let him, he engaged Ganesa in a fight and decapitated him.When Parvati came outside after her bath and saw her son lying on the ground headless, she was furious with Siva. She then informed Siva that he was their son.After Siva had realized what he had done, he promised Parvati he would find a new head for Ganesa from the first thing that came by – which so happened to be an elephant.He then decapitated the elephant and attached the head to the lifeless body of their son and brought him back to life (Brown 76-77).The myth where Ganesa is decapitated by Siva is the most widely-told version of how he came to acquire his unique elephant head (Brown 3).

There are many myths of why an elephant head was chosen over many other possibilities. There is also speculation of which elephant head it was that was given to Siva and Parvati’s son. Some speculate that the head is from Indra’s elephant, Airavata. In other versions there was an elephant that had just finished copulating as well as an elephant that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (Brown 77).The elephant is viewed as a wise animal with a remarkable memory.They are also known to have loyal and trustworthy attributes (Chennakesavan 95).It is believed that by choosing the elephant head for Ganesa, he would be associated with such dignified traits. These qualities would add to his popularity.

Another myth closely related to the first one outlined, is Siva decapitating Ganesa in a battle.The difference in this myth from the previous one is that this time Ganesa is not guarding his mother’s doorstep.Instead, he is riding around on his elephant.After Siva has decapitated Ganesa and his elephant in a gruelling battle, Parvati comes outside and notices what just took place.She informs him that he has killed her son, and asks Siva to bring Ganesa back to life.Siva does so by placing the head of Ganesa’s elephant on his body (see Brown 77).Like the previous myth Siva is unaware that Ganesa is Parvati’s son because he was created without a husband – vinayaka (see Brown 75).

Contrary to Siva’s asceticism in the previous myths, Siva and Parvati found themselves making love to try to conceive a child of their own.Parvati wanted to have a son who would be the spitting image of Krsna.While the two were in the middle of intercourse, Visnu appears as a beggar, interrupts their moment and then vanishes.It is at this moment Siva spills his semen all over the bed, and it does not go inside Parvati.Then Visnu reappears and mixes himself amidst Siva’s sperm. He then becomes a baby boy – who turns out to be Ganesa (Brown 76).Ganesa was born with the head of a human, and although it is not stated in this myth how his head came to be, there are many more stories on how he may have obtained it.For instance, after Ganesa was born, Parvati may have taken him to other Gods to show him off.A God like Sani.

The most interesting myth is the story of Parvati wanting to show off her son to Sani.Parvati was unaware that Sani was cursed with a medusa-like stare.She insisted that he should take a look at her beautiful new baby boy.Sani’s curse consisted of reducing anything to ashes that he lays his eyes upon. Since he knew what would happen he tried to resist looking at Ganesa in order to protect the beautiful baby.After much encouragement from Parvati to look at the child, Sani did so timidly with one eye open in hopes of not harming the baby.Ganesa’s head was then reduced to ashes.As Parvati stood there in awe, Visnu flew off to the northwest mountains and found two elephants that had just finished copulating.He cut off the head of one of the elephants and brought it back to Parvati where it was placed it on Ganesa’s body (Grimes 70).

In another version, Siva creates his son Ganesa by his own uncontrollable laughter. After a while Siva becomes jealous of his son and is afraid that he might woo all the ladies. Siva is also worried that he might win Parvati’s heart as well. Once he sees that Parvati is falling in love with Ganesa, he places a curse on him (Grimes 70). Siva’s curse ensures that Ganesa would be unattractive to women, making it easier for Siva not to be jealous, and for Parvati’s heart to remain only to him. Ganesa then becomes elephant headed, grows a chubby belly and has to wear a necklace of disgusting serpents from his neck. It was not for long that Siva was able to prevent Ganesa from being near the ladies. When Ganesa grew older, he wound up marrying Prajapati’s daughters – Buddhi/Rddhi and Siddhi (see Brown 115-119).

Ganesa Statue (7-8th century), Cham Museum of Sculpture, Danang, Vietnam

Within the Skanda Purana there is a very unusual story on how Ganesa’s head was obtained. It begins by Ganesa’s embodiment of a headless child who is speaking with a sage, Narada. This conversation is from the book Ganapati: Song of the Self by John Grimes; it can be found on page seventy.

Narada begins by telling Ganesa “If you have taken this incarnation in order to reveal righteousness, then quickly reveal to all the head that destroys sorrow; and bring joy to the hearts of all Gods.” Ganesa replies to the sage by reminding him of a blessing that he had given to King Mahesa ‘Your liberation will come through birth in the womb of an elephant, accomplished by Siva’s hand’. Ganesa then goes on to say “all this has now come to pass and this one in the womb has a lovely head, honoured by Siva. And he is the one whose head will complete my incarnation”.

After this conversation had taken place, Ganesa informed Narada of how he became headless.He began by explaining when he was in Parvati’s womb the demon Sindura changed to the form of a breeze, entered her womb, and cut off his head.This event happened in the eight month of his natal life.Ganesa then carries on telling Narada that Mahesa has an elephant head and that he is going to kill him.It was when Mahesa was killed that Ganesa acquired his elephant head (see Grimes 70).

There are many stories on how Ganesa was born, how he lost his head and then where his new head came from.There is also much speculation on why an elephant was chosen over many other things in the world, including the head of another person. The uncertainty of one profound myth being the reason for his head adds to Ganesa’s character.It is these exciting stories that make Ganesa so popular with the Hindus.Ganesa will remain one of the most loved and worshipped household deities within the Hindu religion.

REFERENCES & RECOMMENDED READINGS

Brown, Robert L (1991) Ganesh: Studies of an Asian God. Albany: State University of New York

Bühnemann, A (2003) The Worship of Mahaganapati. Kant Publications

Canadian Press Newswire (2004) Hindus around the world are getting ready to celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of the god of success. Canadian Press Toronto

<www.proquest.umi.com.darius.uleth.ca> ID# 701269181>

Chennakesavan, S (1980) A Critical Study of Hinduism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

Courtright, Paul (1985) Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press

Dhavalikar, MK (1991) Ganesa: Myth and Reality. Albany: State University of New York Press

Getty Alice (1936) Ganesa: A Monograph on the Elephant-Faced God. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Getty, Alice (1988) The Gods of Northern Buddhism: Their History and Iconography. Dover Publications

Grimes, John (1995) Ganapati: Song of the Self. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Krishan, Yuvrai (1996) Is the Fight Between Siva and Ganesa an Episode of Oedipal Conflict? Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan

Pathak, A (1998) Ganesa Birth Story: Pain Led on Orissan Doors. New Delhi: Ramanand Vidva Rhawan

Related Topics


Airavata

Buddhi

Ganapati

Indra

Krsna

Mahesa

Narada

Parvati

Prakrti

Puranas

Rddhi

Sani

Siddhi

Siva

Siva Purana

Skanda Purana

Vijnesvara

Vinayaka

Visnu


Related Websites to this Topic

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/ganesha.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganesh

http://www.msu.edu/user/grimesj/ganesha.html

http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa083000a.htm

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/ganesha.htm

http://www.indiaprofile.com/religion-culture/ganesha.htm

Written by Jessica Thiedemann (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Related Readings (On the Puranas and Puranic Mythology)

Ali, S. M. (1966) The Geography of the Puranas. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House. Bhagavata- Purana, 2 vols. text and translation. Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1952-60.

Bhattacharji, Sukumari (1970) The India Theogony: A Comparative Study of Indian Mythology from the Vedas to the Puranas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Devi-Bhagavata Purana, The Srimad. Swami Vijnananda (ed. and trans.) Allahabad: Panini Office. Reprint. Oriental (1986).

Dimmit, C., and J. A. B. van Buitenen (eds. and trans.) (1978) Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Dowson, J. A. (1961) Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History and Literature. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Gangadharan, N. (1980) Lingapurana: A Study. Delhi: Ajanta Books International.

Gyani, S. J. (1966) Agni Purana: A Study. Benares: Chowkhamba. Hazra, R. C. (1958-63) Studies in the Upapuranas, 2 vols. Calcutta: Sanskrit College.

O’Flaherty, Wendy D. (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

_____ (1975) Hindu Myths. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Pargiter, F. E. (1962) The Purana Text of the Dynasties of the Kaliage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prakash, Om (1977) Political Ideas in the Puranas. Allahabad: Panchanda Publications. Pulasker, A. D. (1955) Studies in the Epics and Puranas of India. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.

Rocher, Ludo (1986) The Puranas. History of Indian Literature, Vol. 2 Fasc. 3. Jan

Gonda (gen. ed.) Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

Shastri, J. L. (trans.) (1970-71) Siva Purana, 4 vols. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Wilson, H. H. (1961) Visnu Purana. Reprint. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak.

Asuras

Early civilizations from around the world demonstrate that since antiquity there has been a fascination with the relationship between good and evil. This dual nature is apparent in the early Vedic literature contained within the Hindu tradition. The Vedic texts are believed to have been in composition around 5000 BCE; however, some scholars speculate that the texts had been written even earlier (Brown 1965: 23). One of the more prominent sections of the Vedic texts is the Rg Veda; a compilation of praises made to various deities who are to this day, worshipped by the Hindu people. There are many deities that are venerated by those who follow the Hindu tradition; some more eminent than others. The Hindu deities are divided into two opposing branches in the Rg Veda; the Asuras and Devas.

The Asuras are defined as being powerful titans or demons and are considered to be the gods of the primeval world and the predescendants of the Devas (Kuiper 112). In general, the Asuras are associated with the underworld and represent the malevolent nature of the Hindu tradition (Bodewitz 213). In most western religions the idea of the demon is in direct relation to all that is evil in the world, and much folklore is written about them. In Hinduism, despite the Asuras being composed of demons; they also possess the potential to create the truly wondrous, including life itself (Srinivasan 546). This ambivalent character of the Asuras is, on a small scale, a manifestation of the Hindu tradition as a whole.

An influential representative of the Asuras is the mighty demon Vrtra. In the Rg Veda, Vrtra is portrayed as being a three headed serpent, and thus all dragons or worms slain by heroes of Aryan mythology are seen as the embodiments of Vrtra (Wake 375). Vrtra is perceived to dwell above earth in the clouds, and when there is a draught, it is said that the Asuras are in rebellion against the Devas (Wake 375).

In contrast to the Asuras are the Devas. The term Deva stems from the old Indo-European word for Celestial gods (Kuiper 112). Included in the Devas are some of the deities such as Varuna and Indra (Embree 12). Many scholars insist that the Devas are the ‘sons’ of the primordial Asuras, and that there was a split that caused the formation of the two opposing forces. The Devas can be considered the more ‘honourable’ gods in comparison the Asuras who are thought to dwell in the underworld. Although there is a division amongst the Hindu deities, the two sectors overlap considerably. In the tale of the Battle between Indra and Vrtra, the two represent the Devas and the Asuras respectively. However there are many other characters that end up swapping sides mid battle such as Agni, Varuna, and Soma who desert the Asuras in favour of the Devas (Brown 101).

One of the more revered Devas is Indra. The Rg Veda contains approximately 1000 hymns dedicated to him. Indra is the god of storms and lightening and is also considered to be the king of the gods (see Rodrigues 487). When the Hindu people are facing a battle it is often Indra whom they revere. Indra is closely related to the intoxicating drink known as Soma; portrayed as ‘drunk’. Indra is the key representative of the Devas, for it is him who destroys Vrtra and frees the water that was trapped in the clouds.

The Battles that ensue between good and evil are apparent in many if not all of the worldly religions. It is this battle that keeps the forces aligned and produces a harmonic peace that we humans try to maintain. Across the earth there is many versions of the battle that is extremely similar to the one fought between Indra and Vrtra in Hinduism. For instance, the legend of Indra and Vrtra is reproduced in Latin mythology as that of Hercules and Cacus (Wake 376).

Bibliography

Brown, Norman W. (1942) “The Creation Myth of the Rig Veda.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 62, no.2 (June): 85-98.

Brown, Norman W. (1919) “Proselyting the asuras (A Note on the Rig Veda 10.124).” Journal of the American Oriental Society 39: 100-103.

Embree, Ainslie T. The Hindu Tradition: Reading in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House Inc, 1972.

Hopkins, Washburn E. (1916) “Indra as God of Fertility.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 36: 242-268.

Kramrisch, Stella. (1963) “ The Triple Structure of Creation in the Rg Veda.” History of Religions 2, no.2: 256-285.

Kuiper, F.B.J. (1975) “The Basic Concept of the Vedic Religion.” History of Religions 15, no. 2 (November): 107-120.

Srinivasan, Doris M. (1983) “Vedic Rudra-Siva.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103, no.3 (Jul.-Sep.): 543-556.

Wake, Staniland C. (1873) “The Origin of Serpent-Worship.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 2: 373-390.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Indra

Vrtra

Veda

Agni

Sita

Susna

Rudra-Siva

Upanisad

Mitra

Varuna

Soma

maya

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/

http://www.hinduism.co.za/

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/index.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/people/features/world_religions/hinduism.shtml

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/cultural/religion/hinduism/hinduism.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu

Article written by Kerri Norman (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Surya: The Vedic Sun-God

Introduction

Surya has been the object of Indian devotion since the early Vedic times and is considered to be the soul of the universe (Charak 9). Surya travels along the sky in a massive chariot which moves on a single wheel that is attached to the polar star, or the Dhruva (Charak 59). This chariot is pulled by seven green horses which move at an incredible speed (Charak 59). Surya does not travel alone but is accompanied by several other beings throughout his journey (Charak 59). These beings coincide with the zodiac and change from month to month (Charak 59).

Surya
Surya: The Vedic Sun god (Bharat Kala Bhavan, BHU, Varanasi)

Origin

The origin of the Sun-God Surya is complex. What follows is a brief summary of his mythic origins.

The origin of Surya begins with the creation of the universe through Brahmaa, the creator god (Charak 28). Bhrama begins the creation process by first creating the progenitor Daksa and his wife from the tips of his right and left thumbs respectively (Charak 28). One of the 13 daughters of Daksa and his wife was Aditi, mother of Surya (Charak 28). A succinct version of how Aditi came to be the mother of Surya follows.

Aditi was betrothed to a sage named Kasyapa with whom she gave birth to twelve sons (Charak 31). These sons were known as the twelve Adityas and their names include Indra, Dhata, Tvashta, Bhaga, Varuna, Mitra, Yama, Savita, Vivasvan (the Sun-God), Pusha, Visnu and Ansuman (Charak 31). Kashyapa also had other wives to whom were born many other children including the race of demons and also other species of animals and birds (Charak 31). Conflict arose between the demons and the gods when Bhrama allowed the gods to have a share of what was received from sacrificial offerings or the Yajnas (Charak 31). This did not sit well with the demons and, as a result, a war ensued in which the gods found themselves losing and were forced to give up their place in heaven and their portion of the Yajnas (Charak 31). Seeing her sons tormented this way grieved Aditi greatly and caused her to prostrate herself before the Sun-God, Vivasvan, and beg for his help (Charak 32). After several days of fasting and devotion, the Sun-God was pleased and allowed Aditi to make a request of him (Charak 32). Aditi requested that the Sun-God be born as a son to her and a brother to her children so that he could defeat the powerful demons and restore her children to their rightful place in heaven and also their allotment of the Yajnas (Charak 33). The Sun-God granted Aditi’s request but said that he was far too powerful to be born to her in his fullness and granted her a thousandth part of his essence to be born as a son (Charak 33). So it was that the Sun-God was born to Aditi and Indra then declared war against the demons and it was seen that Martanda (the Sun-God) turned the demons to ashes merely by looking at them (Charak 33). In the end the gods regained their place in heaven and partook of the Yajnas once again (Charak 33).

Myths

Surya’s mythology continues to expand in tales of his many exploits. One such myth involving Surya involves the gods and the demons joining forces in order to churn the great ocean to extract Amrita, or the Elixir of Life, from it (Charak 39). The churning of the great ocean proved very difficult indeed and, as a result, produced many cataclysmic events. It also gave rise to many other gods and demons by releasing them from the waters (Charak 41). Finally, after much churning, Dhanvantari came forth with a pitcher of Amrita (Charak 43). This caused a disturbance among the demons who stole the Amrita and took it back to the underworld with them (Charak 43). In order to get it back, Visnu disguised himself as a beautiful maiden, Mohini, and traveled to the underworld where the rest of the gods were petitioning Bali, the demon king, for the return of the Amrita (Charak 43). Bali was attracted to Mohini and requested that she distribute the Amrita amongst the demons (Charak 43). Mohini accepted but proceeded to give the Amrita to the gods only (Charak 43). In the process, Rahu, a powerful demon disguised himself as a god and partook of the Amrita, but before he could swallow, the Sun and the Moon revealed his identity, Visnu changed back to his original form, and lopped off Rahu’s head with his discus (Charak 43). As a result of the Amrita touching his tongue, Rahu’s head became immortal and he was given a planetary status. He is able to torment Surya to this day, blocking out his brilliance in the form of an eclipse (Charak 44).

There are many other myths associated with Surya, for instance, how he became the scriptural and spiritual teacher of Hanuman, the Monkey-God.

The Sun God Surya holding flowers in each of his hands with the seven horses of his chariot below; Pala Period; Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore
The Sun God Surya holding flowers in each of his hands with the seven horses of his chariot below; Pala Period; Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Surya in Modern Times

Surya does not receive much attention in this day in age, but did receive a resurgence of devotion during the period known as the classical period if Hindu tradition. We see examples of Surya worship within many temples dedicated to the Sun-God. One such temple is the Chitragupta Temple constructed in the early 11th century (Bradnock 292). This temple features Surya driving his chariot pulled by his seven horses (Bradnock 292). Another example of Surya worship today is found within a modern Orthodox Hindu sect known as the Smartas who worship Surya as one of the five gods who they regard as primary (Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions 1017).

Although Surya is no longer worshipped much today in Hindu culture, today he will yet remain part of Hindu society in the form of statues and other icons, waiting for the day when his name will once again be praised as it once was.

LITERATURE CITED

Bradnock, Roberta & Roma (2004) Footprint India. 13th Edition: Footprint Handbooks Ltd.

Charak, Dr. K.S. (1991) Surya the Sun God: 72 Delhi:UMA Publication.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999)

Related Readings

Mackenzie, Donald A. and Goble, Warwick (2004) London: The Greshan Publishing Company.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

  • The Celestial Beings of the Hindu Zodiac
  • Bali, the demon king and Surya
  • Hanumana, the Monkey-God and Surya
  • The Twelve Adityas
  • Surya Temples
  • The worship of Surya

Notable Websites

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Article written by Kevin Rasmussen (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.