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Surya In Vedas – Hindu Sun God In Rig Veda and Atharva Veda

Surya, the Hindu Sun God, is worshiped in the Vedas. Approximately 13 hymns from Rig Veda and Atharva Veda are devoted to Surya (Rig Veda I.50, 115; X.37,158, 170, 189; Atharva Veda II.21; XIII.2, 3, 4; XIX 65, 66, 67).

In these hymns Surya, the sun god, is celebrated for his all-pervasive radiance, which spreads throughout the spheres of both humans and gods. In particular, Surya is glorified for his ability to see everything and thus knowing everything, a capacity that is linked with his fiery radiance, and which is also possessed by Agni, whose epithet is Jatavedas (knower of creatures). This same epithet is also applied to Surya in Atharva Veda XIX.65. His all-seeing ability is something that links him with Mitra and Varuna, judicial and moral deities of the sky, whose ‘eye’s Surya is said to be (as well as Agni’s). As illuminator of all, Surya is asked (Rig Veda X.158) to bestow ‘sight’, in the sense o physical seeing, as well as in the sense of insight, upon his supplicants.

As a source of light, the Sun God reveals space itself and measures time; in this sense he functions as a creator and guarantor of life. By means of his beneficent radiance heis implored to grant healing (especially of jaundice, Rig Veda I.50; Atharva Veda I.22), long life, victory, strength, the end of evil dreams and joy itself. As a dispeller of gloom, Surya is said to roll up the darkness ‘like a piece of leather’ (Rig Veda X. 63.1).

Bearing the metronymic Aditya, Surya was thought to be among a category of deities who were the original seven (sometimes listed as eight and later as twelve) sons of Aditi, along with other deities of heavenly sphere: Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Daksha, Pusan and Ansa.

Surya, whose hair is said to be golden, is handsome as well as auspicious, and is likened to a young man who follows a maiden (as the rising sun follows the dawn, the female Goddess Ushas). Elsewhere (Rig Veda VII. 75.5), Ushas is said to be the wife of Surya. Vedic references depict the Sun God as riding in a chariot drawn, variously, by seven bay mares, seven tawny horses, seven swift horses (all probable references to the seven days of the week) or merely a single steed (Rig Veda VII.63.2). The streaming rays of Surya are like banners that herald and frame his magnificence.

A vivid characterization (Rig Veda V.40) of the piercing of Surya by asura (the demon) Svarbhanu, later known as Rahu, depict a solar eclipse in which the sun is ‘found’ again by means of the ritual prayers of the Brahmin sage (rishi) Atri. In Atharva Veda (XIII 2.12) it is said that, in addition to rescuing Surya from the demon of darkness, Atri’s ritual efforts maintain Surya in the sky.

Animal imagery is employed in Rig Veda to describe Surya, whose radiant passage across the sky excited the awe and imagination of the ancient Hindu poets. Most frequently the is conceived of as a shining, ruddy bird (eagle or falcon), ascending the vault of heaven. Elsewhere, however (VII.77.3), he is depicted as a white steed, drawn forth by Ushas, the dawn. In Rig Veda X.189 and V.47, Surya is characterized as a spotted and shining bull, as well as a red bird.