Deborah Scherrer in her paper Solar Folklore and Storytelling, points out that almost every civilisation in the world has seen the Sun as the controller of life on earth.
“Heaven and nature touched every aspect of ancient culture, so it is no wonder we find sky stories woven into myth, religion, art, and worldview. So great was the ancients’ reliance upon the Sun and Moon that most deified them. Because ancient people often believed that their spiritual and social lives were linked with the material world, they expended considerable effort in paying tribute to these celestial deities,” says Scherrer.
Included in her carefully chosen set of solar stories are tales from different cultures and traditions. It begins with an indigenous North American tale –“Why there is Night and Day” of which there are variants found throughout North American Indian folk lore. It is a simple tale of a time when night time and daytime were the same.
Another story is “Raven and the Sun” of the Tsimshian tribe in North West America. Again it is of a time when there was no Sun. It begins with the words, “Once the sky had no day.” Another story, “Coyote and Eagle Steal the Sun and Moon,” of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico talks about a time when it was always dark and always summer, until a curious Coyote released the sun and moon from the box they had been kept in.
In “Sun and Daughter” of the Cherokee tribe in Tennessee, North Carolina we hear of a vengeful sun, who was jealous of her brother the moon, because people always squinted when they looked at her but smiled at her more serene brother. Here’s a small part of the story, in all its morbidity – “The Sun was jealous and decided she would kill the people by sending a fever. Many people were dying and those remaining decided they would have to kill the Sun. With some magic, one of the people was turned into a rattlesnake and sent to wait by the daughter's door, to bite the Sun when she stopped for dinner. But when the daughter opened the door to look for her mother, the snake bit her instead. The snake returned to Earth with the Sun still alive and the daughter dead. When the Sun discovered what had happened she shut herself up in the house and grieved.”
“Inti, the Incan Sun God” of the Incan Tribe of Peru belongs to the Inca Empire, the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Unlike the others this story is more peaceful. “The Inca venerated their dead and considered the royal family to be semi-divine, descended from the Sun. Inti was considered the Sun god and the ancestor of the Incas. Inti and his wife Pachamama, the Earth goddess, were regarded as benevolent deities. The Inti's wife was the Moon. According to an ancient Inca myth, Inti taught his son Manco Capac and his daughter Mama Ocollo the arts of civilization and sent them to the Earth to instruct mankind about what they had learned.”
In “An Aborigines View of the Sun and Moon” of the Aboriginal tribe of Australia, “the Sun was seen as a woman who awakes daily in her camp in the east, lights a fire, and prepares the bark torch she will carry across the sky. Before setting out, she decorates herself with red ocher, which she spills, coloring the clouds red. Upon reaching the west, she reapplies her paint, again spilling reds and yellows in the sky.” In fact the Aborginal flag of Australia has the Sun in it representing the giver of Life.
Moving to the Middle East, is the story of “Gilgamesh and the Sun” from Mesopotamia composed around 2000 BC.” In this ancient Sumerian story, Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, sets out on a quest for immortality to the Garden of the Sun, the land of everlasting life. To reach it, Gilgamesh must pass through the Sun's gate in the mountain of the horizon. The setting Sun disappears there and emerges from it at sunrise. A pair of terrifying scorpion-people stationed at the Gate of Heaven guard the Sun's path. But eventually Gilgamesh gains entrance to the next level.”
It is only when we come to the Egyptian story that we begin to see the Sun as being seen as a Divine Force. “Ra, the Egyptian Sun God” a story of Ancient Egypt, talks about the depiction of Sun as the manifestation of god. “He was called Ra. But his full name is Ra - Atum - Khepri. (Ra - the Sun at the zenith (noon), Atum - the setting Sun, and Khepri - the rising Sun). With strong Biblical alllusions, “Ra created the first divine couple, Shu and Tefnut, who are the parents of the Earth and sky. Man was born from the tears of Ra, and as man is created in his image and is issued from his flesh, the Earth was created to provide care and support for mankind.”
In Japan, Scherrer says the very name Nippon or Nihon means "origin of the Sun" with their flag depicting a red ball which stands for the Sun. “Amaterasu” is the story of the Sun goddess of the oldest Japanese religion, Shinto. “When her brother Susanowo treated her badly, she hid in the cave of heaven and closed the entrance with an enormous stone. This made the world dark, and evil spirits came out of their hiding places.”
Much anticipated is sole story from India ‘Surya’ taken from the Mahabharata. It is the story of Sanjña and Chhaya. The story begins with: “What if you were married to the best-looking, most loving, wealthiest, and most powerful person in the world? Wouldn’t you be happy?” Indeed.
Dr R L Kashyap in his book “Surya: Inner Light” – says that Surya is both the highest Light and the Highest Truth. “He is the soul of all that moves and moves not. Surya is the highest Light of all, the Surya attained by the rishis.”
The Sun, unlike in other simpler stories is not just the highest Light. As Dr Kashyap says, “both the Sun within us and the Sun without us is covered by darkness. “When by the force of tapas, he wakes up destroying the forces of ignorance, he ascends his seven shining horses or energies to the ocean of higher existence.”
In India, Surya is worshipped in many forms. But two of the most common forms of the deity are Arka and Mitra. Surya in the form of Arka is worshipped mostly in North and Eastern India. The very grand and elaborate Konark Temple in Orissa, the Uttararka and Lolarka in Uttar Pradesh, the Balarka temple in Rajasthan and the Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat, are all dedicated to his form of Arka. Yet another temple, the Balarka Surya Mandir built in Uttar Pradesh in the 10th Century, was destroyed in the 14th Century, during the Turkish invasion. The other most common form of Surya, namely, Mitra, is found mostly in Gujarat. "Mitra" literally means "friend". (https://www.dollsofindia.com/library/surya/).
Surya has 108 names including Aditya, Adideva, Angaraka, Arka, Bhaga, Brahma, Dhanwantari, Dharmadhwaja, Dhatri, Dhumaketu, Indra, Jaya, Maitreya, Prabhakara, Ravi, Rudra, Savitri, Soma, Teja, Vaisravana, Vanhi, Varun and Vishnu.
Ofcourse, as Prof Ramachandra Rao, says there is no “Vedic hymn, which is regarded as more sacred, or more efficacious, by laymen or masters of scripture,” than the Gayatri Mantra. Prof Rao says another mantra by rishi Vishwamitra declares that the “mantra (brahma) of Vishwamitra protects the Bharata people. “Bharata also means persons who take delight (rata) in the Light, those with an affinity for Light.” How different from the stories of the Sun from other parts of the world.