Surya Namaskar, Salutation to the Sun

A post by guest author Michael McCann.

 ‘Among seasons, I am the flower-bearing Spring’ (Bhagavad Gita 10:35)   

As the Vernal Equinox brings increased daylight and the joy of approaching summer to the Northern Hemisphere, my thoughts turn to the ancient ritual of Surya Namaskar, ‘Salutation to the Sun’.

I often think it is sad that, for many, this flowing set of prayer mudras remains a physical practice only, to warm and energise the muscles, as a preparation for asana practice. 

In many Yoga Teacher Training manuals, the practice is described as ‘sun salutes’, which conveys little of its spiritual significance.  

From Vedic times, the sun has been endowed as the symbol of the Supreme Brahman.

A spiritual symbol is a sign that points to something higher than itself. The shining orb in the sky is a symbol of a greater sun, that it conceals.

In the words of Rumi: ‘Dost not thee know that the light of the sun is the reflection of the sun behind the veil’? 

This is echoed by I.K Taimni: ‘The physical sun, which we see, and which alone science has studied, is merely an outer cover of a Glorious Reality which pervades and energises the whole solar system. This Reality is in essence and fundamentally the same as the Reality which is hidden in the heart of every human being’.

This was the momentous discovery of the seers of India: ‘that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you’: 

The Face of Truth remains hidden behind a circle of gold. Unveil it, O God of Light that I who love the True may see! 

O life-giving sun, offspring of the Lord of Creation, solitary seer of Heaven! Spread thy light and withdraw thy blinding splendour that I may behold thy radiant form: that Spirit far away within thee is my own inmost Spirit” (Isha Upanishad).

It is this glorious sun, both above and within, that is offered homage in Surya Namaskar.

Each year the sun passes through twelve zodiac phases in its journeying, and each has its own beautiful mantra:

Om Mitraya Namaha: salutations to the Friend of All 

Om Ravaye Namaha: salutation to the Bestower of Radiance  

Om Suryaya Namaha: salutation to the One who induces activity   

Om Banave Namaha: salutation to the Shining Principle    

Om Khagaya Namaha: salutation to the One who moves in the sky 

Om Pushne Namaha: salutation to the nourishing one 

Om Hiranyagarbhaya Namaha: salutation to the Golden Cosmic Self 

Om Marichaye Namaha: salutation to the Lord of Dawn 

Om Adityaya Namaha: salutation to the Son of the Cosmic Mother  

Om Savitre Namaha: salutation to the vivifying power of the sun 

Om Arkaya Namaha: salutation to the One who merits all praise 

Om Bhaskaraya Namaha: salutation to the Supreme Illuminator 

These lovely mantras have many layers of meaning for the seeker of wisdom.

More importantly, they remind us that Surya Namaskar is a devotional practice, a hymn of praise to the Ultimate Reality.   

On this Spring Equinox, as we practise Surya Namaskar, let us give thanks to the radiant orb that nurtures our little planet. 

And open our hearts to the great secret it reveals: ‘that Spirit far away within thee is my own inmost Spirit.’

Om Bhaskaraya Namaha!’ 

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