On Indo-European Solar Warfare – The Sura Army of the Sun

Earlier this week we marked the Solstice – Summer, if you’re here in the Southern Hemisphere, Winter if you’re in the Northern. 

It therefore seemed an apt occasion to post this exquisite art – illustrating the Army of the Sun God setting a host of demons to flight. 

Now, the nature of this conflict is intrinsic to the terms used to describe the relevant sides. 

The Gods are Devas – ‘Shining Ones’ – and also hailed quite frequently and pointedly as ‘Suras’ … Solars (indeed, these two terms are fairly directly cognate).

The Demons, meanwhile, are remarked upon as being ‘Asuras’. Which, as you’ll all be well aware of by now, is not the ‘Asura’ that is cognate with ‘Aesir’, etc. – but is, instead, an entirely different, if homophonic term. 

A-Sura, Opposite-to-Sura. Opposed to the Light. 

This is a familiar struggle. It is encountered in any number of Vedic ritual frameworks (many of which have either a ‘contest’ – a conflict, a duel, even – between the two sides as an implicit part to their construction or formulation) phrased in exactly these terms.

And in a huge array of  further Hindu scripture in differently labelled, yet still foundationally resonant occurrences. Think of Brihaspati or Indra smiting Vala or Vritra so the Sun, the Dawn, and Brightly Shining Heaven can be liberated from the demon dragons of obstruction, obscuration, darkness, and despair. 

Yet this particular illustration is not of a general typology in general terms – it is of a quite specific manifestation thereof, an identifiable Puranic occurrence. 

We can tell this, inter alia, by examining the finely inscribed labellings above the two demons in the top left of the image. 

On the left, there is ‘Kalnemi’ ( कालनेमि : also anglicized as Kālanemi) – ‘Kala’ being, entirely uncoincidentally, that ‘Black’, ‘Dark’, ‘Death’, ‘Time’ particle (viz. PIE *Kel, etc.; the sense that has developed being the oncoming ‘veil’ of darkness that is the Night, as we have observed at some length elsewhere), whilst ‘Nemi’ refers to an ‘Edge’ or ‘Circumference’.

We would therefore , perhaps , translate ‘Kalanemi’ as something along the lines of ‘Edge of Night’ – rather aptly appropriate, it would have to be said, for a demon lord that is arrayed against the radiating forces of the Sun. And, further, given the sense of ‘Nemi’ as relating to a ‘Wheel’ – we would therefore infer a ‘Wheel of Darkness’ as counterposing against the Wheel of Light that is the Sun [c.f. an array of verses upon the latter subject from the RV onwards]. 

On the right (of the pair), we encounter ‘Nimi’ ( निमि ) – a term that should ostensibly refer to the closing of one’s eyes, which is again rather pertinent for, well, the darkness of Dusk. The Sun, after all, is a Solar Eye in various IE reckoning going right back to the Vedas in primary attestation. 

But what is the actual context in which these figures are met? 

We shall not, herein, detail much of it – it’s an extensive treatment in its various Puranic occurrences, and contains quite some points of interest we might choose to revisit at a later time. For example – the fact that on the side of the Gods are fighting not only the Gods, but also “Sādhyas, Vasus, Yakṣas, Rākṣasas, Gandharvas and Serpents” [Skanda Purana, I 2 21 208-209; Tagare translation], inter alia. Or that we seem to encounter a male Nirrti (assuming the translations I had consulted are not in error) as Prince of Rakshasas and similarly Divinely aligned (this is not actually that surprising for reasons I intend to discuss at a later date, although the gender is). And so on and so forth. 

Instead, we shall but briefly note that the encounter occurs in the contest of back-and-forth employment of ‘magical’ potencies. These include the perhaps expected firing of various ‘Astra’ class weaponry (and consequent cancelling out of certain effects by the effects of others – the Matsya Purana, for instance, making reference to a chilling of the battlefield and its demonic occupants by the Gods’ utilization of an aptly named ‘Himastra’ [‘Snow-Weapon’] and Vayavyastra [‘Wind Weapon’] wielded by Chandra, only for this to be countered by Kalanemi deploying his own ‘solar’ power to warm things up again … and which also overpowers the aforementioned Moon); however there is also a potent ‘psychological’ dimension to proceedings, as well. 

Lord Surya uses a weapon of ‘Sambara’ (a name of intriguing resonancy) and one of ‘Indrajala’ to produce a most potent illusion – causing the Gods to appear as Demons, and the demonic war-host under Kalanemi to appear instead to be Gods (Devas). 

The immediate impact of this is the enraged Kalanemi begins a flailing assault of his own troops and officers – even grabbing hold of the aforementioned Nimi by the hair and making ready to dispatch him, only for the latter to desperately seek to remind his lord of his true identity as a demon. And it is at this point that we shall let the Tagare translation of the Skanda Purana [I 2 22 3-9] take over our narration of proceedings:

“I am Nimi, O Kālanemi, do not kill me thinking me to be a Sura. Know that deluded as you are in the course of this battle, ten crores of Asuras, your own people, who were unvanquishable to Suras, have been killed by you mistaking them to be Devas. Hence hurry up. Discharge the Brahmāstra that foils all other missiles.”

On being enlightened by him, that Daitya became agitated and let him off. Hurriedly he duly discharged an arrow charged with Brahmāstra.

Thereupon, that Brahmāstra blazed in the sky in an extremely miraculous manner. The entire army of Devas became frightened and excited.

Counteracted by the Brahmāstra, the Śaṃbara missile became ineffective. When his missile was repulsed, the Sun-god became angry.

He resorted to a great Indrajāla (Magic) and made his body extremely terrible. He occupied the whole of the three worlds by means of his exploding, dazzling, mass of rays.

The Lord scorched the army of Dānavas whose marrows, bones and blood began to melt away. He made the eyes of the great Dānavas blind.

Now it is, of course, rather interesting (albeit perhaps unsurprising) that a Brahmastra (a ‘solar’ weapon, of a sort, often spoken of as empowered via Gayatri Mantra; and with a force of Absolute, or ‘ritual invocation’) is specifically identified as being able to dispel the illusion wrought by the Śambara Astra; and it is, I suppose, almost even more interesting to find that it is the Divine side (and Lord Surya, no less !) that make use of the aforementioned ‘Shambara’ weapon – Sambara being a rather prominent demon-lord in later scripture, and a mighty (and well-fortified) regent of the Dasyus in the RV as well.

We are often used to thinking of the Sun as correlate with Truth, and Illusion with Darkness; here, the tables are, rather overtly, turned. Not least in the earlier section  [Skanda Purana I 2 21] wherein we encounter the following riposte to the aforementioned ‘Weapon of Cold’ etc. wielded by the Divine Army and in the Hands of the Moon:

” Though addressed thus, those great Asuras did not say anything. On account of chillness, they had lost the power of hearing and the ability to utter words. The Daityas had become dumb and almost dead in the course of the great battle. On seeing those Daityas absent-minded and utterly afflicted with chillness, and thinking about his duty befitting the occasion, Kālanemi, the great Asura, resorted to Mānavī Māyā. He expanded his huge body and filled the sky, the quarters and the intervening spaces. The great Dānava created ten thousand suns in his body. He filled the quarters and the intermediate spaces with fires. Then within a moment the entire region of the three worlds became filled with flames.

On account of that cluster of flames, the Snow-rayed Lord (Moon) went away quickly. Then gradually the chilly, bad (climate of the) day vanished. It shone brightly.

Thanks to the Māyā of Kālamemi, that army of the great Dānavas, shone brightly and splendidly.

On seeing that the army of the Dānavas had regained consciousness, the Sun-god was so furious that the extremities of his eyes became excessively red. He spoke to Aruṇa”
[Tagare Translation]

This supplies the immediate preceding context for Surya’s utilization of those – similarly seemingly Mayadic – weapons aforementioned. 

And it is perhaps unsurprising as well that we encounter the Sun being so turned to wrath in His Divine Countenance via that which He had just witnessed. After all, this is Kalanemi deliberately taking on a visage (and tangible effects) of the Sun, indeed seemingly depicted as being moreso than the Sun from the perspective of those upon the battlefield. 

The Eye(s) of He thus turn Red (as akin to the Sun at Dawn perhaps – c.f. Arun ) and He makes ready to show all assembled and all the Worlds just Whom the True Sun is to be. 

Interestingly, the Matsya Purana account actually features the Sun going dim to a certain extent following Kalanemi’s Brahmastra discharge – only to then blaze into a brighter, hotter life than ever afore in fairly direct consequence. Fitting for the Solstice (at least, in the Northern Hemisphere), no?

All of  this brings us back to the excellent image which first sparked this piece. And that line of the Skanda Purana quoted above:

“He resorted to a great Indrajāla (Magic) and made his body extremely terrible. He occupied the whole of the three worlds by means of his exploding, dazzling, mass of rays.”

We had sought advice from Brahminical associates as applies the labels etc. utilized in this picture – as we had encountered the image being mislabelled as an occurrence of Agni engaging in victorious combat against the war-host of demons, and had wished to find out more about the incident thusly depicted in case it was related to the Agni Anikavat [‘Having an Army’, or riding at the ‘Tip of the Spear’ – as such a force’s leader] understanding we have been working in relation to (and the relation of Agni to Arrows). Or, at least, why the obviously divine figure(s) at the center of proceedings were … very much not in customary iconographic accord with what we might expect for Agni. We are indebted to them – and to Angiras in particular – for clarifying these matters; including that the labelling  above the redly redolent figure at the center of the army on the right actually declared Him to be ‘Surya Aneka’ : that is to say, the ‘Multifarious Surya’. 

The Matsya Purana’s account renders it as follows:

“The whole of the army of the Devas was petrified with horror and the effect of the sanchara-astra of the Sun also ceased and at the same time, the Sun became dull. At that hour, the Sun through His power of magic astra assumed billions of forms. His strong rays penetrated the three regions. The army of the Demons was scorched. All the blood and marrow of the soldiers were dried up. Thus, they were much tormented. Afterwards there was a shower of fire which blinded the demons.”
[XC , 165-170, Major Basu Translation; we note the ‘Sanchara’ rather than ‘Sambara’ descriptor utilized for the Astra in question, as well]

In essence, then, that which we are seeing in this fine visual depiction is quite simple – the artist needed to show Surya both pervading the space with His Lustre, yet also ‘becoming many’. An Army. An Army of He. [Not that it is meant literally – but we might pause to ponder ‘Einherjar’ in the sense of ‘One-Man-Army’ , perhaps].

And so we have those surging forth fiery Rays – reminding one instantly of the vividly evocative descriptions given for the Sun’s Rays as Weapons in various Vaidika verses; most prominently the suite of conceptry wherein They are regaled in terms befitting Arrows, shot forth by the Archer(s) that later come to be identified in His Divine Retinue (viz. the Marici female warrior figures, for example, as we have written briefly upon elsewhere). Driving back those Demons correlate with the spiritual darkness, whose leadership had just shortly earlier sought to present himself as a sort of (false) Sun as he made to displace the true Solar Forces via ineluctable trickery and insidious violence against same. 

It would be simple enough to conclude that that, too, accounts for (indeed, is all that is necessary to explicate) the many reddish-orange (‘Angaraka’, indeed) hued archer-figures arrayed about Surya’s Chariot. And that is definitely the large part to the overt reasoning. 

Yet I cannot help but feel that it may also have been the artist’s intention to get across more than simply an all-expansive Solar Force – and also pay tribute through referency to the actual army that had taken the field for the Gods (indeed, of the Gods) and which was broader than ‘just’ Surya (er .. all the Surya). 

Many of the broader constituencies of the War-Host of the Sun have a reasonably express and explicit ‘Solar’ characterization. As applies the Adityas, Vasus, and Asvins mentioned [c.f Skanda Purana I 2 21 25] this should not prove controversial.

As applies the ‘Sadhyas’ [c.f. Skanda Purana I 2 21 208] – well, that is a fascinating term that we shall not delve too deeply into herein, except to note that in RV usage, they “are directly identified by Sayana in his commentary upon RV I 164 50 with (inter alia) the Adityas … and also with those who have attained a station of divinity through their pious conduct. Something that is fundamentally congruent with its underlying sense as ‘[Those Who Are / Those Who Have] Accomplished, Perfected’ – as well as ‘Those Who Are Invoked’ and Who act as Executors in such circumstances.” [to quote an earlier piece upon the (my)theme of Solar Warfare that I had written for Diwali earlier this year]

We can also easily assert that the Rudras (in plural and collective in this combat) [c.f. Skanda Purana I 2 21 16-20]  should have a Solar character – as this is again quite directly attested elsewhere (for instance, in the Sri Rudram, etc.); the Maruts [c.f Skanda Purana I 2 21 25] , intriguingly, are seemingly hailed as ‘Vasus’ in RV X 77 6, meanwhile, as well. 

Yet these are not the only clades of warriors arrayed on the Side of the Gods at this conflagration of combat. 

We also encounter, in the other half to that verse aforementioned immediately prior [Skanda Purana I 2 21 25] mention for the ” Gandharvas, Rākṣasas, Yakṣas, Kinnaras and the great serpents”, and at various places the Pishachas [c.f. Skanda Purana I 2 19 27] attested as well. 

Why do we find that worthy of comment? 

Well, apart from the obvious slightly unexpected circumstance of at least some of these (not least given the nature of the foe), it is because the recurrent framing for the Army of the Gods throughout these portions to the Purana is that it is an Army of Suras. No distinction is made between Suras and ‘general supernatural beings’ or even between Suras and ‘demons that are on our side’. It’s all ‘Suras’. 

Indeed, subject to interpretation, it should seem that Skanda Purana I 2 19 28 enumerates the casualty-figures for various of these groups (Gandharvas, Yaksas, Kinnaras, and Pishachas), before speaking of the “other species of Suras” [Tagare Translation].

Thus, in its fashion, that delightful painting with which we had incepted this (A)Arti-cle may also stand for a broader saliency than the particular and highly specific moment most overtly rendered within same. As an ‘Army of Solars’ is, indeed, exactly what had taken to the field to fight … even if various of the enlistees in such were not, ostensibly, ‘genetically’ Solar, or even for that matter, ‘Divine’. They are Hallowed all the same through their contribution and service alongside and within the context of such. They fight against the A’Suras in such cataclysmic struggle against some of the greatest of that number, and therefore they are [as the] Suras, Themselves. 

Now it can perhaps be somewhat fairly alleged that I am … over-reading various of this. And  to that I can but state that I am over-reading to a purpose

I did not choose this particular artwork – and the commentary that had been gently placed within my head some weeks prior [this had originally been intended as a large part and core theme of our Diwali (A)Arti-cle, not least given the Solar Eclipse that same week, after all !) – to go with the Solstice, simply ‘Because Sun’ (although that would have been almost as good a reason as any). Nor because it is always a good time for a sustained discourse upon Indo-European Solar Warfare (the actual major theme of said Diwali piece aforementioned) in general, wide-shining terms.

Rather, it is because of what the Solstice represents. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, the 21st was the Winter Solstice. A time when the steady retreat of the Solar Saliency is brought to a head and begins to reverse in earnest. On one level, one could quite easily infer that my purpose in posting a piece of artwork and commentary depicting a Solar Army setting a rabble of (Spiritual) Darkness demons to rout, would simply be the direct and overt resonancy for that occasion. 

Yet down here in “Patala-Loka” [which works out rather well viz. ‘Antipodes’ – the Southern Hemisphere, and in our specific case here in New Zealand, on exactly the opposite side to the globe of England], the 22nd was the Summer Solstice. That is to say, the high-water mark for the Sun and its expansive reigning across our Southern Skies. From here on, for the next six months, the Sun is in Retreat – at least, overtly, and from our perspective ‘down here’, upon this earth. In truth, it’s all relative – and much like Rta, or the Gods (in general terms) … it’s not so much that It (Her) or They weaken or flee – but rather that we end up further away from Them, the feeling of connexion thereto becoming weaker (even if only temporarily) as the result of this increased distance … all without the Supernal focal figures having to move very much at all. 

So, what is called for, then, is quite clear. 

Where the Sun rolls back and things begin to seem that much more ‘darker’ and ‘colder’ in ‘midst this parting to our cycle , an ‘Army of Suras’ must step forward to ‘shine up’ and consequently strengthen the loka-lized saliency for He. 

That’s me.
That’s you. 
That’s us.
That’s everyone.

And whilst it’s inordinately easy, perhaps, to shrink back from this duty – by claiming, not unfoundedly, that as mere and ordinary humans, we’re simply not UP to being ‘Soldiers of the Sun’ in the truest company of the Warriors of the Divine that would more usually and directly accompany Him throughout the (Bright, Shining, Solar) Sky …

If Rakshasas and Pishachas can do it – if even erstwhile demons are demonstrably capable of having piety and Solar Faith – why can’t you.

And as for why must you ?

There’s a particular Theonymic that has been recurrent in my thoughts every now and again over the past few weeks. 

It is ‘Divakara’ ( दिवाकर ).

And if you go looking it up in a Sanskrit dictionary, you’ll likely find that it means … “Sun”. (It also, as it happens, shows up in the ‘Shiva Sahasranama’ – the Thousand Names of Shiva – as given in the Shiva Purana)

But what does it actually mean? 

‘Diva’, you know ( दिवा ). This is the Sky, the Heavens – the Bright, Daylight Sky. Day. 

‘Kara’ ( कर ) is a ‘Maker’, a ‘Doer’, an ‘Enactor’ (from the similar root as ‘Karma’ – ‘Action’ ). Interestingly, there is some suggestion of its occurrence to mean a ‘Ray’, a Radiance – which, after all, is that which gives tangible effect to the ‘essence’ of Light.

The sense of ‘Divakara’ together, then, is quite clear. The ‘Daymaker’. He Who Brings Light To The Heavens. The Enactor Of The Radiance of the Sky. 

Why is this important? Why is it remarkable?

Because we are so often used to thinking – even if only subconsciously or residually – of the Day as something which ‘just happens’. The ‘Bright Sky’ is … just simply that – the Sky, but Bright. It hangs there, naturally, no effort nor struggle required. An inevitability and a ‘state of nature’ that can just be taken for granted. Indeed, ‘unchanging’ and just kinda ‘fading into the background’. 

Up until it’s not – usually because something doesn’t happen. And then all of a sudden, all of our comfortable presumptions about how life (and the necessary conditions to support it) ‘just happens’ go fairly quickly out of the window. 

This concept for the Sun as ‘Divakara’ is a conscious reminder that there is action involved, action entailed in making these things happen. His involvement. His action. 

And one that, with the constant threat of anti-Divine, anti-Solar action from certain quarters most aptly in mind, engagingly justified the ‘armed war-party’ presentation the Sun and the Solar Rising of the Morn is hailed with in the Vedas. 

Now lest I be misinterpreted upon this score – I am not (necessarily) seeking to suggest some kind of situation vaguely like that encountered in the Egyptian mythology (if taken literally – always a dangerous thing to do and presumption to make with any culture’s legendarium), wherein the Sun’s rising requires the fighting off of an immense demon-dragon serpent … with this, if not done (or if not won), meaning that the Sun would literally not rise into the sky the next morning. That’s not how this works. 

Instead, the sense must be read as symbolic – that is to say, the saliency for the Sun within our Cosmos [an aptly excellent Ancient Greek term here, as it means ‘Regime’, a realm ‘Under Rule’] is not merely the matter of a sustained thermonuclear reaction occurring ‘midst the center of our solar system. Although it (obviously) helps. 

Rather, it is everything that is represented by, spiritually, the Sun within the Vedic (and broader IE) (mytho-)religious understanding. ‘Light’ is not only ‘illumination’ via which one can physically see better. It is also that which illuminates in other, much more profoundly resonant fashions. We might suggest it is the means and the mechanism via which one ought prove able to metaphysically perceive better. Viz. Shakambhari, we may even say that the relevant quality helps ensure the plants grow better (or at all) – as we have often been known to observe at some length, elsewhere.

Light is Law – Divine Law, Rta (etc.). Light is also Language , Divine Speech (per various previous commentary we have wrought upon the subject – we shall not seek to repeat it herein, except to note that it represents a remarkably persistent patterning of ‘parallel derivation’ maintaining phonetic resonancy across multiple post-PIE language-families … ‘Bhasa’ ( भास् ) and ‘Bhasa’ ( भाषा ) in Sanskrit, for example, for ‘illumination’ and ‘communication’, respectively). 

Light is, in short, the direct and overt saliency – both metaphysically and also otherwise – of Divinity here amongst us. 

And therefore, when I say that it is necessary, in situations such as that of the Southern Hemisphere (literally speaking) wherein the Sun is weakening in strength and saliency following the Solstice … for us all to step forward (metaphorically speaking, metaphysically speaking) to keep up the requisite ‘illumination’ even as the Sun seems (from our perspective) to weaken overhead in our skies –

That which I am actually calling for is  rather more involved.

That is to say – being the ‘light’ … and thereby, through so doing, augmenting His Mighty Reach [‘Kara’, indeed, also occasionally being translated as ‘Hand’].

Just as, in this painting above, we find that there is not only One Surya, at the center of all of this and justly empowering all about He – but that there is, in fact, an entire army of Suras (or, in this specific instance, Suryas) that are progressing to fill the Cosmos Entire with His Radiance as They march forth in victory.

Always remember: in His Divine Service, 

You carry the Ishvara’s Will ( ‘Dhiti’ – धीति )with you as your Torch.

With Her, destroy the shadows. 

One thought on “On Indo-European Solar Warfare – The Sura Army of the Sun

  1. Pingback: On Indo-European Solar Warfare – The Sura Army of the Sun – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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