The Origins of Surya Namaskar
"Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise"
"This body is a piece of earth powered by the sun. You are a solar powered life. If the sun does not come up tomorrow, the scientific data says in eighteen hours’ time, all the water in the oceans, your blood, your brain – everything – will be frozen solid". "So this morning, the sun came up – that is not a small thing; it is everything. You may not be conscious of this, but your life is very directly connected to what happens with the sun and the relationship between the planet and the sun" - Mystics Musings
Our primary source of light is the sun. When we look at our closest star, we may see nothing more than a big yellow ball. But for thousands of years, the Hindus have revered the sun, which they call Surya, as both the physical and spiritual heart of our world and the creator of all life itself.
Since everything that exists originates from the sun, as Alain Danizlou wrote in The Myths and Gods of India, it “must contain the potentiality of all that is to be known.” For the Hindus, the sun is the “eye of the world” (loka chakshus), seeing and uniting all selves in itself, an image of and a pathway to the divine.
The Origins of Surya Namaskar - A Cultural Perspective
The origins of this practice go back to over 10,000 years ago according to the Hindu tradition.
Hanuman, the great monkey hero of the Ramayana, was fascinated with Surya the Sun. As a baby he saw the sun in the sky and thought it was a fruit, and, being a monkey with supernatural strength, he wanted to eat it. Hanuman had so much divinity in him, he had the ability to leap as high as the sun, so pushing off from the earth with his powerful legs and stretching up through his long arms, Hanuman leapt and soared towards the sun.
The gods were astonished by this, and were concerned, because if someone took the sun there would be no life; all life would perish. At the moment the young Hanuman was going to take the sun, Indra the god of thunder picked up his deadly diamond thunderbolt ‘Vajra’ and went towards the impudent monkey. The clouds rumbled and lightning thundered across the vast skies in an expression of Indra’s wrath. Indra raised his thunderbolt and struck Hanuman on the chin knocking Hanuman from the sky.
Hanuman fell back to the earth unconscious. His father Vayu, the lord of the air, saw his injured son and was so upset that he withdrew his air from all living things. “Let all those who have harmed Anjana’s son choke to death”.
Again, all existence was threatened with death. All the gods entreated Vayu, "Please provide your air to all beings once again, with compassion for all living things, and we will restore your son Hanuman and give him our powers." Vayu agreed, so all the gods of the Hindu pantheon gave gifts to Hanuman in order to empower him even further.
Surya the Sun, feeling responsible for the whole ordeal, now said “I bestow on him a hundredth part of my brilliance. I myself shall impart the wisdom of the sacred scriptures, and teach the vast knowledge of Yoga to him”. Surya was the perfect choice to become Hanuman’s Guru because the sun is the sole karma sakshi, or the eternal witness of all the deeds of human beings.
As Surya was Hanuman’s guru, Hanuman would salute the sun upon each visit. Surya was the source of all the world's knowledge and all the world's power, so Hanuman would bow-down to his master to express his eternal gratitude. "O Surya, I can only offer you my grace and namaskars (respectful greetings) as payment" Surya was happy to have such a devoted student and agreed. And so the surya namaskar series was born.
Image below: Sculpture depicting the 12 asanas of Surya Namaskara A in Terminal T3 at IGIA Airport, New Delhi, India,