Skip to main content

58: The Story of Vivasvat and Sanjana

The Story of Vivasvat (Surya) and Sanjana (Sandhya)

This one is an example of a story narrative that appears in different sources with slight variations, but where the general flow and incidents within the narrative are similar and fairly consistent. In some cases the names of the characters are different, in others the story ends abruptly, and in some others it forms the prelude of several other stories, including Indra’s slaying of the demon Vritrasura.

Sun God as Surya Vivasvat
Vivasvat was the Sun god Surya. He was born to Sage Kashyapa and Aditi, along with other gods, Adityas (including Indra, Varuna, Soma, Mitra etc.). He would get on his chariot each day with his limb-less charioteer Arun (son of Kashyapa and his other wife Vinita, and brother of Garuda, Arun was prematurely taken out by his mother from the egg and hence did not have functioning legs); and climb up the skies. Once, he got tired of the daily routine, and asked Arun for advice to make life more meaningful. Arun told him to find himself a nice girl and settle down, like any buddy would.

While they were speaking, Vivasvat saw a girl bathing in a river. She was radiant and beautiful, and as you have it in such stories, it was love at first sight for Vivasvat. He rushed to her, and asked who she was. She was Sanjana (or Saranyu, or Sandhya, twilight), daughter of Vishwakarma, the creator god of art and craft (also called Tvastri). 

Vivasvat courted her, and she reciprocated after the initial 'meet-cute' and customary period of being demure. Hand in hand, they went to her father, and Vivasvan asked her father her hand in marriage.

Sanjana or Saranyu

Vishwakarma, who is usually considered either Daksha Prajapati himself or more commonly his son, or sometimes even considered as a swaymbhu (self-generated) god emerging as a form of Brahma, who is the patron deity of artisans, craftsmen, and engineers (he is worshiped even now among Hindus), was more than happy to find such an illustrious and divine son-in-law in Vivasvat; and so, he got them wedded. 

This story does not talk about other family members of Sanjana – like Vishwakarma’s wife Gayatri, or Sanjana’s twin brother Trishiras, but it is part of the lore of Indra slaying Vritra.

Things came to pass, and initially Vivasvat and Sanjana were quite happy. While Vivasvat was too bright and hot for Sanjana, she stayed on with him as she truly loved him. 

Vivasvat was a happily married man, too, deeply in love with his wife. Sanjana bore three children with Vivasvat – Vivasvan Manu, the progenitor of human kind, Yama the god of death and his twin sister Yami the personification of river Yamuna (see here for more about Yama and Yami). They all lived happily, although Sanjana kept getting hurt time and again due to her husband’s brightness. (Markandeya Purana)


Years passed and after a while Vivasvat’s glare and heat started to become too much for her. She could take it no more. The constant glare darkened her and sapped her energy. She was now called Sandhya (evening) due to her hue. Yet, she did not wish to leave, for she did not want to offend her husband. 

Finally, after some deliberation, she came up with a solution. From her body, she created an image, a clone of herself, just a bit darker, and called her Chhaya (shadow). In some sources, this is her younger sister who looked alike (Bhagvata Purana) or even her handmaiden. In other sources, it is her shadow itself (Rg Veda). She is also called Savarni (means 'similar') in some cases.

Sanjana and her sister image Chhaya, also worshiped as Randal Devi in Gujarat

Sanjana pleaded to Chhaya to take her place clandestinely, and Chhaya agreed as this would have meant getting a divine and loving husband. She promised that she will care for Sanjana’s children just like Sanjana did. 

With that assurance, Sanjana left her house. In some versions, she went to her father Vishwakarma, who told her to return to her husband. But she decided against it. After that, she travelled long and far, and found a peaceful forest. There she transformed herself into a mare in order to avoid being found, and spent several peaceful years away from the glare and heat, albeit sad, alone and away from her husband and children.

Meanwhile, back in Vivasvat’s palace, the “ol’ switcheroo” worked like a charm, as Chhaya was a spitting image of Sanjana. She went about the household like the original wife and mother, and looked to her work and duties just like her elder sister. She also loved Vivasvat like her elder sister did, and Sanjana’s children like her own. The word Chhaya is used in many Indian languages even now to mean ‘shadow image’ (photographs are called chhaya-chitra, pictures of shadow image).

After a while, however, Chhaya bore three children of her own – a son called Savarni Manu, a second son called Shani (the god of planet Saturn), and a daughter by the name Tapti (the personification of river Tapti). 

Note that this Savarni Manu is different from Vivasvan Manu, who is the progenitor of the current mankind in this manvantar (see Multiple Yugas). Savarni Manu is expected to be the next and eighth Manu, in the next manvantar (Brahma’s day). (source: Kurma Purana) Tapti will go on to be the progenitor of Kurus.

So Vivasvat was super happy with his wife and the six children, four boys and two girls, oblivious of the fact that the first set of 3 children were parented by a step-mother. Now, this arrangement worked for several years as the children were growing up, but soon Manu, Yama, and Yami found that there was gradual change in their mother’s behavior. She started to seem to be more loving and partial towards her later children Shani, Tapti and Savarni Manu. The elder brother Manu was agnostic to it, but Yama started to get agitated slowly. The resentment began to grow, and small household matters started to be seen in a different light of this bias.


One day, Chhaya made some kheer (sweet porridge) and gave it to the children. Yama saw that she gave more to her later children. Yama, being always righteous, and also seething with earlier resentment perhaps, thought that this was unfair and complained. Chhaya got upset, and in the heat of the moment, hit him with a ladle. Angry words were exchanged, and Yama, in childish anger, kicked his (step-)mother for her chiding (or, in some versions, pointed his toe at her in a sign of disrespect). Chhaya lost her temper, and cursed Yama that his leg, with which he kicked his mother, will rot and have maggots and worms. Ugh!

By this time, Vivasvat had arrived at the scene hearing the commotion. But before he could intervene, he heard Chhaya pronounce a terrible curse on her own child. Immediately convinced that no real mother would curse her own child like that, Vivasvat cornered Chhaya and asked who she really was. In the heat of the moment, the sobbing Chhaya told him the whole story. (Vishnu Purana)

The entire household was stunned. They could not believe that they have been living with an impostor for years. Vivasvat was disgusted, and even though he saw that Chhaya actually loved him, he drove her and her children away.

In one account, Vivasvat became very angry and directed his full fury and blaze towards Chhaya. She burned and got reduced to ashes, and the only thing that remained was her shadow (Chhaya). 

In other accounts, he said he could not live with her anymore, and took her and her children to Sanjana’s father Vishwakarma. He also gave Yama his rooster, the one who announces the morning Sun each day. The rooster eats away the maggots from Yama’s leg each night and that is how Yama can still walk with a healthy leg.

In any case, unable to decide what to do next, Vivasvat next seems to have rushed to his father-in-law with the terrible news. He told Vishwakarma all about it and that his real wife Sanjana is missing, and that he intended to find her by any means necessary.

Vishwakarma asked him to hold on, meditated and found that Sanjana his daughter was in a forest in the form of a mare. Maybe he knew it all along, as some versions suggest. He also realized the reason for his daughter’s behaviour and shared it with Vivasvat. He told the Sun that she still loves him, but is unable to bear his glare and heat.

Vivasvat was relieved to know that she was fine, and asked his father-in-law for advice. Vishwakarma said that being an architect and craftsman himself, he could help by chiselling away some of Sun’s radiance. It was not a sure-shot solution, but worth a try. 

So Vivasvat agreed to it. Vishwakarma took him to his workshop, and chiselled out some parts. A one-eighth part of the Sun fell down. He made it into Shiva’s trishul (trident). Another one-eighth fell down. He made it into Vishnu’s disc. And so on. So with this labour of Vishwakarma, the gods got some of their bright, shiny and powerful weapons as well as things, - noted among them are the earlier two, as well as Kubera’s palanquin, Yama's rod of justice, and the spear of Skanda Kartikeya.

Vivasvat found that his brightness was comparatively diminished. He was happy and thanked his father-in-law. He then took the form of a stallion and went to the forest where Sanjana was hiding. 

When he approached her, she knew who he was, and felt immediate love for him. They came together, and instantly from the mare's nostrils, were born two celestial twins – the Ashwini Kumaras. They are called Nasatya and Dasra.

The Ashwini Kumara twins
Sanjana and Vivasvat renewed their love after such a long separation, and spent time in the forest as horses. All was forgotten, and forgiven. 

During this period, they also got another child by the name Raivata or Revant.  Raivata is considered the great chief of Guhyakas, a semi-divine class of beings who live in the forests at the foothills of the Himalayas. 

The twin Ashwini Kumaras Nasatya and Dasra are considered as celestial physicians who walk among mortals on Earth and help them with their knowledge of medicine. All three of these are usually depicted with heads of horses and torso of men. 

More about Ashwini Kumaras later.

Finally, after a few months, Vivasvat and Sanjana decided to return. There is a part of the story where the world was plummeted in darkness when Vivasvat went to the forest and hid there with Sanjana. Then the gods sent the charioteer Arun as a messenger to Vivasvat to resume his duty as the Sun god, which he did eventually and daylight is back on Earth.

In most versions, he also forgave Chhaya and the family is reunited, with all children returning to Vivasvan and living happily (almost ever after). 

What a wonderful ending, right? 

It is quite rare though to find a Hindu myth like this – with an almost Disney-like ending, with no demons or wars, almost PG level bloodshed, hardly any strange creatures apart from horse-men (much like centaurs, only the other way round – heads are horses and bodies are human) and with very little bloodshed or gore other than the filthy maggots in Yama’s legs. 

But it is quite a story, and the strength of narrative is such that there are strong repetitive and dual motifs (see how everything is double – the wives, the kids, the twins - it is almost like you are hearing this story twice), which makes it into a wonderful piece for storytelling.


Dhanteras, 17 October 2017