Meet Surya, sun god of India. Surya has been worshipped by Indians for at least 3,000 years, appearing in the ancient text the Rig Veda and many other writings since then. The name “Syria” derives from the same word and means “sun.” Related Indian words for “sun” include sura and surja, from the radical sr, which in turn is associated with sl, sm and sn, as in sol, shemesh/shamash, Summi, summer, Sunne/Sonne and sun. The word is also related to the Persian hûr and Greek ἥλιος or Helios, the name of the sun god.

In the imagery of Surya and other solar deities, the god is depicted as riding in a chariot, driven by seven or four horses, representing respectively the days of the week and four seasons or cardinal points. One can see the god’s solar nature in the golden sun disc and rays surrounding him.

Prior to the era in which deities were depicted anthropomorphically or as humans, the sun god would be portrayed as a circle with rays coming off of it, frequently a specific number based on various natural cycles, such as the seasons, months and so on. The image on the right has 24 visible rays, which would be equivalent to two years of 12 months each, among other possible connotations.

Father of the Virgin-Born Hero

In the Indian text the Mahabharata, composed between around the fifth century BCE to the fifth century AD/CE, according to conservative dating, Surya is depicted as the father of the virgin-born hero Karna. Karna’s mother, Kunti, is kanya, a virgin, before magically being impregnated by Surya, and the text explicitly states she remains a virgin afterwards:

“…The Mahabharata here mentions clearly that Soorya [Surya] did not have sex with her, but impregnated her through his yogic power so that her maidenhood remained undamaged….”

Thus, in the story of Surya the sun god we have a tale of a divine hero born of a virgin mother and a god as father.

Surya is not the only sun god in India, as many other deities are solar in nature or possess solar attributes. Other Indian solar deities include Vishnu, Mitra and their avatars. Like these other gods, Surya continues to be worshipped to this day in India, as the god of the sun, to whom beautiful temples have been erected in numerous places, such as at Konark.

Ancient Solar Deities

Dating back thousands of years, many sun gods and goddess or deities/heroes with significant solar attributes can be found in cultures around the world, including:

Asclepius, Adonis, Amaterasu, Amun, Apollo, Ares/Mars, Arinna, Attis, Baal/Bel, Bacchus/Dionysus, Balder, Brahma, Buddha, Dumuzi, El/Il, Hades, Hathor, Helios, Hephaistos/Vulcan, Hercules, Hermes, Horus, Hu, Iao/Yahweh, Indra, Inti, Isis, Janus, Jason, Jesus, Krishna, Mithra, Molech, Moses, Neith, Odin, Orion, Orpheus, Osiris, Pan, Perseus, Quetzalcoatl, Ra, Samson, Saturn, Serapis, Shamash, Shapash, Shiva, Sol, Surya, Tammuz, Thor, Thoth, Viracocha, Vishnu, Zeus/Jupiter, Zoroaster and many more gods, goddesses, godmen, heroes and prophets.

These deities are symbolic, allegorical and mythical, not actual people, whether human or aliens. The misapprehension of symbolic divine figures as literal beings is at the root of religious fanaticism and many problems globally. The comprehension of these entities as solar or astrotheological, reflecting our shared world and common heritage, will go a long way in fostering peace and understanding globally.

Further Reading

The Virgin-Born Son of the Sun God
Millions in India bow to the sun, offending Muslims and Christians
The Astrotheology Calendar Guide
The gods must be crazy, but they are not aliens!
Egyptian Sun Hymns and Poetry
Jesus, Helios/Apollo, the Sacred King and the Sun God
Babylonian Star Maps and Texts
The Zodiac and Judeo-Christian Astrotheology
Solar Mythology in the Land of the Rising Sun