When Krishna moved among men on this earth, he took a wife named Jambavati, who bore him a son of great physical beauty known as Samba. Though well disposed in many ways, this son made the mistake of ridiculing the sage Narada, who took revenge by tricking him into an apparently immoral situation to which he then drew Krishna's attention. Father or not, Krishna was incensed to see what seemed to be his offspring's lapse and cursed him to become afflicted with leprosy. Samba was able to prove his innocence but it was too late. A curse once given cannot be withdrawn, and he sadly wandered in this condition until he was directed to propitiate the god Surya, whose powers included the cure of skin disease. Samba observed strict austerities for many long years, never yielding to despair though his corrupted flesh lay in fetid scraps about him. With the completion of the twelfth year, he suddenly found himself restored to his former beauteous state. Feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, he vowed to build a magnificent temple dedicated to his divine deliverer. He then bathed in celebration at the nearby Chandrabhaga River, in whose depths he discovered a glorious image of Surya which had been fashioned by Vishvakarman. Samba had it installed in the temple which he built near the river at the spot that was known in ancient times as Mula-Sambapura, the modern Multan. This was the original Sambapura, whose sun temple was a glory to behold down through the ages. Built by Magi imported from the ancient sun worshippers of Iran, the structure rose as a uniquely splendid testimony to the solar deity's beneficence and power.
The legend of Samba found its perpetuation in the temple's auspicious earthly presence, but its particulars took fresh root scores of centuries later on the opposite side of the subcontinent where, in Orissa, the Ganga Dynasty arose in the thirteenth century C.E. and King Narasimhadeva I caused to be built one of the mightiest and most wonderfully original temples ever constructed on India's sacred soil. There, at Konarak, a pool was named the Chandrabhaga, the story of Samba was told, and pilgrims gathered on the seventh day of the bright half of the month of Magha to bathe and watch the sun rise over the eastern sea before proceeding to the temple. If the structure were to be faulted, it could only have been in terms of some of the building materials used. The Magi, whose ancient Chaldean wisdom originated in earlier Atlantis, were not present to oversee its construction, and Narasimhadeva I seems to have been more inspired by the temporal exaltation of his own solar dynasty than by the enduring glorification of the sun itself. Still, the crores of devotees who were privileged to stand in its precincts and worship in its inner sanctum while it stood intact over the centuries were thrice blest indeed. The temple was built primarily of khondalite and laterite without the use of mortar. Its blocks were held together by a system of poise and balance, "the weight of one stone acting against the pressure of another, resulting in a stability based upon balanced equilibrium". Its walls were one hundred and fifty cubits thick, linking three magnificent portals. At its centre rose a fifty-yard-high octagonal column of black stone flanked by nine flights of stairs leading to an arched court upon which the sun and planets were carved. Gorgeously conceived as a colossal chariot with twelve enormous and intricately carved wheels and seven richly caparisonned horses, galloping as Surya himself emerging from the eastern sea, the whole of the structure was a supreme expression of epic imagination and vastness.
Konarak, one of the sacred lenses through which the sun presented himself as a god to the world, shone like a jewel in the sandy plain bordering the Bay of Bengal. But its very brilliance wrought its decline. Legend has it that the great copper kalasha, supported by a magnetic iron rod, originally adorning the top of the central column was torn down by early sailors, whose navigational bearings were disturbed by it. Fascinated Mogul invaders desecrated the temple, and priests, fearing the worst, removed the image of Surya to Puri. With the destruction of the kalasha, the dhvaja or lotus finial was lost, exposing inferior khondalite members to severe weathering and imbalance. The fall of the khapuri and enormous amla, which by their very weight had kept the corbelled walls of the column in position, made the crumbling of the great spire itself inevitable. But the process of decay was slow. Even as late as 1837 a small section of the column's full height still remained, giving, at a distance, the entire complex the appearance of a vast ship under sail. By 1848, however, this too had fallen, and the wind, drifting sands, pipal roots and the greedy hands of men finished the job with a relentless attrition, as though the great glory had never shone there at all. Forsaken by its presiding deity, the deserted temple fell by stages into complete and utter neglect.
The image of Surya, stolen away and today still intact, shows him holding two fully opened lotuses and wearing a magnificent tall crown with flames surrounding his head. His face glows with a rounded warmth of compassion, and his legs appear to be clothed in boots borrowed from the Magi influence at Sambapuri. Sunbeams form the bridles of his lunging horses who carry his single-wheeled chariot through the annual cycle of the seasons. His whole demeanour is one of forthright, joyful power and his removal from the temple at Konarak must have left a darkened void. The sanctum which he had irradiated with such a perfectly symmetrical shaft-of-light stance must have lost its pulsating, centrifugal core, making the subsequent destruction of the poise and balance of the whole complex almost seem inevitable. Surya himself, however, was not so easily destroyed, for his lineage is linked with the source of light, life and knowledge itself. He is reckoned as one of the Adityas, sons of the primordial Aditi, and is said to have married the daughter of Vishvakarman, architect of the universe. His names depicting his aspects, offspring and functions are many. He is Savitur, the stimulating and animating Power of the Sun; Pushan, the Messenger and Knower of the Ways; Vivasvat, the Brilliant; Bhaskara, the Light-maker; Dinakara, the Day-maker; Loka-Chakshuh, the Eye of the World; Karma-Sakshi, the Witness of the Deeds; and Graharaja, King of the Constellations. He is also extolled as Aryaman, clear, discerning aspiration, and Bhaga, happy spontaneity and the right enjoyment of things which dispels the dream of error, sin and suffering.
Surya is both the god and his visible orb. As charioteer of himself, his booted legs disappear, making him seem one with his vehicle. Circling the solar system, his lustre beams out in all directions yet remains constant within him. In his relation to Vayu and Agni, Surya is the celestial Great Fire Power, his name coming from the Sanskrit sur or svar, meaning 'to shine'. The heaven of svarga, said to have manifested when the One Self wished for a second or light-self, also comes from this, whilst the term sura refers to luminous soma flowing from the press. Other terms have proliferated from Surya's name like progeny from his works. Suryaputra is the name of his sons, Suryakanta means Beloved of the Sun (used to denote a sun-stone or crystal), Suryavansa is a solar race, Suryastrota is the praise of the sun, and Suryabimba or Suryamandala is the disc of the sun itself. He is the father of the Ashvins, of Yama and Yami, and of Vaivasvata Manu, who in turn fathered Ikshvaku, from whom the Suryavansa sprang. It is said that Asuramaya, the greatest astronomer of the fourth race, was the pupil of Surya, channelling his celestial knowledge into the world, whereas Karna, his son by Kunti, exemplified his steadfastness and blazing fervour.
The other gods follow the march of Surya and attain to their vastness through his illuminating force. According to an early Vedic myth, Surya was the father of Soma/Chandra and, therefore, the origin of arnrita, which he passed along to the moon for distribution among gods and men. In this way the sun nourishes the moon, enabling it to grow anew each time it has been depleted by the gods consuming its juice. Vayu, a prodigious imbiber, is said to have always been the first to partake of the vitalizing draught. He thus transmitted the power of Surya from the realms of the sky to that of space. The Aryans identified the domain of Surya with intellect, individual human manifestation and moral force, that of Vayu with the life-breath, the manifestation of subtle beings and the gods, whilst that of Agni was associated with food, elemental manifestation and natural force. Among men they related the three to the Brahmin, Kshattriya and Vaishya castes and taught that Surya sees all the deeds that men do and goes to the abode of Varuna to tell of them. He was represented as reporting to Varuna because the latter was considered to be the guardian and protector of Truth, the cosmic order of rita with which the sun moves in accord. Working in close association with Mitra (the Persian Mithra) to promote the power of love and comprehension, Surya thus leads all thoughts and actions into luminous harmony.
It is said that Varuna has a thousand eyes (suns) who are his 'spies' in the world, from whom nothing can be hidden. As the Eye of Varuna, Surya is the weapon and servant of Truth in the absolute sense, and he ceaselessly exemplifies poise and equilibrium of motion in reflection of this. He is also both centred and a centre. Just as all planets in a solar system revolve around him as a centre, so too Surya 'revolves' around rita, which is the cause of all existence, the navel of the cosmos concealed in the celestial waters of Varuna. He 'revolves' around it and ceaselessly refers back to it, as it were. Varuna used the suns to measure out the universe, and the suns (Surya) see and are seen on his behalf. But the ultimate centre to which they refer is said to lie concealed in Varuna, but not to be Varuna, for that centre is the essence of Surya.
The Eye of the World is the gate through which divine Reality can be glimpsed. It is visible Deity, the eye of the Unmanifest and the presiding deity of the eyes of all beings. Thus the Chandogya Upanishad calls the sun the celestial door to immortality because it is the centre of creation and the point where the manifest and unmanifest meet. It is, therefore, the perfect symbol of the supreme Principle, the noumenal and phenomenal, the 'Zero' of the unmanifest and the 'One' of the manifest combined to produce the decad. The 'One' of the manifest Logos or Sun is a unity which, while conceptually participating in duality (due to having an opposite), is a reflection of the No-Thing of the Unmanifest. Its spherical shape bears this out as no other form can do. If one looks at Surya as the godhead of supreme Truth and Knowledge, the Lord of Light invoked in the Vedas to participate in luminous vision and luminous creation, then one sees that the vision of Truth and Knowledge is followed by the creation of Light. On the lowest physical plane this is faithfully echoed by the fact that extremely elemental forms of matter exist at the sun's core due to enormously high temperatures, while chemical modifications occur at the surface, where conversion to light takes place. The heat at the core of the physical sun continually maintains itself and involves a density of matter suggesting incalculable power controlled by an arcane principle of complete equilibrium. This sort of equilibrium rests on a much more noumenal plane than that which involves the circulation of planets around the sun or the poise and balance of stones comprising a temple masterpiece, for it is self-contained and self-sustained, a unity reflecting No-Thing.
Surya took as wife Sanjna, or spiritual consciousness. Finding the dazzling light of her spouse too bright, Sanjna left a chaya of herself and fled to her father, Vishvakarman, who placed Surya on a lathe and cut away one-eighth of his effulgence. The fragments cut away fell blazing to earth, where they were fashioned by their producer into the discus of Vishnu, the trident of Shiva, the lance of Karttikeya and many other celestial accoutrements. The Secret Doctrine illuminates this symbolism, explaining that the idea of Aditi rejecting her eighth son refers to the fact that the sevenfold First and Unmanifest Logos emits the eighth or Second Logos. The reject is the one-eighth part shaved off Surya which falls to earth, so to speak, and becomes manifest. Thus, the visible Surya is but a dim part or reflection of the invisible husband who so overwhelmed his wife. Now he existed for all to see, the visible face of the illuminator, without whom man could not see. As he subsequently did on a daily basis, Surya had rolled up the darkness like a shroud woven by Ratri. Assuming the creative guise of Savitur, he had become Pushan the Increaser, his infinite light accepting the limitations and contrasts of his manifest mask. He became the Knower of the Ways who flows through the veins and arteries of the solar system like blood vitalizing the whole body. With every diastolic impulse along every minute and complex path, he rejuvenated matter, rates of growth, climate and evolutionary change throughout the cosmos.
Consisting of fire, which ever consumes itself, Surya is the essence of cosmic sacrifice, itself expressing a necessary equilibrium. All things in the manifest universe are relative, and so it can be asserted that the sun too is subject to the laws of thermodynamics. But with its constant systolic and diastolic action, its perpetual hydrogen-helium ratio, and its continual balance of simultaneous gravitational and repulsive forces, it acts as a true centre to all that surround it as well as to itself. One could say that the sun enacts centredness in its substance and very being. This is a clear physical reflection of the truth that Surya represents, a truth which can be expressed in the world only in such a way. Compared to the sun, everything else is dependent and partial: planets, moons or continents, as well as cultures and individual personal lives. If one attempts to view karma from the perspective of the world or a particular people or person in it, but fails to take into consideration all the other factors interacting in the solar system, one will invariably end up with a stunted and partial understanding of the law of cause and effect. The only way to gain a grasp of this universal law is to focus one's entire consciousness upon that which is at the centre of everything, the reference point of all effects which is the truth that Surya expresses through his physical veil.
In the Rig Veda the adoration of Nature as the manifest deity continually resounds as a central theme. The phenomenal world is seen as permeated with divine life and there is nothing which is not informed by it. The sun was central and foremost to this view and to the sacred relationship men had with the manifest world. This relationship, in turn, aided their pious probe into the noumenon and could be considered as a first step in spiritual preparation. Having created a reverential attitude between himself and the external world, the individual seeker could quickly perceive that the most appropriate symbol of the one godhead in the world is the sun. Meditating upon the nature of this fact, such a seeker could evolve an intuitive realization that Reality is One. He could experience through the intellect and senses that Reality presents itself as phenomena, and that when the senses are sublimated and function in harmony with this attitude of veneration, the intellect is free to reflect buddhi and to become purified along with them. The whole of Vedic teaching is based on the assumption that this process is possible and eventually results in seership, where what is intuited and what is sensed are one and the same. The apparent separation between spirit and matter is thus an expression of the phenomenal experience, to be overcome by realizing the divine in the material, the universal in the particular.
If one attempts to pursue the arcane significance of Surya's lineage, it is necessary to question the nature of Aditi, of divine radiance and of the Great Breath. The Spiritual Sun, or Surya in his unmanifest essence, causes Fohat to collect primordial matter into ethereal aggregates, involving a recommencement of spiralling motion brought on by the heat of the Great Breath, ultimately resulting in the composition of visible suns. To trace back the ontology even further, one may contemplate a ray rising in the vast oneness of mulaprakriti, a Logoic throb of the world to be. This recedes, but not before dropping its reflection upon Aditi's bosom which, in turn, initiates motion born of its breath, the beginning of a focalization of radiance and a stirring up of matter so subtle that myriad generations of the process would be required before the curve of Vayu's energy could be discerned in the swirl of a spiral nebula. The visible Surya represents the lowest principle of the Breath issuing from the Unmanifest SAT. But in his essence he is the emanation by the highest fiery Breath and gives forth in turn the mahapranic breath of Vayu. In terms of the symbolism related to Purusha, as Agni is his mouth and Vayu is his breath, so Surya is his eye, the eye of light and burgeoning intelligence which directs the pranic will-power of Vayu and culminates in the fire of phenomenal life. The seven horses of Surya are the Seven Logoi, the rainbow colours refracted from the one white light, representing pure consciousness, descending into seven planes of being.
Throughout manifestation this central invisible Surya gives rise to a stream of ceaseless, omnidirectional energy, radiating at ever grosser levels to create numerical, atomic and molecular patterns that provide endlessly recapitulating keys to its essential Truth. The truth of the sun in the unmanifest realm is its central and unchanging assertion, its reality, invisible and yet causal to every form of life. The visible sun gives life, the invisible sun gives Reality. Analogous to each other, it can be said that every form of life, every spark, partakes of that Reality, mirrors it and lives as an emission of it. Every form made up of particles containing that indestructible Reality coheres only as long as that particular expression of the idea of Reality persists. Thus species come into being in the world as a result of ideational forces operating at the ethereal cosmic level of being, not because of mechanical and biological responses. Certainly, monsters are born and have their hour in the sun, but they can be recognized for what they are because they represent flukes in the expression of a truth which does not leap about leaving great gaps in the tapestry it weaves. Of course, there may be gaps in the perceiver's understanding of the tapestry, but there is a consistency in life which persists in expressing the constancy of a deeper reality. Because all life in the phenomenal world is dependent upon the visible sun, it is truly the door through which this reality streams into manifestation. Surya visible is the gateway to the truth focalized in Surya invisible.
In every human life there is a spark of Truth. Even the most perverted life lives only because of this spark and will persist, even through many incarnations, until the spark is liberated from the darkness enshrouding it. This will be achieved either through severance with the personal entity, which then becomes a mere shell (much like a deserted temple which falls into disequilibrium and decay), or through the purification of the mind and faculties. Destroyer of disease, Surya blazes forth within the inner being of his fearless devotees and causes to fall away the leprous growth accumulated upon the soul. This is why the yogins of old called him the Self who seeks to dissolve the separative intellect, the Lord of Knowing for those who seek knowledge and the Sacrificer to those who perform sacrifice. The vital cycles within man, his breath, the circulation of his blood and the digestion of his food, are all directed by Surya. If he is denied his rightful place in the centre of the heart in man, these functions cannot persist for long. To say that Surya is the 'stimulator' or Savitur in man involves far more than acknowledging a spark promoting some sort of mechanical life'. He is a stimulator of truth through the means of self-conscious intelligence upon which the life depends.
When Surya is called the Eye of Varuna, he is being closely associated with the principal force in the universe whereby every inner and outer aspect of manifestation is regulated. But Varuna was reduced to the status of a mere god of water in post-Vedic times and Indra steadily eclipsed his importance, taking over many of his more vital functions. The ancients had placed Varuna at the highest level, synonymous with the vastness and inevitability of order. Indra's growing strength lay, not in the inevitable law, but in personal intervention, manas choosing to act. He released the clouds of rain by great individual effort (not through effortlessly giving of himself, as Varuna would have done) and he regulated the sun's passage by force, even engaging in conflict with Surya, resulting in the loss of one of the solar deity's chariot wheels. This archetypal feud plays itself out once again in the Mahabharata, wherein one can view the character of Kama as an epic transposition of Surya, whilst Indra's champion, Arjuna, echoes Rishi Kutsa Arjuneya aided by Indra in the Rig Veda. The ancient antagonism between Surya and Indra significantly replays itself in relation to a war marking the end of an era of relative stability and honour. The older Vedic gods had reigned over a period in human development when codes of conduct sufficed to order the activities of masses of men. With Indra's rise to power, the problem of choice obtruded itself, and strife increased in the three worlds. With this manasic impulse, this awakening of intelligence, the peace of a more idyllic acceptance was lost.
In the great epic, Arjuna, representing the choosing man, must gain ascendancy over Kama, who brings into the world the glory and constancy of his father, along with a sense of honour which seems inflexible, even disproportionate. He is a heroic figure in many ways but cannot be the hero. Being simple in his grasp of truth, he is easily foiled by Indra's tricks and gives up willingly his golden heritage. He is selfless in his loyalty to others and yet misplaces it, as though he were blinded. He lacks discrimination that would allow him to act with greater wisdom, causing his golden qualities to seem tragically squandered among men. His bitterness at the discovery that the kindly old couple with whom he had happily come to manhood were not his actual parents, and that he had been abandoned by his real mother and knew not his real father, clouded his mind. It was as though an offspring of the highest spiritual truth had come into the world, yet knew himself not. Suffering abandonment and scorn, he did not possess the inner guidance of an awakened mind which might have led him to a realization of his true identity.
Like many human beings, Kama bore the intimations of greatness into the world, only to find that neither society nor himself could understand them for what they were or find a proper expression or place for them. Such individuals usually suffer a great deal mentally. They are like great temples possessing a very real but invisible deity to which no worshipper comes. They cannot communicate in themselves between the reflected light of their conscious mind and the hidden sun of its source. Their inclinations continually expose their inherent nobility, but they cannot intuitively and flexibly bring their mind into its service. Instead, they become fixed upon frozen codes and fail to comprehend the lila of Krishna's teaching. That an offspring of Surya should fall into this dilemma indicates less about Surya than about the importance of man grasping the opening lotus of his mind and using it in the service of the solar god within. The central source of truth is not affected by the rise and fall of lesser truths in the lives of men. Man must begin to act as an agent of that truth, realizing its unchanging centrality in his own life. Man is to be the hero of the piece, like Arjuna, who is told to choose. Constancy, loyalty, goodness or even truth itself, if it be fixed in a less than universal context, is not enough.
Thinking man must rise up consciously and exercise the power of higher discrimination. He must come to know who he truly is within himself, not from others. He must discover his true parentage within. Having done this, he will know who and what performs the duties of action and the nature of the dharma reflecting the highest truth of his life which is unique to him alone. If Kama had meditated upon the internal sun of his own spirit, he would have come to know who his parents were by exercise of his own higher mind. Knowledge gained in this way becomes part of one, part of the truth which one is and thus is in harmony with all aspects of oneself. The mind becomes purified by the inner sun of Truth, delighting in sublime thoughts and growing stronger in effulgence as it becomes fixed in its own elevating stimulation.
The Secret Doctrine says that the awakening of manas is endowed by the "spirit of our visible sun". He who adores Surya adores the inmost higher mind and the nucleus of divine spirit in every atom. He recognizes his self-luminosity as the essential quality of the reflected Absolute by which all objects take their light. Light and heat eternally emanate from him, and yet he is exhaustless, never ceasing to reveal truth, never tiring of dispelling illusion. In the light of day, we say, we see things for what they are. In the deeper sense, this means seeing what really is instead of what we have come to think is. The senses tell us that the sun goes around the earth and yet we know through thought and observation that this is not true. Surya forces us to see through the appearances and arrive at a greater truth. In man, the higher consciousness seems to wax and wane, while our body (like the earth) seems steady. But the reverse is actually true. If one could envision the higher mind's relation to the persona and the body as a perfect analogue to that of Surya's relationship with the earth, one would have come a long way in understanding the powerful fact of Deity's immanence in the world. One would also have strengthened within oneself the sacred relationship that exists between Man, Nature and the Divine. As this realization grows, all the other gods march after Surya and attain to their vastness through his illuminating force, that is, all the other faculties and potentials possessed by the individual expand with the expansion of truth and light within him.
In sleep one passes from the waking realm of Agni-sacrifice into the svapna of the visible sun. Engaged in the seeming reality of dreams, the mind works and sifts to locate the central theme of their meaning. Then one passes on to deep sleep and the disintegration of lower images which takes place in Vayu's domain. One floats along the airy stream which is the transmitted will of the Seven Logoi, yielding up any sense of separative self while resting upon the ocean of divine law. But there are those who go beyond this vastness to join as one with the fount of Truth itself and stand at the gateway leading to the invisible Surya, the blazing Reality which frightened even Sanjna. The passage through these realms leading to that threshold is like a path going back through the generations, back through time. It is as though the foetal germ of Agni, emerging into the world, swam back through the amniotic fluids of Vayu's fire and passed through the umbilical door to a whole upper world. In a sense, the Agni in man does just that, struggling in its ascending flame of sacrificial life to reach to and merge with the great cosmic fire of its father. Aspiring upward with every sparking thought to make the connection between heaven and earth, the unseen and the visible man, the ardent seeker exercises the highest truth he knows in his life. He listens to the truth centred in his heart of hearts and will not abandon it. Thus he keeps the fire at the feet of Surya alive and his temple glows with the warmth of its light. His structure expresses poise and balance and acts, in all its subtle parts, in harmony with the luminous deity within. His life becomes a chariot drawn by the will of the Dhyanis and his work soars to shed light on the path of others, each act a syllable of sweet praise.
Though the Gayatri is a sacred metre used in the worship of all deities, the Surya Gayatri is the greatest of these. Its use of the possessive case for Savitur refers to both 'the Stimulator' and the purified mind which acts as a lens illuminated with the stimulating knowledge of reality in life. Through intense adoration the solar fire can be guided through the channels of the pranic nature to inform every point in one's being and ignite the sacrificial flames therein. Through celebration of "the supremacy of that Divine Sun who illuminates all, from whom all proceed, to whom all must return, whom we invoke to direct our understandings aright in our progress towards his holy seat", we draw higher up the ray emanating from the primordial beam of the parent Sun. It is said that just so does the soul of the enlightened go from the heart to the crown of the head, traversing the sushumna ray and on to the region of surya mandala to enter the Spiritual Sun at death. In death is the creation, in the end the beginning. A great cry rises up and all turn their gaze to herald the first ray of the rising sun. On the shores of Chandrabhaga at Konarak they stand, watching out over the eastern sea, the fresh unsullied breath of dawn on their brow. At the river flowing from the East, before the great sun temple at Multan they stand, Himalayan breezes in their hair. And lo, the great orb rises, its radiance smites the awakened sky, its warmth stirs the music of the trees, and all are filled with joy.