Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Mode of Worship’ 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 “Vedic Influence on the Sun-Worship in the Puranas”.

In the Vedic period, the Sun was praised and worshipped, as a prominent deity. But Sun-worship as a cult and sect becomes established only in the Epic-Purāṇic age. In the Purāṇas, the deity is worshipped both in the maṇḍala form and the form of an image. The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa contains the reference of worshipping the deity in his maṇḍala form.[1] Rājyavardhana, in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, worships the deity in the form of an orb.[2]

The Sāmbapurāṇa has pointed out that, in early period, the image of the Sun did not exist. In his circular form, just as the disk of the Sun in the sky, the deity was worshipped:

na purā pratimā hyāsīt pūjyate maṇḍale raviḥ /
yathaitān maṇḍalaṃ
vyomni sthīyate savitustadā //
evameva purā
bhaktaiḥ pūjyate maṇḍalākṛtiḥ/…[3]

The worshipping of the deity, in the maṇḍala form, originated in the Vedic period. He was worshipped in a circle or its orb in the Vedas.[4]

In the commentary of the Āpastambadharmasūtra, Haradatta refers to the worship of Āditya by drawing a maṇḍala on the ground:

drāviḍā͎ ḥkanyāmeṣasthe savitaryādityapūjāmācaranti bhūmau maṇḍalamālikhya…/[5]

But, worshipping the deity in his human form, started after Viśvakarmā made the image of the Sun, as stated in the Sāmbapurāṇa:

yataḥ prabhṛti capyeṣā nirmitā viśvakarmaṇā //
sarvalokahitārthāya sūryasya puruṣākṛtiḥ//

The worship of the Sun-god in human form was the later development in the Sun-cult in the Purāṇic period. He was worshipped in the form of the maṇḍala in the Vedas. In the Purāṇas, the same idea of worshipping the deity transforms to the worship of the Sun in the human form.

The Gāyatrī or the Sandhyopāsanā is one of the modes of worshipping the deity in the Purāṇic period. Indeed, the worship of the deity with the recitation of Gāyatrīmantra is the continuation of the Vedic mode of worshipping the Sun.

The mantra uttered in the Sandhyopāsanā goes as follows [which is composed in the Gāyatrī metre]:

tatsaviturvareṇyaṃ bhargo devasya dhīmahi dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt;[7]

The praṇava, i.e. the om and the three vyāhṛtis, viz. bhūḥ, bhuvaḥ and svaḥ are additionally put in the beginning of the mantra.[8] Again some mantras, e.g. bhāskarāya vidmahe sahasraraśmaye dhīmahi / tanno sūryaḥ pracodayāt,[9] found in the Purāṇas, are modelled on the Āditya Gāyatrī, found in the Taittirīyāraṇyaka.[10] The Sun-god always has been invoked to impel human intellect with the utterance of it.

In the Purāṇic texts, the Gāyatrī is deified in the form of goddess Gāyatrī. The Liṅgapurāṇa utters the glory of the goddess Gāyatrī and refers her as the means to attain Brahman.[11] In the Padmapurāṇa also, the deity is invoked by Rudra.[12] The deity is found in the anthropomorphic form in the Purāṇas. She is described as having a fair, slim body with two hands holding the horns of a dear, i.e. eṇaśṛṅga in one and a Lotus in the other. She is mentioned as wearing silken garment with an upper red cloth and wearing a garland on her breast and having earrings.[13] The representation of the Gāyatrī in anthropomorphic form is not the continuation of the Vedic tradition, but it is regarded as the innovation in the field of Purāṇic Sun-cult.

The Nāradīyapurāṇa advises the chanting of the Gāyatrī mantra at least for twenty-eight times.[14]

Again, the Viṣṇupurāna, prescribing the Gāyatrī mentions that nobody should neglect the Sandhyopāsānā, if anyone does that, he would be the murderer of the deity:

sa hanti Sūryaṃ sandhyayā nopāstiṃ kurute tu yaḥ/[15]

In different symbols, Sūrya is worshipped in the Purāṇas. The deity is worshipped in the form of the wheel or disc.[16] Indeed, the worship of the deity in the form of wheel or disc originates in the Vedas.[17] In the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa, a disc of gold is placed on the Sun as the representative of the deity.[18]

Again, the worship of the deity in the Purāṇas in the form of the Lotus is the continuation of the Vedic tradition of worshipping the deity on Lotus.[19] The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa contains the reference of worshipping the deity on an eightpetalled Lotus flower that is drawn on the ground.[20] The Brahmapurāṇa also refers to the worship of the Sun-god on an eight-petalled Lotus flower.[21] Due to the life giving aspect of the Sun, the deity may be worshipped in that form. It is cited in the Ṛgvedasaṃhitā that the honey from the heavenly wheel is dripped into the Lotus- abhyāramidadrayo niṣkitam puṣkare madhu avatasya visarjane.[22] Again, as the Lotus flower blooms during the day time when the Sun shines, the deity may be worshipped in the form of the Lotus flower from the Vedic to the Purāṇic period.

Horse is another Sun-symbol that has been used in the Purāṇas to worship the deity.

In the Viṣṇupurāṇa, reference is found of worshipping the deity in the form of a horse:

ityeramādivistena stūyamānaḥ stavai raviḥ /
prāha vriyatāmiti vāñchitam /[23]

The deity appeared in front of Yājñavalkya in that form eulogized by him. It is indeed the Vedic continuation of worshipping the deity in the form of horse. In the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad, the horse is employed as the Sun.[24] Again in the Ṣoḍasīn sacrifice also, a horse is placed in the hands of the priest that is regarded as the symbol of the Sun.[25] Thus, Sūrya is worshipped in the Purāṇas as the horse, the origin of which can be traced back to the Vedas. Due to the strength and swiftness, the Sungod might be worshipped in the Vedas and the Purāṇas in the form of the horse.

The Sāmbapurāṇa mentions about the Magas, the priest of the Sun. It was Sāmba, who brought them from Śākadvīpa.[26] The Magas were the great follower of the Sun-cult, who helped a lot in the growth and development of the Sun-cult in the Purāṇic Period. The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa records that the Magas were the descendants of Persian Magis.[27] They wore the sacred waist girdle called avyaṅga, i.e. the Persian aiviyaonghen. They were the followers of the Saura cult.[28] The Magas were the masters of the Vedas and the Vedāṅgas.[29] They had four Vedas of their own, viz. Veda, Viśvamada, Vidvadvaṅhi and Rasa which were in contrary to the four Vedas of the Brāhmaṇas, viz, Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, Sāmaveda and Atharvaveda. As the Magas were against of the Vedic tradition, in contrary to the Brāhmaṇas, they worshipped the slough of a snake while the garland is worshipped by the Brāhmaṇas.[30]

Both the Sāmbapurāṇa and the Bhaviṣyapurāṇa contain the account narrating the origin of the Magas. According to the episode found in the Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, Nikṣubhā, the daughter of Sujihvā, a Śākadvīpī Brāhmaṇa of the Mihira gotra gave birth to a son Jaraśabda or Jaraśasta by name through the Sun-god. Nikṣubhā, the beautiful lady, when was sporting herself in the fire the Sun-god saw her and fell in love. Then entering into the fire, the Sun became the son of the fire and by her he got a son.[31] The Jaraśabda-Jaraśasta was the son of the Sun by Nikṣubhā. This Jaraśabda-Jaraśasta was regarded as the ancestor of the Magas who worshipped the Sun-god.

The Magas were regarded as fire-born and as belonging to the Agnijāti:

agnijātyā magāḥ proktāḥ somajātyā dvijātayaḥ /
hi divyāste parikīrtitāḥ //[32]

The Bhojakas are called as the Magas.[33] Besides this, the Bhojakas are called as the Yājakas.[34] They are mentioned in the Purāṇas as a set of Brāhmaṇas, those were employed as the installer and the consecrator of the images of the deity.[35]

They are called as Magas, because they meditate on the syllable ma, that is regarded as the symbol for the Sun:

makāro bhagavāndevo bhāskaraḥ parikīrtitaḥ/
makāradhyānayogācca magā
hyete prakīrtitaḥ//[36]

In the Purāṇas, the Bhojakas are spoken of as the relatives of the Magas; sometimes, the daughter of Magas are mentioned as married to the Bhojakas,[37] or sometimes, the Magas are known as the Bhojakas as because they are born of the daughter of the Bhojakas.[38]

The identification of the Bhojakas with the Magas is quite doubtful. The Magas were mentioned as the Sun-worshipping priests, those were brought by Sāmba to worship the deity after installing the image of the Sun-god that was found by Sāmba during his bath in the Candrabhāga river. The scholars consider them as the fireworshipping Magis of Persia, who after arriving into India discovered a much more developed form of Sun-worship and as it was akin to their own faith, they adopted it as their means of livelihood. They started their working as the priests of the Sun-temples and wherever they went tried their best to popularise the Sun-worship.[39] The Bhojakas are also mentioned as the priest of the Sun-god in a large number of inscriptions. After a careful study, R. C. Hazra records that the Bhojakas were another group of Persian fire worshippers, who entered into India after following the Magas.[40] But the manner and customs of the Magas were different to a great extent from those of the members of the Vedic fold.

The Sun-god was worshipped in the Purāṇic period either in the form of an image or in the form of an orb. By means of invocation or the mantras, the deity was worshipped.[41] . Five types of mudrās, i.e. the holes, were made through the fingers, to see the solar orb, such as Añjali, Dhenukā, etc.[42] The orb of the deity was drawn on the ground, and the devotees worshipped the deity there thrice in a day;morning, noon and evening.[43] The worshipping of the deity with his orb on the ground is the continuation of Vedic tradition of worshipping the deity in the form of an orb. It was the new innovation of non-Vedic tradition in the field of Purānic Sun-cult.

The images of the deity were worshipped with flowers, scents, red Sandal paste, clothes, covers, water, dhūpa, aguru, guggula, karpūra, naivedya, akṣata, lamps, honey, milk, etc.[44]

Besides these, the Padmapurāṇa mentions the worshipping of the deity with mudrā, japa, namaskāra, etc.:

tattvato gurupadiṣṭena vidhi / diṣṭena tattvataḥ / pūjayedbhaktāḥdrakta puṣpaiśca kadalyādiphalaiḥ śubhaiḥ / pūjayedyo raviṃ nitya sa yāti bhāskarālayam / puṣpaṃ datvā jalaṃ deyaṃ jalānte ca vilepanam / pradīpānte ca naivedyaṃ tato vāri nivedayet / tato jāpyaṃ stutiṃ mudrāṃ namaskāraṃ tu kārayet / añjaliḥ prathamā mudrā dvitīyā dhenukā smṛtā //…[45]

References are found in the Purāṇas of worshipping the deity with arghya[46] along with the observance of fasts,[47] vows,[48] donation of gifts,164 etc. The Brahmapurāṇa mentions about the donation of umbrella, flags, vitāna, patākā and cāmara, etc., to the Sun.[49] Worshipping the deity with the arghya, donation of gifts, etc., is definitely the continuation of the Vedic tradition. The Vedic texts were familiar with the arghya, dāna, etc; but unfamiliar with the tradition of fasts, vows, etc., though somewhere they were mentioned to denote some other senses.

The Purānic texts direct the worshipping of the Sun-god along with his family.[50] Saṃjñā, Chāyā, Tvāṣṭrī, Prabhā, Rājñī, Nikṣubhā and Pṛthvī are the consorts of the deity.

Of these, Rājñī, Saṃjñā, Tvāṣṭrī and Prabhā are spoken of as one and the same one, where Chāyā, Nikṣubhā and Pṛthvī are identified as one:

rājñī saṃjñā ca dyaustvāṣtrī prabhā saiva vibhāvyate /
tasyāstu yā
tanucchāyā nikṣubhā sa mahimayī//[51]

Saṃjñā and Chāyā are regarded as the representative of the Dyauḥ and Pṛthvī respectively.[52] The Nikṣubhāvrata is observed in honour of Nikṣubhā in the Purāṇas, making the image of the deity.[53] The Aśvinīkumāra, the divine doctor, Revanta, Śani, Sāvarṇī, Manu and Yama are the sons of the Sun as described in the Purāṇic texts, and Tapatī and Yamunā are mentioned as his daughters. Again, references are found of worshipping the grahas, that are related to the Sun.[54] The attendants of the deity are mentioned as Daṇḍa, Piṅgala, Śrauta, two Kalmāṣa birds, i.e. Yama and Garuḍa respectively, Jāṇḍa, Kāma, Kubera, Vināyaka, Hara and Kārtikeya.[55] Several figures, belonging to the solar family are seen worshipped along with the image of the deity in the iconographic forms. The worship of the deity along with his family is the continuation of the Vedic tradition of worshipping the Sun.

Different Purāṇas contain the references of the worshipping of the Sun-god with the Tāntric mode of worship of the Sun.[56] In Tāntric Sun-worship, some Tāntric diagrams are drawn and the deity is worshipped with some mantras like, oṃ ghṛṇi sūrya ādityaḥ, etc. The Nāradīyapurāṇa mentions the worship of the deity along with his wives and other planets on the diagram.[57] Aṅganyāsa is another mode of worshipping the deity. In Aṅganyāsa, certain parts of the body are to be touched with the utterance of the certain names of the Sun-god.[58] Besides these, some Tāntric hymns are used in the Sun-worship.[59] The Sāmbapurāṇa mentions that the Sun is worshipped with small diagrams of an eight-petalled Lotus applying mantras;[60] and Aṣṭapuṣpikā worship[61] and a large maṇḍala called the Saṃvatsara.[62]

Footnotes and references:


Ibid., 1.131.26


Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 109.76


Sāmbapurāṇa, 29.2,3


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 7.66.14


Haradatta on Āpastambadharmasūtra,


Sāmbapurāṇa, 29.3,4


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 3.62.10


Vide, Goyal, S. R., A Religious History of Ancient India, Vol. II, p. 329


Padmapurāṇa, 1.76.11


cf., bhāskarāya vidmahe mahādyutikarāya dhīmahi tanna ādityaḥ pracodayāt/ Taittirīyāraṇyaka, 10.1


Liṅgapurāṇa, 23.50-57


Padmapurāṇa, 1.17




Nāradīyapurāṇa, 66


Viṣṇupurāṇa, 2.8.53


Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 106. 76


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 1.175.4; 4.28.2; 30.4; 5.29.10




Vājasaneyisaṃhitā, 13.2; Taittirīyasaṃhitā, 4.2.8


Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 169


Ṛgvedasaṃhitā, 8.72.11


Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.5.25


cf., eṣa ha vā aśramedho ya eṣa tapati tasya saṃvatsara ātmā / Bṛ. U., 1.2.7


Aitareyabrāhmaṇa, 8.20


Sāmbapurāṇa, 26


Bhandarkar, R.G., Vaisṇavism, Śaivism and Minor Religious Systems, pp. 153-154


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1.140.55-61




Ibid., 1.140.39-45


Ibid., 1.139.33-43


Ibid., 1.139.44


Sāmbapurāṇa, 27.3


Sāmbapurāṇa, 27


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1.117, 135, 140, 144, 145, 146, 147


Ibid., 1.144.25


Ibid., 1.140.9




Vide, Pandey, Lalta Prasad, Sun worship in Ancient India, p.167


Vide, Hazra, R. C., Studies in the Upapurāṇas, Vol. I, pp. 97- 98


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1. 206


Ibid., 1.48


Ibid., 1.48, 52, 205


Ibid., 1.51.31, 32; Padmapurāṇa, 1.76.12-15;


Ibid., 76.12-15


Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa, 106.60, 61;107.26; Viṣṇupurāṇa, 3.5.14


Mat P., 74164 Brahmāṇḍa. P., 29.58




Matsyapurāṇa, 11; Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1. 79.47


Ibid., 1.79.18


Ibid., 1.79.4


Ibid., 1.166.4


Ibid., 1.206


Sāmbapurāṇa, 16


Agnipurāṇa, 73; Garuḍapurāṇa, 61; Nāradīyapurāṇa, 69


Nāradīyapurāṇa, 69.25-36


Ibid., 69.7-24


Padmapurāṇa, 1.76


Sāmbapurāṇa, 53


Ibid., 54


Ibid., 55

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