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Surya tilak on Ram Lalla’s forehead: Science explained

Many Hindu temples perform Surya tilak or abhishekas, using unique architectural techniques to illuminate idols with sunlight at predetermined times

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Ram Navami 2024 marked a significant event at the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The Surya tilak ritual (aka Surya abhisheka), which had not been performed since the installation of the Ram Lalla murti in January, took place for the first time. This ritual utilised advanced technology to concentrate sunlight on the murti‘s forehead precisely at noon. Lasting approximately five minutes, the ceremony symbolised the blessings of the Sun god.

A scientific explanation follows, detailing how a sunbeam fell on Ram Lalla’s forehead on the intended date in the calendar and duration within that day (tithi and muhurta).

The ‘Surya tilak’ science

The optomechanical system on which this process is based has been specially designed to converge and focus sun rays onto the murti‘s forehead.

The scientists from the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) in Roorkee, who were involved in the project, were well aware of the intense heat generated when sun rays are concentrated through a system of lenses and mirrors onto a single point. As a counter, the system incorporates an infrared filter made of a heat-absorbing material.

This filter, placed at the aperture, blocks or deflects high-energy photons that would otherwise transfer heat to the murti. The aperture, located on the first floor, serves as an opening through which sunlight enters the “garbhagriha” or the sanctum sanctorum.

When the sun is in the correct position, the rays pass through the infrared filter in the aperture and enter from the top of the “garbhagriha.”

A combination of four lenses and an equal number of mirrors, positioned at a specific angle inside brass pipes, converge the rays into a single beam that falls precisely on Ram Lalla’s forehead. To prevent light scattering, the inner surface of the pipes, elbows, and joints has been coated with black powder.

What is noteworthy about this system is that it operates without the use of batteries or electronic devices. Since it can be manually operated, the system can be utilised for many years to come with minor adjustments.

Some other examples of Surya tilak

The Surya tilak ritual is not confined to Ayodhya alone, as numerous temples across India observe similar religio-scientific ceremonies, each employing a unique architectural technique that bathes the deities in sunlight at pre-programmed times.

Suriyanar Kovil Temple (Tamil Nadu): Constructed between the 11th and 12th centuries, this temple experiences sunlight illuminating specific areas all year round, including the deity Suriyanar and his consorts.

Nanarayanaswamy Temple (Andhra Pradesh): During the five-day Surya Puja Mahotsavam festival, sunlight gradually illuminates the main deity (Matsya avatar of Lord Vishnu) from His feet up to the navel.

Mahalakshmi Temple (Maharashtra): Twice a year, sunlight gracefully shines upon the feet of Goddess Mahalaxmi’s murti during the Kiranotsav festival.

Chhatrapati Sambhajinagar (Maharashtra): The residents eagerly anticipate the yearly occurrence when the sun’s rays align perfectly to illuminate the countenance of the Buddha’s statue in Cave No. 10 in the compound that also houses Jain architecture and the Kailasha Temple carved out of a rocky hill in Ellora.

Koba Jain Temple (Gujarat): At the annual Surya Abhishek, sunlight precisely illuminates the forehead of Mahaveerswami’s statue for three minutes, precisely at 2:07 pm.

Unav Balaji Surya Temple (Madhya Pradesh): Meticulously aligned with the path of the sun, the first rays of sunlight illuminate the murti in the temple’s innermost sanctum during the annual festival.

Konark Sun Temple (Odisha): The temple’s design ensures that the initial rays of the sun reach the main entrance and gradually progress towards the innermost sanctum.

Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple (Karnataka): On Makar Sankranti, sunlight enters the cave temple, casting its radiance upon Nandi (Lord Shiva’s bull) and subsequently the Shivlingam.

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