Worship of the Sun

B L Razdan
Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is mother of all cultures. The culture of Hinduism refers collectively to the thousands of distinct and unique cultures of several ancient religions (ancient Sumerian, Indus Valley, Ancient Egyptian religions, Aryans (Indo-Europeans), Ancient Greeks, Ancient Persians) who have arrived or settled in India over the millennia. Almost all ancient cultures worshipped Sun and Sun God worship is seen to have originated from ancient Egyptian religion that was very similar to Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma).
The people of the ancient Egypt worshipped the Sun God as Ra. It is possible there may be some parallels between the Sun worship of ancient Egypt and Sun worship of the Vedic people although both differed vastly in several other respects. The Sun is considered a divinity because it heralded the dawn of life and light and kept the night (Death) and chaos under control. It is also said that Iran was once a center of Solar worship and that some of the Magha priests of Iran had been brought to India to officiate in ceremonies.
There are two contexts behind worshiping the Sun: the natural context, resulting from understanding that the light (to see) and warmness (to live) are inevitable constituents of existence of our earth and the life on it and the spiritual context, resulting from understanding of the spiritual symbolic position of the Sun. The light helping us to see is also the light helping us to understand, to know, and to reach (based on our sight and thinking faculty) the wisdom about the world and about us.
The Vedic scriptures of the Hindu religion refer to the Sun as the store house of inexhaustible power and radiance. Thus Sun god is referred to as Surya or Aditya. The Vedas are full of hymns describing the celestial body as the source and sustainer of all life on Earth. The origin of the worship of the Sun in India is thus several centuries old. References to Sun worship are found in the Puranas. The Ramayana speaks of Sage Agastya initiating Lord Rama into Sun worship through the Aditya Hridaya Mantra. The astronomer and astrologer Varahamirhira makes references to the intricacies of ceremonies connected with the installation of the icon of the Sun. Mayura, who lived in the court of Harshavardhana, in1st millennium CE, composed the Surya Shatakam in praise of Sun and is believed to have been cured of blindness. Sun temples in ancient days were known as Aditya Grihas. The traveller Ktesias mentions a site of Sun worship in western India around 400BC.
Sun temples across the subcontinent absorb the flavour of the region that they belong to. Dakshinaarka Temple in the Gangetic Plains isconsidered to be a site for making offerings to the ancestors, Suryanaar Koyil in South India, Arasavilli and Konark on the East Coast of India, Modhera in Gujarat in Western India, Surya Pahar in North Eastern India and Unnao in Central India are some of the well known Sun temples of India. The remains of an ancient Sun temple are found at Martanda in Kashmir. It is said to date back to the first century CE. Ruins of a Sun temple which attracted thousands of visitors in the 7th century CE are found in Multan in Pakistan.
Several temples dedicated to Shiva, feature a small shrine for Surya the Sun God. In addition, it is believed that Surya, the Sun God has offered worship at several shrines in Tamilnadu; many of which have been designed in such a way that the Sun’s rays illuminate the sanctum of Shiva on certain days of the year. Several of the South Indian Temple Tanks also bear the name Surya Theertham or Surya Pushkarini.
Surya is the most perfect of all aspects of divinity because he has no favourites or chosen ones, he is impartial and shines his light and grace equally on all without reservation. He gives no laws, demands no worship, punishes none and blesses all, and is like most of the worlds divinities, indifferent to prayer. The famous g?yatri mantra which is the essence of the Veda is addressed to Surya. “We contemplate that glorious effulgence, the light of the universe, may that Supreme Light enlighten our intellects.”
Apparently the Sun is the source of all life on the planet Earth. Without the Sun we wouldn’t be here. This fact is self-evident and no one could deny this. Speaking strictly scientifically, we live on sunlight through the process of photosynthesis. So the Sun is the visible and tangible creator, sustainer and destroyer of all life on Earth. That’s why we worship him.
Verily the Sun deserves to be worshipped. Those who have been reluctant to do so till now should start doing it in view of the emerging role of the Sun in solving the energy crisis as also the pollution problem, both of which are threatening the future of our very lives. The Vedic reference to the Sun as being the store house of inexhaustible power and radiance has been scientifically established. The total amount of solar energy incident on Earth is vastly in excess of the world’s current and anticipated energy requirements. If suitably harnessed, this highly diffused source has the potential to satisfy all future energy needs. In the 21st century solar energy is expected to become increasingly attractive as a renewable energy source because of its inexhaustible supply and its nonpolluting character, in stark contrast to the finite fossil fuels coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
Mankind has been harnessing solar energy since ages. As early as the 7th century B.C., people used simple magnifying glasses to converge the light of the Sun into beams so hot that they could cause wood to catch fire. Over 100 years ago in France, a scientist used heat from a solar collector to make steam to drive a steam engine. In the beginning of this century, scientists and engineers began researching ways to use solar energy in earnest. One important development was a remarkably efficient solar boiler invented by Charles Greeley Abbott, an American astrophysicist, in 1936. The solar water heater gained popularity at this time and the industry was in full swing just before World War II. This growth lasted until the mid-1950s when low-cost natural gas became the primary fuel for heating American homes. The public and world governments remained largely indifferent to the possibilities of solar energy until the oil shortages of the 1970s, when the push for renewable energy sources was driven by oil shortages and price increases. Today, the push for renewable energy sources is driven by a renewed concern for the environment.
Solar energy is the prototype of an environmentally friendly energy source. It consumes none of our precious energy resources, makes no contribution to air, water, or noise pollution, does not pose a health hazard, and contributes no harmful waste products to the environment. There are other advantages too. Solar energy cannot be embargoed or controlled by any one nation. And it will not run out until the sun goes out.
The past few years have seen a steady rise in India’s global stature, manifested in its enhanced economic and diplomatic clout. As the world is looking to mitigate the rapidly growing threat of climate change, India figures prominently as a vital cog in the wheel. It is now poised to take up the mantle of climate leadership, contribute actively in setting the agenda for future action and act as a role model for sustainable growth. Perhaps the first indicator of India’s larger role in this sphere was the setting up of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) on the sidelines of the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) – a step initiated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in collaboration with French President Emmanuel Macron. The ISA has since emerged as a credible platform for ensuring universal energy access and energy equity, shifting the geopolitical balance towards tropical countries with rich solar energy potential. Today, India is fast emerging as a global clean energy powerhouse, where the renewable sector has taken rapid strides, though the seeds of this “green energy revolution” were sown much earlier.
Long before COP 21, India was one of the first countries to set up a Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources in 1992, renamed the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in 2006, a testament to India’s mission to propagate clean energy sources since the early days of sustainable development. However, it was in 2014, when the National Democratic Alliance, led by Prime Minister Modi, came into power, that renewables in India got a real shot in the arm. The government envisioned renewable energy as a cleaner, sustainable alternative to polluting fossil fuels, taking numerous steps to strengthen this sector in a bid to satisfy the country’s energy demand. Several policy reforms, incentives and focused attention from the government created a conducive environment for private players to enter this domain. It was around this time that the concept of Independent Power Providers crystallized, with several dynamic entrepreneurs venturing into this sector. This increased the country’s renewables capacity and triggered a transition towards clean energy.
As a developing country, a key challenge for India was to meet the growing demand for energy, driven by rapid economic growth and sheer size of its population. Energy self-sufficiency and universal energy access were top national priorities inasmuch as it was critical that India look beyond dependence on imports for its energy requirements. At the same time, as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally, pressure was mounting on India to cut back on the emission of harmful pollutants. The government was quick to realize that growth and sustainability had to be addressed concurrently and wisely chose to promote renewables over carbon-spewing fossil fuels – with an eye on leveraging the abundant sunlight and wind that India is naturally blessed with. May Surya Deva continue to shine on India, that is, Bharat!
(The author is formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.)