Sun- The God that has been worshipped since times immemorial across all cultures

The Sun has held, and continues to hold, a very important place in the life of humans as well as other living and non-living beings. It is one of the main factors that ensures the continuation and survival of life on planet Earth. It is, therefore, no surprise that Sun has been worshipped since times immemorial across almost all cultures of the world.

Ancient cultures:

The Sun God has been the central figure in all ancient cultures. Right from the Egyptian deity Ra to the Hindu god Surya; Sun occupied a reverential place in the pantheon of Gods. He played different roles in different cultures. While he was the ruler of heaven in some, in others he was the deity of nourishment and growth. In some traditions like the Latvian culture Sun was a female deity; a goddess named SaulÄ—. Some Celtic traditions also consider Sun to be a goddess and not a god. Be that as it may Sun worship was widely prevalent among all ancient cultures such as the Aztecs, Mayans, Egyptians, Celtic people, Buddhist and traditional Chinese and Vedic Hindus among others. In fact in pre-Islamic Arabia too Sun worship was carried on until Muhammad abolished the practice.

Vehicle, symbolism and importance:

He is either shown riding a boat or crossing the sky in his chariot. In most traditions the setting and rising of the sun was considered to be symbolic of his death and resurrection. Similarly, the change in seasons was closely related to the movement of the sun through the sky and the solstices were considered to be periods when the sun changed the course of his vehicle in order to reverse his direction.

Although the Sun God was more often than not one among the pantheon of Gods; for a brief period in Egyptian history all the deities of polytheistic Egypt were changed to monotheistic Sun God Aten. The new religion known as Atenism was founded by Akhenaten belonging to the 18th dynasty. During his time the Sun was symbolised by a single disk.

The Sun was supposed to be a giver of life and the ancients believed that it was he who made life viable which was obviously the truth. They tracked the movement of the Sun to determine the sowing and harvesting of crops. The Sun”™s path through the day helped them to find out the time of the day in the absence of watches and clocks. All in all Sun and its movements ruled all aspects of human life and hence the ancients revered Him so much.

Vedic deity Surya:

Surya is the main deity among the Navagrahas (nine planets) and is widely worshipped in India since ancient times. The Gayatri Mantra is dedicated to Him and he is known by a number of names such as Savitr, Ravi, Bhanu and Bhaskar among others. Surya Namaskar is not just a form of exercise but a method of mind and body integration. With science discovering the importance of Vitamin D and asking people to get more of the “˜sun”™; Surya Namaskar is a sure shot way of taking in the vital vitamin.

Sun is the centre of our universe and the most important source of life on earth. Without its warmth and light earth would freeze into nothingness. The ancients recognized this life giving aspect and thereby revered and worshipped Sun. Many festivals have been and continue to be celebrated in His honour. Sun was not just a giver of life but also a dispeller of darkness.

Hence it isn”™t surprising that our Rishis have extolled the Sun in the celebrated Gayatri Mantra.

ॐ भूर्भुव: स्व: तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं । भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि, धीयो यो न: प्रचोदयात् ।।

                   (Aum Bhur Bhuvah Swah, Tat Savitur Varenyam

                    Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi, Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat)

(Rough translation: Oh God, the Protector, the basis of all life, Who is self-existent, Who is free from all pains and Whose contact frees the soul from all troubles, Who pervades the Universe and sustains all, the Creator and Energizer of the whole Universe, the Giver of happiness, Who is worthy of acceptance, the most excellent, Who is Pure and the Purifier of all, let us embrace that very God, so that He may direct our mental faculties in the right direction.)

Latha Iyer**