Surya – the Sun

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:

‘A few months back I wrote about some procedures Patanjali recommends for keeping the mind clear called citta prasadana. A few more well established procedures of yester-years were also included by Patanjali in Chapter I. One of them is “yeta abhimata dhyanad va”. It would be translated as ‘meditating as per one’s likes (abhimata)’. Sankara while writing the vivarana or elucidation on this sutra cautions the abhyasi to choose an object that is agreeable/uplifting but not a pleasurable object.

Conventionally the object of meditation should be something ennobling. One definition of Yoga following the ‘union’ school is that yoga is union with a higher principle, like God or paramatma. Even though Vyasa’s commentary is highly respected and followed by several expert commentators like Vacaspai Misra Sankaracharya, Vignyana Bikshu and others, there were a few like Bhoja who demurred and preferred to write a completely independent commentary. Actually Bhoja gave the famous “yogena cittasya..” prayer of Patanjali.

There were others like Sadasiva Brahmendra a highly respected advaita vedantin who wrote a brief independent commentary called yoga sudhakara. In this commentary the authoritative, the traditional interpretation of the word ‘mata’ indicating it as a religion or religious denomination is highlighted (yedyat sastrartham deivam rupam). The word mata is still used in India as religion/denomination. So this sutra would mean that those yogis who have religious inclination could meditate as per one’s religion and religious belief to keep the mind clear and under a leash.

What are the ‘matas’ or religious denominations that were prevalent at that time? There were six, viz, ganapatya or worship of Ganesa, Kaumara or worship of his sibling Kartikeya, Sakta, worship of Sakti, Saiva or worship of Siva, Vaishnava or worship of Vishnu and then Saura worship of the pratyaksha devata or the visible deity Sun. In fact Adi Sankara even as he was acclaimed for his elucidation of the Advaita vedanta philosophy is also credited with re establishing the six different forms of worship called the shan-matas or six schools of worship and hence came to be known as shan-mata-stahpana-acarya.

The worship of the six deities can be found in the vedas, then the puranas and extensively elaborated in agamas including temple and personal icon worship in the form of pujas including namaskaras, mantra japas. Almost all the deities have hundreds of temples in India and elsewhere and worshiped as per the agama temple rules. They are also meditated upon by individuals at homes and Patanjali refers to it as abhimata dhyana.

While all deities have temples– hundreds of them– the one deity who is conspicuous by the absence of dedicated temples (with a solitary exception in Konark) is Sun. Yes you do not need a temple or icon for the sun. It is called pratyaksha devata or the visible deity. One may say that in the vedas the prime deity venerated is the sun. The worshipers called sun as Aruna, one who is unindebted. It only gives and does not receive from anyone. Sun is is also called a universal friend or Mitra as its light and energy is given to every being for life and nourishment.

Perhaps Sun worship is the most common even now. In the form of Sandhya many salute the sun in a form of a beautiful ritual three times a day at dawn, at noon and at sunset. In that the main portion is the salutations to Sun using the gayatri mantra, believed to be the brainwave of sage Viswamitra (see his story in my earlier newsletter It is the most often recited vedic mantra. Freely translated it would mean “ We meditate upon the luster of the orb of the sun which is the effulgence of the Divine (devasya bhargah). May That which we meditate upon remove, the spiritual darkness”.

There are also other sun mantras included in the ritual. Sun Salutation is associated with health and good eyesight. “Arogyam bhaskaraat iccheh” Health is the blessing of Sun. There is also an upanishad which is about sun called “akshi upanishad” or upanishad about eye. Sun worship will bring longevity, good physical and mental health and prevent untimely death (apamrityu). There is also a vedic mantra which implores Sun to remove the heart ailment one may suffer from (hridrogam mama surya, harimanancha nasaya)

Some mantras from the daily routine are quoted below

Mantra: (Morning)

Aum Mitrasya carshani dhrutah sravo devasya sãnasim. Satyam citrasravastamam. Mitro jannan yãtayati prajãnan. Mitro dãdhãra prthiveemutadyãm. Mitrah krishti-ranimishãbhichasthe, satyãya havyam ghrtavadvidhema. Pra sa mitra marto astu prayasvãn yasta ãditya sikshati vratena. Na hanyate, na jiyate tvoto nenam amho asnotyantio na doorãt.


Standing facing the same direction in which the japa is done usually east, join the palms and salute the Paramãtman, Who is shining in the center of the rising Sun.

“I meditate on the glory and fame of the all-protecting Sun Who is adorable, eternal and fascinating the hearts of all listeners.

The Sun guides all, knowing everything. He supports the earth and the sky. He watches all creation unwieldy. To Him we offer cooked rice soaked in ghee for attaining eternal fruits.

O Sun Who is Mitra (universal friend), may the one who longs to worship You sincerely, get the full benefit of righteousness. One protected by You will not suffer from any disease; sin will not approach him from far or near.”

Mantra: (Madhyanhe/Noon)

Ãsatyena rajasã vartamãno nivesayannamrutam martyam cha. Hiranyayena savitã rathenã devo yãti bhuvanã vipasyan.

Udvayam tamasaspari pasyantho jyotiruttaram. Devam devatrã sooryamaganma jyotiruttamam. Udutyam jãtavedasam devam vahanti ketavah. Drise visvãya Sooryam.

Citram devãnãmudagãdaneekam chakshurmitrasya varunasyãgneh. Ã prã dyãvã prithivee antariksham Soorya ãtmã jagatastasthushascha. Tachakshur devahitam purastãchukramucharatu.

Pashyema saradas-satam; jeevema saradas-satam; nandãma saradas-satam; modãma saradas-satam; bhavãma saradas-satam; srunavãma saradas-satam; prabravãma saradas-satam; ajeetãsyãma saradas-satam; ( jyok cha Sooryam drishe.)

Ya udagãnmahato arnavãd vibhrãjamãnah sarirasya madhyãt samã vrushabho lohitãksha-Sooryo vipashchin manasã punãtu.


Standing facing the North, joining the palms in anjali mudra and saluting the Paramãtman shining in the center of the Sun Who is now glowing above the head at noon time.

“The Sun riding a golden chariot goes round scrutinizing all the worlds and shining with self-effulgence and directing by means of His radiance,gods and humans in their respective tasks. The Sun rises swallowing darkness, with great splendor, protecting the celestial beings also. We who gaze at the Sun rays (light) shall attain the great radiance of the Self.

For overseeing the worlds, it rides the horses (of the Sun) in the form of His rays. Bear Him, the God Who knows everything.

Up rises the Sun who is like an eye to Mitra Varuna, and Agni, and Who is of the form of all the divine ones. He the Lord of all moving and unmoving things pervades the heavens, the earth and the middle regions.

May we see and adore for a hundred years that splendid orb of the Sun which rises in the East and looks after the welfare of the celestial and other beings like an eye. May we live thus for a hundred years. May we rejoice with our kith and kin for a hundred years. May we speak sweetly for a hundred years. May we live for a hundred years undefeated by the forces of evil. We desire to enjoy gazing at the Sun (seeing with the sunlight) for a hundred years.

May my whole mind be sanctified by the Sun Who bestows upon us all our needs, Whose eyes are red, Who is omniscient and Who rises from amidst the waters of the ocean illuminating all the quarters.”

Another important sun worship mantras comes from the famous Valmiki Ramayana. It is said to be the gift of sage Agastya to Lord Rama just prior to Rama’s battle with Ravana. It is known as “Aditya Hridyam” or “Sun in the Heart” Perhaps next only to the Gayatri this mantra is recited regularly by many early in the morning.

As mentioned earlier Sun Worship/ Salutation has been an important aspect of daily routine of many people in India from the Vedic times. It is one of the six accepted and orthodox forms of worship. But unlike other well known sects of worship like of Siva, Vishnu, Sakti, Ganesa or Kartikeya, which are done in temples and homes usually with icons/idols, the Sun Worship is done usually in the open during the day time. “Worship the Sun for Health” exhorts the Vedas. (Aarogyam Bhaskaraath iccheth).

Thousands of people can be seen saluting the sun at dawn at noon and at dusk, facing respectively the East, North and West, with or without mantras. Some worship the Sun with Mantras alone and some do namaskara or salutation alone without the mantras in several ways.

The physical–alone namaskara usually is made up of a start from standing position, prostrate with the arms stretched forward, then return to the starting position. This is known as danda samarpanam and is perhaps the most common method of physical form of Sun Salutation. The more elaborate method of Surya Namaskara usually involves twelve steps which include some asana like tadasana (mountain pose), uttanasana (forward bend), the dog poses.

In the vinyasa karma as taught by my Guru, Sri Krishnamacharya, it involves 12 steps done in a sequence, starting from Tadasana and traversing through asanas like uttanasana, utkatasana, caturanga dandasana, dand samarpana, urdhwa and adhomukha swanasana and returning to tadasana via utkatasana and uttanasana. Further all the movements are done with synchronized breathing. It is detailed in my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” (Pages 213 to 217).

The Mantra worship of the Sun is more prevalent in India. As mentioned earlier, many thousands of Indians do pray to the Sun with several Sun Mantras including prominently the Gayatri mantra—usually 108 times in the morning, 32 times at noon and 64 times at around dusk. Or they may use 12 mantras each at the end of the 12 vinyasas. These dvadasa (12) mantras could be seed or Bijakshara mantras, loukika(common) mantras of the sun or, 12 vedic mantras or a combination of all the three. Please refer to my book, “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”. Persons who do the danda samarpana may do it 12 times, saying the 12 mantras at the end of each of the 12 salutations to the sun. There is a stanza from the Vedas, mentioned earlier, which is a prayer to the sun to cure the worshipper from heart and skin ailments, which may be done with or without physical mantras.

The Yajur veda, the veda Sri Krishnamacharya was affiliated to (so am I) consists of 81 chapters or prapatakas. Each section or chapter (prapataka) may run from about 10 minutes to up to an hour, but average about half an hour. One of them is called Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation. Made of 132 paragraphs in 32 anuvakas (sections), it is said to be the longest chapter (paragraph wise) in this Veda. It takes a little over one hour to chant/recite this mantra portion.

I had the privilege of learning and then chanting this Aruna Parayana every Sunday morning for several years with my Guru Sri Krishnamacharya. Towards the end of his life , I chanted this Surya namaskara mantra with him for several days. It is said that in the olden days, many sick or even terminally ill people would be brought to a public place like the corridors of the temples, where Vedic Pundits will chant these surya namaskara mantras to let them listen to these mantras and do physical namaskara if possible.

My Guru once told me that in Mysore where he was with the Maharaja of Mysore, he along with some of his students would walk along the streets of Mysore chanting these mantras so that those who were too sick to come out and were confined to their homes would listen to a few of these mantra chants. Even now in India, these mantras are chanted every Sunday by several Indians singly or in groups at homes and at public places like temples. As mentioned this section of Sun Salutation is called Aruna, a name for Sun meaning one who is without any debts. Sun gives to everyone, for the entire universe, warmth, light, health and controls the weather and lets wind flow, and rain, vegetation etc. Even as it gives, it takes nothing from others, hence it is called ‘Aruna’ the unindebted.

This Surya Namskara starts and ends with a peace Invocation. A free translation of the peace chant is as follows. “Oh Divine Ones (Devas), let us hear auspicious sounds and news with our ears. Let us, the worshippers (of the Sun) see auspicious things. For firm limbs and healthy bodies let us pray to the gods (of nature). Let us live a full life pleasing the gods of nature (consistent with nature). May the Lord Almighty, give us welfare. May the Sun, the knower of all, give us health. Let the majestic Garuda protect us (from diseases and poisons). Let Brihaspati, the Universal Lord, bestow welfare on us.”

Here is a brief summary of the 32 sections

1.The gods who control the different aspects of nature like rain, wind, fire, nourishment happiness etc., are praised and their blessings invoked.

2.Description of the Solar System (Surya Mandala) as the ancients saw them built around the effulgent sun. The sun is described as the Father of Time (Kala Purusha)

3-6. A poetic description of the six seasons (Ritus) and the behavior of people during those seasons.

7.The Vedas say that the sun we see is only one of the eight suns in the universe, the names and characteristics of all the eight suns are described.

8.The ultimate extinction of each life is caused by the sun as he is also the Lord of time. The other types of deaths (called untimely) are subsidiary deaths and are preventable by appropriate methods (like sun salutation)

9.The fire which provides light and heat when the sun has set are also exalted.

10.The two worlds earth and heaven are praised variously

11.Importance of Self Realization and the means (Sun Salutation) are stressed

12.The Ultimate Reality (Indra) is extolled

13.The Three Worlds are described and their causes extolled.

14-19. Prayer to heavenly bodies like Sun, Wind and others for happiness here and hereafter and the destruction of misery here and hereafter.

20. Prayer to the guardian angels of all directions for protection.

21. Prayer to divine and wise beings for the spiritual knowledge.

22. That everything evolved out of Water (esoterically Consciousness) is described and the ultimate reality is extolled.

23. Water (Consciousness) is the source of all activity. And the Creator is extolled.

24-26. Sun Worship and the benefits are described.

27. Prayer to Sun and other divine beings for health in this life and release from the cycle of birth and death hereafter.

28. Prayer to Fire, an aspect of Sun’s Energy to ward off evil spirits, especially in the dark.

29. Prayer to Sun and the divine celestial beings for plentiful of rain.

30. Prayer to Sun for regaining lost health and rejuvenation.

31. Prayer to the gastric fire, for health and proper digestion

32. The do’s and don’ts of Suryanamskara. The three peace utterances end the mantra chant. Then the end peace chant.

The mantras can be chanted alone without physical namaskara, when the chanter at the end of each section mentally salutes the Sun. One may hold the hands in Anjali Mudra and say the mnatra prayer as follows

“Sri Chaya Suvarchalamba sameta Sri Surya Narayana Swamine Namh. Om Namo Narayanaya”.

It may be followed by a danda samarpana from the seated position and return to the seated position and chant the next section. Else one may stand up at the end of each of the 32 sections, to samasthiti and do the complete surya namaskara with individual mantras at the end of each vinyasas. I have done this in all my Teacher training programs and at some places like Austin, Houston , UK. Else the Surya Namaskara by Danda Samarpana can be performed at the end of each of the 32 anuvakas or sections.

Those that are merely listening but not chanting can do one round of the 12 step or 12 vinyasa Suryanamaskara with the appropriate breathing, and with or without the mantras within the namaskara (Please refer to page 213 to 217 in my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”) may be performed. Please also see this Suryanamaskara Chart based on the above with vinyasas and mantras and suggested breathing along with beautiful sketchs of the vinyasas. This was designed by my friend Steve Brandon of Harmony Yoga , Wells, UK and the sketches are by Charles Cox.

Contemporary Surya Namaskara has tended to be an entirely physical exercise. Surya Namaskara is “Bowing to Sun”. Many times it is done without sparing a thought to the sun and is done as just a nother piece of involved physical exercise. One can atleast think of the sun, empathise with gratitude for all that one gets from Sun in particular and Nature in general. Further it is supposed to be done only during daytime. One also has to keep in mind that sun salutation should not be strenuous as both Hatayoga and Rajayoga warn us againt straining and causing pain to ourselves (kaya klesa) while doing yoga. Yoga sutra says asanas should be comfortable (sukha) and Hatayogis say that a yogi should avoid painful exercises like weight lifting and too many strenuous Suryanamaskaras.

I have recorded about 40 audio cassettes and cds of several Vedic and other chants I had learnt from Sri Krishnamacharya (including Suryanamaskara/Aruna Parayana)and others for a leading recording company in South India. The Surya Namaskara chants running to about 60 minutes was recorded in mid 80s. I also have a recording of Aditya Hridayam mentioned earlier and the entire Sandhyavandana also produced during th 1980s. These ar available with the producers of these cd The Master Recording Company under the brand name Sangeetha in Chennai India. And Namarupa magazine published my aricle on Sandhyavandana (salutation to the sun at dawn, noon and dusk)with pictures and mantras.

We express a sense of gratitude to someone who has helped us. We may also have the same sense of gratitude and say a thank you to different aspects of nature like water, wind and earth and of course Sun. The vedic Rishis glorified the different aspects of nature as gods especially Sun.
(c) Srivatsa Ramaswami


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