The Sacred Origin of Surya Namaskar
The Sacred Origin of Surya Namaskar
By Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani
Modern man scoffs and scorns at what he labels primitive, barbarian men who worshipped the sun as a Deity. … “Don’t you know the sun is merely a big ball of gas hanging in the dark sky?” …
Primitive man, the so-called barbarians, lived close to nature. Fire was not just a matchstick away. It was a force difficult to obtain, more difficult to maintain and even more arduous to master. Deep in their sensitive hearts, these natural people felt awe and reverence for such a power. Intuitively they knew that of all the five elements: earth, fire, air, water and space (ether) only fire could not be polluted and hence, reigned supreme. Instead, fire purified everything it touched …
The Vedic Seers, who were naturalists, living simple lives in harmony with the planet, with the water, the air, fire and space, adored these powerful manifestation of Divinity … A natural sense of deep, profound gratitude permeated every cell of these ancient Rishis (yogis) – a gratefulness for the opportunity to experience human existence, to bear witness to the glory of the manifest universe!
Authentic gratitude will always demand expression. … The vehicle for expression of these sublime reverent attitudes manifested in the form of Homas, Pujas, Mantras, Mudras, Asanas and rites and rituals. All elements – the Pancha Maha Bhutas – were revered as sacred: the sparkling clear waters, the fragrant earth, the soothing air, the ferocious fire. Not only were they revered and worshipped, they were deified – the river goddesses, as Ganga and Yamuna, the planet earth as Bhumi Devi, Vayu the wind, Varuna, the ocean, Agni the fire and Akash the ether.
Rites and rituals were devised as channels to communicate between the individual human consciousness and the great Divine powers. Mantras were “heard”, Cosmic Sounds that provided a link between the individual soul, the Jiva, and the Universal Oversoul, Paramatma … Positions of hands and feet [and body] were discovered which facilitated movement and stimulation of certain energy forces associated with the various elements.
As the ages passed, some rites and rituals, some Mantras, some Mudras, some Asanas, and some Pranayama were found more effective than others, and through usage, trial and error, conscious experimentation and collection of data, observation and classification of knowledge a technology emerged which when utilized properly achieved the desired goal – freedom from bondage and union with the Cosmic Self, the Source of all Manifestation. Out of all these experimentations grew the science of Yoga …
The Practice of Surya Namaskar
A daily ritual for Hindus was offered to the sun. The sun was visualized as a Deity … and had many names, depending on the qualities which one wished to evoke. The most commonly used names evolved into a set of twelve:
1. Mitra – Friend of All
2. Ravi – One Who is Praised by All
3. Surya – Guide of All
4. Bhanu – Bestower of Beauty
5. Khaga – Stimulator of the Senses
6. Pushn – Nourisher of Life
7. Hiranyagarbha – Promoter of Virility
8. Maricha – Destroyer of Disease
9. Aditya – Inspiritor of Love
10. Savitr – Begetter of Life
11. Arka – Inspiritor of Awe
12. Bhaskara – Effulgent One
The ritual of chanting these Mantric names as well as the performance of the Mudras, Asanas and Pranayama associated with the ritual was designed to invoke these powers into the practitioner’s own human existence, giving him the strength to face the vicissitudes of life with nobility and dignity. The set of practices became known as the Surya Narayana Pujas [and would eventually lead to the development of the surya namaskar kriya of Hatha Yoga]
It was always performed at dawn, facing the rising sun, while standing on the earth and offering, water as an ablution to the Deity. All the elements – the Pancha Maha Bhuta – were thus propitiated. These rituals had extremely effective health benefits as well. The early morning sun’s rays were stimulating to the whole endocrine system. The Mantras stimulate both physical and psychic Nadis (nerves). The eyes were nourished by the early morning light and Vitamin D was absorbed through the skin. The endocrine and exocrine glands were exposed to the early sun’s rays by lifting the hands over the head in Anjali Mudra, a gesture of high respect and reverence, thus exposing the underarms to the healing rays. The early sun’s rays are a well known antiseptic. Harmful germs and bacteria life was destroyed.
The performer of the ritual experienced a deep contentment in such a profound communication with the Sun Deity, which sustains so generously all life on earth. The worshipper worshipped with his whole body, mind, heart and soul. Various body positions pressured the organs and skeletal structure and stimulated blood circulation. The chanting of Mantra was a form of Pranayama.
The Yogis, ever quick to absorb into themselves all that is great and good, realized the immense benefits of such a practice. Slowly, this Surya Puja was adapted as part of Yogic technology [and became known as surya namaskar]. The movements were structured in different ways, experimentation with the core concept was undertaken, and various kinds of structured movement patterns evolved. The practice eventually became an integral part of the Hatha Yoga concept of “using body to transcend body” and “using body and breath as spiritual tools to evolve consciousness”. The Surya Namaskar, literally, the offering of respectful salutations to the Sun God, became a treasured part of the Hatha Yoga repertoire.
Thus, the Surya Namaskar was born out of deep reverence, awe and gratitude for the Natural Forces which create sustain, nourish and evolve all life on the planet. Surya Namaskara fosters a discipline of mind, body and emotions. Such a practice refines, sensitizes, and energizes the human being and is a daily reminder of the debt we humans owe to God. This debt can be repaid only by living a clean, pure, disciplined life style – an enactment of the Vedic dictum! To worship God, become a God.
Surya Namaskar is a vital tool in achieving this noble goal.
About the Author:
Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani is the resident Acharya of Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India. She is also the Director of the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER), the Director of Yoganjali Natyalayam, and Editor of Yoga Life, a publication of Ananda Ashram. For more information, visit:
Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani ; Amma;