Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Growth of the Puranic Texts for Propitiating the Sun-god’ of the study on the Vedic influence of Sun-worship in the Puranas, conducted by Goswami Mitali in 2018. The tradition of observing Agnihotra sacrifice and the Sandhya, etc., is frequently observed among the Hindus. Another important innovation of the Sun-worship in the Puranas is the installation of the images of the Sun in the temples.—This section belongs to the series “General Characteristics of the Puranic Religion and its Link with the Vedic Tradition”.

Part 10 - Growth of the Purāṇic Texts for Propitiating the Sun-god

The Sun-god is worshipped under different names and forms in the Vedic and the Purāṇic texts. Due to his greatness, the deity was worshipped as a prominent deity in the Vedas. But the Sun-worship as a cult and sect became established only in the Epic-Purāṇic age.[1] From numerous evidences, it becomes clear that the worshipping of the Sun-god is an ancient tradition. The Vedic literature contains its proof. But it cannot be denied that an indigenous school of Sun worshipper might be there in India from the pre-Vedic times.[2] Again, there had been a foreign tradition of Sun-worship too, i.e. the Magian tradition, quite popular in the society from 1st century A.D. onwards.[3] During the post-Vedic period, prior to the Purāṇas, an indigenous Sun-sect was prevalent in India that found its expression in the Epics.

The Sun-sect called the Sauras was very familiar in the Mahābhārata:

sahasrānucarān saurāṅsahasraṃ cāṣṭa cāparān/[4]

It refers to thousand and eight others present there in the camp of the Pāṇḍus, who were the worshippers of the Sun. The Mahābhārata mentions about a secret Veda of the Sun that was taught to Arvāvasu.[5] It can be inferred from the reference that the Sauras developed a Veda of their own that was different from the traditional Vedas. Again in the Mahābhārata, a hymn dedicated towards the Sun-god possessing hundred and eight names of the deity is found.[6] According to it, Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Rudra, Skanda, Yama, etc., all are the names of the Sun. Sun-god is mentioned as the highest god, the lord of Manus and Manvantars in the work.[7] The Epic Rāmāyaṇa contains the Ādityahṛdayamantra,[8] that is devoted to the sun. The Sun-god has been identified, with all the great divinities and mentioned as the lord of even Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśa, in the Rāmāyaṇa.[9] He is worshipped as the creator, sustainer and destroyer of all creatures.[10]

Not only among the Āryans, but among the non-Āryan tribes also, the indigenous tradition of Sun-worship was prevalent. The Magas of the Śākadvīpa, mentioned earlier, are the best example of it. In the Mahābhārata, the reference of Magas, the fire Sun worshipping priests are found.[11] They are mentioned along with the other three tribes of Śākadvīpa in the Mahābhārata. Besides this, the Siddhas, the Cāraṇas, the Gandharvas, the Yakṣas, the Guhyakas, the Nāgas, the Asuras and the Rākṣasas are mentioned in the text those adored the Sun.[12]

In the Purāṇas, the worship of the deity has given rise to independent cult, called the Sun-cult, one of the five cardinal cults of Paurāṇika Hinduism. Both the Mahāpurāṇas and the Upapurāṇas contain the eulogy of the Sun-god. But especially, it was the Sāmbapurāṇa that principally dealt with the cult of the Sun. R.C. Hazra in his work Studies in the Upapurāṇas, enumerates the chapters and extracts, which deal with the method and praise of the Sun-worship.[13] He has given also the names of the Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, the Brahmapurāṇa, the Skandapurāṇa, the Varāhapurāṇa, the Matsyapurāṇa, the Agnipurāṇa, the Garuḍapurāṇa, the Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, the Bhaviṣyottarapurāṇa, the Kālikāpurāṇa and so on. Besides this, the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa contains chapters in praise of the Sun-god along with some stories of the Sun. Again, references are found in the Purāṇic texts, and in some other works relating to the cult whose present existence cannot be traced out.

The Bhaviṣyottarapurāṇa refers to the Mārtaṇḍapurāṇa.[14] It was one of the Saurapurāṇas that dealt with the sauravrata. But the text is not available to us. Again, the Ādityapurāṇa was one of the earliest and most popular Upapurāṇas that dealt with the sun-cult.[15] The name of the Purāṇa occurs in the list of the major Purāṇas, given by Alberuni also which he had prepared on the basis of his knowledge of the names of the Purāṇas from different sources.[16] He had made the translations of some verses of the Ādityapurāṇa also, those are used by several Nibandhas, Smṛtis, etc., on the later date. These verses are devoted to the worship of the Sun. The Skandapurāṇa[17] and the Matsyapurāṇa[18] contain the name of this Purāṇa. Besides this, the name of the Ādityapurāṇa occurs in the list of the eighteen minor Purāṇas that has been presented by the Devībhāgavata.[19] According to it, the Ādityapurāṇa is a very extensive work.[20] The Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa mentions that the Ādityapurāṇa elaborately describes Gāyatrī’s appearance, colour, etc.[21] Besides these, different vratas related to the Sun-cult, viz. Putra-saptamīvrata, āṣāḍa-śuklā-saptamīvrata, etc., were discussed in it.[22] It is difficult to find out whether the Ādityapurāṇa was sectarian or non-sectarian Purāṇa, as it exhibits non-sectarian character dealing with Viṣṇu, Śiva, Durgā, etc., also along with the Sun-cult. Dealing with the matter, R.C. Hazra opines ‘We do not know definitely to which sect the Ādityapurāṇa originally belonged or whether it was a non-sectarian work.’ In the comparatively early nibandhas there is a large number of extracts, quoted from the Ādityapurāṇa in which the worship of the Sun has been prescribed, on the other hand, Viṣṇu worship is recommended and praised in some of its verses.[23]

The Bhāskarāhva is another minor Purāṇa that propitiate the Sun-worship. Raghunandana has given the name of this Purāṇa in a list of the Upapurāṇas that he had derived from the Kaurmapurāṇa.[24]

One of the famous Purāṇas, related to the Sun cultis the Saurapurāṇa. Though the very name of the Purāṇa suggests the solar character of the Purāṇa, but it deals mainly with the Śiva and his glories. R.C. Hazra has made a significant remark in this regard that, besides the present Saurapurāṇa, which is a Śaiva work, there was an earlier Saura Purāṇa which is now lost.[25] Indeed, it is difficult to determine that all these minor Purāṇas were all together different works of one and the same work was called by different authors by different names.[26] With his keen observation, R.C. Hazra holds both the Saura and Mārtaṇḍa as different Purāṇas as because there is no similarity in between the vratas discussed in both the two works.[27]

Besides these, there is another minor Purāṇa, deals with the Sun-cult. It is named as Uttara Saura. Only the reference of this Purāṇa is found.[28]

The Saura dharma dealing with the Sun-worship, is another minor Purāṇa that propitiated the Sun-cult. The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa narrates the solar character of this Purāṇa.[29] Some passages of this Purāṇa are quoted in different Smṛtis.

The Sāmbapurāṇa is the great work dealing with Sun worship. It is one of the minor Purāṇas that contains the chapters on the development of solar worship to the independent cult of worshipping the deity. The Sāmbapurāṇa gives the information about the modes of worship of the deity,[30] about the making of the image of the deity,[31] about the construction of the temples,[32] bringing of the Magas for worshipping the Sun-god,[33] etc. As a whole, the overall development of Sun-cult is discussed in the Sāmbapurāṇa.

According to the Sāmbapurāṇa, Sāmba, the son of Kṛṣṇa, was cursed by Kṛṣṇa to become an ugly leper. Sāmba appeased Nārada, who advised to worship the Sun-god to get rid of his disease. Sāmba went to the great river Candrabhāgā and then to Mithravana and worshipping the deity there, he got cured. Sāmba established a city called Sāmbapura in the Mithravana on the bank of the river Chandrabhāgā.[34] He was advised to establish a Sun-image on the bank of the river by the Sun-god. But an image of the deity was found in the river itself. Sāmba erected a temple and at the advice of Nārada and Sun, brought eighteen families of the Magas from the Śākadvīpa. The scholars generally identify the Sāmbapura with Multān.[35]

The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa is another Purāṇa that deals with the Sun-cult. This Purāṇa is closely associated with the Sāmbapurāṇa, in its content and narration. It also gives an account of the origin of the cult,[36] the solar deity and his associates,[37] the mode of worship,[38] the solar priests[39] and the solar festivals.[40]

Thus, the worship of the Sun-god is transformed into the indigenous cult of worshipping the Sun in the period of the Purāṇas. With the sectarianism, in the Purāṇas, has developed some new ideas like, worship of image of the deity, worshipping of the deity constructing temples. Along with these, different festivals, vrata culture, etc., have entered into the sphere of Sun-worship in the Purāṇas.

Footnotes and references:


Goyal, S.R., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.330


Vide, Srivastava, V.C., Sun-worship in Ancient India, p. 204


Banerjea, J.N., Op. cit, p.433


Mahābhārata, 7.82.16


cf., rahasyavedaṃ kṛtavān sūryasya dvijottamaḥ/ Ibid, 3.138.18


Ibid, 3.3.16-28


cf., dṛśvarāṇāṃ tvamīśvaraḥ/ Ibid, 3.3.56


Rāmāyaṇa, 6.105


cf., brahmeśānacuteśāya sūrāyādityavarcase/ Ibid, 6.105.19


Ibid, 6.105.22


Ibid, 6.2.36


Mahābhārata, 3.3.29,40


Vide, Hazra, R.C., Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol. I, p. 29


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 4.121.1,2


Vide, Hazra, R.C. Op. cit., Vol. II, p.491


Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-II, pp. 831-832


Skandapurāṇa, 7.1.2-79,83


Matsyapurāṇa, 53.59-63


Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.491


Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, 3.2.31


Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., Vol. II, 495-499


Ibid., p.494


Ibid., p.491


Vide, Ibid., p.511


Pandey, Lalta Prasad, Sun-Worship in Ancient India, p. 153


Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., Vol. II, p.390


Vide, Pandey, Lalta Prasad, Op. cit., p. 154


Bhavi P., 1.1.4-8; 76-89


Sāmba P., 36,37,42


Ibid., 29


Ibid., 16, 29


Ibid., 27


Ibid., 3


Vide, Pandey, Lalta Prasad, Op. cit., p.155


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1.70,72,73


Ibid., 1.79


Ibid., 1.52, 205, 206


Ibid., 1.139


Ibid., 1.50,55

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