Eight Stanzas to Lord Surya

Suryashtakam

Introduction by Elizabeth Grimbergen

Each day, as I sit for work at my desk, I follow the light of the sun as it rises to the east before me and later sets to the west behind me. So, the earth’s orbit around its star, the sun, keeps me company, marking the hours of my day. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun recently began its annual passage northward, bringing longer days and the promise of spring. The sun and its seeming journey across the sky overhead is one of humankind’s most primordial and powerful symbols of new beginnings. The sun provides the light that supports all life. In the spiritual traditions of India, the sun is revered as a god, Lord Surya, first described in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest scriptures on earth.

Lord Surya is magnificent. In the Suryashtakam, a song of praise to him, Lord Surya is depicted holding a lotus, a symbol of purity, and riding in a gleaming golden chariot pulled by seven horses. He is surrounded by brilliant, blazing rays of sunlight.

The Suryashtakam, featured on this page, is from the Samba Purana. This sacred text tells the story of Samba, a son of Lord Krishna, who suffered from a debilitating disease. Following the guidance of celestial Sage Narada, Samba worshiped Lord Surya by the banks of the Chenab River. After twelve years of this supplication, Lord Surya appeared before Samba and cured him of his illness.

The eight verses (ashtakam) of this hymn celebrate the divine qualities of Lord Surya and his power of nourishing and healing light, both outer and inner. As we sing the verses of the Suryashtakam, we too invoke the blessings of Lord Surya—vibrant health, radiant abundance, steadfast courage, vigorous strength, and penetrating intelligence—as well as wisdom and spiritual liberation.

When I contemplate Lord Surya, what strikes me is that the same sunlight that sustains life on this planet is also the light by which human beings historically could see and perceive. It is light that connects the seer and the seen, the knower and the known. In Sanskrit, one of the words for light is prakasha. It is prakasha that reveals the trees outside of my window. Inextricably connected with prakasha is vimarsha, the power of awareness. It is vimarsha that enables me to know the forms I see as trees.

According to the Indian spiritual traditions, prakasha and vimarsha are aspects of universal Consciousness. It is the conscious Self that witnesses and illuminates all our mental states as well as all our perceptions and sensations.

For me, the sun is a metaphor for this supreme light of Consciousness, which pervades the inner sky of my mind and makes it possible for me to know the objects I see. When this same power of awareness is turned inward through chanting or meditation, it is the power by which I perceive my innermost Self. So, the image of Lord Surya also represents the light of spiritual knowledge that overcomes the darkness of ignorance and limitation.

Each of the verses of the Suryashtakam is a golden nugget for contemplation. One of the phrases that stands out is the description of Lord Surya as the “remover of faults,” a phrase that echoes the story of Samba’s cure from illness by the Lord. The sun is a healing agent of both the body and the mind. With the removal of our faults, papas, we are made whole and radiant. Our limitations are dissolved, and we are able to perceive our own resplendent nature.

Like the sun, which is always shining somewhere, the supreme Light of Consciousness, the Self, is always present, illuminating our hearts and minds.

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