Surya Pahar

Guwahati, Assam

#Historical and Heritage #Pilgrimage




Sri Surya Pahar is a significant but relatively unknown archaeological site in Assam. The Surya Pahar temple is an ancient sun worship center. The site is a hilly terrain where several rock-cut Shivalingas, votive stupas and the deities of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain pantheon are scattered in an area of about one km. Literally an art gallery of sculptures, Surya Pahar (Hill of the Sun) is dotted with ruins of several old temples.


Remains of Hinduism : 

The name of 'Sri Surya Pahar' implies that the site was perhaps associated with the cult of sun (Surya) worship. Literary accounts corroborate that among other Hindu deities worshipped in ancient Assam, 'Surya' (or the Sun God) occupied a prominent place in its cultural history. References are found in the Kalika-Purana (c.10th century) about two seats of sun worship in ancient Assam. One of the centres has been identified as Sri Surya Pahar which bears the iconographic significance of the cult as well.

Some archaeologists believe that a carved stone slab, now housed in the Sri Surya Temple and worshipped as ‘Surya’, may be the detached part that formed the ceiling of the temple of Surya. The central figure in the circular carvings of the slab has been identified as Prajapati, which is carved inside an inner circle while the surrounding outer circle is in the form of twelve lotus petals. Each lotus petal has the seated figure of an Aditya. These twelve Adityas are described as twelve solar divinities namely Dhatri, Mitra, Aryaman, Rudra, Varuna, Surya, Bhaga, Vivasvan, Pushan, Savitri, Tvastri and Vishnu.

Besides the numerous stone carvings of Shiva Lingas and the 'Prajapati' slab, there are many rock carvings of the Hindu deities which can be seen at the foothills of Sri Surya Pahar and its adjacent areas. Notable among them are the sculptural panels of Shiva and Vishnu. The twelve-armed Vishnu with a seven-hooded canopy over its head stands prominent. It is worshipped as Dasabhuja Durga. Adorned with necklace, kundalas, armlets, garlands, etc., the deity stands erect on a lotus.


Jain Heritage : 

Jainism could not get any remarkable footing in the North-East region of India throughout its long history. Except for the solitary example existing inside the natural caves at Sri Surya Pahar, hardly any other Jain remains have been found so far in the region. It was probably the followers of Rasbhanath whose foot prints are also at Sri Surya Pahar. The iconography of jain images found here is little different near their hands, but are found naked as per jain's traditional iconography.

On the southern slope of Sri Surya Pahar, there is a natural cavern made of piled stones. Within the natural caves, there are Jain carvings. Remains of these Jain affiliations in the form of inscription and rock carvings are assigned to the 9th century AD. There are two figures carved in a big granite boulder which are in low relief. The figures are shown in standing posture with their hands hanging down to the knees and their cognisance are shown below the figures in low relief. Another figure carved at the top of the hill is identified as Adinath. The figure is carved in sitting posture in the rocky outcrop and two bulls are marked at the base, the mark of cognisance of the first Tirthankara. These figures are also believed to be of the 9th century AD.


Buddhist Remains :

On a vast area right from the extreme northwestern slope of the Sri Surya Pahar hill up to one kilometer further south, there are found as many as 25 votive stupas of different shapes and sizes cut out of granite boulders. These stupas are significant for it shows two points: firstly, there was Buddhist influence in ancient Kamarupa. It is in contrast with the commonly held belief that Buddhism was not prevalent in the cultural history of ancient Kamarupa. Secondly, the Buddhist influence in ancient Kamarupa was much earlier than in the rest of the country.

On the extreme north east corner on a higher altitude, a huge fallen granite boulder was selected for carving three giant stupas, carved in one row, facing the east. The structural feature of the stupas consist of Vedi, Medhi Anda & Harmika which are distinct. The stupas are archaic in shape with three gradually receding rings round the base. The topmost ring that supports the dome is almost semicircular in shape with flattened top. On the top of the dome there are the remnants of a square ‘harmika’ with groove in the centre to hold the shaft of 'chhatra' or 'chhatravali' (parasol). The crowning element is, however, missing. The three monolithic stupas are representative of either Dharma, Sangha & Budha or they could be termed as Uddeshika stupa carved in the memory of Lord Buddha.

According to the Archaeological Survey of India, the archaic shape of the carvings shows that the stupas at Sri Surya Pahar were hewn during the Hinayana phase of Buddhism of early Christian era. Further development of the faith in the later phases is not yet seen at the site. Later phases of Mahayana and Vajrayana esotericism were seen in the neighbouring territories of Bihar and Bengal.

An interesting feature of the stupa complex is that in the 9th-10th century A.D., when the area was pre-occupied by the followers of Hindu pantheons, attempts were made to carve Siva Lingas along with Younipith and channel spout on fallen boulders. Altogether half a dozen Siva Lingas exist there.


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