Weekly Feature - Aug 6 1999
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Sun Temples in India
A Special Templenet Feature on the eve of the Total Solar Eclipse on Aug 11, 1999solar.jpg (18778 bytes)

1. Introduction
. Dakshinaarka Temple at Gaya, Bihar
3. Suryanaar Koyil in Tamilnadu
4. Suryanarayana Temple at Arasavilli
5. Surya Pahar Temple in Assam
6. Bhramanya Dev Temple at Unao
7. Sun Temple at Modhera - Gujarat
8. The Grand Konark Sun Temple
9. Sun Temples outside India
10.Solar Eclipse Links
11.Travel & Tourism Links

Introduction: The Vedic scriptures of the Hindu religion refer to the sun as the store house of inexhaustible power and radiance. Ths sun god is referred to as Surya or Aditya. The Vedas are full of hymns describing the celestial body as the source and sustainer of all life on earth. The origin of the worship of the Sun in India is thus several centuries old.

References to sun worship are found in the puranas. The Ramayana speaks of Sage Agastya initiating Rama into sun worship through the Aditya Hridaya Mantra. The astronomer and astrologer Varahamirhira makes references to the intricacies of ceremonies connected with the installation of the icon of the Sun. It is also said that Iran was once a center of Solar worship and that some of the Magha priests of Iran had been brought to India to officiate in ceremonies. 

There are several temples enshrining the Sun God as the principal deity.  Several temples dedicated to Shiva, feature a small shrine for Surya the Sun God. In addition, it is believed that Surya, the Sun God has offered worship at several of the shrines in Tamilnadu; many of these shrines have been designed in such a way that the sun's rays illuminate the sanctum (of Shiva) on certain days of the year. Several of the South Indian Temple Tanks also bear the name Surya Theertham or Surya Pushkarini.

This article takes readers on a journey through seven  temples dedicated primarily to Surya,  Dakshinaarka Temple in the Gangetic Plains, Suryanaar Koyil in South India, Arasavilli and Konark on the East Coast of India, Modhera in Gujarat (Western India), Surya Pahar in North Eastern India and Unao in Central India.   It should be mentioned here that remains of an ancient Sun temple are found at Martanda near Srinagar in Kashmir. It is said to date back to the first century AD. Ruins of a sun temple which attracted thousands of visitors in the 7th century AD are found in Multan in Pakistan.

As with all other temples in India,  legends and beliefs are associated with each of the above temples. It is interesting to note that one of the beliefs shared by worshippers at these temples situated so far apart - is that visits to these temples followed by a dip in the sacred tanks associated with them would bring relief to believers ailing from blindness, leprosy and other skin diseases.

The Dakshinaarka temple at Gaya, Bihar
There is an ancient Sun temple at Gaya in the state of Bihar. Offerings to the ancestors are made at the Surya Kunda or the Dakshina Maanas tank in front of the temple. Sun worship apparently was very popular in the Magadha region which included Gaya. Numerous old images of the Sun God Aditya are found in the Gaya region and there are still quite a number of sun worshippers in Gaya. It is said that they may have descended from the fire worshippers of Central Asia. In fact, the granite image of Aditya (this particular image here is also referred to as Dakshinaarka) or the Sun God worshipped here is portrayed as wearing a jacket, a waist girdle and high boots in the Iranian tradition. Hundreds of people visit this temple on Sundays.

Sun worship in the Magadha region that encompassed Gaya has been mentioned in the Puranas and thus this temple is said to be of very ancient origin. The current structure dates back to the 13th century, where the South Indian emperor Prataparudra of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh is said to have built it.

The Sun Temple at Gaya faces east and is located close to the famous Vishnupaada temple where a footprint of Vishnu is said to be enshrined. To the east of the temple is the tank Surya Kunda. The temple is a simple and plain one, with a dome over it. The comparatively larger sabha mandapa stands in front of the sanctum. Massive pillars line the mandapa where there are graceful stone sculptures of Shiva, Bhramaa, Vishnu, Surya and Durga.

There are two other notable Sun temples at Gaya, namely the Uttaraka temple near the Uttara Maanas tank and the Gayaditya temple on the river Falgu.

The Bhramanya Dev Temple at Unao in Madhya Pradesh
The Brahmanya Dev (Baramju) temple dedicated to the Sun is located at Unao near Jhansi in Madhya Pradesh. It is a well visited temple. Local belief is that worshippers find relief from ailments such as blindness and leprosy and other skin diseases. The stone image of the Sun God stands here on a brick platform covered with black plates. Twenty one triangles representing the 21 phases of the sun are engraved in the shrine.There is a protective brass cover for the image. Sunday is the special day of worship. This temple was patronized by the Peshwas and by the ruler of Datia, a nearby town.

Sun Temple at Surya Pahar in Assam
This relatively modern Sun temple in the vicinity of the Surya Pahar Hill near Goalpara in Assam. This temple enshrines a circular stone tablet having 12 images of Aditya in a circle with an image of Kashyapa the father of Aditya in the center. Surya is said to be the son of Aditi and Kashyapa (Prajapati or the creator of beings). Each of the Adityas os one faced and two armed. According to the Puranas the Adityas are 12 in number. The text Kalika Purana mentions Surya mountain, the perpetual abode of the sun. Sun worship was present in early Assam. Surya Pahad is referred to as a virtual gallery of archeological remains. At the foot of the hill, covering a vast area there are found a good number of Siva lingams cut out of stone.In addition, Surya Pahar ruins contain many rock cut figures of artistic merit.

Suryanaar Temple near Kumbhakonam in Tamilnadu
This ancient temple dedicated to the Sun is located near Kumbhakonam in Tamilnadu. Kumbhakonam and its surroundings abound in huge temples. This well known temple enshrines the Sun - Surya, Kasi Viswanatha and Visalakshi, and the other eight celestial bodies namely Chandran, Angarakan, Budhan, Brihaspati, Sukran, Saniswaran, Rahu and Ketu. An elaborate worship protocol is prescribed for pilgrims visiting here, starting with worship at the shrine of Ganesha, culminating in circumambulating the temple nine times. This temple built in the Dravidian style is over eight hundred years old and was patronized by the Imperial  Chola Kings. This temple is located in close proximity to Kanjanur, and Tirumangalakkudi housing 1200 year old temples to Shiva. Suryanaar Koyil has acquired a lot of popularity in recent times, and is one of the pivotal points in the Navagaraha Stala Tour organized by the Tamilnadu Tourist Development Corporation.

Suryanarayanaswamy temple at Arasavilli in Andhra Pradesh
This is a shrine of the Sun in a well preserved state. The temple dates back to the 7th century and a Kalinga king is said to have constructed it. The image of worship is a 5 ft tall one of black granite holding lotus buds - flanked by Usha and Chhaya. Padmapani is the name of this Sun God - padma stands for wisdom usha and chhaya stand for eternity. This shrine is located near Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.

The Sun Temple at Modhera - Gujarat
This is a grand temple to the Sun God concieved and built in 1026.  As in the Sun Temple at Konark, this temple was so designed that the rays of the Sun would fall on the image of Surya at the time of the equnoxes. Whatever remains of this temple is grand; the shikharas are notaby absent but the Toranas in the frontal halls, and the intricate carvings in the exterior speak of the splendour of this shrine, which still is home to the Modhera dance festival featuring dance celebrities in performance in a natural setting. Ruins of the sun temple at Modhera in Gujarat show a lot of Magha influence. The walls of the temple have representations of the sun god wearing a peculiar West Asian belt and boots as in the Sun temple at Gaya. Mention must also be made of the huge tank in front of the temple with its multitude of images.

The Sun Temple at Konarak, Orissa

The grandest and best known of all Sun temples in India is the Konark temple in Orissa. This
khaju2.jpg (81478 bytes) dates back to the 13th century and it represent the highest point in Orissan temple architecture. Konark is situated 20 miles to the north east of Puri. The word Konark means corner sun.

The black pagoda at Konarak is a grand and magnificient temple in the form of the suns charriot drawn by seven horses marking the 7 days of the week. The 24 huge wheels, magnificiently carved and decorated, mark the hours of the day. This temple was envisioned by the Ganga ruler Narasimha Deva and it was not fully completed. The main idol of the Sun God on which the suns rays fall in the morning is said to have been removed by some Portuguese navigators. The temple now comprises only of the sabhamandap and the natamandir. The main temple crumbled down many years ago.

Sun Temples Outside India

Sun Temple at Multan - Pakistan
Karnak Sun Temple in Egypt
Mayan Resources
Travel Egypt - Temple at Abu Simbel
Mesa Verde Sun Temple
Sun Temple of Abu Ghurab
Sun Temple of Nuissere
Mesoamerican Sun Temple




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