Śrīmad Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa in Yuddhakāṇḍa (Chapter VI: Canto 105) reveals Āditya Hṛdaya, a powerful prayer to Sun god. Lord Rāma was thinking about the ongoing battle with Rāvaṇa. As an incarnation, Rāma known for meticulously upholding dharma śāstra-s, seems visibly upset about large scale killings in the war. He wanted to end the war at the earliest to save the lives of the remaining warriors. At that time, sage Agastya had come along with several gods to meet Rāma. Agastya knew what was going on in Rāma’s mind, and in order to find a solution, he told Rāma to recite a hymn known as Āditya Hṛdaya Stotram.
Why Agastya had chosen to impart Āditya Hṛdaya to Rāma is an intriguing question. Āditya Hṛdaya comprises of various hymns to propitiate Brahmā, the god of creation and was placed in the heart (hṛdaya) of sun’s orbit. Since this mantra was placed in the heart of sun, which is also known as Āditya, this hymn is known as Āditya Hṛdaya Stotram. There are thirty one couplets (all the verses in Rāmāyaṇa are in couplets only; there are 24,000 verses in all) in this Canto out of which Āditya Hṛdaya is revealed from verse four till verse 26. Many texts contain additions at the end of the main part comprising of 23 couplets. First three verses of this Canto speak about Agastya’s rendezvous with Rāma and his address to Him.
What is the importance of sun and why Agastya had chosen to impart mantras praising the sun? Chāndogya Upaniṣad (I.vi.6) answers this question that lingers in our minds. It says, “There is a deity in within the orbit of the sun, who is seen by the yogī-s. His whole body glitters like gold. He has a bright golden beard and golden hair.” Here, the inexplicable Brahman is conveyed and hence the Upaniṣad says that the deity in the sun can be seen only by the yogī-s. Yogī means a person who is able to unite his individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. This means that the one who is rid of māyā and able to realize the every illuminating Self is adored as a Yogī. Agastya says to Rāma to worship the Prakāśa aspect of Brahman, as His full Grandeur cannot be seen at all. This Prakāśa aspect of Brahman is personified as sun god. Typically speaking, Agastya advises Rāma to worship Brahman to conquer and slay Rāvaṇa. This aspect is explicitly explained in three verses which say that sun god represents Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva, Skanda, Prajāpati, Kubera, Kāla, Yama, Soma, Varuṇa, Aśvin-s, Marut-s, Manu, Vāyu and Agni. Most of these gods are referred in Vedas. The list is not exhaustive; but surely encompasses almost every aspect of creation, sustenance and death. This goes to prove that the sun god referred here, in fact refers to every illuminating Brahman or the Self.
There are verses in Vedas comparing sun to Brahman. Kṛṣṇa Yajur Veda Taittirīya Saṁhitā (III.iv.11.6-8) adores sun and these verses form part of Navagraha Sūkta. These verses go like this:
आ सत्येन रजसा वर्तमानः निवेशयन्नमृतं मर्त्यं च।
हिरण्ययेन सविता रथेन आ देवो याति भुवना विपश्यन्॥
ā satyena rajasā vartamānaḥ niveśayannamṛtaṁ martyaṁ ca |
hiraṇyayena savitā rathena ā devo yāti bhuvanā vipaśyan ||
This verse can be interpreted as follows. All Vedic verses have dual conveyances – gross and subtle. Gross is connected to rituals and subtle is connected to realization of the Self.
“He shines with the illumination of the Self within as well as illumination visible to our biological eyes. He pervades both earth plane and higher plane where gods and goddesses live. He moves around all these worlds in his gold chariot.”
Ṛg Veda (I.50.8) also says, “O! Self –radiant, through your divine spectrum of seven harnessed to your chariot, you guide all men.” Seven mentioned in this verse not only means VIBGYOR (seven colours associated with seven psychic chakras), but also seven upper worlds referred in Brahma Gāyatrī mantra (saptavyāhṛti sahita gāyatrī mantraḥ).
ॐ भूः ॐ भुवः ॐ सुवः ॐ महः ॐ जनः ॐ तपः ॐ सत्यं ॐ तत्सवितुर्वरेण्यं भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि॥ धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात्॥ ॐ आपो ज्योति रसोऽमृतं ब्रह्म भूर्भुवःस्वरोम्॥
om bhūḥ om bhuvaḥ om suvaḥ om mahaḥ om janaḥ om tapaḥ om satyaṁ om tatsaviturvareṇyaṁ bhargo devasya dhīmahi || dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayāt || om āpo jyoti raso'mṛtaṁ brahma bhūrbhuvaḥsvarom ||
The verse says all the seven worlds are only ॐ. In other words, these seven worlds represent seven higher spiritual planes, where the Light of Brahman prevails. This establishes the fact that Prakāśa of Brahman is omnipresent and this Brahman is described in the form of sun, to enable us to contemplate Brahman in His illuminating form. How the sun can be compared to Brahman? Brahman has three main acts, creation, sustenance and destruction. Sun also creates, sustains and destroys. Sun is the cause for prāṇa, light, water, etc which takes care of all the three aspects of Brahman.
Therefore, Āditya Hṛdaya Stotram should not be construed merely as a praise of sun god. The hymn in fact praises the Prakāśa form of Brahman as discussed above. In this short series, we will discuss Āditya Hṛdaya Stotram.