Surya – The Sun God
- sun Worship around the World
From time immemorial, man of every age and every corner of the earth has worshipped the Sun as a god and as an embodiment of natural and supernatural powers. Considered as the source of all energies, there is a profound relationship between man and the Sun. He has been one of the most impressive phenomena of the nature which evoke admiration and reverence from all over the world. As a source of light and life, he has pre-eminent position among the deities of nature. The prominence and glory of the Solar orb, its beauty and splendour, its importance in creation, its primal role in the cosmic evolution has constituted a very special place in human civilization. Seen as an object of great veneration, he has become the focus of attention of mankind since the beginning of life.
Sun worship was widespread in olden times. Relics of solar symbolism and veneration are extant even today in countries like Mexico, Egypt and Iran. It was prevalent in the whole of southern Europe, Middle East and the Far East, a large portion of Northeast America and a part of Australia, though the reason for worshipping the Sun varied from region to region.
In Egypt, Sun worship reached its zenith in the 16th-14th century BCE during the reign of Akhnaton. The Sun was represented by Aton as the solar orb and was called by various names such as Ra, Re, Atan, Horus, Hathar, Tum etc. He was depicted as a human or as an eagle headed figure or as Sun’s discus ‘Shamasha’ and represented as human figure. The Assyrians worshipped him under the name ‘Marduk’. During Graeko-Roman culture, he was worshipped in the anthropomorphic forms of Helios and Apollo. The Greeks also worshipped the rising and the setting Sun.
The Sun worship also reached its height and most evolved form with the Atzec (Mexico), Maya and Inca civilizations of South America. The Inca culture was totally based on worship of the Sun. The Chinese believed that there existed ten Suns, appearing in the sky by turn and carried across the heaven by a chariot drawn by dragons and driven by their mother. The Japanese call their country ‘Nippon’ which literary means ‘Origin of the Sun’. Even their flag depicts a red ball on white background symbolizing the Sun. Their legend of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu traces Japanese ancestry. The Sumerians (3000 -1400 BCE) are arguably the very first Sun worshippers. They call their Sun God as Utu.
The Sun worship was in its apogee in Iran in the post-Zoroastrian epoch where he was known as Mithra. He is the same as the Vedic Sun God Mitra. In Egypt, Iran and India the emphasis has been more on the positive aspects of the Sun as a benefactor and a source of energy.
Personified as the ultimate deity, the Sun has been carved in stone, chiseled out of wood, painted on rock and in the caves in the form of symbolic representation as a simple circle, a circle radiating rays, a wheel, a full bloomed lotus, a svastika (found in the pre-historic antiquities of Spain, Portugal, Greece and America) etc. The four arms of svastika have been taken to indicate the position of the Sun at Midnight, Dawn, Noon and Dusk during his cosmic journey from east to west. Svastika also symbolizes fertility and eternity according to Indian tradition.
- Sun Temple Remains Worldwide
The popularity of Sun worship is evidently known from the archaeological remains of Sun temples throughout the world. Some important temples are enumerated below:
Ancient Egypt seems to be the cradle of the Sun worship. Many temples dedicated to the Sun, the Solar god, popularly called ‘Ra’ were constructed by Pharaohs of the Egyptian dynasties. Many of them are pre-dated to the Sun temple at Karnak in the city of Thebes. Remains of two Sun temples, which have been unearthed by archaeologists, are of Nyuserre at Abu Ghurab and of Userkaf at Abusir.
The ruins of Nyuserre’s Sun temple named ‘Delight of Ra’ are at a place called Abu Ghurab (Arabic meaning ‘father of Ravens’). It is 9.5 kms south-west of Cairo city. It was composed of three parts i.e., a valley temple, a cause way and an east facing temple containing an obelisk. The entire edifice was made of lime stone blocks and was adorned with columns of red granite. The temple is dated back to the 2nd half of 25th century BCE.
The unique structure of Userkaf at Abusir was built during the rule of the first king of 5th dynasty of Pharaohs of Egypt. Userkaf was the founder of the fifth dynasty who named it as ‘Re’s Stronghold’ Userkaf temple complex is the oldest and dedicated to the Sun god. The rectangular temple facing east is made of mud bricks covered with limestone. It is in ruins and in bad state of preservation. The temple complex resembles a pyramid complex. It consists of a valley temple, upper temple and a 16 pillared courtyard. At the western end of the courtyard are the ruins of a large stone obelisk symbolizing resting place of the Sun god. It is believed that the temple acted as an astronomical clock for the sacrifice, made at dawn. The temple is datable to 2400 BCE.
In the recent past in 2006, the ruins of an Egyptian Sun temple was discovered from a suburb of the Cairo city called Ain Shams. The temple ruins contain a large statue of Pharaoh Ramses II. The site was once a part of the ancient city of Holiopolis, which served as the centre of Sun worship in ancient Egypt. The chief Sun god Re was the patron of Holiopolis.
The temple was built of limestone. The excavation also unearthed the remains of one pillar bearing inscriptions Ramses II. Ramses II is believed to have ruled Egypt from around 1279 to 1213 BCE which is known from his military and monumental activities. To celebrate his victory, he might have erected the statue and temples himself all over Egypt.
The Karnak temple complex commonly known as ‘Karnak’ comprises a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons and other buildings. Karnak was the ancient Egyptian Ipet-isut (the most selected of places) and the main place of worship. It is part of the monumental city of Thebes in Egypt.
The term ‘Karnak’ is often understood as the precinct of Amun-Ra. The presiding deity of the complex through the ages was obviously ‘Re’ or ‘Ra’ i.e., Sun God. The complex is a vast open-air museum and the second largest ancient religious site in the world after Angkor Vat temple of Cambodia. It is the second most visited tourist site next to Giza pyramids near Cairo.
The complex contains precincts of Amun Ra, Mantu, and Mut and the dismantled temples of Amenhotep IV. The construction of temples started in middle kingdom and continued up to Ptolemaic times. Approximately thirty Pharaohs contributed to the buildings.
One famous aspect of Karnak temple complex is the hypostyle Hall in the precinct of Amun-Re, comprising an area of 50,000 sq. ft. with 134 massive columns arranged in 16 rows. 122 of these columns are 10 m. tall while other 12 are 21 m. tall with diameter of 3 m. The architrave in top of these columns weighs 70 tons. The temple complex appears to have been in long use since 18th century BCE to the 3rd century BCE.
The temple of Sun located at Machu Pichu in Peru is a very important archaeological sites. It has one of the most beautiful Inca constructions inside a cave. Originally, the Sun temple was in an extremely protected enclosure. The temple can be approached through a double wooden door, secured with a safety mechanism; stone ring prevented the passage of the onlookers when it officiated the rite for the Sun god.
The best architectural specimen of Inca civilization is located at the highest altitude of the mountain range. Perhaps, it was considered to prepare the edifice nearer/closer the Sun which would allow them a better and more appropriate placement as well as for their astronomical studies and for the religious rituals.
The main building is known as the tower, made of finely carved stone blocks. The tower shows a semi-circular impressive architectural design while its circular wall shows two windows with strange trapezoidal shape. The structure used to house the mummified corpses of several members of the highest aristocracy of Inca civilization.
The enormous pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan belonging to pre-Colombian period is in the country of Mexico. The monument is dated back to 1800 years BP. It consists of a towering stone structure that has become an icon in the collective imagination of the millions. The ancient site was first brought to light through excavation in 1905. The pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan symbolizes the pride of the Atzec names for the site and its buildings in the history of Mesoamerica.
The temples of the Sun in Beijing was built in 1530 CE during the Ming dynasty by emperor Jiajing together with new temples dedicated to earth, moon and an expansion of temple of heaven. The temple of Sun was used by imperial court for elaborate acts of worship. An important element was the red colour which was associated with the Sun. The temple is now part of a public park.