Much of traditional knowledge is passed on through stories and legends. One may try to verify their historical facts or whether they are true or not. However, there is no denying that they are a good way to make both the learned and the layman understand and remember the message and facts that they convey. The Shani Mahatmya is one such story that has great meaning and lessons in it. It is also recommended to listen to this story every Saturday as a remedy for those who are undergoing challenging Saturn time periods. The story also contains a description of the planets which makes it very informative for the student of astrology.
This narration is set in the court of the King Vikramaditya. He is not unfamiliar to most people as he also features in other popular Indian tales such as Vikram and Betal. King Vikramaditya was a good and benevolent king who treated his subjects well. He was also fond of increasing his knowledge and often had discussions and arguments on various subjects by learned men in his court. At the time of this story, the discussion or rather debate was about which of the nine planets was the most important. As the court had a representative of all the nine planets it was natural that each would state that his planet was the best. As the debate began each representative began to speak and extolled the virtues of their planet.
The representative of the Sun or Surya stated that the Sun was the best among the planets. The Sun is God in the form of the Sun and he is pleased by the person who prays to him and reveres him regularly giving him/her freedom from disease, poverty and worry. He rules the bones of the body and his gem is the ruby while his metals are gold and copper. The Sun is the ‘King of the planets’ and lord of the eastern direction Sunday and also Simha (Leo) constellation. The sunrise causes day and the sunset causes night. The Sun favours flowers that are red and saffron-coloured clothes.
The Chariot Of The Sun
The chariot of the sun is drawn by seven horses. These horses are the Vedic meters, namely; Gaayatree, Trishtup, Anushtup, Jagate, Pankti, Brihatee, and Ushnik. There is no time scale without the Sun. Without the Sun there would be no rhythm, seasons, life or poetic meters.
The wheel of this chariot is the year and it is composed of 12 spokes that are the twelve months. For each specific month, there is a set of 7 companions, namely; Devatas, Rakshas, Apsaras, Yaksas, serpents, Rishis and Gandharvas that serve the Sun.
Brahma had 10 sons or Manas Putras. One of the Manas Putras, Mareechi was Kashyap Rishi. He married 13 of the 60 daughters of Daksha Prajapati. One of these daughters was Aditi and she gave birth to the 12 Adityas. Surya or Vivaswan is one of them. He married Sangya, the daughter of Vishwakarma, the celestial architect and they had three children; Vaivaswat Manu, Yam and Yamee. Sangya could not withstand the heat of Surya and she replaced herself with her shadow Chaya and left for the earth taking the form of a mare.
Surya was unaware that Chaya was not his wife and had three children by her; Shani, Saavarni Manu and Tapati. When the fact that she was not Sangya was brought to Surya’s attention by Yam, he did not believe him. And when Chaya behaved in a cruel manner with him he raised his legs to kick her. Chaya cursed Yam that his legs would fall off after which he ran to his father for help. Surya modified the cruise and realised that Chaya was indeed not his wife. When he confronted her, she confessed the entire story.
Surya went looking for his wife. He asked his father-in-law Vishwakarma who told him the story of how his daughter could not bear his intensity and was on earth as a mare. Surya requested that some of his rays be cut off and he went to earth in the form of a horse. Vishwakarma made several things out of the cut off rays of the Sun; Shiva’s Trishul, the Puskpak Viman, Kartikeya’s spear and the famous Sudarshan Chakra of Lord Vishnu.
When Surya saw his wife in the form of a mare he wanted to mate with her. She did not know it was her husband. Being a woman who was true to her marital bond with her husband she refused the horse. He then discharged his semen into her mouth which she expelled from her nose causing the creation of the Ashwini Kumara twins. They grew to become the doctors of the Devas.
Surya’s children are all illustrious. Vaivaswat Manu is the Manu of the 7th Manvantar which is the current one. Yam is the lord of the South and ruler of departed souls, Yamee is the river Yamuna, Saavarni will be the next Manu, Shani is a planet and Tapate is the river Tapti. Karna the first son of Kunti was the son of Surya. He was known for his generosity and despite knowing that he was giving his life away, gave his Kavach and Kundal to Indra.
Manu Vaivaswat has ten children and one son who is born of his sneeze called Ikshvaku. This son is the illustrious preceptor of the Surya Vansh. This is the lineage in which many kings who are known for their honour were born. Some honourable mentions are Maandhaataa, Trishanku, Harishchandra, Sagar, Dileep, Bhageerath, Raghu, Dasharath, Ram and Brihadbal who was the last in the line.
When the Pandavas were in the forest with nothing much to sustain them, Yudhistar did Tapasya and was given an Akshaya Patra by Surya. This Akshaya Patra gave the brothers whatever they wished for. And when Hanuman needed assistance to find Sita, Brihaspati also refused to help him gain knowledge and education. He then asked Surya if he could become his disciple. Surya said that he would have been happy to teach him but how could he when he is in constant motion. Lord Hanuman offered to also move in front of Surya and requested again to be his disciple. He then received instruction in all the Vedas from Surya.
The Yajur Veda was given to Rishi Yaagyavalkya by the Sun. The Sage Vedvyas then divided the Veda into four parts which he then taught his disciples. He taught the Yajur Veda to Rishi Vaishampaayan who taught it to his disciple Rishi Vaishampayan. One day the teacher got angry with the student and asked him to give up everything that he had learned. The student then vomited all the mantras and left. Seeing the precious Veda Mantras on the ground other Rishis took the form of Teetar (partridges) and swallowed the mantras. This branch of the Vedas that these Rishis then passed on to their disciples is called Taittereya with reference to the partridges.
There is also another branch of the Yajur Ved that is linked to Surya. Once Yaagyavalkya wished to know more and did penance for Surya who appeared before him as a horse. He gave him Yajur Veda mantras that were till then not imparted to anyone else. These were in the form of 15 recensions which bear the name Vaajsaneya. The word Vaajsaneya means descended from a horse’s mane.
Surya is very important to the horoscope. When Surya is afflicted in a birth chart there are many health issues and maladies that result. One of them is skin diseases such as leprosy. When a person has such an affliction the remedy is the worship of Surya.
An incident is then narrated to illustrate the connection of Surya’s worship to cure leprosy. Once the Rishi Durvasa visited Lord Krishna at Dwaraka. However, Krishna’s son Saamb made fun of the Rishi not once but twice. The Rishi was hot-tempered and cursed him to be afflicted by leprosy. When Krishna heard of this he asked the Rishi for forgiveness and also sought the remedy for the affliction. The Rishi then told Lord Krishna that the boy would have to take a vow on Sunday and then worship Surya. When Saamb did this he was cured and then joyfully built a temple for the worship and honour of Surya.
The representative of Surya also mentioned the mantra that distinguishes a Brahman from the rest of the Gayatri Mantra. The daily recitation of the Aditya Hridaya Stotram makes a person conquer enemies. When there is a daily meditation on Surya, all one’s sins are washed away. So, this is the glory of Surya and the narrator salutes him as a deity as he rose every morning.