The daily worship of the sun is called Sandhyā. The word ‘sandhyā’ literally means ‘twilight’ but also indicates the prayer performed during the morning and evening twilight. This act of adoration to the sun is generally styled ‘sandhyopāsana’ or ‘sandhyāvandana’ or simply ‘sandhyā.’ The word ‘sandhyā’ can also mean ‘the junction between night and day (i.e., dawn)’ or ‘the junction between day and night (i.e., dusk).’ The former is known as ‘prātaḥ-sandhyā’ and the latter as ‘sāyaṃ-sandhyā.’
Typically the sandhyā is prescribed twice but some authorities require the sandhyā to be performed thrice a day – at day-break, in the noon (madhyāhna-sandhyā) and at sun-set. A dvija who possesses knowledge of the Self was expected to perform three sandhyā prayers, also called Gāyatrī (prātaḥ-sandhyā), Sāvitrī (madhyāhna-sandhyā), and Sarasvatī (sāyaṃ-sandhyā).
Prātaḥ-sandhyā was to begin before sunrise and end by the time the disc of the sun is seen on the horizon. Sāyaṃ-sandhyā was to begin when the disc of the sun is about to set and ends by the time the stars appear. The duration of the sandhyā prayer was around one muhūrta—i.e. two ghaṭikās—equal to forty-eight minutes.
Gāyatrī mantra japa and recitation of sacred mantras is the focus of the sandhyā ritual and other aspects like mārjana are secondary.
On the day of the upanayana there was no prātaḥ-sandhyā. Jaiminī says that as long as there is no imparting of the Gāyatrī mantra there is no sandhyā. The student begins his sandhyā in the noon of the day of upanayana. Since on that day he knew no Vedic text except the Gāyatrī, the whole sandhyā worship comprised the recitation of the Gāyatrī mantra.
The sandhyā prayer was intended for the brahmacārī to contemplate upon the deity Āditya represented by the orb of the sun. He must contemplate on the fact that the brilliance of the sun is the akin to his own.
Prātaḥ-sandhyā is to be performed standing; sāyaṃ-sandhyā is to be performed in a sitting posture. Prātaḥ-sandhyā is to be performed facing the east and sāyaṃ-sandhyā facing the northwest. He is to bathe, to sit in a pure spot on a seat of kuśa grass, should have the sacred cord in the usual position and restrain his speech (i.e. should be silent and not talk in the midst of sandhyā).
Sandhyopāsana primarily consists of:
- Ācamana (sipping of water)
- Prāṇāyāma (regulated breathing)
- Saṅkalpa (committing to the ritual)
- Mārjana (sprinkling oneself with water thrice while reciting specific mantras)
- Aghamarṣaṇa (driving out sin)
- Arghya-pradāna (offering of water to the sun)
- Gāyatrī mantra japa (silent recitation of the Gāyatrī)
- Upasthāna (reciting mantras for the worship of Mitra in the morning and of Varuṇa in the evening)
Some authorities refer only to the Gāyatrī mantra japa as part of the sandhyopāsana. Some refer only to the Arghya and Gāyatrī mantra japa. The gṛhya-sūtras explain in detail the elaborate process for the sandhyā with the various components like ācamana, mārjana, upasthāna, etc.
Ācamana is a general act of purification that precedes every ritual. One should perform ācamana in a sitting posture (and not standing nor bent) in a pure spot, facing the north or east; one should sip water thrice with water that is not hot and that is free from foam or bubbles.
Prāṇāyāma—the restraint of breath—is defined as the regulation of the inhalation and exhalation of air. The three steps of prāṇāyāma are pūraka (inhalation), kumbhaka (retention), and recaka (exhalation). Three prāṇāyāmas are to be performed, each lasting for fifteen mātras (morae). The śiras of Gāyatrī, the three vyāhṛtis (‘utterances’) each preceded by ‘om’ and the Gāyatrī mantra are to be rehearsed mentally during the time of prāṇāyāma.
Saṅkalpa—committing to the ritual—is done in a sitting posture, typically cross-legged. The spatio-temporal coordinates were specified by placing the right palm over the left palm and clasping the left hand, placing both hands on the right knee.
Mārjana literally means ‘cleansing.’ This process purifies the body and makes a person fit for the ritual. Mārjana is performed by using kuśa grass dipped in water, which kept in a vessel of copper or udumbara wood or earthenware. While doing the ceremony, one must repeat ‘om,’ the vyāhṛtis (‘utterances’), Gāyatrī mantra, and specific verses. Baudhāyana prescribes the recitation of more Vedic mantras during mārjana.
Aghamarṣaṇa consists of taking water in the right hand formed in the shape of a cow’s ear, holding it near one’s nose, breathing out from the nose on the water (with the idea of driving away sin from oneself) while reciting specific verses and then casting the water away to one’s left on the ground.
Arghya-pradāna consists in taking water in one’s joined hands, reciting the Gāyatrī mantra, standing (in the morning) or sitting (in the evening) facing the sun, and casting it up thrice. If one doesn’t have access to water, he could use dust instead of water. A brāhmaṇa contemplating the rising and setting sun and paying respects to it—by going from left to right—attains all bliss, since Āditya is Brahma.
Gāyatrī mantra japa is the silent repetition of the Gāyatrī.
Upasthāna is typically performed standing up. It consists of reciting mantras praising Mitra, the Sun god, in the morning and Varuṇa, the deity of ṛta, in the evening.
To be concluded…
Thanks to Pradeep Chakravarthy for getting me to write this essay. Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh and Dr. Koti Sreekrishna, who have always supported and encouraged me, were kind enough to go through the essay and give their detailed feedback. Shashi Kiran B N, a young scholar-poet went through the essay and offered valuable suggestions. Yet another scholar-poet, Arjun Bharadwaj, helped me with getting some of the reference books needed for this essay. My heartfelt gratitude to all of them.
Achari, Sri Rama Ramanuja. Saṁskāras: The Hindu Sacraments. Srimatham, 2015 <http://www.srimatham.com/uploads/5/5/4/9/5549439/hindu_samskaras.pdf>
Devuḍu. Mahādarśana. Bangalore: Devuḍu Pratiṣṭhāna, 2009
H H Sri Rangapriya Swami’s lecture on the Gāyatrī mantra
Harshananda, Swami. Upanayana: Sandhyāvandana and Gāyatrīmantrajapa. Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math.
Harshananda, Swami. A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. Volume 3. R-Z. Bangalore: Ramakrishna Math, 2008
Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmaśāstra. Vol. II, Part I. Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1941
Pandey, Rajbali. Hindu Saṁskāras: Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments. New Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1969
Ṛgvedasaṃhitā. Vol. 17. Ed. Rao, H. P. Venkata. Mysore: Sri Jayachamarajendra Vedaratnamala, 1948-62
Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh’s seven-part lecture series in Kannada titled Ṣoḍaśa-saṃskāragaḻu at Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) in December 2005
The Sixteen Samskaras <http://cincinnatitemple.com/articles/SixteenSamskaras.pdf>
 HDS, pp.312-18
 Among the earliest references to sandhyopāsana is the one in Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 2.2 – “Tāni ha vā etāni rakṣāṃsi gāyatriyābhimantrītenāmbhasā śāmyanti. Tadu ha vā ete brahmavādinaḥ pūrvābhimukhāḥ sandhyāyāṃ gāyatriyābhimantritā apa ūrdhvaṃ vikṣipanti tā etā āpo vajrībhūtvā tāni rakṣāṃsi mandehāruṇe dvīpe prakṣipanti.”
 Viśvarūpa’s commentary on Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.25 is: “Sandhyeti copasthānakarmaṇo nāmadheyaṃ kālasya cānyataḥ prāptatvāt” and the Mitākṣara (on the same verse) says, “Ahorātrayoḥ sandhau yā kriyā vidhīyate sā sandhyā.” Medhātithi’s commentary on Manu-smṛti 2.101 is: “Na sarve tamaḥ kṣīṇaṃ nāpi paripūrṇaḥ prakāśa eṣā sandhyā” and on Manu-smṛti 4.94 is: “Sahacarite japādividhau sandhyāśabdo vartate.”
 Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 3.7, Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra 126.96.36.199, Gautama-dharma-sūtra 2.17, Manu-smṛti 2.101, Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.24-25 &c.
 Over the years, the noon sandhyā is stressed as much as the other two; in practice, many people perform the madhyāhna-sandhyā along with the prātaḥ-sandhyā, in the morning. The noon sandhyā represents a conjunction – it is the midpoint of the apparent movement of the sun from east to west, where there is a change from apparent ascent to descent. An important part of the madhyāhna-sandhyā is the sūryāvalokana (seeing the sun).
 Sandhyātrayaṃ tu kartavyaṃ dvijenātmavidā sadā. Ubhe sandhye ca kartavye brahmaṇaiśca gṛheṇvapi. – Atri quoted by Aparārka, p. 49
Aparārka says that the madhyāhna-sandhyā should not be performed in the house
 Pūrvā sandhyā tu gāyatrī sāvitrī madhyamā smṛtā. Yā bhavetpaścimā sandhyā sā vijñeyā sarasvatī. – Yoga-yājñavalkya quoted by Aparārka, p. 49
 Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra 188.8.131.52, Gautama-dharma-sūtra 2.16, and Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.2.2
 Śāṅkhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.9.1
 Baudhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.4.1
 Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 3.7.6; Śāṅkhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.9.1,3; and Manu-smṛti 2.102
 Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 3.7.4 and Śāṅkhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.9.1
 Āśvalāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 3.7.3-6, Śāṅkhāyana-gṛhya-sūtra 2.9.1-3 &c.
 Mānava-gṛhya-sūtra 1.2.1-5
 Vāruṇībhyāṃ rātrimupatiṣṭhate. Imaṃ me varuṇa tattvāyāmīti dvābhyām. Evameva prātaḥ prāṅmukhastiṣṭhan. Maitrībhyāmaharupatiṣṭhate mitrasya carṣaṇīdhṛto mitrojanānyātayatīti dvābhyām. – Baudhāyana-dharma-sūtra 2.4.11-14. The sources of the verses are as follows: Imaṃ me varuṇa (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.25.19), Tattvā yāmi (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.24.11), Mitrasya carṣaṇīdhṛto (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 3.59.6), and Mitrojanān (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 3.59.1). Gobhila-smṛti 2.11-12 prescribes the two verses ‘Udu tyam’ (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.50.1 and in other Vedas also) and ‘Citraṃ devānām’ (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.115.1 and in other Vedas also) as the upasthāna in both sandhyās. In modern times the usages vary, many recite the whole of Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 3.59 in the morning adoration and Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.25.1-10 (addressed to Varuṇa) in the evening. Smṛti-candrikā (I, p. 139) says that the worship of the Sun should be done by the mantras from that śākhā of the Veda to which one belongs
 Tasminsati śvāsapraśvāsayorgativicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ. – Yoga-sūtra 2.49
 Gautama-dharma-sūtra 1.50
 Baudhāyana-dharma-sūtra 4.1.30 (same as Vasiṣṭha-dharma-sūtra 25.13) and Yājñavalkya-smṛti 1.23
 Āpo hi ṣṭhā mayobhuvastā na ūrje dadhātana. Maheraṇāya cakṣase. Yo vaḥ śivatamo rasastasya bhajayateha naḥ. Uśatīrivamātaraḥ. Tasmā araṃ gamāma vo yasya kṣayāya jinvatha. Āpojanayathā ca naḥ. – Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 10.9.1-3
 Baudhāyana-dharma-sūtra 2.4.2
 Ṛtaṃ ca satyaṃ cābhīddhāt tapaso adhyajāyata. Tatorātryajāyata tataḥ samudro arṇavaḥ. Samudrādarṇavādadhi saṃvatsaro ajāyata. Ahorātrāṇividadhad viśvasya miṣato vaśī. Sūryācandramasau dhātā yathāpūrvamakalpayat. Divaṃ capṛthivīṃ cāntarikṣamatho svaḥ. – Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 10.190.1-3
 Udyantamastaṃ yantamādityamabhidhyāyan kurvan brāhmaṇo vidvān sakalaṃ bhadramaśnute’sāvāddityo brahmeti. – Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 2.2
 Typically it is repeated 108 times; some people might also repeat it 1008 times. It is repeated at least 10 times. In the island of Bali (Indonesia), the Gāyatrī mantra is played on public speakers thrice a day (akin to the call for prayer in some other religions)
 According to Baudhāyana, the worship of the sun is done with the verses ‘Udvayam’ (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.50.10), ‘Udu tyam’ (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.50.1), ‘Citram’ (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 1.115.1), ‘Tac-cakṣur’ (Ṛgveda-saṃhitā 7.66.16), ‘Ya udagāt’ (Taittirīya-āraṇyaka 4.42.5)