Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Iconographic Traces of Surya in the Puranas’ 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”.

Part 9 - Iconographic Traces of Sūrya in the Purāṇas

The Purāṇic records and archeological findings related to the Sun-worship throw light on the development of Sun-cult during the days of the Purāṇas. It was Viśvakarmā who had made the image of the deity for the first time.[1] Prior to it the Sun-god was worshipped by his devotees in the form of an orb. The form of the deity was circular, just as there is the disc of the Sun in the sky.[2]

The iconographic features of the deity are well delineated in the Purāṇic texts.

The image of the Sun is made either seated in the chariot or on the Lotus and holding a Lotus:

padmasthaṃ vāhanasthaṃ padmahastaṃ prakalpayet.[3]

In the image, the deity is seen holding a Lotus in one hand and the other hand is raised in the posture of giving blessings.[4] He is made as beautiful-eyed deity, i.e. sulocana.[5] A different kind of coronet that beams red is placed on the head of the Sun.[6] The deity is well decorated with ornaments, and both his hands, those lifted to the shoulders hold two blue Lotuses. The body of the deity is covered with a coat, i.e. colaka or sometimes it is painted with two pieces of garments, i.e. vastrayugmasamopetam.[7]

In his image, the deity is shown as seated in a chariot with seven horses and one cakra.[8] The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa mentions that the seven horses of the chariot of the Sun are the representative of the seven Vedic metres, viz. Gāyatrī, Uṣṇik, Anuṣṭup, Bṛhatī, Paṅkti, Triṣṭup, Jagatī. [9] Aruṇa is the charioteer of the deity who is resplendent like the Lotus leaves and in his both sides, with long necks, and well-decked horses are found. The seven horses yoked to the chariot of the Sun should be tied together with the string of the serpent.[10] Holding the reins with his hands, the deity sustains the entire universe.[11]

On the two sides of the deity, Daṇḍī and Piṅgala should be placed as attendants along with their swords.[12] In other texts, Daṇḍī is represented with holding a staff in his hand while Piṅgala is represented as holding pen in his right hand and ink-pot in the left.[13]

But, in the Matsyapurāṇa, they are said to be holding daggers and a new attendant named Dhātṛ is introduced holding a pen in his hand:

lekhanīkṛtahastaṃ ca pārśve dhātāramavyayam.[14]

The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa mentions that Daṇḍī is to be placed on the left side of the Sun-image that is of handsome features like that of the Sun, and Piṅgala should be placed on the right side that is of tawny colour. He is shown holding a pen and paper in his hand.[15] The Sun-god is shown with his hands on their heads.

The Agnipurāṇa mentions two types of the Sun images. Firstly, it should be made as riding on a chariot of one wheel and seven horses holding two Lotuses, inkstand, pen and a staff with his right hand. Piṅgala, the attendant and gatekeeper of the Sun should be placed on the left side of the image of the deity with the mace in his hand. The deity should have female attendants bearing chowries and the pale looking consorts by his side. Again, secondly, the image of the Sun should be made as riding on a horse alone. [16]

The Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa also gives some iconographic data relating to the Sun-cult. According to it, the image of the Sun-god is regarded as auspicious one. It should be of sindu colour. There are four arms of the deity in the image and it is well ornamented. The body of the deity is covered with armour and he possesses the girdle called as aviyaṅga. In his both hands, the rays of the deity should be shown. The deity with his hands holds the garlands of flowers. Besides Daṇḍī and Piṅgala on the left side of the image of the Sun, a lion should be placed, that is regarded as the representative of Dharma. The four sons of the Sun-god Revanta, Yama and the two Manus are placed on his sides. The four queens Rājñī, Rikṣubhā (Nikṣubhā), Chāyā and Suvarcasā are placed on the sides of Sun image. As the deity is regarded as supreme among the planets, the image of the Sun should be made as surrounded with the planets.[17]

The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa mentions the icon of the Sun where the deity is found riding in a golden chariot having seven horses those regarded as the seven Vedic metres.[18] The charioteer Aruṇa should be placed in the front, Rājñī and Nikṣubhā should be placed on the left and right side respectively.[19] Sometimes, the other wives of the deity are also placed on. The sons of the deity the Aśvinīkumāras are carved on his either sides. The two attendants of him, Piṅgala and Daṅḍa are placed on the right and left sides of the deity respectively.[20]

The Purāṇas direct seven types of images of the deity, i.e. arcā. They are divided on the basis of the material with which the images of the deity are made of. They are Kāñcanī, Rājatī, Tāmrī, Pārthivī, Śailajā, Vārkṣī and Ālekhyā: kāñcanī rājatī tāmrī pārthivī śailajā tathā/ vārkṣī vālekhyā gāyanti mūrtisthānāni sapta vai.[21] The image of the deity, made of gold, is called Kāñcanī, the silver-made image is called Rājatī, the image made of copper is called as Tāmrī, the image made of earth is Pārthivī, Śailajā is the stone-made image, Vārkshī is the image made of tree, i.e. wood and Ālekhyā is the image that is made drawing on paper or portrait. The images are named differently according to its size.

The Sun images should be of one cubit, or of two cubits, or of three cubits or three and half cubits:

ekahastā dvihastā ca trihastā pramāṇataḥ/
sārdhatrihastā savituḥ pratimā śubhā.[22]

The one cubit image is called Saumyā, two cubits is Dhānyadā, three cubits is Sarvakāmapradā, i.e. fulfiller of all desires and three and half cubit is called as Kṣemakārikā. Again, the image that is fine from all the sides, front, middle and downward is called Gāndharvī.[23]

The measurement of the different parts of the body of the image of the Sun-god is discussed in the Purāṇas. The Sāmbapurāṇa[24] states that the length of the foot of the image of the Sun-god is fourteen aṅgulas while the Aṅguṣṭhas should be of three. The pradeśinī part should be of the same size of the Aṅguṣṭhas. Again, the fingers of the leg of the image should be carved lesser in size according to the proportion. The ankles of the image should be of four Aṅgulas.

The Bhaviṣyapurāṇa deals with the iconography of the other gods in general and the Sun-god in particular. According to it, the image of the Sun-god should be in proportion to the door of the sanctum. It should be lower by one-eighth than the door. The piṇḍikā should be the three-fifth of the door. The length of the image should be of eighty-four aṅgulas of which the head should be of twelve aṅgulas;the chin, forehead and the nose respectively of one third of the face. The ears should be of the same size of the nose. The eyes of the image should be of two aṅgulas each. The length and height of the forehead should be equal. The distance between the neck and nose and the distance between the mouth and heart are equal. The navel of the image should be of the size of the mouth. The lower part of the image should be made carved. Again the breadth of the chest should be of the size of the head. The waist should be of its half. The thighs and hands should be of equal size. The feet should be of four aṅgulas and it should be below the ankles. The breadth of it should be six aṅgulas, toe being the three aṅgulas and pradeśinī should be of the same size. The remaining fingers should be of comparatively smaller in size.[25]

The Purāṇas deal with the merits that are to be obtained by different types of images, according to its materials. The image of wood gives glory, age, victory, strength, fame; image of clay is beneficial to the entire subjects. The golden image gives nutrition, the silver image gives fame. Again, the copper image is helpful in multiplication of the subjects and the stone image gives landed property to its worshippers. The images of iron or glass or any other metal are never appreciated. They are regarded as harmful or inauspicious.[26]

Footnotes and references:


cf., yataḥ prabhṛti cāpyevaṃ nirmitā viśvakarmaṇā/
sarvalokahitārthāya sūryasya puruṣākṛtiḥ/ Ibid., 29.3


cf., na purā pratimāhyāsī pūjyate maṇḍale raviḥ/ yathaitanmaṇḍalaṃ vyomni sthīyate savitustadā//


Matsyapurāṇa, 261.8


Ibid., 94.1


Ibid., 261.1


mukuṭena vicitreṇa padmagarbhasamaprabham/ Ibid.,261.2


Ibid., 261.4


Matsyapurāṇa, 261.4


Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.67.12


Matsyapurāṇa, 261.8


Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.67.4


Matsyapurāṇa, 261.5


Vide, Agrawala, V.S., Matsya Purāṇa-A Study, p.361


Matsyapurāṇa, 261,6


Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.67.7


Agnipurāṇa, 51.1-3


Viṣṇudharmottarapurāṇa, 3.67


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1. 50.16-19


Ibid., 1.76.9-13; 136.50


Ibid., 1.76


Sāmbapurāṇa, 30.2


Ibid., 31.1,2


cf., agre madhye ca mūle ca pratimā sarvataḥ śubhā/ gāndharvī sā tu vijñeyā bahudhānyadhanāvahā//


Ibid., 31.6-14


Bhaviṣyapurāṇa, 1. 132


Ibid., 1.133

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