Texts and history
means Sun in Indic literature. Above: Sunrise in Uttarakhand
The oldest surviving Vedic hymns, such as the hymn 1.115 of the Rigveda, mention Sūrya with particular reverence for the "rising sun” and its symbolism as dispeller of darkness, one who empowers knowledge, the good and all life. However, the usage is context specific. In some hymns, the word Surya simply means sun as an inanimate object, a stone or a gem in the sky (Rigvedic hymns 5.47, 6.51 and 7.63); while in others it refers to a personified deity.
The Vedas assert Sun (Surya) to be the creator of the material universe (Prakriti). In the layers of Vedic texts, Surya is one of the several trinities along with either Agni or Varuna and either Vayu or Indra, which are presented as an equivalent icon and aspect of the Hindu metaphysical concept called the Brahman.
In the Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature, Surya appears with Agni (fire god) in the same hymns. Surya is revered for the day, while Agni for its role during the night. The idea evolves, states Kapila Vatsyayan, where Surya is stated to be Agni as the first principle and the seed of the universe. It is in the Brahmanas layer of the Vedas, and the Upanishads that Surya is explicitly linked to the power of sight, to visual perception and knowledge. He is then interiorized to be the eye as ancient Hindu sages suggested abandonment of external rituals to gods in favor of internal reflections and meditation of gods within, in one's journey to realize the Atman (soul, self) within, in texts such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Kaushitaki Upanishad and others.
The Mahabharata epic opens its chapter on Surya that reverentially calls him as the "eye of the universe, soul of all existence, origin of all life, goal of the Samkhyas and Yogis, and symbolism for freedom and spiritual emancipation.
In the Mahabharata, Karna is the son of Surya and unmarried princess Kunti. The epic describes Kunti's trauma as an unmarried mother, then abandonment of Karna, followed by her lifelong grief. Baby Karna is found and adopted by a low caste charioteer but he grows up to become a great warrior and one of the central characters in the great battle of Kurukshetra where he fights his half brothers. He was killed unfairly by his brother and Karna, after fighting against misfortune throughout his life, finally returned back to his father.
Surya in the Buddhist Bodh Gaya
relief (right, middle).
Surya is celebrated as a deity in Buddhist artwork, such as the ancient works attributed to Ashoka. He appears in a relief at the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, riding in a chariot pulled by four horses, with Usha and Prattyusha on his sides. Such artwork suggests that the Surya as symbolism for the victory of good over evil is a concept adopted in Buddhism from an earlier Indic tradition.
Greek and Persian influences
Sun is a common deity in ancient and medieval cultures found in South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The features and mythologies of Surya share resemblances with Hvare-khshaeta of pre-Islam Persia, and the Helios-Sol deity in the Greek-Roman culture. Surya is a Vedic deity, states Elgood, but its deity status was strengthened from the contacts between ancient Persia and India during the Kushan era, as well as after the 8th-century when Sun-worshipping Parsees moved to India. Some Greek features were incorporated into Surya iconography in post-Kushan era, around mid 1st millennium, according to Elgood.