Rishi Agastya is one of the greatest Seven Sages or Saptarshis of the Vedas and has been mentioned in several Puranic epics in various Sanskrit literatures. His name in sanskrit is Agasti : A-ga means a mountain, Asti, thrower and is also a name of Lord Shiva. He is considered as the first and foremost Siddha (sage) and the guru of many other Siddhas. AgastyaMuni is known to have made several contributions to the field of Medicine and Astrology in ancient Vedic India and was well versed in weaponry and martial arts. In the Mahabharata Adiparva, Chapter 139, verse 9, Guru Drona mentions to Arjuna that even his Guru Agnivesha was a disciple of AgastyaMuni when learning to master celestial weapons described in the DhanurVeda, the science of mastering powerful Divine weapons. He has composed several powerful Vedic mantras and shlokams which are still chanted by devout Hindus even today. Regarded as the patron saint of much of South India, it was AgastyaMuni who first brought and popularized the Vedic religion to South India. Agastya and his progeny are also credited to have composed parts of the Rig Veda, the earliest and most revered Hindu scripture.
One such Vedic mantra known as Aditya Hridayam is a very powerful mantra associated with Aditya or Surya the Sun God, the illustrious Deva of all victories, composed by AgastyaMuni and recited to Lord Rama on the battlefield before he was set to fight the mighty Ravana King of Lanka. The word 'Hridaya' means that which is especially nourishing and healing for the heart or heart of Aditya. The word heart or Hridayam refers to the One (ayam) who is shining or dwelling in the heart (hridi). Aditya is derived from “ad” meaning “to enjoy” or to perceive all sense objects like sound, touch, form, taste and smell, after entering the heart. So by the Heart of Aditya is meant the inner and unchanging witness of all thoughts, words and deeds, whose nature is the all-pervading Light of Consciousness. By the repetition of this holy Mantra daily, one attains imperishableness, the highest good, all blissfulness, the end of all sins, troubles and sorrows, and a long life.
The Aditya Hridayam begins with the war between Lord Rama and King Ravana. The Rishi teaches Lord Rama, who seems perplexed as well as worried at the time, how to recite this mysterious ancient Vedic mantra and describes the procedure of invoking the Cosmic strength of Suryanarayan Deva the illustrious Sun God in order to vanquish any forms of negative forces that may surround him in order to achieve victory over the enemies on the battlefield. Lord Rama was advised to chant this sacred mantra thrice and through the power and energy of this mantra, he was able to vanquish Ravana on the battlefield. Though the 31 verses of this mysterious mantra appear in the Yuddha Kaanda of the epic Ramayana, the author, Rishi Valmiki himself says that it is older than the epic itself.
This seems very similar to when Shri Krishna imparted spiritual knowledge to Arjuna on the Kurukshetra battlefield, only that here, Agastya Muni limited the goal of invoking Aditya also known as Lord Surya, who is believed to have originated long before creation. Surya Deva created the two worlds as self effulgent and in Hindu philosophy, He is the Lord of the astral plane. He is supreme to all the three Cosmic worlds. He is the repository of intelligence. Every thing in this world is dependant upon Surya Deva where the entire Creation of life is His. Self illuminating, possessing electricity, he is the Vedas, truth, and all yajnas performed by Rishis, it is believed the three worlds have originated from Lord Surya since all inanimate as well as animate beings depend upon his energy to thrive on Earth without any difficulty. Without His cosmic energy it would be extremely difficult for any living being to survive. Thus one should worship the rising Sun of divine rays who is hailed as the brilliant Lord of the universe by all devas and asuras, by all man and gods. Hindus believe the Sun God is Universal.
One can understand the importance of Sun worship during the ancient times and apart from the Vedic Hindus, several other ancient civilisations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Incas, etc borrowed this form of worship from Vedic India. These pagan civilisations understood the importance of the Solar energy of the Sun which sustained life on our planet for millions of years.
Lord Rama himself was taught the Aditya Hridaya Stotram by the great sage Agastya at a critical moment. After fighting with Ravana and being severely worried, Shri Rama became anxious on the battlefield. It is then that Sage Agastya appeared to him and recited to Him the sacred stotram through which all foes are conquered, not only the external foes but the internal as well. It is human nature to get worried or anxious and our constant internal foes that are passion, anger and greed are knwon to be caused by delusion and ignorance which often tend to delude us.
Aditya Hridayam contains the innovative verses with many secrets and ancient mystical meanings and compares the state of consciousness within Man with that of the Cosmic energy of Surya which is believed to be the same. Absolute consciousness is being understood only with the help of speech. These mystic words are interwoven in the Aditya Hridaya shlokas.
According to the 107th verse of Valmiki Ramayana:
''Approaching Rama standing absorbed in fight in the battle-field, exhausted as he was by the fight, and seeing Ravana who came nearby, facing him duly prepared for the battle, the glorious sage, Agastya, who had come together with the Devas, to perceive the battle, then spoke as follows: "O Rama, the mighty armed! Hear the following eternal secret, by which you can conquer all the enemies in battle, my child! Worship Surya the sun-god, the ruler of the worlds, who is crowned with the rays, who appears at the horizon, who is greeted by the Devas and the Asuras alike, shines forth; covering up all other lights and brings light to the world. He is the embodiment of all Devas, full of glory and the reflector of rays. He protects the multitude of Devas and Asuras as well as their worlds by his rays."
Benefits of Reciting Aditya Hridayam
Hinduism is in fact a spiritual science containing a vast system for maintaining Mind, Body and Soul, through various Sanskrit literatures composed by the ancient Rishis such as Agastya Muni, where all aspects of Nature are held sacred. The Vedas describe the several benefits of reciting the Aditya Hridayam and mention in detail the advantages of Sun Worship for curing all diseases. Surya Deva is worshipped as the one who gives us 'Tejas' or Light, not just through the powerful Cosmic rays, but also a healthy Mind as well as body. It is also believed that the Sun has seven colours embedded within its rays, found in the rainbows: Orange, red, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet and are described as the seven horses of Surya Deva. These Cosmic rays are highly beneficial to people suffering from various ailments, skin problems, lack of vitamin D in the body, vitamin C deficiency as well as a lack of energy. By offering water while facing towards the Sun early in the morning, the various colours of the cosmic rays deflected through the water from the Sun, are known to benefit our health and well being. Reciting this mantra while facing the Sun therefore is believed to energise and vitalise us physically as well as mentally, enabling us to face strongly any challenges that our hectic lives may throw at us, in the very same way as Lord Rama was able to when facing the challenge of destroying the powerful Ravana, King of Lanka.