- The sun is
golden haired, golden limbed and, interesting touch, golden tongued.
His eyes are golden orbs through which he regards the world and
gives him his name - Loka-chakshuh, the Eye of the World. If these
names sound like titles from a Robert Jordan fantasy epic, that
cannot be helped. The mythical imagination always runs in
predictable grooves no matter if it is 2000BC or 2000AD.
Surya rides across the sky in a golden chariot drawn by seven white
horses, personifications of the days of the week. The solar chariot
is the oldest hypothesis to explain the apparent movement of the sun
across the sky. The wheels of his chariot naturally have twelve
spokes for the obvious reasons. His charioteer is an interesting
personage called Aruna. This worthy is translucent and is an
undifferentiated mass of flesh under the waist and sitting down on
the job is about all he can do, but that is perfect for this task.
When the dawn breaks, personified as a beautiful woman called Ushas,
Surya is supposed to give chase to her. His light shines through the
translucent body of Aruna and that is why we have the Red Sun,
Rohita, visible in the morning. The rays of the sun are described
as the many arms of Surya reaching out to bless every corner of the
universe and infusing the realms of the gods with energy.
In later mythology, Surya is demoted somewhat. He is now a still
powerful god, but less than the Trinity. This, by the way, was not
reflected in popular belief. The cult of Surya grew steadily until
it had rivaled any of the gods and it reached a magnificent peak
between the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. The most beautiful
temples in India were built for his worship, a roll-call of
spectacular workmanship, the jewel-like wonder at Modhera, the
awesome Konark, the totally ruined temple of Martand, the little one
at Osian and perhaps many more, lost forever to iconoclastic fervor.
It is as though the creative energies of India had a high in
northern India with Sun temples and then sank in exhaustion.
Strangely enough, the Suryavanshi Rajput warrior clans of Rajasthan,
claiming descent from the sun never built a single temple for him.
They worshiped other gods even though they were very proud of such
noble descent. Go figure
representation of Surya too reached pretty high standards. Three eyes, four
hands holding water lilies, supposed to be the flower that longs for the
dawn, are standard. The sun is supposed to rise from, indeed be born of, the
Cosmic Waters, so the lilies are convenient symbolic shorthand. He is the
only Indian god ever known to be always shown wearing knee length boots and
in some cases distinct metal (copper) gloves. The boots are an
invariable rule in his sculpture as is the atibhanga posture, the immobile
erect stance of perfection, the god who is the Cosmic Pillar and support of
the universe. It is therefore an appalling development that somewhere from
the 14th century onwards a superstition developed, that to make Surya icons
is to invite the curse of leprosy! In such ways do traditions turn upon
themselves when they become decrepit. Surya was actually once the Lord of
Healing, a function the Solar gods, the Ashwinis, took over from him, and he
ended up feared as a bringer of disease. In any case that was the end of the
Surya legacy in art. There are no more active temples of Surya left either,
except as an adjunct to some more popular deity.