Hindu hymnal literature is as vast as it is deep. Quite a few of these hymns, whether they contain praises of the Lord or expound some philosophical doctrines, are often used for ceremonial chanting, considering them as mantras (esoteric words and sentences) capable of fulfilling one’s desires. The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki, though a voluminuous work, strangely enough, contains only one such hymn; strangely enough because, the Mahā-bhārata, the other epic, as also the purāṇas contain scores of them. This hymn known as the ‘Ādityahṛdaya’ occurs in the Yuddhakāṇḍa (sarga 105).
After the first round of battle with Rāvaṇa, Rāma was rather tired and anxious as to how he could vanquish his formidable enemy. Just at that time, Agastya the sage of the Vindhya fame, who was among those that had gathered to witness the battle, came forward to reveal a secret with the help of which Rāma could conquer Rāvaṇa and fulfil the mission of his life. The secret was the Ādityahṛdaya hymn by reciting which he could get enough power to destroy his foe. Being initiated into its mysteries by Agastya, Rāma recited it thrice, became imbued with energy and enthusiasm and achieved victory with ease.
Whether the Ādityahṛdaya comprises the entire chapter or part of it only (e.g., verses 6 to 21) is a point on which there are differences of opinion. Verses 1 to 5 form the introduction and eulogise the hymn. Verses 6 to 21 describe Āditya or the Sun-god, his various names and attributes. Verses 22 to 25 describe his power and give the phalaśruti (the benefits of recitation). Verse 26 gives the viniyoga (the method and purpose of recitation). Verses 27 to 31 complete the narration of the story.
Here are a few of the epithets which the hymn uses to describe and eulogise Āditya: He is so effulgent that even the gods adore him. In fact he is the very personification of all gods including the Trinity. It is he that is manifested as the leaders of the eight quarters. He is the creator and sustainer of the world. It is again he that destroys the world at the end of the cycle of creation. He is manifested in everything that is created.
The proper recitation of the hymn will free a man from all troubles and tribulations and fulfil the wishes of his heart.
Every mantra has a ṛṣi (the seer to whom it was revealed), a chandas (the poetical metre) and a devatā (the deity to whom it is addressed), who are to be adored at the beginning of a ceremonial recitation. In the case of this hymn (which is considered as a mantra), Agastya is the ṛṣi and anuṣṭubh is the chandas. As regards the devatā, some state that Brahmā residing in the sun is the deity whereas others consider Rāma the Supreme God, the internal ruler of the sun, is himself the deity. The viniyoga or purpose is to obtain supreme knowledge or victory in all walks of life.
Any Sunday on which there is a saṅkrānti (movement of the sun from one zodiacal sign to the next) is believed to be very holy and suitable for the recitation of this hymn. Repeating it 108 times in a Sun-temple and observing a fast in the night are considered to be highly meritorious.