Origins of Surya Namaskar
Dr. Sivatej Sarva, Shri Ram Prasad Kraleti, Dr. Siddhesh Shevade, Shri Sudhakar Joglekar*.
*Bhau Joglekar ji is an expert in Surya Namaskar and heads the Surya Namaskar division of Kreeda Bharathi.
Surya Namaskar is a popular form of exercise both in India
and in the West. A study of ancient Hindu texts was undertaken to bring to light the various ancient origins of this procedure. The observations show that this procedure is derived from the Vedas, the oldest texts of Hindu literature. Trucha Kalpa Nitya Vidhi and Aditya Prasna are the popular ancient Vedic forms of performing salutations to the Sun. The Puranas, which were written after the Vedas, also have procedures of sun salutations described in them. “Aditya Hrudayam” which is mentioned in Ramayana, explains sun salutation with mantras that are similar to the present day Surya Namaskar. In addition to the philosophy, structure of the procedure and mantras of Surya Namaskar, the series of physical postures themselves have old origins. As a result it can be concluded that Surya Namaskar is a procedure with sound ancient roots and has evolved into a popular form of physical exercise today.
2) Vedic origins
* a) Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah
2) dhyāna mantra
3) sūrya namaskār mantra
4) Teertha Shloka
* b) Aditya Prasna
3) Pauranic origins
4) Old English publications
5) Exercise and Spirituality
6) Raja of Aundh
1) Anushtup Chandas
2) Word by word translation of dhyāna Mantra
3) Sanskrit verses of the ruchas
4) Transliteration of the three ruchas
5) Translation of the three ruchas
Surya Namaskar is a popular form of Yoga practiced not only in India but also in the yoga studios of the West. Unlike its benifits to health which are well documented (1
), the origins are not widely known.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of "origin", is "the point where something begins or arises" (2
). If the definition is applied to surya namaskar, definite proof of existence of surya namaskar (salutation to the sun), for health and prosperity, through worship of Sun, by employing one's body limbs can be observed in ancient Hindu practices. The name that it was refered to and the actual procedure that was performed varied but the central concept remained the same.
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.
Each Mantra in Veda is called a “rucha”. Group of three rucha is called as Trucha. “Trucha Kalpa Namaskarah” is one method of performing Surya Namaskars.
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.
Then dhyāna mantra is recited / chanted.
dhyeyḥ sadā savitṛmaṁḍalamadhyavartī
nārāyaṇaḥ sarasijāsanasaṁniviṣṭaḥ |
keyūravān makarakuṁḍalavān kirīṭī
“Always worship ‘The Sun’ (our energy source) sitting at the centre of his galaxy on Lotus, wearing Keyoor, Makarkundal crown and holding conch, chakra and having glittering golden body.”
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] has composed them. According to him by reciting / chanting these three ruchas and performing Surya Namaskars, The Sun is pleased with you and cures many of your diseases like heart trouble, leprosy, leukemia, jaundice etc.
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”.
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.
"Aum + 1 Beejaksharam + 1 rucha + 1 Beejaksharam + Aum + 1 Name of Sun"
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 upto the 12th mantra. For each mantra one surya namaskar is performed.
"Aum + 2 Beejakshara + 2 paada + 2 Beejakshara + Aum + 2 Names of Sun"
"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.
"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.
"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.
In the end,Teertha Shloka is chanted / recited.
"ādityasya namaskaraṁye kurvanti dinedine |
janmāṁ tarasahasre ṣudridhryaṁ nopajāyate ||
akālamṛtyuharaṇm sarvavyādhivinaśanam |
sūryapādodakaṁ tīrtham jaṭharedhārayāmyaham || "
“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".
The verses used in this procedure are taken from the first chapter of "Yajur Veda, Taittiriya Aranyakam" which is also refered to as Surya Namaskar 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.
Aditya Hridayam 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 ".
As can be noted by the names in bold, most of 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".
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" (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" (6
Leaving the main focus of Surya Namaskar, i.e., surrendering yourself to Surya(God) for health and prosperity, if we look at physical aasanas of the present popular way of doing Surya Namaskar, we can find that even these have much older origins than popularly believed.
There are about 50 different variations of Surya Namaskar followed in various parts of India today. It is highly unlikely that a very modern procedure of the nineteenth century can spread and evolve into such diverse forms in such a short period of time. Moreover, most of the aasanas themselves have ancient documented origins.
"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 (7
). The "Adhomukh Swanasan" was described in the old wrestling text of "Mallapurana" (dated before 1750) (8
). "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 (8
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" 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" (9
Further historically it is widely believed in the state of Maharashtra that Shivaji Maharaj, Samartha Ramadas ji and the Marathas have preformed surya namaskar as a physical exercise to develop able bodies (10
). 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.
Shrimant Bhavanrao Pant Pratinidhi (1868-1951; Raja of Aundh 1909-1947)(11
) occupys 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 at a time when the whole of the Indian civilization was reeling under British rule. 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 (12
). Due to the unavailability of majority of old Hindu scriptures and literature even today, it is not surprising that some of the Western scholars have mistakenly characterized Surya Namaskar as a new physical exercise devised by Raja of Aundh with no ancient roots (13
). It has to be noted that, Raja of Aundh, himself never claimed to have invented it. Further he actually stressed on the ancient origins of this procedure (12
In conclusion, when trying to understand the origins of any modern phenomenon, one has to look for the source of the central ideas and procedures. Just because there is no word to word guide to the present day popular yogic form of surya namaskar in the Vedas, does not mean that it did not originate from them. The ancient literature and more importantly the every day life of people living in various parts of the diverse country of India, gives ample proof that the procedure is ancient. To give a present day example, even though Google popularized "web search", it is not true that Google invented "web search".
The aim of this article is not to prove someone else wrong or propound a new theory, but is to provide more information to the people interested in this unique procedure. This article by no means brings out all the ancient origins and is only a humble attempt to bring to light some of them.
Dr. Gopal Marathe for his input on Aditya Prasna, Dr. B.V.K.Sastry for his input on the philosophy behind the Surya Namaskar.
Chandas, is considered one of the six limbs of the Vedas. Chandas gives the rules for composition, thereby ensuring that the original text is kept in tact without the loss or gain of syllables. Of the various meters of composition, “Anushtup” is the one which is extensively used not only in Vedic mantras but also in the slokas of Puraanas. Valmiki Ramayana was written in “Anushtup meter”.
A Veda mantra is generally a quartet. A paada is a quarter portion of it. (Notable exception is Gayatri Chandas which has only three paadas). Each paada in turn can have an equal or unequal number of syllables. Those which have four paadas to a stanza with each paada having eight syllables are said to be in “Anushtup Chandas”. For counting the aksharas or syllables only vowels and consonants with vowels imposed on them should be considered for the count while pure consonants should be ignored.
Reference: The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai " The Vedas " Chapter 17 : The Vedangas : Chandas - The feet of the Vedas
Savitrumandala-Madhyavartee - He who lives in the centre of the solar orb.
Sarasijaasana Sannivishtah - Who sits in Padmaasana
Keyuravaan Makara Kundalavaan Kireetee Haaree - Who has the bracelets, the big ear-rings in the ear, the crown on the head and the pearl garland dangling on the breast.
Dhrita-Sankha-Chakrah - Holder of Conch and Chakra (discuss).
Hiranmayavapuh - Golden-hued body.
Narayanah - Narayana
Sadaa Dhyeyah - Always to be meditated.
Rigveda: 1 Mandala, 50th Sukta.
udhyannadya mitramaha ārohannuttarāṃ divam |
hṛdroghaṃ mamsūrya harimāṇaṃca nāśaya ||
śukeṣume harimāṇaṃ ropaṇākāsu dadhmasi |
atho hāridraveṣume harimāṇaṃ ni dadhmasi ||
udaghādayamādityo viśvena sahasā saha |
dviṣantaṃ mahyaṃ randhyan mo aham dviṣate radham ||
Book – 1, HYMN L.
11 Rising this day, O rich in friends, ascending to the loftier heaven,
Surya remove my heart's disease, take from me this my yellow hue.
12 To parrots and to starlings let us give away my yellowness,
Or this my yellowness let us transfer to Haritala trees.
13 With all his conquering vigour this Aditya hath gone up on high,
Giving my foe into mine hand: let me not be my foeman's prey.
1) Energy Cost and Cardiorespiratory Changes During the Practice of Surya Namaskar, B. SINHA etal Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 2004; 48 (2) : 184–190
2) Compact Oxford English Dictionary of Current English Third Edition, year 2005
3) Rugvediya Nitya Vidhi, Bharatiya Sanskruti Kosh, Vedashastrottejak Sabha, Pune.
4) Taittiriya Aranyaka, Edited by Subramania Sarma, Chennai
5) sanskrit.safire.com, Aditya Hrudayam with English translation
6) William Cooke Taylor, A Catalogue raisonnée of oriental manuscripts, H.Smith, (year 1860)
7) Gheranda Samhita with English translation by James Malinson, yogavidya.com (year 2004)
8) N.E.Josman, Yoga tradition in Mysore Palace, Abhinav publications (year 1999)
9) Bhagavat Simhajī, A Short history of Aryan medical science, Macmillan (year 1896)
10) Dattatraya Chintaman Mujumdar; Encyclopedia of Indian physical culture, Good Companions; (year 1950)
11) S.P.Sen, Dictionary of National Biography; Institute of Historical Studies, Calcutta 1972 Vols.1-4; Institute of Historical Studies, vol 3, p.307
12) Royal India: A Descriptive and Historical Study of India's Fifteen Principal States and Their Rulers By Katherine H. Diver, Maud Diver, (year 1942)
13) Joseph S. Alter, Yoga in Modern India: the body between science and philosophy, Princeton University Press (year 2004)
14) Joseph S. Alter, Gandhi's Body: Sex, Diet, and the Politics of Nationalism, (year 2000)
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