Symbolic and spiritual significance

The sun has been adored since time immemorial. The ancient people worshipped the sun with awe, knowing that the sun generates the heat and light necessary to sustain life. They knew that without it there would be no life and no movement. If the sun ceased to exist then life would be snuffed out like the flame of a candle.

Most of the ancient civilizations developed religions which were based on sun worship. It was personified by various deities: Mithras of the Persians, Osiris of the Egyptians, Baal of the Chaldeans, Apollo of the Greeks, Surya, the Lord of the heavens in the vedic period of India and so on. All these deities represent rejuvenation of the world's existence. Various temples and a variety of places were consecrated for the worship of the sun: the pyramids of Egypt, the Yucatan of Mexico, the Zigguruts of Babylonia and Chaldea. It is from these ancient cults that much of the background, rites and symbolism of modern religions have come, but hidden under many different guises and interpretations.

Let us consider the Hindu trinity - Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer. These symbolize three aspects of life and are directly related to the daily movement of the sun. The passage of the sun can be divided into three phases - the rising, the midday and the setting phase. In time these came to represent the three aspects of life - growth or creation, sustenance or maturity and death, destruction or decay. Thus evolved Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma, the creator, is symbolized by the dawn, the time when things come alive and the daytime cycle starts again. Vishnu the sustainer, is symbolized by the daytime sun which radiates energy into the world allowing things to grow and live. Shiva, the destroyer, is symbolized by the setting sun, which takes with it the energy vibrations of the sun. Yet this disappearance of the sun is only a prelude to its resurrection the following morning. Sunset is necessary for the sun to rise again; decay is necessary for growth, replenishment and rejuvenation, in the same way as destruction of previous concepts is necessary for spiritual growth.

The sun was not only worshipped because of its material nature and power, though it might well have been by less informed persons. The sun itselfis a symbol. It symbolizes spiritual illumination and knowledge, the light in the darkness of ignorance. It represents the essence, the spirituality which exists in all material things. It is this essence which is worshipped by the more enlightened people ofthe ancient cults and religions. The material sun is the manifestation of the deeper, hidden background or substratum. This has been clearly explained by Paracelsus, the medieval alchemist, as follows: "There is an earthly, material sun, which is the cause of heat; and all who are capable of seeing it, even those who are blind, can feel his heat. And then there is an eternal sun, which is the source of wisdom; and those who are spiritually awakened will see this sun and be conscious of His existence."

The material or terrestrial sun is the manifestation of the invisible, spiritual and celestial sun. The spiritual sun represents the spiritual aspects of existence, and from it the material sun of material aspects of life is derived. Therefore, it is the spiritual sun that is regarded as the source of power and inner light but because the material sun can be seen by all, it is this aspect that is seemingly worshipped.

The yearly cycle of the sun was regarded by many ancient cults and religions as symbolic of the life of man, and in fact of ail living things. The birth date of the sun took place three days after its winter solstice. This is because the sun was regarded as dying on its winter solstice (i.e. 22nd December). At this time its power, the intensity of its rays is the lowest (in the northern hemisphere). Three days later (25th December) the sun could be easily and distinctively seen to start to grow stronger and the days start to become longer. This symbolizes the rebirth of life, but more importantly, it symbolizes rebirth into spiritual consciousness. This date was important in many ancient cults, and still is in many religions today.

The sun is a symbol of immortality, for while it died every evening, it was reborn the following morning. The rising ofthe sun is a time for joy and wonder, for it raises all things from the dead. It restores life again. It is for this reason that surya namaskara was evolved in ancient

India. It is mentioned in the Rig and Yajur Vedas, ancient scriptures of India, where various prostrations are prescribed for worship of the sun. However, at that time it did not have the form it has now. It consisted of various static poses combined with mantras. It was not the dynamic exercise that we know todav. It is only recently that the individual static poses were combined to form the coordinated exercise that we will describe in this topic.

Many people still wor ship the sun in one form or another. You can treat surya namas-kara as an expr ession of your regard for the sun, whether it is the material aspect or that underlying spiritual aspect that the material sun symbolizes. Or, if you are not inclined to worship, then do surya namaskara for the sake of maintaining and inducing good health. This is the stepping stone to spiritual awareness and peace.

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