With about 1 billion followers, Hinduism is the third most observed religion in the world. Having been in existence for thousands of years, it is often considered the oldest active religion, drawing people to its teachings on freedom of worship, morality and the rhythms of nature. Because ideas of cycles, light and energy are of great importance in Hinduism, the sun plays a major role in its beliefs.

Lord Vishnu

Though it is difficult to classify Hinduism under one over-arching definition, many Hindus believe that Lord Vishnu is "the inner cause and power by which things exist." Vishnu is known by thousands of names, including Ravi, Bhanu and Narayana. He protects and maintains the universe and, according to his Vaishnavite followers, is found everywhere and within everything. Being that the sun is the source of energy and all light, he is sometimes described as living in the sun.

Surya - The Sun God

Because the sun sustains all life, it is considered, states K.S. Charak, a "manifest representation of the Eternal cause of this universe." As the sun god, Surya is considered the soul of the universe. The Hindu creation narrative states that in the beginning Lord Brahma, the god of creation, emerged from a cosmic egg and spewed intelligence in the form of the supreme god Vishnu, whose brilliance merged with sound to create Surya. The solar god Surya, therefore, is identified with Lord Vishnu.

Surya Namaskar

Young woman balancing on rock, practicing yoga pose, rear view

One way to strive for the divine in Hinduism is through exercises. One such exercise, known as surya namaskar, or salute to the sun, consists of seven stretching postures, five of which are repeated in reverse order for a total of 12 postures. While prostrating before the sun, Hindus chant hymns of praise for Surya and ask him to grant them health, while also giving thanks for all the sun provides us with.

Sandhyavandanam

Another Hindu ritual associated with the sun is sandhyavandanam, a ritual in which followers practice solar worship. Because "sandhya" means the union of day and night, this is performed in the morning and in the evening on an empty stomach. There is a third performance at noon since this is considered one of the primary points of the day. While offering the sun god water by sprinkling it around, worshipers chant hymns that praise the divine beings and atone for past sins. Sandhyavandanam also includes controlled breathing and taking small sips of water, both of which represent the life force that was created by Surya.