Surya is also known as Aditya, and is the Hindu god of the sun, and the sun itself. He is the supreme being that brings light to the world. Surya first appears in the Rigveda. The bringer of the Sun, Surya was thought to ride his chariot across the sky and defeat the demons of darkness. The Gayatri Mantra dedicated to Surya recited at the dawn of the day. Surya is the supreme source of energy and light and the origin of the universe. It is believed that the order and choice of words is arranged specifically to create an energetic power that impacts the person who chants in their body, their mind and spiritual self. The mantra is the very essence of the Vedas. It begins with the sound of Om, the very first sound that ever existed.
Surya is an early deity in the Hindu creation story. When the universe was created, the egg of the world split into two parts. The silver half became the earth and the gold half became the sky. The parts inside of the egg became the mountains, the clouds and the waters. Lord Brahma emerged from the cosmic egg and created the supreme god Vishnu. The very first sound in the cosmos, Om united with the intelligence of Vishnu and Surya was created. Lord Surya is the chief of the Navagraha, the nine Indian planets and important elements of Hindu astrology.
Each day he travels across the sky in his golden chariot pulled by seven horses with his charioteer, Aruna, the god of dawn. The seven horses represent the 7 chakras (spiritual centres) in the human body and the 7 colours in a rainbow. Surya has either two hands, each holding a lotus flower to symbolise rebirth, or four hands that hold a conch shell, a disc representing the chakras, a lotus and a gada. Surya’s sons Shani and Yama, are responsible for the judgment of human life. Shani provides the results of one’s deeds during one’s life through appropriate punishments and rewards while Yama grants the results of one’s deeds after death.
In other Hindu texts, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, there are also tales of Surya. When he was a baby, Hanuman stretched up to grab the sun because he thought it was a tasty mango. He put Surya in his mouth and the world went dark. The gods knew something was wrong so Lord Indra, the god of lightening, sent a bolt straight at Hanuman’s jaw and he dropped the sun.
In the Ramayana Surya is said to be the father of King Sugriva. Sugriva was the one who helped Rama defeat Ravana. He imparts training to Hanuman to help him lead the Vanara Sena or the Army of Monkeys. Interestingly, Lord Rama himself is a descendant of Surya – he is a Suryavanshi, hailing from the dynasty of the Suryavanshas.
It is the most widely celebrated Hindu festival dedicated to the Sun God. It is celebrated as Makar Sankranti in many parts of India and as the festival of Pongal by Tamils all over the world. People thank the Sun God for ensuring a good harvest and dedicate the first grain to him.