Why is Saturn the most feared graha?

The navagrahas or nine ‘planets’ are an integral part of Indian astrology. Each of these grahas is associated with a specific guna or trait. And their unique attributes are conveyed in the form of little myths and stories in the manuals on astronomy and astrology.

Planets like Jupiter, Moon and Venus are considered naturally benefic. They shower benefits on a person depending upon their placement in his or her horoscope.

Grahas like the Sun, Mars, Rahu, Ketu and Saturn, on the other hand, are considered malefics, which means by nature they are prone to causing harm, and invariably they are believed do so but in varying degrees depending again upon the placement of these planets in a person’s birth chart or horoscope.

Surya (The Sun)

The Sun or Surya is a powerful, hot, fiery graha, malefic by nature, and is associated with the father or father-figure in a person’s horoscope.  Of course, consistent with our other scriptures, in Jyotisha too, the Sun is known as the bestower of intellectual brilliance. The sun is the source of all creation and is identified with the soul. In our mythology, the Sun is also the father of yama, shani and the rivers Yamuna and Tapati.

Chandra (The Moon)

As we’ve already seen (What does our Panchanga tell us?) the Moon makes a journey through the 27 Nakshatras in the sky. In our mythology, these 27 nakshatras are considered to be his wives and the moon is believed to spend time with each of them. But according to a story, he didn’t divide his time equally among all his wives. Instead, he spent most of his time with the brightest nakshatra named Rohini, which made his other wives jealous. The story goes on further, but what is interesting here is probably what the myth is trying to tell us about a celestial phenomenon called Occultation.

Occultation is a phenomenon where the moon in the course of its revolution around the earth sometime reaches a particular position in its orbit from where it obstructs the view of a star for an observer on the earth. Modern astronomers point out that the myth about the moon spending too much time in Rohini was born probably because Rohini may have had the most number of occultations.

Budha (Mercury)

Mercury or Budha is the planet closest to the Sun in the solar system. According to Jyotisha, Budha is neither malefic nor benefic but a neutral graha. He becomes either malefic or benefic depending upon his position vis-à-vis other planets. Budha rules over speech and is associated with mental dexterity and intelligence. In Indian mythology, he is considered the son of the Moon and Tara, the wife of Jupiter or Guru.

Shukra (Venus)

Venus or Shukra is the brightest planet in our solar system. Shukra is a benefic planet and is the lord of all material luxuries and enjoyments in life. In Indian mythology, Shukra, as the guru of the asuras, is believed to possess Sanjivani Vidya or the knowledge to bring back the dead. This myth may again have arisen from the observation of a celestial phenomenon.

As we all know, Venus’s orbit is very close to the Sun. So, it disappears from an observer’s view on earth for long periods of time, but eventually appears at the other end of the horizon when it has moved away from the Sun.

This repeated disappearance and reappearance of the planet in the sky may have reminded man of the ideas of death and rebirth, which may have found a mythical parallel in the story about the planet’s (Shukracharya’s) ability to bring back the dead.

Angaraka/Mangal (Mars)

Mars is the planet closest to earth and is often referred to as the Red planet. The iron oxide deposits on its surface gives Mars its red colour. Because he glows like the red-hot coals, he is referred to as Angaraka. And possibly because of the red colour, Mars is identified as a warrior god across cultures.

In Indian mythology, Angaraka is identified closely with Karthikeya, the warrior deity, known for his vigour and virility. According to another story Angaraka’s origin is traced to the story of Daskha’s sacrifice, to which Shiva was not invited.

In anger over Daksha’s insult of her husband, Sati immolated herself. Which infuriated Shiva and he set out to destroy the world. That’s was when the terrible demon Virabhadra was born out of Shiva’s sweat. Virabhadra destroyed the sacrifice of Daksha and the same Virabhadra was later blessed by Shiva to become a planet in the sky known as Angaraka.

This myth is an expression of the cruel, malefic nature of Angaraka or Mangal as he is popularly known. Which also explains why Mars is frequently associated with war and fire accidents. 

Guru (Jupiter)

Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and in Indian astrology, this graha is referred to as Guru. By virtue of being the biggest planet and the most benefic of all the grahas, he is considered the Guru or the teacher. In our mythology, he is the guru of the devas. Being a powerful graha, Guru’s beneficial placement in a person’s horoscope is believed to allow a person even to get away with crime.

Shani (Saturn)

And now for the most interesting planet of all, a planet that everyone is terrified of – Saturn or Shani. Of the five planets counted among the nava grahas, Saturn is the farthest planet in our solar system and is hence the slowest to go around the sun. Hence, he is referred to as ‘shanaishcharaha’ or the slow mover. In Jyotisha, he is considered a malefic whose gaze on a person can completely destroy a person’s fortunes.

Because of its distance from the Sun, Saturn also symbolises isolation.  A story from the Indian mythology can best illustrate this idea. And that is the story of Nala in the Nala-Damayanti story from the Mahabharata. The misfortunes that Nala, the king of the Nishadas faced, when he lost his kingdom in a game of dice, his separation from his wife and children, his loss of personality when he turned into a hunchback, all these are attributed to Saturn’s transit through his horoscope. During the period of 7 and a half years, commonly known as sade sati, Nala faced isolation from his kingdom and his family.

But what makes Shani such a scary graha?

That is because Shani is the force of fate, the force that makes one experience his or her karma. He ensures that no one escapes the fruits of his or her action. Shani is associated often with his brother, Yama and lords over time, misfortunes and bereavements. Because of his association with death, and also possibly because of his distance from the Sun, he is associated with the colour black.

Rahu and Ketu

Now for Rahu and Ketu, who are merely shadow planets. As we already know (What does our Horoscope tell us?), Rahu and Ketu are not really planets, but merely represent the nodal points where the orbits of the Sun and the moon intersect.  These are the points at which eclipses form.

What is interesting here is that the Rig Veda mentions Svarbhanu, a demon that causes eclipses. The story of Svarabhanu later evolved into a myth where a snake was believed to swallow the moon during the lunar eclipse. Over time, svarbhanu came to be identified with rahu and ketu, which are today counted among the nine grahas. The very word graha means to catch or seize. By this definition Rahu and Ketu were indeed grahas, as they seized the sun and the moon thus creating eclipses.

Because of their demonic qualities and their ability to create illusions in the form of eclipses, these grahas were considered malefic in nature.

What does our horoscope tell us? (The Indian Astrology series)

When we talk astrology, the one word that pops into our mind immediately is horoscope! What is a horoscope or a jataka or a kundali, as we call it in India?

A horoscope is actually a map of the skies at the time of a person’s birth. The chart should ideally have been circular, but it has been reduced to the shape of a square for easy readability, just like we have done with our maps.

Now, this map or horoscope contains 12 boxes that represent each of the 12 rashis starting from mesham or aries to meenam or pisces. Rashis, as you may recollect from my previous video, are constellations in the sky through which the Sun is seen to move, as seen from the earth.

Each of the rashis measures exactly 30 degrees. So all the 12 rashis together add up to 360 degrees, which is the measure of the elliptical orbits of all celestial bodies including the sun and the moon.

However, in the Indian luni-solar system, the moon is given more prominence and a person’s rashi is the rashi in which the moon is found at the time of birth. So, this is different from the Western system of astrology where the Sun’s placement in a constellation decides a person’s zodiac sign. So the westerners follow the sun while we in India follow the moon.

But why do the Rashis start with Aries?

Really long ago, the Indian lunar calendar system got integrated with the Hellenistic or Greek solar calendar systems.  As a result, ancient Indian astrologers adopted the western system of placing Aries or Mesham at the start of the zodiac. That’s the reason why our rashi chart starts with Aries, which marks the beginning of Spring equinox, one of the two times in a year when the duration of the day and night in a day are equal.

Now, coming back to our horoscope, the exact place, date and time of birth is used to arrive at the position of the nine grahas or planets with respect to the rashis. Talking of grahas, it is interesting to note that of the nine grahas, which we tend to associate with planets, only five are actually planets, which are Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

The remaining grahas are the Sun and the Moon and Rahu and Ketu. You may realise that none of these are planets. Sun is a star, moon is the earth’s satellite and Rahu and Ketu are not real grahas but only represent the points of the intersection of the orbits of the sun and the moon.

Now, these grahas are given lordship over the 12 rashis. While the Sun is the lord of Leo or Simha rashi, the moon lords over Cancer or Kataka rashi. The other five grahas, mercury, venus, mars, Jupiter and Saturn rule over two rashis each. For example, Venus rules over Taurus and Libra and Saturn rules over both Aquarius and Capricorn.

North Indian format vs South India format of horoscope

There are multiple ways in which the rashis and the planets’ placement in them can be represented. The two popular styles are the south Indian and the north Indian styles. In the south Indian format, the rashis are arranged clockwise in a rectangular box starting from the second box on the top left.

And this house represents the Mesha rashi or Aries, the first of the 12 Rashis that spans the first 30 degrees of the constellations. The following Rashi rishabham occupies the next box spanning the next 30 to 60 degrees. All the rashis are thus arranged across the 12 boxes and end with Meenam or Pisces, whose co-ordinates are the final 30 of the total 360 degrees.

The box in the middle represents the earth around which the celestial bodies are seen to move. Remember, our system of astronomy is geo-centric that puts earth right in the middle.

The interesting thing to note about the South Indian horoscope format is that the planets, as lords of the rashis, are arranged in the chart in the same order as they are found in the universe.  So, apart from the Moon that is the closest celestial body to earth occupying Cancer and the Sun occupying Leo or Simha rashi,  we find mercury, venus, mars, Jupiter and Saturn arranged clockwise in each of the subsequent rashis.

However, in the north Indian format, the rashis are not assigned to the strictly designated boxes. So they are not fixed. They change depending on the ascendant or lagna in the horoscope.

What is lagna?

The lagna represents the nakshatra/rashi that is seen rising on the eastern horizon at the date, time and place of a person’s birth. Depending upon the paada of the nakshatra, it is placed in the corresponding rashi. The lagna, which is designated house number 1 in the horoscope, is believed to set the tone for the nature of a person and the events in his or her life.

In the south-Indian format of a horoscope, the lagna is placed in the box pertaining to the corresponding rashi. On the other hand, in the north Indian format, the lagna is always placed in this centre-most box, which becomes the seat of the Rashi that corresponds to the lagna.

The other important difference is that while the south Indian format is read clockwise, the north Indian format is read anti-clockwise.

So, how do astrologers make predictions?

Each of the nine grahas are vested with certain specific attributes. Some like Jupiter and Venus are considered benefic, while grahas such as Mars and Sun are considered malefic or fiery by nature. Each of the Rashis too possess certain specific qualities. So do the 27 nakshatras.

Each of the 12 houses represent something in a person’s life. For instance, the first house or the lagna, as I mentioned earlier represents the person’s self, his nature and his destiny, the second house represents wealth, the third house siblings and so on.

The important thing to remember here is that all the elements in the horoscope including the planets, rashis and nakshatras are constantly moving. While they keep moving, they are also continuously interacting with each other. The interplay of these elements, their movements and interactions are analysed to make predictions about a person’s destiny.

Does that mean that everything is pre-destined and nothing is left to free will?

Not really! A person’s experiences in life are determined by the karma he has accumulated over time and that karma stems from a person’s own actions both in his past and current life. So in a way, astrology holds the person responsible for all that happens to him or her.

While fruits of the person’s actions may choose to play out at different times in one’s present life or in different lifetimes, there is no escaping one’s Karma. What astrology does is merely link the experiences in a person’s present life to his or her past actions and predict how the fruits of those actions are likely to play out in one’s life.