Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Surya included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Sūrya

The God who gives light to the worlds.


It is said that the Sun was born to Kaśyapa by his wife Aditi. Mahāviṣṇu begot Brahmā and Brahmā begot Marīci. Prajāpati Kaśyapa was born from Marīci. Several sons were born to Kaśyapa by Aditi the daughter of Dakṣa. They are known by the names Ādityas, Vasus, Rudras and so on. Of these, Ādityas are tewelve in number. (Āditya means the son of Aditi). There is a difference of opinion as to who these twelve Ādityas are. According to Agni Purāṇa, Chapter 51, the twelve Ādityas are Varuṇa, Sūrya (the Sun), Sahasrāṃśu, Dhātā, Tapana, Savitā, Gabhasti, Ravi, Parjanya, Tvaṣṭā, Mitra and Viṣṇu. (See under Dvādaśādityas). But in Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 65, Stanza 15, it is stated that the twelve Ādityas are Dhātā, Aryamā, Mitra, Śukra, Varuṇa, Aṃśa, Bhaga, Vivasvān, Pūṣā, Savitā Tvaṣṭā and Viṣṇu.

Very often these names are used as synonyms of the Sun. So it is better to assume that there are several Ādityas and that it is the sun who gives light and heat to the worlds. Vivasvān is this sun because it is said that from this Vivasvān the Manu Vaivasvata was born and from this Vaivasvata, Ikṣvāku, the first king of the Solar dynasty, was born.

2 The chariot of the Sun. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, in consequence of which days and nights occur. The Purāṇic assumption is that the sun travels in a very big chariot. The chariot of the Sun is nine thousand yojanas long. The wheel is fixed to this. The great wheel of time with three centres, five tyres and six spokes, is fixed on that indestructible year. It has seven horses, which are the seven Vedic metres, called by the names Gāyatrī, Bṛhatī, Uṣṇik, Jagatī, Tṛṣṭubh, Anuṣṭubh and Paṅkti. Another axle used for the chariot of the Sun is fortyfive thousand five hundred yojanas long. The length of each half of the Yoke is proportionate to the length of the axle. The short axle of the chariot with the small half of the yoke is fixed on Dhruva. The wheel fixed on the other axle rests on the mount Mānasottara.

Separate Ādityas, hermits Gandharvas, celestial maids, Yakṣas, serpents and giants sit, in the chariot of the Sun every month. In the month of Caitra, which is also called Madhumāsa, the seven officers of the month who travel daily in the chariot, are the Āditya Dhātā, the celestial maid Kratusthalā, the hermit Pulastya, the serpent Vāsuki, the Yakṣa Rathabhṛt, the gaint Heti, and the Gandharva Tumburu. In the month of Vaiśākha also called Mādhava, the Āditya Aryaman, the hermit Pulaha, the Yakṣa Rathaujas, the celestial maid Puñjikasthalā, the giant Praheti, the serpent Kacavīra and the Gandharva Nārada sit in the chariot. In the month of Jyeṣṭha, the Āditya Mitra, the hermit Atri, the serpent Takṣaka, giant Pauruṣeya, the celestial maid Menakā, the Gandharva Hāhā, and the Yakṣa Rathasvana, sit in the chariot. In the month of Āṣāḍha, the Āditya Varuṇa, the hermit Vasiṣṭha, the serpent Nāga, the celestial maid Sahajanyā, the Gandharva Hūhū, the giant Ratha and the Yakṣa Citraratha, travel in the chariot. In the month of Śrāvaṇa, the Āditya Indra, the Gandharva, Viśvāvasu, the Yakṣa Srotas, the serpent Elāputra, the hermit Aṅgiras, the celestial maid Pramlocā, and the giant Sarpī travel in the chariot. In the month of Bhādrapada the Āditya Vivasvān, the Gandharva, Ugrasena, the hermit Bhṛgu, the Yakṣa, Āpūraṇa, the celestial maid Anumlocā, the serpent Śaṅkhapāla and the giant Vyāghra sit in the chariot. In the month of Aśvanī, the Āditya Pūṣā, the Gandharva Vasuruci, the giant Vāta, the hermit Gautama, the serpent Dhanañjaya, the Yakṣa Suṣeṇa and the celestial maid Ghṛtāci sit in the chariot. In the month of Kārttika, the Gandharva is another Viśvāvasu, the hermit Bharadvāja, Āditya Parjanya, the serpent Airāvata, the celestial maid, Viśvācī, Yakṣa Senajit and the giant Āpa, sit in the chariot. In the month of Mārgaśīrṣa, the Āditya Aṃśa, the hermit Kaśyapa, the Yakṣa Tārkṣya, the serpent Mahāpadma, the celestial maid Urvaśī, the Gandharva Citrasena, and the giant Vidyut travel in the chariot. In the month of Pauṣa, the hermit Kratu, the Āditya Bhaga, the Gandharva Ūrṇāyu, the giant Sphūrja, the serpent Karkoṭaka, the Yakṣa Ariṣṭanemi and the celestial maid Pūrvacitti travel in the chariot. In the month of Māgha, the Āditya Tvaṣṭā, the hermit Jamadagni, the serpent Kambala, the celestial maid Tilottamā, the giant Brahmopeta, the Yakṣa Ṛtajit and the Gandharva Dhṛtarāṣṭra sit in the chariot. In the month of Phālguna the Āditya Viṣṇu, the serpent Aśvatara, the celestial maid Rambhā, the Gandharva Suvarcas, the Yakṣa Satyajit, the hermit Viśvāmitra, and the giant Yajñopeta travel in the chariot. These seven persons live in the region of the Sun in their time. The hermits praise the Sun; the gandharvas sing; the celestial maids dance; the giants walk behind as guards. The serpents prepare the horses to be yoked; the Yakṣas hold the bridle and the Bālakhilyas stand round the Sun. These groups of seven in each month are responsible for heat, coldness, rain etc. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Aṃśa 2, Chapter 8).

The Vedic figure of the Sun.

Even though the sun is only one of the seven groups, he is above the others in prominence. The complete power of Viṣṇu is the three Vedas Ṛg, Yajus and Sāma. The power in the form of the three Vedas blazes in the form of the Sun. That power destroys all the sins in the world. Viṣṇu stays inside the sun in the form of Ṛg, Yajus and Sāma for the Sustenance and protection of the world. As said before, the three Vedas are the parāśakti, or the feminine supreme power of Viṣṇu. She is the three Vedas themselves. Every month she stays inside that particular Āditya of the month. In the morning the Ṛgveda praises the Sun. At noon the Yajurveda praises the Sun and in the evening the Sāmans such as Bṛhad Rathantara and so on. The three Vedas Ṛg, Yajus and Sāman are portions of Viṣṇu. This power of Viṣṇu stays in Āditya always. It stays not only in the Sun, but also in the three godheads Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva. At the time of creation Brahmā was pervaded by Ṛg. At the time of sustenance, Viṣṇu is pervaded by Yajus. At the end Rudra will be pervaded by Sāman. So the sound of Sāman will be unpalatable. Thus this Vaiṣṇavite power which is having the attribute of purity (Sattva) and Vedas, pervades mainly the sun though it remains on the seven groups also. Being the seat of this power, the Sun blazes with his rays and destroys the darkness in all the worlds.

Such a Sun is praised by the hermits. The Gandharvas sing in front of the Sun. The celestial maids dance before him. The giants guard him, the serpents prepare his chariot, the Yakṣas hold the bridle and the Bālakhilyas stand around him. Viṣṇu who is having the figure of the Sun pervaded by the power of the Vedas, never rises or sets. The seven groups are separate from that Viṣṇu. As the figures of those who approach, are reflected in a mirror fixed on a post, that power of Viṣṇu, without separating itself from that chariot, pervades them who come every month in turn. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Aṃśa 2, Chapter 11).

The direction of the sun.

The Sun starts from the east and goes to the western ocean. The directions east and west originate from this rising and setting. As a matter of fact when the sun rises in the east it is bright in places behind it. But it does not shine in the palace of Brahmā on the top of Mahāmeru. The rays of the sun which enter the palace are driven back by the radiance of the palace. The Mountain Meru is north to all islands and countries. So on one side of that mount it is always day and on the other side it is always night. When the Sun sets his light enters fire. So at night the light of fire goes far. In the same way, at day time, the light of fire enters the sun. So the sun shines more. Thus because the light of the sun and fire enter each other the day and the night wax when the sun shines on the southern and northern hemi-spheres. The dark nights and bright days enter water gradually. The water seems a little red, in day time because darkness has entered it in the night. After sunset the water seems a little white because the day has entered the water.

Thus when the sun passes through the middle of the island Puṣkara, the change of the Sun to one thirtieth portion of the earth is called 'Mauhūrtikagati' (covering the distance in a muhūrta—48 minutes). The sun, like a fly sitting on the circumference of the wheel of a potter travels round the earth inclining a portion of a thirtieth of the earth, and making day and night. In the beginning of the transit to the Tropic of Cancer, the sun passes into the zodiac of Makara, and then to Kumbha and Mīna. After having completed the three zodiacs, the sun makes the day and night equal and enters Viṣuva. At the end of travelling in the Northern hemi-sphere the sun enters the zodiac of Karkaṭaka and transit to the south begins. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa, Aṃśa 2, Chapter 8).

The Sun in the clutches of the giants.

The Sun is being attacked daily by a kind of giants called the Mandehas.

Family life.

The Sun married Saṃjñā, the daughter of Viśvakarmā. Three children Manu, Yama and Yamī were born to him by Saṃjñā. By Chāyā, the maid of Saṃjñā, three children, Śanaiścara, Manu and Tapatī were born to the Sun. Aśvinīkumāras and Revanta were born by Saṃjñā to the sun who took the form of a horse. (See under Saṃjñā and Chāyā).

On several occasions other sons such as Sugrīva, Kālindī Karṇa and so on were born to the Sun. (For details see under those entries).

The rising delayed.

A story stating that the rising of the sun was delayed because of the curse of Śīlavatī, is stated in Mahābhārata. (See under Śīlavatī).

The Sun and the Syamantaka.

Once the King Satrājit did penance and got the jewel Syamantaka from the Sun. (For detailed story see under Prasena).

The Sun and Rāhu.

Once the Sun and the moon pointed out Rāhu who had come to partake of the Amṛta (Ambrosia) in stealth and Mahaviṣṇu cut off his head. (For detailed story see under Amṛta, Para 4).

The Sun the teacher of Hanūmān.

The Sun is the teacher of Hanūmān. (See under Hanūmān).

The Sun and Rāvaṇa.

Once Rāvaṇa happened to reach the Solar region, while he was conducting regional conquest. That night he rested on Mahāmeru, and then got into his plane Puṣpaka, ready for fight in the morning. Seeing the Sun rising up, Rāvaṇa called his minister Prahasta and said to him. "Minister, go and convey my words to the Sun. 'Rāvaṇa has come to fight. Either get down and fight or admit defeat.' Prahasta walked towards the sun and told the words of the King to the two gate-keepers Piṅgala and Daṇḍī. The Sun was informed of this by Daṇḍī. The Sun told Daṇḍī thus: "Daṇḍī, I don't mind whether I defeat or I am defeated by Rāvaṇa. The thing is, that I have no time." Daṇḍī informed Rāvaṇa of this. Rāvaṇa went away shouting that he had defeated the Sun.

Fight with Śiva.

See under Śiva Para 7, Sub para 7.

The Sun lost his lustre.

See under Sukeśa.

Artificial Sun.

See under Brahmā, para 13.

The Sun and Karṇa.

See under Karṇa.

The hermit Atri and the Sun.

See under Atri, para 4.

The names of the Sun.

Once the hermit Dhaumya repeated to Dharmaputra the one hundred and eight names of the Sun. Those names are given in Mahābhārata, Vana Parva, Chapter 3.

Other details.

(i) Once Pāñcālī worshipped the Sun. The Sun created an unseen giant for her protection. (Mahābhārata Virāṭa Parva, Chapter 15, Verse 19).

(ii) Pāñcālī did penance before the Sun and procured the 'Akṣayapātra' (the pot that never became empty). (See under Akṣayapātra).

(iii) The Sun destroys the ungrateful asuras (demons). (Mahābhārata Udyoga Parva, Chapter 108, Verse 16).

(iv) There is a story connecting the Sun and the South. In days of old the Sun performed a sacrifice according to the Vedas, and to Kaśyapa who was the ministerial priest, he gave the South as dakṣiṇā (offering). So the south got the name 'Dakṣiṇa'. (Mahābhārata Udyoga Parva, Chapter 109, Verse 1).

(v) The west is the place where the Sun pours his rays after the end of the day. (Mahābhārata Udyoga Parva, Chapter 110, Verse 2).

(vi) When Karṇa and Arjuna confronted each other in the battle of Bhārata, the Sun boasted to Indra that Karṇa would come out victorious. (Mahābhārata Karṇa Parva, Chapter 87, Stanza 57).

(vii) The Sun gave Subrahmaṇya two attendants named Subhrāja and Bhāsvara. (Śalya Parva, Chapter 45, Verse 31).

(viii) Once Śiva anointed the Sun as the King of all the planets. (Mahābhārata Śānti Parva, Chapter 112, Stanza 31).

(ix) The Sun once gave Yājñavalkya the boon that he would get knowledge of the Vedas. (Mahābhārata Śānti Parva, Chapter 318, Verse 6).

(x) The story of one who had attained the region of the Sun by 'Uñchavṛtti' (Living on the grains fallen on the field) is given in Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, a few Chapters from 353, as follows:

There was a Brahmin in a place called Mahāpadma on the banks of the Ganges. He wandered here and there for knowledge of Vedas. Once a hermit met him and directed him towards a Nāga named Padmanābha. Padmanābha is the serpent which supports the chariot of the Sun. The Brahmin-hermit started in search of Padmanābha. At last he found out his house. But there was the wife of Padmanābha only. She said that her husband would return within a few days. Accordingly he remained on the banks of the Ganges without any food. Padmanābha returned and both of them met together. The hermit asked the nāga what he should do in order to get merged in God. The Nāga replied that he could become one with God by Uñchavṛtti. The Nāga continued. "The Sun is a god who had invoked into himself a saint who had lived only by the fallen grains in the field. The activities of that Sun are wonderful. The hermits and saints attach themselves to the rays of the Sun as birds attach themselves to the branches of trees. The great storms arising from the Sun spread wide in the sky. I saw once a person sitting inside that Sun who was a wonder of wonders. When that person as shining as the Sun came to him in the noon the Sun embraced him and seated him inside him. I asked him who he was. The Sun replied that he was a person who had attained heaven by Uñchavṛtti." Hearing the advice given by the Nāga, the Brahmin engaged in Uñchavṛtti and attained heaven.

(xi) The Sun gave Subrahmaṇya shining beauty. (Mahābhārata Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 86, Verse 23).

(xii) The Sun gave the hermit Jamadagni an umbrella and slippers. (See under Cherippu).

(xiii) In olden days when a war between the Devas and the Asuras was drawing near, Rāhu wounded the Sun and the moon. Along with that the universe fell in darkness, and the asuras began to destroy the Devas. At this time according to the prayer of the gods the hermit Atri assumed the figure of the Moon and made the Sun as shining as of old. (Mahābhārata Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 156, Stanza 2).

(xiv) The Synonyms of Sun according to the Amarakośa are given below:—

(Sūra, Sūrya, Aryamā, Āditya, Dvadaśātmā, Divākara, Bhāskara, Ahaskara, Bradhna, Prabhākara, Vibhākara, Bhāsvān, Vivasvān, Saptāśva, Haridaśva, Uṣṇaraśmi, Vikartana, Arka, Mārtaṇḍa, Mihira, Aruṇa, Pūṣā, Dyumaṇi, Taraṇi, Mitra, Citrabhānu, Virocana, Viśvāvasu, Grahapati, Tviṣāmpati, Aharpati, Bhānu, Haṃsa, Sahasrāṃśu, Savitā, Tapana, Ravi, Padmākṣa, Tejasāṃrāśi, Chāyānātha, Tamisrahā, Karmasākṣī, Jagaccakṣus, Lokabandhu, Trayītanu, Pradyotana, Dinamaṇi, Khadyota, Lokabāndhava, Ina, Bharga, Dhāmanidhi, Aṃśumālī and Abjinīpati.

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