Namaskāra नमस्कार

Q… Did your Guru Sri Krishnamacharya teach you Sun Salutation or Suryanamaskāra?

Oh yes! Yes it was one of the first chants he taught me. You know Suryanamaskara mantras form the longest chapter in the Yajur veda (Krishna)–132 paragraphs in 32 sections– which is still in vogue in India especially South India. Krishna yajurveda aka Taittiriya sakha (branch) consists of 81 chapters divided into Sanhita and Brahmana portions. The Sanhita contains 44 chapters divided into 8 khandas or sections. One of the chapters is rudram. Aruna or suryanamaskara is the first chapter in taittiriya aranyaka a part of the Brahmana section. Some experts included another chapter the 82nd which is known as ekagni khanda. It contains mantras and procedures for Vedic initiation and also the mantras for wedding ceremony and marriage vows.

In fact learning to chant is a slow process. He would chant a word or a short phrase with the svaras which I would say twice, then the next phrase. It would go on for about an hour. Then the next time we meet for the chanting the same procedure would be repeated . It will go on for a few times maybe 20 times . By then one would be good to chant the whole passage. The teacher and the student then chant the entire lesson for a few days say for five days and then the teacher would go to the next section. I think it took almost a year when I completed learning this. Thereafter almost every Sunday at exactly at 7 in the morning I would go to his house and chant Suryanamaskara with him for an entire hour. This went on for a long time and thereafter I used to chant on several Sundays at home. It is also known as Arunam. This is chanted for health as Surya is the deity of health (Arogyam bhaskarath iccheth) It is also one of my first chants I recorded. I think the last time I met my Guru, we chanted this Suryanamaskāra together for a full hour.

Q…I mean sun salutation…

Yes Sun salutation is a very important aspect of the vedas. You find several portions of the vedas containing mantras addressed to the sun. In fact there is a daily ritual called ‘sandhyavandana’ which many people in India still do once in the morning or three times a day at dawn, midday and at dusk. Gayatri is an important mantra addressed to Sun. It is the second most important mantra in the vedas next only to pranava or ‘OM’. There are also many more mantras in the sandhyavandana addressed to the sun. Since Sandhyavandana is a daily duty (nitya karma) it makes it mandatory to worship the sun daily, several times daily for many. Here is mantra from the vedas to be chanted in the morning

May the sun who stimulates everything, anger which enslaves all and the gods who preside over anger, protect me from the sins committed through anger. May I be absolved of the sins committed at night with my mind, speech, hands, legs, stomach, generative organ as also of whatever other sins may linger in me. Devoid of all sins, I offer me into the effulgence of the sun who is the source of immortality.

Sun worship was popular as the sun was considered to be the manifestation of the ultimate reality, Brahman or god. It also emphatically says that the individual self and the Brahman are one and the same
Asavadityo brahma. Brahmai vaham asmi..This sun is Brahman. I indeed am Brahman.

Here is another vedic mantra chanted every morning:

Mitrasya charsani dhritah shravo devasya sanasim| Satyam chitrsra vastamam | Prithivimutadyam. | Mitrah kristi sabhichasthe | Satyaya havyam ghritavad vidhema Pra sa mitra marto astu prayasvan. yasta aditya | Siksati vratena. Na hanyate, na jiyate, tvotho | Nenam agmho asno tyantito na durat ||

I meditate on the glory and fame of the all-protecting sun which is adorable, eternal, bewitching the hearts of all listeners. The sun guides all, knowing everything. He supports the earth and the sky. He watches all creation without blinking. To Him we make offerings for attaining eternal fruits. O sun who is Mitra (universal friend), may he who is pleased by worship, get me the full benefit of righteousness without fail.

At noon time this beautiful vedic mantra , poetic and profound, is chanted:

Asatyena rajasa vartamano nivesayannamrtam Martyam cha| Hiranyayena savita rathenadevo yati bhuvana Vespasian | Udvayam tamasaspari pasyanto jyotiruttaram Devam devatra suryamaganma jyotiruttamam | Udutyam jatavedasam devam vahanti k etavah. Drise visvaya suryam | Chitram devanamudagadanikam chaksurmitrasya Varunasyagneh| A pra dyava prthivi antariksam | Surya atma jagatastasthusachva |Tacchakshurdevahitam | Purastacchukramuccharath | Pasyema saradassatam jivema saradassatam | Nandama saradassatam, modama saradassatam | Bhavama saradassatam| srinavama saradassatam | Prabravama saradassatam ajitasyama Saradassatam | jyok cha suryandrise | Ya udaganmahato arnavadvibhrajamanah | Sarirasya madhyat sama vrishabho lohitaksassuryo Vipascvin manasa punatu ||

The Sun riding a golden chariot goes round scrutinizing all the worlds and shining with self-effulgence and directing by means of His radiance celestials and humans in their respective tasks. The Sun rises swallowing darkness, with great splendour, protecting the celestials also. We who gaze at the Sun (sunlight) shall attain the great radiance of the Self. For inspecting the worlds, 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 Mitrah Varunah and Agnih and who is of the form of all the celestials. 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 autumns (years) that orb of the Sun which rises in the east and looks after the welfare of the celestials like an eye. May we live thus for a hundred autumns ( years) . May we rejoice with our kith and kin for a hundred years. May we live gloriously 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 seeing the Sun (by his light) for a hundred years. May my whole mind be sanctified by the Sun who bestows all our needs, whose eyes are red, who is omniscient and who rises from amidst the waters of the ocean illuminating all the quarters.

And here is the final sun salutation mantra in the daily ritual:

Namah savitre jagateka chaksuse, Jagat prasuti, sthiti nasa hetave| Trayimayaya trigunatma dharine, irinchi narayana sankaratmane||

Salutations to the sun who functions as the sole eye of the world, who is the cause of the creation, sustention, and dissolution of the worlds, who is of the form of the veda, and who appears as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva by the manifestation of the three gunas.

Q..Ok, OK… It is fine but what I wanted to know was suryanamaskara where you count 1,2, 3 etc and prostrate. Did you learn the namaskara from..

Namaskāra or prostration is done almost by everybody in India especially in the South. You do namaskāra to your elders, to the deities in the temples. When one goes to the temple and stands in the shrine of a deity like Ganesa or Siva, in front of the icon/idol, one would have the darshan of the deity then close the eyes and mentally read out a wish list and then do the namaskara. How? From standing one would bend forward and down, place the hands on the floor, bend the knees . Then if one is a kid one would jump back or an older one would take one leg after the other , lie face down on the floor (prostrate) stretch the arms forward and keep the palms in Anjali mudra. Then again one would pray, then placing the palms on the floor lift the trunk bend the legs and slowly raise up to the standing position. This is the namaskara.

Women follow a slightly different procedure though. You see, the toddler standing near the parent would also do it even without prompting but by merely watching the parent. So nobody really teaches how to do namaskara.The same namaskara is done when you see elders. When I got married, immediately after the wedding ceremony, I with my wife did namaskarams for the next half hour or so many– may be about 25 times to different elders present and sought their blessings. The same procedure is used all through life including prostrating before the sun. but usually the sun salutation is done in the morning, at sunrise or at dusk when the sun is still visible. Usually it is done as a worship to the sun with prayer for physical and mental health. Many people in India have not learnt suryanamaskara formally from any yoga teacher. In the morning they may go to an open space, the terrace or the seashore at dawn and prostrate towards the eastern direction as the sun rises. Some quietly do the suryanamaskara in their own modest room once, three times or twelve times with the bhavana of sun. But the modern suryanamaskara is done at any time, especially in a closed studio room after sunset without any thought or bhavana of the sun

Q. What is namaskāra?

Namaskāra is namaH+kāraH
NamaH is to bow. It comes from the root NaM to bend or bow (NaM prahvi have) KaaraH is the act So namaskāra would be the act of bowing or simply bowing. There are different forms of it. Keeping the hands in Anjali mudra, bending down and touching the feet of the elders, full prostration as mentioned earlier or different modifications of it. Namaskara is also done with mantras. There are twelve name series (dvadasa) or 108 (ashtottara) name series or 1008 name series (sahasranama) of various deities. At the end of each name or mantra the word namaH is added–like vishnave namaH, or to the sun, mitraya namaH, suryaya namaH– and a flower or turmeric (Kumkum) powder or basal leaf or vilva leaf may be offered to the deity. This when done silently is manasika– namaskara or salutation done with the mind. There is a beautiful chapter in Yajur veda known as rudram which is also known as namakam or one that contains salutations or namaH to Siva.

Here is the rendition of this chant.


Q…I am told by some that your Guru did not teach Suryanamaskāra, the prostration at all.

Contrarily, some even say that he adapted it from other contemporary exercise systems. Since in India we were all familiar with the steps involved in namaskra he taught the sequence in passing as one subroutine, one of the 150 or so sub routines he taught me. But clearly the emphasis was on the sun mantras and the devotion. He also taught the individual sun mantras, a dozen of them, so that we could use them along with the movements making it a comprehensive sun salutation, sun worship–a samantraka suryanamaskara.

Surya namaskara is not a mere physical exercise but a total worship of the sun, physical, mantras and a mindful endeavor. Namaskāra has three elements– of the body (kayika) of speech (vacika) and of the mind (manasika). My guru also taught namaskara to the directions because ding namaskara is part of the daily sandhya I had referred to above. In my yoga classes with him the physical namaskara was seldom part of the daily routine but the hour long suryanamaskara chant we did so very often. To my guru Suryanamaskara was devotion to the sun, an awesome manifestation of God. Surya was considered Surya-narayana or the Lord in the form of sun.

So whether I do Suryanamaskāra A, Suryanamaskāra B or whatever, I should spare a thought for the glorious selfless sun. Since one can not gaze at the sun with naked eye, my Guru would say “Image the bright sun in the middle of the eyebrows or in your heart space (dahara akasa)” One may do it before or after a suryanamaskara or even during suryanamaskara. Maybe, one may say a short prayer to the sun, in any language one is comfortable with along with the one two three counted suryanamaskara or prostration.

An example:

Udyannadya mitramahaH| Arohannuttaraam divaM| Hridrogam mama surya| Harimancha nasaya| This Vedic prayer in nosh-up meter is a prayer for a healthy heart.

Oh Mitra (friend), rising in the sky every day, you move up gloriously in the sky, Do please remove my heart ailment, And the green skin patches (due to poor circulation)

If someone asks me if Sri Krishnamacharya taught Suryanamaskāra, I would say “Oh yes, an emphatic YES“., to be done with body (kayika) with devotion (manasika) and with mantras (vacika)

Here are some sample videos of suryanamaskāra with mantras. two examples , one for women and then the ding namaskara or namaskara to the directions.


(c) Srivatsa Ramaswami

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