A picture of Surya and Chhaya, contrasting with Surya pictured as a bright yellow man and Chhaya pictured as a dark lady

Surya and Chhaya: The Sun and the Shadow

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The story of the sun and the shadow, two polar opposites, is Hindu mythology’s version of a family drama. It has everything from a wife upset with her husband to a husband arguing with his in-laws. But even if the story sounds like it is a dramatic retelling of a soap opera, it is truly an important story as you will see.

Background: The Birth of Surya

This story is in the Markandeya Purana, Canto 104-105

A long time ago, the Devas (gods) were defeated by the Asuras in a bloody battle. For a thousand Deva-years, the Devas lived under the oppression of the Asuras. Aditi, the mother of the Devas, prayed to the Sun. Soon, the Sun manifested itself before Aditi and said, “I shall take birth in your womb and destroy the Asuras.”

Aditi spent her pregnancy months fasting and performing rigorous penance. Her husband Kashyapa believed that this would harm the baby. But instead, the child was born perfectly healthy with an intense aura around it. He was named Martanda, and when he grew up, he burnt the Asuras to ashes with his bright radiance. The gods regained their control over Swarga, and Martanda assumed his role as Surya, the Sun god.

The Clone Wife

This story is in the Markandeya Purana, Canto 106

Vishwakarma, the architect of the gods, gave his beautiful daughter Samjna in marriage to Surya. They had a son named Vaivasvata Manu, who we obviously know as our current Manu. They then had the twins Yama (the god of death) and Yami (the personification of Yamuna River). But there was one problem: Samjna wasn’t able to tolerate Surya’s heat. Remember, Surya was born to literally burn the Asuras to death. This heat made her husband unattractive in Samjna’s eyes, and the bright rays even scorched and darkened her own skin.

Samjna was an expert in illusions. She constructed her own shadow into a physical form, a replica of herself. This woman, Chhaya, stood ready to carry out her orders. “Chhaya, I am going to my father’s house now. I cannot tolerate living her any longer. You should live her and pretend to be me. Take care of my children. And remember, you can never tell my husband about this,” Samjna ordered her clone.

“Your secret is safe with me,” Chhaya said. And thus, Samjna went to her father’s house while Chhaya began impersonating Samjna. Surya didn’t know what happened and he just thought his wife was still there. He didn’t notice any difference. In fact, in due time, Surya had three additional children with “his wife” Chhaya. The first was a boy named Savarni Manu, who will become our Manu in the next Manavantara. The second was Shani, the planet Saturn. The third was a daughter, the river Tapti.

Meanwhile, the real Samjna went to her father’s house. But Vishwakarma would constantly tell her to go back to her husband. Eventually, Samjna transformed herself into a mare and went to the land of the Northern Kurus, where she lived in hiding.

Reconstruction of the Sun

This story is in the Markandeya Purana, Canto 107-108

Inevitably, Chhaya showed more love to her own sons rather than Samjna’s sons. Yama wasn’t able to tolerate this favoritism. He was never given any love or respect. One day, he threatened to kick Chhaya. Chhaya was enraged and said: “How can you say that to me? Do you have any respect? I curse you that your foot will fall off your body!”

This made Yama even more mad. Yama and Manu went to their and said, “Father, our mother does not show equal affection to all of us. She disregards us, her elder children, and only cares about her younger children. Now, in her rage, she has cursed me that my foot will fall off my body. What kind of a mother curses her own child? Please, reverse this curse.”

“Son, I cannot reverse your mother’s curse. But I can alleviate it. Worms will eat some flesh from your foot and go down to the Earth. Thus, your mother’s word will still be true, but you won’t lose your entire foot,” Surya said. Surya then went to Chhaya and said, “Why do you show more love to some of your children? You should show equal love to all your children.”

Surya Finds Out

Chhaya obviously evaded the question and didn’t answer. But Surya obviously couldn’t be fooled. Using his Yogic powers, he learned the truth about his wife. Surya was enraged. Chhaya immediately fell at his feet and begged for forgiveness. Surya went to his father-in-law Vishwakarma’s house and threatened to burn him to death if he didn’t reveal the location of his daughter.

“My daughter has left you because she couldn’t tolerate your intensity. She spends all of her time with austerities. If you want, I can change your form and reduce your brightness,” Vishwakarma said.

As Vishwakarma changed the Sun’s appearance, the entire solar system was thrown into disarray. The entire world order was disrupted. All of the gods and divine beings approached Surya and sang his praises as he was being worked on by Vishwakarma. Finally, the Sun was reduced down to 1/16 of its former brightness. From the material that had been taken away from his body, Vishwakarma made many famous weapons, like Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra, Shiva’s Trishul, Kartikeya’s spear, and Yama’s staff.

This image shows an artist's impression of the Solar System

The Reunion

When Surya had been transformed, Surya went to the land of the Northern Kurus and transformed into a horse. He approached the mare that was his wife. Seeing an unknown male horse approach her, Samjna took a defensive stance. When Surya’s nose touched Samjna’s, two children were born right then and there: Nasatya and Dasra. These two became the Ashwini Kumars. After that was born Revanta, holding a sword, a bow, arrows and a quiver.

Surya then transformed back into his normal form. Samjna was ecstatic when she saw the horse was her husband. She was excited when she saw that Surya’s intensity had been reduced. She transformed back into her human form and happily reunited with her husband. The End!

The Children

The reason this story is so important is because it led to all of Surya’s children, all very important figures in Hinduism. First, there was Vaivasvata Manu, who is our current Manu. Second was Yama [“Yama” or “Tama” means restraint because he showed restraint by not kicking Chhaya]. He was also known as the “King of Righteousness” and because of this characteristic, Surya made him the god of death. Only he could be impartial to the good and evil. He was also made the lord of the pitrs (ancestors). Third was Yamuna; Surya made her the river Yamuna. Surya then made Nasatya and Dasra the “Ashvins”, healers and physicians of the gods. Lastly, Revanta was made the king of the Gruhyakas, a class of semi-divine beings that are often associated with the more well-known Yakshas.

Now moving onto Chhaya’s sons. Savarni, or Savarnaka, will be the eighth Manu, the Manu of the next Manavantara. Presently, Savarni performs intense penance on the peaks of Mount Meru. The next son Shani became the planet Saturn. And the daughter Tapti of course became the Tapti River and married king Samvarana.

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