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From Shani Mahatmya – The Mythology Behind Rahu and Ketu

The Shani Mahatmya is the narration of incidents that happened in the life of King Vikramaditya during his Sade Sati or seven and half year period of Saturn. Listening to the Shani Mahatmya or reading it is a Shani remedy prescribed for those afflicted by Saturn. Here is a Shani Mahatmya summary of the section about Rahu and Ketu.

The Story So Far

The King Vikramaditya was a good, just and kind ruler who often had discourses and debates by learned men in his court. Once, he was listening to a debate on which of the planets was the best of them all. Each of the representatives of the planets stood up, in turn, one by one and praised his planet declaring their planet to be the best of them all. The first speaker was the representative of Surya, the Sun. After he spoke the representatives of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn all explained why their planet was the very best. At this point in the narration, the representative of Rahu stands up and speaks.

Shani Dev

Introduction – Rahu And Ketu

The representative of Rahu stated that Rahu and Ketu are the two terrible planets. He said that they are the North and South nodes respectively. They were born in the Asura race. Rahu and Ketu are the enemies of Surya (the Sun)and Chandra (the Moon). When the Sun and Moon are close to the nodes they are overtaken by fear. They know well that the nodes do not spare them both without trouble. The nodes eclipse the Sun and the Moon and disturb them. The node Rahu afflicts the Sun and Ketu afflicts the Moon. 

Rahu  Sculpture - Shani Mahatmya
Rahu Sculpture – Shani Mahatmya
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Just as the nodes are able to eclipse the Sun and the Moon they also eclipse people’s lives. The nodes trouble people and are very cruel. However, they can be pleased and appeased. One can please Rahu and Ketu through regular prayer and offerings. When Rahu is pleased he gives a person good health and mercy and no fear of snakes. When Ketu is pleased the person is blessed with spiritual knowledge. 

Ketu Sculpture - Shani Mahatmya
Ketu Sculpture – Shani Mahatmya
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Shani Mahatmya – History Of Rahu And Ketu

Rahu and Ketu were once one being Swarbhanu. He was the son of the Viprachitti Daanav and his wife Sinhikaa. Sinhikka was the sister of Hiranyakashyap. We are familiar with Hiranyakashyap as the father of Prahlad. The severed head of this Asura is Rahu and the trunk is Ketu. Rahu makes people’s minds fearful. His colour is smoky and he lives in the forest. Ketu is also terrifying. While Rahu has the half-moon on his head, Ketu holds a lamp and a sword in his hands. The direction that Rahu and Ketu rule is the South-West. Rahu is the ruler of lead and agate while Ketu is the ruler of turquoise and earth. Rahu is the minister of the Asuras and Ketu is the chief of the Asuras.

Sage Durvasa’s Curse

Shani Mahatmya - Temple Carving Of Samudra Manthan
Temple Carving Of Samudra Manthan
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Once the Sage Durvasa cursed that the Devas would be deprived of all their strength and fortune. This resulted in the Asuras taking over the universe. The Devas were very worried and went to Lord Vishnu for advice. He told them that they were now weak and that there was no benefit in fighting with the Asuras. He told them to be patient and diplomatic. Lord Vishnu also told them to churn the Ksheer Sagar or Ocean of Milk to obtain the nectar of immortality or Amrit. He assured them that the Devas alone would be able to drink it and not the Asuras.

A Depiction Of Samudra Manthan As Described In Shani Mahatmya
A Depiction Of Samudra Manthan As Described In Shani Mahatmya
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The Churning Of The Ocean – Samudra Manthan

The narration of the Shani Mahatmya continues to narrate the events that unfold. The Devas and Asuras joined forces to churn the ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality. The Devas and the Asuras both wanted to grab hold of it and they started fighting. The Asuras were stronger and took the Amrit. At this time, Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini the beautiful enchantress. Mohini was so beautiful and enchanting that the fight stopped and the Asuras agreed that Mohini would be in charge of distributing the Amrit. 

Carving Of Mohini - Shani Mahatmya
Carving Of Mohini – Shani Mahatmya
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The Devas and the Asuras formed two lines with the Asuras on one side and the Devas on the other. Mohini gave the Amrit to the Devas one by one. One of the Asuras Swarbhanu noticed this and disguised himself as a Deva and sat in the Deva line. When Mohini gave him Amrit, Surya and Chandra noticed immediately that Swarbhanu was not a Deva and sounded the alarm. This is why the Sun and Moon have a great enmity with the nodes.

The Split – Rahu And Ketu

Lord Vishnu immediately used his Sudarshan Chakra and cut off the head of Swarbhanu. But, since the Amrit had already been taken by the Asura he did not die. Instead, he became two beings. The head became Rahu while the trunk became Ketu. The blood of Rahu that fell on the earth became garlic. This is why garlic has so many Amrit like properties but also clouds the mind like Rahu. Lord Brahma blessed Rahu and Ketu with planet status. Saying this the representative of Rahu and Ketu said that he bowed before the greatness of the two shadow planets who afflict people by eclipsing their minds.