Vedic origins

There are numerous references of praising the Sun for the purpose of good health and prosperity, in Vedas. Some of these Vedic hymns were incorporated into Nitya Vidhi (Daily mandatory routine for a Hindu) for the well being of an individual, through salutations to the Sun. These daily procedures were termed as Surya Namaskara (literally translates as “sun salutations”). Physical prostration to Sun, showing complete surrender of oneself to God, is the main aspect of these procedures. The forms of Surya Namaskar practiced vary from region to region. Two such popular practices are Trucha Kapla Namaskarah and Aditya Prasna.

Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah

Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah has its origins in Rig Veda.[1]. Each Mantra in Veda is called a “rucha”. Group of three rucha is called as Trucha. “Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah” is a method of performing Surya Namaskar using three ruchas from the Veda.

Sankalp

You make a resolution[Sankalp] in the beginning, that you are doing this act of performing ‘sūrya namaskār’ by praying to the Sun, requesting him to give you good health and strength to work hard.

dhyāna mantra

Then dhyāna mantra is recited / chanted.

Verse:

dhyeyḥ sadā savitṛmaṁḍalamadhyavartī

nārāyaṇaḥ sarasijāsanasaṁniviṣṭaḥ |

keyūravān makarakuṁḍalavān kirīṭī

hārīhirṇmayavapurdhṛtaśaṁkhacakraḥ ||

Meaning:

“Always worship ‘The Sun’ (our energy source) sitting at the centre of the solar system (savitra mamdal madhyavarti) on Lotus, wearing Keyoor, Makarkundal crown and holding conch, chakra and having glittering golden body.”

[edit] sūrya namaskār mantra

After dhyāna mantra, Surya Namaskars are performed by chanting mantras. Mantras are arranged in a specific way. They consist of the three ruchas taken from 1st Mandala, 9th anuvak 50th Sookta in Rig Veda, which are composed in ‘Anushtup Chandas ’. Kanva Sage [Rushi] is believed to have composed them.

Meaning of the three ruchas:

“O, radiant Sun rising in the sky, please destroy the disease in my heart as well as diseases of my external body. Let inner and outer diseases of my body be destroyed by brilliantly shining Sun-the son of Aditi.”

Nama mantra of the Surya Namaskar have four sections:

  1. Pranavakshar (Aum)
  2. Beejakshara (hrāṁ, hrīṁ, hrūṁ, hraiṁ, hrāuṁ and hraḥ)
  3. paada from the three ruchas described above
  4. Name of ‘The Sun’.

In total 6 beejakshara, 12 paada (4 paada for each of the 3 ruchas) and 12 names of Surya are used in the creation of nama mantras. The six beejaksharas in the order of their usage are, hrāṁ, hrīṁ, hrūṁ, hraiṁ, hrāuṁ and hraḥ. The 12 paada are explained in detail in the glossary. The 12 names of ‘The Sun’ in the order of their usage are “Mitra, Ravi, Surya, Bhanu, Khaga, Pushan, Hiranyagarbha, Marichiman, Aditya, Savitr, Arka, Bhaskara[disambiguation needed]”.

The mantra, start with short arrangements of the words at the beginning of the worship and evolve into more complex structures near the end. The mantra for the ease of discussion can be classified into four steps.

Step 1:

“Aum + 1 Beejaksharam + 1 rucha + 1 Beejaksharam + Aum + 1 Name of Sun”

Example Mantra:

1) Aum hrāṁ udhyannadhya mitramaḥ hrāṁ Aum mitrāya namaḥ || 2) Aum hrīṁ ārohannuttarāṁ divam hrīṁ Aum ravaye namaḥ ||

12 mantra, formed using the 12 paada of the ruchas, are chanted / recited at this step. As there are only 6 beejakshara, for the seventh mantra the first beejakshara is used and the order is repeated up to the 12th mantra. For each mantra one surya namaskar is performed.

Step 2:

“Aum + 2 Beejakshara + 2 paada + 2 Beejakshara + Aum + 2 Names of Sun”

Example Mantra:

“Aum hrāṁ hrīṁ udhyannadhya mitramaḥ ārohannuttarāṁ divam hrāṁ hrīṁ Aum mitrāya ravaye namaḥ ||”.

6 mantras are chanted / recited at this step as there are 12 paadas. For each mantra one surya namaskar is performed.

Step 3:

“Aum + 4 Beejakshara + 4 paada + 4 Beejakshara + Aum + 4 Names of Sun”

3 mantras are chanted / recited at this stage. For each mantra one surya namaskar is performed.

Step 4:

“Aum + All Beejakshara + All paadas + All Beejakshara + Aum + All Names of Sun”

1 mantra is chanted / recited at this step. One Surya Namaskar is performed at this step.

Thus after all the four steps, 22 mantras are chanted / recited and with each mantra one Surya Namaskar is performed. When this cycle is repeated three times, 66 Surya Namaskars are performed. This way ONE Trucha Kalpa Namaskar is completed.

Teertha Shloka

In the end, Teertha Shloka is chanted / recited.

Verse:

“ādityasya namaskaraṁ ye kurvanti dinedine |

janmāṁ tarasahasre ṣudridhryaṁ nopajāyate ||

akālamṛtyuharaṇm sarvavyādhivinaśanam |

sūryapādodakaṁ tīrtham jaṭharedhārayāmyaham || ”

Meaning:

“Those who perform Soorya Namaskars daily, do not face poverty in life [this actually relates to Richness of Health, not financial matters], one does not face early death or suffer from diseases. Drink the water kept before The Sun”.

Aditya Prasna

The verses used in Aditya Prasna are taken from the first chapter of “Yajur Veda, Taittiriya Aranyakam”[2] which is also referred to as Surya namaskara chapter. It is popularly practiced in South India. There are 132 anuvaks in this chapter and it is a practice to recite perform sun salutations with prostrations after recitation of every anuvak.

Puranic origins

Aditya Hridayam [3][4] is another ancient practice which involves surya namaskar. It is a procedure of saluting The Sun, taught to Sri Rama by Sage Agastya, before his fight with Ravana. It is described in the “Yuddha Khanda” Canto 107 of Ramayana.

There are in total 124 names praising the Sun in the whole procedure. The names in verses 10 – 13 are given below:

Aditya, Savita, Surya, Khaga, Pushan, Gabhastiman, Suvarnasadrisa, Bhanu, Hiranyaretas, Divakara, Haridasva, Sahasrarchish, Saptasapti, Marichiman, Timironmathana, Sambhu, Twashta, Martanda, Ansuman, Hiranyagarbha, Sisira, Tapana, Bhaskara, Ravi, Agnigarbha, Aditiputra, Sankha, Sisiranasana “.

The names in bold are the names used in the present day popular Surya Namaskar are present in these four verses.

In 15 – 20 verses, salutations to Sun are described. An example from the 15th verse is: “the resplendent among the splendid. Oh! God, appearing in twelve forms (in the shape of twelve months of the year) salutations to you”.

English Publications

The existence of procedures of sun salutations for health in ancient India are not confined to Hindu texts and literature written by Hindu scholars. Early English publications record some of the ancient ways of sun salutation. In “A Catalogue raisonnée of oriental manuscripts” [5]. (Year: 1860, Page 246) Rev. William Cooke Taylor, noted that a short book with 71 leaves with “Tricha calpa vidhi” from “Aditya Puranam” was preserved. He describes the vidhi as “Modes of rendering homage to Sun, with praise and spells; the object being health or delivery from disease”. He further notes the presence of Arghya Pradana, Surya Stotaram, Aditya dvadasa namam – 12 names of the Sun according to the monthly signs of zodiac, Surya Narayana cavacham, Saurashtacshari mantram, and many other elaborate rituals as the part of the vidhi. In Page 148 of the same book he describes a shorter version called “Laghu tricha kalpa vidhi”.

“Surya Namaskars: An Ancient Indian Exercise” by Apa Pant (son of HH Meherban Shrimant Raja BHAVAN RAO SHRINIVAS ‘BALA SAHIB’, Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh—see below)

Surya Namaskar and Physical Exercise

Most of the aasanas in the procedure themselves have documented in old literature.

“Sashtang dandavat” which is the central aasana of the surya namaskar was followed from time immemorial in India as a form of showing respect and complete surrender to God. “Bhujangasana” was described as one of the 32 important aasanas in “Gheranda Samhita” (dated around 1802 A.D.) which describes the yoga prevalent in north-east India [6]. The “Adhomukh Swanasan” was described in the old wrestling text of “Mallapurana” (dated before 1750) [7]. “Sarpasana” (Bhujangasana), “Gajasana” (Adhomukh Swannasan), “Uttanasana” and series of postures done in tandem, similar to surya namaskar are all described in Sritattvanidhi which was written by the order of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799–1868) to capture the Hindu knowledge of his time [7].

The use of surya namaskar for physical exercise is also not modern. Bhagavat Simhaji on Page 61 in the book “A Short History of Aryan medical science” [8] published in 1896 says “There are various kinds of physical exercise indoors and outdoors. But some of the Hindoos set aside a portion of their daily worship for making salutations to the Sun by prostrations. This method of adoration affords them so much muscular activity that it takes to some extent the place of physical exercise”.

Historically it is widely believed in the state of Maharashtra that Shivaji Maharaj, Sage Samarth Ramdas and the Marathas have performed surya namaskar as a physical exercise to develop able bodies [9]. This is not surprising since ‘vyayama’ (Physicial exercise in Sanskrit) traditionally has been influenced by spirituality. Many physical practices have ingrained spiritual values in them. In addition spiritual training is considered as a part of physical training from ancient times in India.

Recent academic research details documentary evidence that physical journals in the early 20th century were full of the postural shapes that were very similar to Krishnamacharya’s asana system [10]. In particular, the flowing surya namaskar which later became the basis of Krishnamacharya’s Mysore style, was not yet considered part of yogasana[11][12].

Raja of Aundh

His Holiness Meherban Shrimant Raja BHAVAN RAO SHRINIVAS ‘BALA SAHIB’, Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh (1868–1951; Raja of Aundh 1909-1947)[13] occupies an important position in the history of surya namaskar. He helped in popularizing surya namaskar as a simple physical exercise for all round development of an individual. He introduced it in schools as a form of education and encouraged even the ordinary man to be physically fit by performing surya namaskar every day [14]. Some of the Western scholars take a narrow view of the word “origin” and question the ancient origins. They are of the view that an old manuscript with the exact sequence of the whole procedure needs to be present for it to be considered ancient and classify surya namaskar as a modern physical exercise invented by Raja of Aundh [15][16]. It has to be noted that Raja of Aundh, himself never claimed to have invented Surya Namaskar. Further he actually stressed on the ancient origins of this procedure [14].

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