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NAVAGRAHA DEVATAS--NINE PLANETARY DEITIES OF HINDUS

The magnetic movement of heavenly bodies through the Solar system and the mystery of
the laws that guide them have inspired our thinkers and dreamers throughout our human
history, from religious scholars to astrophysicists, form poets to philosophers. The center
of our solar system is a star we call the Sun. Orbiting the Sun are nine known planets,
some of which are orbited by one or more moons, as our home planet, Earth is. Earth is
very small compared to the Sun, and this is one of the billion stars in our Galaxy, the
Milky Way, which is itself a tiny speck in an unimaginably vast Universe. Hindu Rishis
were the earliest to study the solar system scientifically with their customary reverence to
Intelligent Design.

Sages in the Vedic period have realized that the manifested Universe (Jagat) has sprung
out of the Supreme spirit and that each fragment of the Universe is influenced by the rest
of the Universe and vice versa. Through their observation of the sky above and by their
yogic powers, the sages perceived perfect harmony and order in the movement of the
heavenly bodies. Closely watching the solar system to which the earth belongs, our sages
observed that the apparent path covered by the sun in relation to earth called the ecliptic
recurred periodically with rhythmic precision. Likewise, they noticed that the Moon‘s
path in relation to earth also occurred at regular intervals. Based on these observations
they established units of time, such as day, month, year etc and gained the ability to
precisely forecast the time of these recurring celestial events. Thus they gave the mankind
a system of time measurement by which correct times of observance of religious rites can
be ascertained in accordance with saastric injunctions. These were the origin of
Panchangam, the Hindu Almanac. Panchangam deals with five angas (parts)—Vaara
(day), Tithi, Nakshatra, Yoga and Karana.

Religion being the core of Hindu life, science subjects were cultivated first that could
contribute to religion. Astronomy grew out of the worship of heavenly bodies and the
observation of their movements aimed to fix the calendar of festival and sacrificial days.
As in the Middle Ages, the scientists of India were her priests or Gurus.

Astronomy was an incidental off spring of Astrology. Varahamihira‘s compendium,


Siddhanta (ca 425 B.C.) was significantly entitled complete system of Natural Astrology.
The greatest astronomer Aryabhatta, explained eclipses, solstices and the equinoxes and
established the spheroid of the earth and its diurnal revolution on its axis and wrote, ― the
sphere of the stars is stationary and the earth, by its revolution, produces the daily rising
and setting of planets and stars‖. Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta and his followers adopted to
Hindu usage the Babylonian division of the stars into zodiacal constellations; they made a
calendar of twelve months, inserting an intercalary month every five years; they
calculated with remarkable accuracy the diameter of the moon, the eclipses of the moon
and the sun, the position of the poles and the position of the major stars.

Tyco Brahe (1546-1641 A.D.) felt that the planets revolved round the sun and moon and
sun in turn revolved round the earth in ellipses. Brahmagupta, who systematized

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astronomical knowledge obstructed its further development temporarily by rejecting
Aryabhatta‘s theory of the revolution of the earth, like Tyco Brahe..

Astrology, the age old practice of predicting people‘s features by casting their horoscopes
based on the position of the stars, the planets and the moon, is lot of moonshine, in the
opinion of most scientists and one held by the 20th century French researchers Michael
and Francoise Gauqualin, who have spent 20 years in investigating the subject.

Nostradamus (1503-1566), the French astrologer and physician, indeed predicted many
incidents in World History—the execution of King Charles IX, the rise and fall of
Napoleon and Adolf Hitler and even the assassination of Kennedy. Some o f them could
be strange coincidences and some of them could be explained by theory of probability.

Zodiac Belt is the great circle around which our luminescent Sun apparently moves
month by month throughout the year. Twelve zodiac constellations are placed along the
ecliptic path traveling the zodiac belt. Their names are Aries (ram), Taurus (bull), Gemini
(twins), Cancer (crab), Leo (lion), Virgo (virgin), Libra (scale), Scorpio (scorpion),
Sagittarius (archer), Capricorn(goat), Aquarius (water bearer) and Pisces (fish). These are
called Raasis in Samskrit. The entry of sun into a raasi is called Sankramana or Sankrant.
The twelve Raasis are: Mesha, Vrushabha, Mithuna, Kataka, Simha, Kanya,
Tula,Vrischika, Dhanus, Makara, Kumbha and Meena. The Zodiac is an imaginary belt in
the sky which represents the orbit of the Sun around the earth. This System was also
devised by Ptolemy, a Roman astrologer who felt that the earth was stationery and all
planets revolved around it, known as Ptolemaic system. This system is also still used by
astrologers today in the West, even though we know that earth and all other planets in the
solar system orbit the Sun. The zodiac belt is divided into twelve sections of 30 degrees
each named after a constellation.

In Hindu astrology great importance is placed on the position of the various planets in the
twelve constellations of the zodiac, the belt around the sky in which the movements of
the Sun, Moon and planets are confined. All astrology is totally based on the planetary
movements and its effects on human beings. Therefore planets and their movements
played a significant role in the Vedic culture, which they attributed to the manifestation
and will of the Supreme.

Hindu astrologers emphasized that the nine grahas usually translated into English as
planets—Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Ketu give us
pleasure and serenity and remove obstacles from our way. The names of the first seven
heavenly bodies are still connected in various cultures of the world with seven days of the
week as in Hindu system of astrology.

The Hindu astrology is based on an elaborate calculation of the position of these planets
at the time of one‘s birth. For example the zodiac is divided into twelve zodiac houses of
30 degrees each called Rasi. The planet Sun travels to one of these houses each month.
Similarly other planets have their times of travel through these zodiac assigned to them.
As the planets travel through these zodiac signs, their respective positions with respect to

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each other changes and this is supposed to determine the fate of the human affairs. An
astrologer can draw up a horoscope of a person based on his time of birth and calculate
the relative positions of the planets relative to this horoscope. Planets are also believed to
influence the outcomes of historical events of entire nations and the earth. Each planet
has its own mode of circumambulation clockwise or anticlockwise, which fact is also
known to modern day scientists. Each planet faces a different direction. In religious rites
betel nuts represent the planets and priest invites each planet there to witness and bless
the puja. In Puranas they are all represented as deities borne in cars (vehicles). They are
propitiated because of their sinister effects (Saturn, Rahu and Ketu) and for their
favorable influence (Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Sun and the Moon). In addition to
the planets, twenty seven Nakshatras (constellations) through which the Moon passes and
twelve signs of zodiac of the Sun, regarded as deities are consulted at birth, rejoicing,
distress and calamity. In astrology, Nakshatra (translated as star into English) is only one
of the 27 segments of the zodiac belt whereas in astronomy stars are heavenly twinkling
bodies in the sky. Shanti (peace) propitiation ceremony is held to appease any
unfavorable constellation.

Recently elaborate research study has been undertaken by Dr B.N. Narahari, Professor of
Physics at University of Memphis, on the date of Mahabharata War simulations using the
planetarium software. A search was made for the years in which there is conjunction of
Saturn (Shani) with Rohini (Aldebaran) between 3500 B.C. and 500 B.C. Based on the
findings a unique date of 3067 B.C., for the date of Mahabharata war has been
determined. This date is consistent with all other astronomical references in the
Mahabharata in several publications, determined with the help of copious illustrations of
star maps generated by the planetarium software. The date provided by the software
provides an anchor sheet for the history of India.

The Navagrahas or the nine planetary gods worshipped together in all Hindu temples.
invoking the Lord in the form of planetary deities is one of the unique forms of
worshipping Iswara (Saguna Brahman) seen in the vedic culture. The nine Grahas
represent the star Surya, ( Sun); Chandra or Soma, (Moon), the satellite of the Earth; the
five planets—Kuja or Mangala, (Mars); Budha, (Mercury);Guru or Brihaspati, (Jupiter);
Sukra,(Venus); Shani, (Saturn); which are close to the earth in the order of their distances
from the Sun; and, finally Rahu and Ketu which are not planets but are the ascending and
descending nodes of the moon as it enters the ecliptic and leaves it, which have been
given the status of planets in mythology. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are called in
Samskrit as Varuna, Indra and Prajapati respectively. Prominance for these planets has
not been given in Hindu predictive Astrology as their effects on human beings are
believed to be negligible. Kathopanishad mentions ‗Uma of the golden hue‘ as the
Goddess Mother Earth whom the followers of Shiva have adopted as the consort of
Shiva, one of the Trinities. The planet Earth is always considered as a vital element and is
included amongst five prime elements called Pancha Bhootas—Earth, Water, Fire, Air
and Ethereal Space (sky) and therefore not included in the group of Navagrahas.
However, earth planet is worshipped by all Vaishnavites as Bhudevi, one of the consorts
of Lord Vishnu while Sridevi (Lakshmi) is the other consort.

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Navagraha deities worshipped as planetary deities in Hindu Temples are perceived as
having the greatest influence on the physical and psychic conditions of the living beings
on earth. If the Moon can affect the tides in the sea, why can‘t stars and planets affect the
tides in the life of a man? Man is essentially an electromagnetic network. There are lot of
references on human magnetism. So movement of planets and stars which affect the
earth‘s magnetic fields should also affect the magnetic fields of human beings. At a time
when Vedic rituals were all important, there was a great need to determine the correct
times for performing them. This gave rise to a new branch of knowledge called
―Jyotisha‖ or ―Jyautisha‖ which was deemed as Vedaanga, a subsidiary science of Veda.
This was the origin of Hindu Astronomy and dates back to 1400 B.C. Jyotisha Shastra
includes astronomy and astrology. Jyotisha Shastra connects the life events of human
beings to the orderly patterns of the movements of the planets in the earth‘s solar system.
Astrology according to Hindus is not a mere superstition of gazing the stars and making
fantastic predictions, but is based on the firm tenets of the doctrine of Karma and rebirth
of Sanatana Dharma. Hindu Panchanga provides a dating system which can be used in
civil affairs such as dating of documents, letters, maintaining accounts etc. It also
forecasts the occurrences of daily celestial phenomena such as Tithis and Nakshatras--
the dates and times when religious festivals are to be observed and auspicious moments
to be observed for other socio-religious functions such as wedding, Upanayanam etc
based on duration of Tithis and Nakshatras and on planetary positions.

The nine planets in the Solar System were familiar with Hindu sages in the Vedic culture,
long before they were discovered by the Western World. In Hindu temples, to-day
during traditional Vedic rituals, yajnas and Veda chanting, Indra, Varuna and Prajapati
(Neptune, Uranus and Plato planets) are invoked invariably. Thus all the planets in the
solar system are traditionally worshipped in the Hindu Temples besides Sun, Moon,
Rahu, Ketu and Mother Earth. There are exclusive temples for individual deities in the
group of Navagraha planets in Tamil Nadu in India, where Shaiva Siddhanta is
vigorously followed in Shaiva temples. Surya temple in Konrak in Orissa and Surya
temple in Andhra Pradesh are quite famous. Navagraha Puja and Navagraha Homa are
popular amongst Shiva worshippers in India.

The position in which the Navagraha Deities have to be installed in the temples gives the
inkling as to what they are actually meant to represent to man. In many Hindu temples,
there is an altar dedicated to the nine planetary devatas. They are placed in the manner
shown in the diagram facing specific directions as positioned by the arrows.

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The idols are to be installed with the Sun at the center. The other eight deities stand
surrounding the Sun in such a way that no deity faces another. The eight Grahas
surrounding the Sun represent the eight-fold lower nature of the Lord which becomes
Jeeva. Graha literally means ‗to grab‘. They are probably called so because they cause
ellipse by grabbing the Sun and the other stars. The world play is the play of two natures,
attracting or catching and pulling one another. Since the nine grahas catch one another,
they are called the Navagrahas or the ‗nine catchers‘. All the restlessness of man is due to
the mutual attraction of these two tendencies. When a man knows how to keep natures
within him separate from one another, he stands at peace with himself and with the world
around. Navagraha also means a ―New grasp‖. A deeper investigation into the names of
these deities and their vahanas (vehicles), gives us a new understanding about life and
mysteries, which are presumed to be influenced by the deities.

1. SURYA (RAVI) – Surya is always associated with a ratha (chariot) drawn by seven
horses. Surya means promoter; ratha means movement. Seven horses stand for the
seven types of appetites. The superior nature of Lord entering into individual egos
promote the seven types of appetites—five senses, the Mind and the Intellect.
Sunlight has seven colors, allegorically described as seven horses. Because the sun‘s
essential nature is light, it is called ―aatmakaaraka‖ or the presiding deity of the
aatma. The Sun governs person‘s confidence, authority and status. The Sun is also the
presiding deity of the eyes and rules the zodiac sign Leo. Vishnu Purana states that
the Sun does not move; nor does it rise or set. Rising and setting imply appearance
and disappearance. The Sun god is one of the most important deities in the Vedas.
According to the Rigveda, Aditi had eight sons known as Adityas. She threw one of
her off springs because she did not want to be associated with its burning heat.
Another myth tells how Surya arose from the eyes of the great giant Purusha. In the
Brahmapurana, Surya is attributed with twelve ‗splendors‘ and given 12 names of
distinct deities including Indra, Varuna, Vishnu and Mitra. Surya himself is said to be
Supreme Spirit identified with Brahman, who by means of these splendors permeates
the universe and radiates so far as the secret soul of man. Surya is also a descendant
of Kashyapa in mythology. Sun is a fireball and its diameter is approximately 86400
miles. It is approximately 93,000,000 miles away. Earth and moon get their light from
Sun. Anything bigger than this size would burn the recipient planets. Anything
smaller than this would make them cold and dark. The first day of the week in the
name of the Sun is not only prevelant amongst Hindus, in Samskrit and other
languages but also in Western world as SUN-day. All these makes the Sun foremost
amongst the Navagrahas.

2. CHANDRA (INDU; SOMA)—Chandra is Moon God, seen riding on a chariot drawn


by ten white horses. Chandra means allurer—allurer to the Jeeva which is hungry for
the lure of the sense objects offered by the world. Chandragraha is the nearest to the
earth planet. It is approximately 240,000 miles from the earth. Moon is the second

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graha in the southeast direction in the Navagrha configuration. In mythology Moon
was born in the milky ocean during churning along with nectar. Amrita and Rohini
are his wives. He is assisted by Varuna and Gowri deities. Moon is the presiding deity
of the mind and emotions. This devata is depicted holding lotus buds in his hands. He
rules the zodiac sign of Cancer.

3. KUJA (MANGALA; ANGARAKA)—Kuja is seen riding a goat (Mesha). The Mars


god, Kuja means stealing, coming from the Samskrit root kuj, to steal. Mesha is
winking, that means it is thinking. A continuous brooding or thinking about the
attractive objects steals the individual away. Kuja is the son of Earth Goddess. In the
Puranas, he is also described as Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess
Parvati. He is depicted as wearing red clothes and carrying a spear. He governs the
qualities of courage and bravery and presides over siblings and health. He rules the
zodiac signs Aries and Scorpio. There are facilities for life sustenance in this planet as
per modern scientists. Researches are going on to further this theory.

4. BUDHA (SOWMYA)—The Mercury God rides on a lion. Budha means recognition.


A knowledge of how the wisdom is being stolen away comes to man on self-mastery.
Simha means mastering (sahanaat simhaha). A man of self control can recognize how
he is becoming a slave to the sense objects by his unintelligent brooding over them. In
mythology Budha is the son of Moon God. Budha deity presides over Intelligence. He
governs a person‘s teaching capacities. He is depicted as holding the Vedas in one
hand, a sword in the other. His other two hands carry a mace and a shield. He rules
the zodiac signs, Gemini and Virgo.

5. GURU (BRIHASPATI)—Jupiter God rides on Hamsa, the mythical swan. Guru


means remover of darkness. Hamsa is the mythical bird that is capable of separating
milk from a mixture of milk and water, accepting only the milk and rejecting water in
it. Thus the actual removal of the ignorant attraction is not by recognition alone but
by proper discrimination. Guru is the presiding deity of religious inclinations and
prosperity. He is also the presiding deity of married life for woman. He is described
in the Puranas as Brihaspati (one who possesses sharp intelligence), the preceptor of
Devas. He is often depicted in a standing posture with four hands, in one of which he
holds a weapon called the Vajraayudha. He rules the signs Sagittarius and Pisces.

6. SHUKRA (BHRIGU)—Venus god rides on a Mandooka that is a frog. Shukra means


‗bright illumination‘. It comes on satisfaction. Mandooka means those who dwell in
satisfaction (manda esha oka iti) on perfect contentment and applying themselves to
the contemplation of higher Reality, when the illumination dawns. Shukra is the
presiding deity of material comforts, arts, culture and aesthetics. He possesses the
qualities of a poet. He is also the presiding deity of love and married life of men. In
the Puranas he is depicted as the preceptor of King Bali and the demons. Shukra is
depicted as standing with his hands folded. He is the ruler of zodiac signs Taurus and
Libra.

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7. SHANI—Saturn God rides on crow. Shani means slowness and laziness. Kaaka
(crow) means that which is to be driven out. In the matter of Saadhana (achieving)
there should be no relaxation or laziness—such tendencies should be firmly
eliminated. Shani is the presiding deity of longevity, calamities and difficulties in life
and at the same time of renunciation and spiritual wisdom. He presides over painful
experiences and inner growth. In the Puranas, he is considered as the son of Sun god.
He is depicted with a dark complexion, bearing a mace and moving at slow pace. His
eyes or generally blindfolded because of the belief that his glance is very powerful
and may bring misfortune. He rules the zodiac signs of Capricorn and Aquarius.

8. RAHU—Rahu is the combination of two roots in Samskrit, raa and hu meaning to


surrender and offer in sacrifice respectively. He rides on a lion, Simha. Simha means
Himsa turned back, that is non-injury cultivated. Non-injury is the carrier of the spirit
of surrender and sacrifice to the Lord. Rahu is closely connected to Ketu in
mythology, born of a rakshasa, a demon. Rahu is the presiding deity of worldly
desire. Astronomically, it is not a planet but the ascending nodal point of the Moon.
The upper body of Rahu is similar to man and the lower half is like a snake being the
converse of Ketu. Rahu does not rule any sign but gives the effect of the ruler of the
sign where it is situated.

9. KETU—Ketu means praajna or pure consciousness His vehicle is an owl or Gridhra.


Gridhra in Samskrit is derived from the root gridh which means endeavor to gain. An
effort to gain consciousness is the carrier of knowledge which cannot be gained
without proper effort. Ketu is the presiding deity of Moksha (moksha is derived from
two words moha and kshaya) or freedom from limitations. Ketu is not a planet but the
descending nodal point of the Moon. He is closely connected with Rahu. In
mythology, it is born of a rakshasa, a demon. The upper half of Ketu‘s body is similar
to the head of the snake and lower half is like a man, being the converse of Rahu.
Ketu like Rahu does not rule any zodiac sign but gives the effect of the ruler where it
is situated. In mythology a demon called Viprasena, born of Simhika, wanted to share
the divine nectar, disguising himself as a deva. But Vishnu cut off his head with the
nectar serving ladle while serving nectar to devas. Because of the previous
consumption of nectar, the head survived and worshipped Lord Shiva and got the
status of planets. Accordingly Rahu got the status of a planet with human head and
serpent body, and, Ketu also got the status of a planet with human body and serpent
head.

While performing Navagraha Shanti Puja each Graham or planet is specifically offered a
particular grain, which after puja is fed to cows. These are: Sun--wheat; Moon—rice or
paddy; Mars—red gram (tuar); Mercury—green gram; Jupiter—bengal gram;Venus—flat
white beans (avarai); Saturn—black sesame; Rahu—black gram; Ketu—horse gram.

It is also customary for the performer to wear specific precious stone jewelry for the
Graham, whose benefits or evil ward-off are sought after, during Shanti Puja and also
invoke the ruling deity of the planet:
1. Surya—Agni, fire god, Shiva; Red ruby stone.

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2. Moon—Aapaha, Water god, Parvati; Moonstone or natural pearl.
3. Mars—Bhumi (Earth), Skanda; Red coral.
4. Mercury—Vishnu (Preserver); Emerald.
5. Jupiter—Indra (king of Devas), Brahma; Yellow sapphire, Yellow topaz.
6. Venus—Indrani (queen of gods); diamond.
7. Saturn—Yama, God of Death, Prajapati; Blue sapphire and black stones.
8. Rahu (dragon‘s head)—Durga (Goddess of Power), Naga devata (serpent god); honey
Colored hessonite.
9. Ketu (dragon‘s tail)—Chitragupta (God of Karma); Cat‘s eye.

Even in Western belief, precious stones play an important role in human life. They
believe in the superstition of birth stones for the twelve months of the calendar year.
According to the belief, diamond made people lucky in love as well as strong and
courageous; Sapphire, next to diamond is the strongest. It is supposed to possess mystical
qualities including promotion of peace and purification of mind; Emerald, in ancient
times was powdered and taken believing to cure fever; Ruby, the rarest of the gems,
particularly Burmese ruby was thought to promote good health and keep looking young.
They were said to guard fruit trees from disease.

Before leaving the temple devotees offer prayers to Navagrahas by circumambulating


nine times around the altar, while chanting Navagraha Stotram given in the annexure or
the following prayer:
―Aarogyam pradadaatu noe dinakaraha
Chandroe yasoe nirmalam
Bhootim bhoomisutaha sudhaamsu
Tanaya prajnam guru gauravam
Kaavyaha koemala-vag vilaasam-atulam
Mandoe mudam sarvadaa
Rahur baahubalam viroedha shamanam
Ketuhu kulasyoennatim‖

May the Sun give us long life and good health; the Moon pure fame; the son of Earth,
Mars, charisma and prosperity; the son of the Moon, Mercury, intelligence; Jupiter,
respectability; the one possessed of the qualities of a poet, Venus, the capacity for
unsurpassed and elegant speech; the one of slow gait, Saturn, continual joy and pleasure;
Rahu, strength and the destruction of the enemies; and Ketu, growth of the family.

―Namaha Sooryaaya Chandraaya Mangalaaya Budhaaya cha


Guruhu Sukraha Shanibhyascha Raahave Ketave namaha‖

May I offer salutations to Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and
Ketu.

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This lecture has been prepared by extracting, abridging and editing texts from the
following sources by N.R. Srinivasan for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple at
Nashville:

1. Swami Harshananda, An Introduction to Vedic Culture, Ramakrishna Math,


Bangalore.
2. Swami Nityananda, Symbolism in Hinduism, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust,
Mumbai, India.
3. Sumita and Sundar Ramaswamy, Vol. II, Vedic Heritage, Arsha Vidya
Gurukulam, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
4. R. Kumar, North American Panchangam 2006, The Hindu Society of North
Amrican Temples, New York, U.S.A.
5. Arthur Cotterell & Rachelstorm, Mythology, Anness Publishing Limited, U.K.
6. Readers Digest, Book of Facts 1987, Readers Digest Association Inc., U.S.A.
7. Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. I, Simon & Schuster, U.S.A.
8. Ed.wanathan, Am I A Hindu? Rupa & Co. New Delhi, India, 2003.