The cult of Sūrya was widespread across Northern India at an ancient time. The deity was known by various names like AdityaArkaBhānuSavitruPushanaRaviMārtandaMitra and Vivasvāna. Right from the hymns in the Rig Veda Sūrya was regarded with great reverence as dispeller of darkness and a symbol great spiritual power and advancement. During the Kushana era the worship of Surya reached a zenith competing with the worship of other major gods like Vishnu and Shiva. In some later day depictions from undivided Bengal under Pala kings there are sculptures of a three-headed, ten-armed Surya-Shiva holding in nilotpala, damaru, Shakti and other usual Saiva iconographic motifs. The figure corresponds to the imagery of Martanda Bhairava as depicted in the Saradatilaka-Tantra. There are also solar figures recovered from around 11th century depicted six-armed iconographies of the Sun god surrounded by his Sakti-s and parivara devata-s. Sena kings Kesava and Vishwarupa described themselves as parama saurya.

The Praihara-s of Kanyakubja were also vigorous solar worshipers. Rulers like Ramabhadra and Mahipala I had self-anointed titles like paramadityabhakta. In Gujarat the Sun temple in Modhera was build during the reign of Chalukya Bhima I. Probably the most famous of all Sun temples was in present day Multan of Pakistan. It was believed to have been created by the Samba who was the sun of Krshna, to cure himself from a disease. In some ancient texts we find Samba as the originater of Solar worship in India. During the conquest of that area by the Umayyad ruler Muhammad Bin Qasim the threat of destroying the temple was used to ward off counterattacks by Hindu kings from surrounding areas. Finally in mid-900s the temple and the murti was destroyed by Ismaili rulers.


In the earliest iconography Sūrya is often depicted sitting down in the style of royal Kushana portraits. During the Gupta era Sūrya was often depicted in Indo-Scythian clothing which became a part of the documented iconography of the deity. This was one of the factors which led scholars to believe that the cult of the Sun god was heavily influenced by Solar worship trends from the land of Persia. Varahamihira in his classic Brihad Samhita refers to the sun-worshiping cult of the priestly Magi from ancient Persia along with mentions details of consecration methods and rituals of the solar deities. Mihira himself belonged to a group of Maga brahmins from Ujjain whose primary deity was Sūrya. In some of the oldest depictions Surya is even shown wearing boot like footwere popular among the Sythians. That the cult of Sūrya was heavily influenced by ancient Persian worship of Mithra is a hypothesis adhered to by many scholars.

In Hindu texts his iconography shows him with two or four hands riding a chariot driven by 7 horses who represent the 7 meters of Sanskrit prosody: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha and Pankti. His charioteer is Aruna (dawn), and the god is flanked by Usha and Pratyusha. In the Vishnudharmottara of later origin Sūrya is depicted with 4 arms holding lotus flowers, a danda (staff) and a pen showing the brilliance he confers to writers and authors.  Late mediavel depictions of Surya show Danda in an anthromorphic form towards his left and Pingala standing on his right holding sword and shield respectively. By the time of the Visnudharmottara text Pingala is shown with a style and leaf (pen and paper) instead of a weapon. Additionally Surya’s cosorts also increase in number: Chhaya, Rajani, Nikhubha, and Suvarcasa.

Some icons of Sūrya also depict Revanta in the pantheon of the solar gods. Revanta is considered as a son of Surya who is given the lordship over Guhyaka-s as per the Markandeya Purana and whose chief duty was to protect travels in forests and lonely places from of wild animals and robbers. Eventually Revanta developed a cult of itself where he was shown riding a horse, hunting, and followed by a host of his troops. Ths imagery become popular in areas of Bihar and Bengal. A temple of Revanta was constructed by Vallabharaja of the Kalachuri kingdom of Ratnapura.


In astrology Sūrya is the representative of light, knowledge, confience, power and fame. He also rules over rhythms and musical ability and he is considered as the greatest destroyer of diseases – sarva roga nashanam – including the final disease of spiritual blindness. His changing iconography with the introduction of the writing instrument in his hand also depicts the evolution of Sūrya worship and that later on the deity was regarded as a patron of scholars and authors too. One of the oldest stotras of Sūrya which is adviced as relief from a multitude of problems is the famous Aditya Hrdayam Stotra from the Valmiki Ramayana, which was told to Lord Rama by Rishi Agasthya before his final battle with Ravana when the ikshvaku hero was, for a moment, afflicted by depression and fear. In many Sabar mantra prayoga-s Sunday is considered as the most auspicious day for perfecting protective techniques. When performing rituals for wish-fulfillment sometimes if an appropriate moment cannot be found then it is adviced to do the same around mid-day when the Sun is at the highest peak, overshadowing all other graha influences.





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