Surya with consorts Saranyu (Sanjna) and Chhaya
Goddess of shadow and shade
Devanagari छाया
Sanskrit Transliteration Chāyā
Affiliation Devi
Consort Surya

Chhaya or Chaya (Sanskrit: छाया, Chāyā) means shadow or shade. Chhaya is also personified as the goddess of shadow, the consort of Surya, the Hindu sun god.[1] She is the shadow-image or reflection of Saranyu (Sanjna), the first wife of Surya. Chhaya was born from the shadow of Sanjna and replaced Sanjna in her house, after the latter abandoned her husband.[2]

Chhaya is usually described as the mother of Shani, the god of the planet Saturn and a feared graha; goddess Tapti, the personification of river Tapti and a son Savarni Manu, who is destined to be the next and eighth Manu (progenitor of mankind) - the ruler of the next Manvantara period.[3]

Early Vedic and epic legends

In the Rigveda (c. 1200-1000 BCE), which is the earliest narrative about the Chhaya-prototype. After the birth of twins from Vivasvan (Surya), Saranyu - the daughter of Vishwakarma - abandons him and flews in form of a mare. The woman the divine Saranyu places in her place is called Savarna ("same-kind"). Unlike the later Puranas where Chhaya is a mere shadow of Saranyu, in the Rigveda, Savarna is of the same-kind as Saranyu, but mortal. Savarna has no children from Surya. A later (500 BCE) addition to the original Rigveda by Yaska in his Nikuta says that Manu (the progenitor of mankind, called Savarni Manu in later Puranic text) was born to Savarna. While the original text says "they" (interpreted as the gods) substituted Savarna for Saranyu, Yaksa's Nikuta tells that Saranyu created Savarna and substituted her. Brhad devata calls the prototype of Chhaya as Sadrisha ("look-alike"), a woman who looked like Saranyu. Sadrsha begot Manu by Surya, who became a royal sage.[4]

By the time of the Harivamsa (c. 5th century CE), an appendix of the epic Mahabharata; Saranyu is called Sanjna and her double is reduced to her shadow or reflection Chhaya. It narrates:[2] that Sanjna after giving birth to three children of the Sun, she abandons him as he looked unlovely, burnt by her own fiery glory. She places her shadow Chhaya in her place, who was created by illusion to take care of her children. Surya mistakes Chhaya for Sanjna and begot Manu upon her. As Manu looked just like his father, he was called Savarni Manu. However, Chhaya, also called parthvi ("earthly") Sanjna, became partial to her own son and ignored those of Sanjna. Yama, Sanjna's son and god of death, was angry by her behaviour and threatens her by his foot. Chhaya cast a curse on Yama, which revealed to Yama and Surya that Chhaya was not the true Sanjna. Chhaya cursed that Yama's legs would fall away, but Surya reduced this curse so that some parts of Yama's legs would fall and would be consumed by worms on earth. Surya threatens Chhaya with a curse forcing her to reveal the reality. Frightened, she discloses the entire story of her creation. After the revelation of Chhaya, Surya finds Sanjna and brings her back. The text also states that Shani was a brother of Savarni Manu, though his birth is not explicitly stated. According to Wendy Doniger, the substitution of the dark shadow was apt by Saranyu for the dark Surya.[2]

Puranic legends

The Markandeya Purana tells the tale of Sanjna-Chhaya twice, the tale is similar to that in the Harivamsa, but Sanjna leaves Surya as she is unable to bear his splendour and heat. The curse to Yama is a little different. Yama abuses Chhaya and picks his leg up to kick her. Chhaya curses Yama to have his leg affected with worms and sores. Surya grants Yama, a cock to eat the worms from his leg. In the other telling, the curse is almost same as the Harivamsa. Chhaya also cleverly says that she is Yama's father's wife, but does not say that she is his mother.[5][6]

The Vishnu Purana also records the legend similar to Markandeya Purana, but has few differences. Unable to bear Surya's intense heat, Sanjna after giving birth to three children - retires to the forest to practise austerities in form of a mare, leaving his shadow-image Chhaya, her handmaid to take her place and tend for her husband and progeny. Surya mistakes Chhaya for Sanjna and fathers three children on her. Chhaya gives birth to Shani, Savarni Manu and Tapti. However, Chhaya became partial to her own children and ignored those of Sanjna. Yama, suspected the behaviour of who he thought was his mother and offended her. Chhaya cast a curse on Yama (the details of the curse are not disclosed), which revealed to Yama and Surya that Chhaya was not the true Sanjna. After the extracting the truth from Chhaya, Surya finds Sanjna and brings her back.[6]

Matsya Purana also presents a similar account about Chhaya, however the children of Chhaya are named as Savarni Manu a son and two daughters: Tapti and Vishti, who was dark blue colour and a personification of Kala (Time or Death) who dwells in Hell.[7] Chhaya's tale is also found in the 11th century CE Kathasaritsagara.[1][8] The Markandeya Purana records that Chhaya had three sons: Shani, Savarni Manu and Revanta, the divine master of horses. Kurma Purana describes only Savarni Manu as her son.[9] While in some versions of the tale, Surya abandons Chhaya after knowing the truth about her, Surya deserts Chhaya before bringing back Sanjna,[10] however a contemporary version tells that Chhaya was forgiven and lived with Surya, Sanjna and their children thereafter.[11]

While most accounts consider Chhaya to be the reflection or shadow of Saranyu (Sanjna) - Surya's first wife; Bhagavata Purana tells that Chhaya was a sister of Sanjna and the daughter of the divine architect Vishwakarma.[6][12]

Markandeya Purana as well as Vishnudharmottara Purana prescribe that Surya should be depicted in images with Chhaya and his other wives by his sides.[13]


  1. ^ a b Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary (2008 revision) p. 406
  2. ^ a b c Doniger, Wendy (1998). "Saranyu/Samjna". In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff. Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 158–60. ISBN 81-208-1491-4. 
  3. ^ According to Hindu cosmology, man is currently in the seventh Manvantara.
  4. ^ Doniger, Wendy (1998). "Saranyu/Samjna". In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff. Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 154–7. ISBN 81-208-1491-4. 
  5. ^ Doniger, Wendy (1998). "Saranyu/Samjna". In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff. Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. p. 163. ISBN 81-208-1491-4. 
  6. ^ a b c Wilson, Horace Hayman (1866). "II". The Vishńu Puráńa: a system of Hindu mythology and tradition. 8. London: Trubner & Co.. pp. 20–23. 
  7. ^ A Talaqdar of Oudh (2008). "XI". The Matsya Puranam: Part I. The Sacred books of the Hindus. 18. Cosmo Publications. pp. 32–34. ISBN 81-307-0532-X. 
  8. ^ Pattanaik, Devdutt (2000). The goddess in India: the five faces of the eternal feminine. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 127. 
  9. ^ Danielou, Alain (1991), The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism, Inner Traditions / Bear & Company, pp. 96, ISBN 0892813547, .
  10. ^ Mani, Vettam (1975). Puranic Encyclopaedia: A Comprehensive Dictionary With Special Reference to the Epic and Puranic Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 182. ISBN 0842-60822-2. 
  11. ^ Doniger, Wendy (1998). "Saranyu/Samjna". In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff. Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 166–9. ISBN 81-208-1491-4. 
  12. ^ Prabhupada. "Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: Chapter 13: Description of Future Manus". The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.. Retrieved 5 July 2010. 
  13. ^ Shashi, S. S. (1997). Encyclopaedia Indica: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. 100. Anmol Publications. pp. 877, 917. 

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