By Roli S
On 20 November, we will celebrate the festival, ‘Chhath’, in India, honouring and glorifying the Sun, the most dominating and the most visible celestial God Surya. Vedas and Puranas have made mention of the Sun-God very prominently. Although, over a period of time, many Vedic gods like Agni and Indra have taken a back seat, people continue to worship the Sun-God in morning rituals and there are a few prominent festivals, such as the above mentioned ‘Chhath’ , that are celebrated due to either the movement of sun or its mere presence.
I grew up watching my grandparents worshipping the Sun-God every day. My ‘dadi’, after bathing in the morning, still with wet hair and clothes, used to begin her day by offering water to the Sun, and oftentimes would ask me to stand beside her and join my hands in namaste and bow my head to the Deity. I used to obey her mechanically. I grew up listening to the mythological stories and learning ‘bhajans’ recited to me by my grandma. I would love to listen to the stories. In the evening, sitting on the cot in the courtyard and listening to the stories of kings and queens, gods and goddesses, used to be a ritual. The same story was told dozens of times and the same enthusiasm and interest was generated every time!
During the summer season, we used to sit under a mango tree enjoying the gentle breeze and, when ripe mangoes used to drop down from the tree, we would pick them up and collect them in a basket. On one such afternoon, when I was collecting the mangoes, my grandma asked me to look towards the sun and while I was looking at the sun with the mango in my hand, she started laughing. She, said, “You look like Hanuman. Waiting to gulp down the sun thinking it is a mango fruit.” “What?” I immediately became interested and left everything and came running to my grandma. “Is there a story behind this grandma? Will you tell me the story of Hanuman and the sun?” That day my grandma told me the story that how Hanuman once gulped down the sun, because he was hungry, and he thought that the sun was a mango fruit. This had created havoc as everything became very dark and lifeless. Only after the gods begged him and bestowed many powers on Hanuman did he release the sun from his mouth!
My grandma had many such stories to amuse me throughout my childhood and I lived in a wonderland all the time, till the reality began dawning on me about the cosmos, universe, solar system, planets, stars, etc.
In Indian mythology, over a period of time, the power of ‘Suryadev’ diminished a bit, his sons like Sugreev and Karna were not treated well, and more importance was given to the ‘Pauranic’ deities like Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, etc. but, in reality, ‘Sun the Star” has remained and will always remain the primary life giver on this planet, Earth, and the understanding of ‘Photosynthesis’ is enough to let us know this fact. In fact, ‘Indra Dev’, the god of rain, depends on the sun’s heat to generate the water cycle and ‘Vayu Dev’ gets its life because of the differential heating of the earth’s surface and development of air pressure! There is no denying the power of ‘the Sun’ controlling planet Earth’s activities. In fact, the industrial revolution due to the availability of petroleum and coal (fossil fuels) became possible because the living organisms buried in the layers of the Earth’s crust must have once got ‘life’ because of the sun, isn’t it?
Having said that, still many times I am reminded of the mythological stories told by my grandmas and wonder if all this that I am experiencing is a power play of all those ‘Devtas’ watching us from the ‘Devlok’, above? Are they laughing at our helplessness and human ways? Are we pawns in their hands? I have no answers to many questions, so do many scientists and astronomers. No one knows anything for sure. Theories are being constantly developed and explorations are on. What I do know is that we keep revering our good old buddy, “Sun”, and keep on celebrating ‘Makar Sankranti’, ‘Pongal’ and ‘Chhath’, etc., to keep the Sun-God happy in case it really is a power play!
There is no harm in bowing one’s head every day at least once to the Sun-God respectfully and thanking him mentally. I have recently come across this mantra to please the Sun-God called “Aditya Hridyam” –
“Aditya Hridya Punyam
Sarva Shatru Vinasanam
Jayaavaham Jabe Nityam
Akhshayam Paramam Shivam”
Maybe the mantra works, maybe it does not, but it would be a small effort from our side to show our gratitude towards the ‘light and life giver’ sun and to thank him for all that it does for us!
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)