Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 5

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BY: SUN STAFF - 12.1 2021

Mitra, the Sun God

A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Indo-Scythian Sakas

In his continued historical survey of Orissa's Mayurabhanja district, Nagendranath Vasu describes the history of the Sakadvipi Brahmanas and their worship of Mitra, an embodiment of the Sun god.

"Traces of the ancient Mitra-cult are still to be found at Ayodhya, Puranagao, Kanisahi, and Domagandara in Nilgiri State (Mayurabhanja border) and also at Adipur and Kiching in the Panchpir Subdivision of Mayurabhanja State. Among the statues discovered in the ruins of these places are figures of Mitra in two different postures, one sitting and the other representing him standing on seven horses. These are of great interest and deserve special mention.

The following description of the Mitra or Sun-god is given in the work called Vivsvakarma Silpa: —

"[His] great chariot has one wheel and is drawn by seven horses; He has a lotus in each of his hands, wears an armour and has a shield over his breast, has beautiful straight hair, is surrounded by a halo of light, has (good) hair and apparel, is decorated with gold (ornaments) and jewels, has on his right side the figure of Niksubha and on the left that of his Rajni (queen) with all sorts of ornaments and whose hair and necklace are bright. His chariot mentioned above is called by the name of Makara-dhvaja. He wears a crown. The figure is surrounded by a halo. Danda (Yama) is represented as one-faced and Skanda as having a bright conch-shell. These two figures with the form of man are placed in front. Varaha on a lotus is placed on a horse. His body is represented as lustrous and he is the one giver of light to all the worlds.

A Surya-mandala is to be made by placing nutmeg and vermillion. He (Mitra) has four hands or only two with jewels adorning them. In both of his hands there are lotuses. He is seated on a chariot drawn by horses of variegated colour. His two gate-keepers Danda (Yama) and Pingala (Agni) have swords in their Lands."

The statues found at Ayodhya and Puranagao correspond in a very considerable degree to the description given above. This statue has been found broken in some places; of the other figures mentioned we find only those of Danda Nayaka, and Pingala (the two attendants) and the charioteer. (Fig. 2). The recently discovered statue at Konarak closely follows the lines of the above account.'

 

According to the Bhavisya and the Samba Puranas, the Sakadvipi Brahmanas came to India with the object of worshipping the image of Mitra. It has already been mentioned that the influence of the Saura Brahmanas in Jharkhand or Mayurabhanja dates from a very remote period. The results of their past achievements are now lying deeply buried under the earth in the midst of forests and hills. Besides the figures of Mitra found at Ayodhya, Kanisahi, Domagandara and Khiching the following are also worthy of note : —

(1) The representation in stone of a Surya-mandala found in the temple of Kakharna Vaidyanatha at Mantri, Myurabhanja.

(2) The ruins of the temple of the Sun at the village of Soro (District Balasor).

(3) The figures of different goddesses locally called Satabahini or seven sisters (Saptamatrikas) found in the above-mentioned village. Now preserved at the Balasor Bajabati. (Fig. 3).

 

Fig. 3: Saptamatrika from Soro

 

The Sanra Brahmanas also worshipped the images of Brahma, Visnu, Mahesvara, the Matrikas, and of Niksubha and Rajni, the consorts of Surya, the two Asvinas, Agni (Pingala) and Dandanayaka (Yama) attendants on Surya, Mahasveta, Skanda, Vinayaka and Kuvera. Thus we find it enjoined in the Bhavisya Brahmaparvana that the temple of the Sun-god should also have a place reserved in it for the images of these gods and goddesses.

We also find in the Lalita-Vistara that the figures of Siva, Skanda, Narayana, Kuvera, Chandra, Surya, Vaisravana, Cakra, Brahma and the Lokapalas were shown to the infant Siddhartha. [1] Hence it may be presumed that the worship of these gods in the form of images existed in India before the time of the Buddha.

It devolved upon the Sakadvipi Brahmanas to perform the worship of all such images. It was for this reason that they have all along been looked down upon as ''Devala" Brahmanas. In times gone by these Brahmanas were considered to be the only persons entitled to conduct the worship of the figures of Surya.

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] Lalita-Vistara (Sec. 38), p. 137