The Sun (or Surya) as a deity, was of great importance to the Indo-Iranian people. The ancient Iranians spoke of Vivahvant while their Indo-Aryan counterparts mentioned Vivasvat. Historians specializing in Indo-European studies speak of an older deity, Vivasvant (the Shining One), who was supposed to be to be the progenitor of mankind. He fathered the Twins (one of whom was known as Yama to the Indo-Aryans, or Yima to the Iranians) who would go on to populate the earth. There are many interesting legends associated with them, which I will discuss later.
14th of January, 2017 will be celebrated by people across South Asia in different ways and under different names – Pongal, Makar Sankranti, Sankrat, Maghi, Maghe, Khichdi, Shakrain, and Bihu. This goes to show how important the Sun is to rural communities. The cycle of seasons dictated by the movement of the Sun was crucial to the fortunes of both sedentary farmers and nomadic herders. But the Sun is not exclusive to Hinduism. Zoroastrians, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, all have their own tales and celebrations linked to his peregrinations.
Gautama Buddha was born in the Shakya clan, who thought of themselves as Adichchabandhus (kinsmen of the Sun). This claim preserves the Indo-Iranian concept of mankind’s origin from a solar deity. Buddhists consider the Sun as one of the deities guarding the cardinal directions and portray him on doorways and railings. Brahmin priests and their patrons (the Kuru and Panchala chiefs) relegated the Sun to a secondary position, shifting the focus to Soma (identified with the moon, and resembling the Iranian Haoma) in Vedic literature. I intend to explore this further by drawing a comparison with Iranian mythology.
Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and credited to Kitaharasa. The mandala shares all the defining characteristics of Vajrayana Buddhist iconography and one can identify Surya from the seven horses being driven by the charioteer stationed below him.
- Early Sanskritization: Origins and Development of the Kuru State by Michael Witzel
- Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture by Douglas Q Adams