Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)
Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutation)
By Srivatsa Ramaswami
Sun Worship/ Salutation has been an important aspect of daily routine of many people in India from the Vedic times. It is one of the six accepted and orthodox forms of worship. But unlike other well known sects of worship like of Siva, Vishnu, Sakti, Ganesa or Kartikeya, which are done in temples and homes usually with icons/idols, the Sun Worship is done in the open during the day time. “Worship the Sun for Health” exhorts the Vedas. (Aarogyam Bhaskaraath iccheth). Thousands of people can be seen saluting the sun at dawn at noon and at dusk, facing respectively the East, North and South, with or without mantras. Some worship the Sun with Mantras alone and some do namaskara or salutation alone without the mantras in several ways.
The physical--alone namaskara usually is made up of a start from standing position, prostrate with the arms stretched forward, then return to the starting position. This is known as danda samarpanam and is perhaps the most common method of physical form of Sun Salutation. The more elaborate method of Surya Namaskara usually involves twelve steps which include some asana like tadasana (mounting pose), uttanasana (forward bend), the dog poses. In the vinyasa karma as taught by my Guru, Sri Krishnamacharya, it involves 12 steps done in a sequence, starting from Tadasana and traversing through asanas like uttanasana, utkatasana, caturanga dandasana, dand samarpana, urdhwa and adhomukha swanasana and returning to tadasana via utkatasana and uttanasana. Further all the movements are done with synchronized breathing. It is detailed in my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga (Pages 213 to 217).
The Mantra worship of the Sun is more prevalent in India. As mentioned earlier, many thousands of Indians do pray to the Sun with several Sun Mantras including prominently the Gayatri mantra—usually 108 times in the morning, 32 times at noon and 64 times at around dusk. Or they may use 12 mantras each at the end of the 12 vinyasas. These dwadasa (12) mantras could be seed or Bijakshara mantras, loukika(common) mantras of the sun or, 12 vedic mantras or a combination of all the three. Please refer to my book, “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”. Persons who do the danda samarpana may do it 12 times, saying the 12 mantras at the end of each of the 12 salutations to the sun. There is a stanza from the Vedas which is a prayer to the sun to cure the worshipper from heart and skin ailments, which may be done with or without physical mantras.
The Yajur veda, the veda Sri Krishnamacharya was affiliated to (so am I) consists of about 81 chapters or prapatakas. Each section or chapter (prapataka) may run from about 10 minutes to up to an hour, but average about half an hour. One of them is called Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation. Made of 132 paragraphs in 32 anuvakas (sections), it is said to be the longest chapter in this Veda. It takes a little over one hour to chant//recite this mantra portion. I had the privilege of learning and then chanting this Aruna Parayana every Sunday morning for several years with my Guru Sri Krishnamacharya. Towards the end of his life , I chanted this Surya namaskara mantra with him for several days. It is said that in the olden days, many sick or even terminally ill people would be brought to a public place like the corridors of the temples, where Vedic Pundits will chant these surya namaskara mantras to let them listen to these mantras and do physical namaskara if possible. My Guru once told me that in Mysore where he was with the Maharaja of Mysore, he along with some of his students would walk along the streets of Mysore chanting these mantras so that those who were too sick to come out and were confined to their homes would listen to a few of these mantra chants. Even now in India, these mantras are chanted every Sunday by several Indians singly or in groups at homes and at public places like temples. As mentioned this section of Sun Salutation is called Aruna, a name for Sun meaning one who is without any debts. Sun gives to everyone, for the entire universe, warmth, light, health and controls the weather and lets wind flow, and rain, vegetation etc. Even as it gives, it takes nothing from others, hence it is called ‘Aruna’ the unindebted.
This Surya Namskara starts and ends with a peace Invocation. A free translation of the peace chant is as follows.
“Oh Divine Ones (Devas), let us hear auspicious sounds and news with our ears. Let us, the worshippers (of the Sun) see auspicious things. For firm limbs and healthy bodies let us pray to the gods (of nature). Let us live a full life pleasing the gods of nature (consistent with nature). May the Lord Almighty, give us welfare. May the Sun, the knower of all, give us health. Let the majestic Garuda protect us (from diseases and poisons). Let Brihaspati, the Universal Lord, bestow welfare on us.”
Here is a brief summary of the 32 sections
1.The gods who control the different aspects of nature like rain, wind, fire, nourishment happiness etc., are praised and their blessings invoked.
2.Description of the Solar System (Surya Mandala) as the ancients saw them built around the effulgent sun. The sun is described as the Father of Time (Kala Purusha)
3-6. A poetic description of the six seasons (Ritus) and the behavior of people during those seasons.
7.The Vedas say that the sun we see is only one of the eight suns in the universe, the names and characteristics of all the eight suns are described.
8.The ultimate extinction of each life is caused by the sun as he is also the Lord of time. The other types of deaths (called untimely) are subsidiary deaths and are preventable by appropriate methods (like sun salutation)
9.The fire which provides light and heat when the sun has set are also exalted.
10.The two worlds earth and heaven are praised variously
11.Importance of Self Realization and the means (Sun Salutation) are stressed
12.The Ultimate Reality (Indra) is extolled
13.The Three Worlds are described and their causes extolled.
14-19. Prayer to heavenly bodies like Sun, Wind and others for happiness here and hereafter and the destruction of misery here and hereafter.
20. Prayer to the guardian angels of all directions for protection.
21. Prayer to divine and wise beings for the spiritual knowledge.
22. That everything evolved out of Water (esoterically Consciousness) is described and the ultimate reality is extolled.
23. Water (Consciousness) is the source of all activity. And the Creator is extolled.
24-26. Sun Worship and the benefits are described.
27. Prayer to Sun and other divine beings for health in this life and release from the cycle of birth and death hereafter.
28. Prayer to Fire, an aspect of Sun’s Energy to ward off evil spirits, especially in the dark.
29. Prayer to Sun and the divine celestial beings for plentiful of rain.
30. Prayer to Sun for regaining lost health and rejuvenation.
31. Prayer to the gastric fire, for health and proper digestion
32. The do’s and don’ts of Suryanamskara. The three peace utterances end the mantra chant. Then the end peace chant.
The mantras can be chanted alone without physical namaskara, when the chanter at the end of each section mentally salutes the Sun. Else the Surya Namaskara by Danda Samarpana can be performed at the end of each of the 32 anuvakas or sections. Those that are merely listening but not chanting can do one round of the 12 step or 12 vinyqasa Suryanamaskara with the appropriate breathing, and with or without the mantras within the namaskara (Please refer to page 213 to 217 in my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”) may be performed.
I have recorded about 40 audio cassettes and cds of several Vedic and other chants I had learnt from Sri Krishnamacharya (including Suryanamaskara/Aruna Parayana) for a leading recording company in South India (The Master Recording Company, brand name “Sangeeta”). The Surya Namaskara chants running to about 70 minutes was recorded in mid 80s.