Tuesday, 30 October 2012



Nobody likes being unpopular - but imagine if you were the kind of planet that causes humans to tremble and go weak at the knees, rather than jump with joy when you appear. Furthermore, you would even be feared by your fellow celestial bodies.

This is the fate of Lord Sani, (pronouced sha-nee) the planet Saturn, whose influence is dreaded, and who is at best respected for his powers as a bringer of harsh karmic lessons, at worst feared and shunned. Who could love such an icy, aged and implacable malefic?

In fact the popular image of a terrifying cosmic policeman or karmic debt collector is mainly a caricature, and the periods when Sani influences your chart can turn out to be the best times of your life - if you seek wisdom and higher understanding. But it is also true that if you have any karmic debts piling up, then payment time will come to you from Lord Sani, on this material world, where karma becomes actualised.

For a start, there is much more to Sani than first meets the eye. The planet has many ambiguities in its nature and influence.

The astronomical view
Perhaps the metaphor is unfortunate, because Sani does not easily meet the eye. He is visible to the naked eye from earth, but looks faded and is easy to miss in a crowded night sky. One clue is that Saturn never twinkles, unlike the stars. The planet is just over 1.4bn kilometres distant from the earth, and over 700 times bigger than our home planet. But - first ambiguity - it weighs 100 times less. It is the least dense of the planets.

Saturn is slow moving when seen from the earth and takes 29.5 years to go around the sun. Seen from space, the planet with its rings and 18 satellites has a compulsive beauty about it. Another ambiguity: It gives off more energy than it receives from the sun.
That is the physical aspect of the planet, the one which is known, plotted and measured by science.

The Vedic Sani
But in Vedic astrology, as in Roman myth, Saturn is a living being. The Romans firmly placed Saturn as earthy, as Saturn is the god of agriculture and rules the day Saturday. Lord Sani also rules the day Saturday.
In the lore of Jyotish, Saturn, Lord Sani, is cold, earthy, masculine and dry, but - yet another ambiguity, the son of the fiery, hot, energetic Sun.

Sani's mother is Chaya.. shadow, who in the myth sneaked in to unite with the Sun, much to his subsequent dismay. The Sun is therefore no friend of Lord Sani. But a planet that is parented by sun and shadow is an interesting mix indeed. The histility between the Sun and Saturn can produce dire results in your chart if the two are in mutual aspect.

Echoes in cultures
There are many different descriptions of this most unusual planet in ancient jyotish texts. Lord Sani is variously described as "dark, lame, deep eyes" or "thin and tall body, large teeth, stiff hair", or even "tall body full of arteries and veins" - the kind of physical shape called "ectomorphic" by modern science.. bony, angular, thin. His behavioural characteristics sound uncompromising: "-cruel", "pitiless", "patient", "slow".
This archetype is powerful enough to resurface time and time again in different cultures over different ages. Consider two uncanny depictions of the Saturnian essence that I have found help build a picture of Lord Sani.

One is a famous character in graphic novels called "the Sandman", Morpheus the Lord of Dreams. He is tall, stiff, austere, humourless and unforgiving - but also loyal, dutiful, responsible and extremely wise. If you have never read the Sandman series - hailed as the best graphic novels ever written, take a look and you will see a faithful, almost unnerving portrayal of Sani's stiff, implacable power. Another depiction of Saturn comes from the Ifa religion of West Africa, and is the dreaded god of illness and healing Babalu Aye, who hides his face under a veil. Babula Aye resurfaces in the Santeria religion as St Lazarus - invariably depicted as an old, lame man with two dogs as companions, covered with boils.

Vedic astrology allocates a particular role to Sani, which is brilliantly summed up in the book "Greatness Of Saturn" - a reinterpretation by western astrologer Robert Svoboda of an ancient story about Saturn's powers.

Sani's remit
Sani,in brief, has a wide remit. The planet brings karmic lessons to the individual human soul in a patient but unmistakeable way. Sani's karmic retribution is always just .. and accurately balanced. But the planet is uncompromising in its action. Jyotish describes different propitiations for planets - but Sani is the one planet unlikeliest to be placated or fooled by insincere, rushed measures to ward off his ill affects. This is not Lord Sani's nature.

Sani traditionally governs age, longevity, restriction, discipline, elders, ancestors, asceticism, restriction. Lord Sani is not a planet that baulks from saying "no". Yet Sani also signifies wisdom - not the only planet to do so, but Saturnian wisdom, born of sober and probably unhappy experience has a special, "lived in" quality. The planet at its best brings temperance, moderation, and a quiet, unstated delight in a simple life.It rules hidden wealth, endurance, mental and moral courage.

In the kind of culture we currently live, these qualities are about as welcome as an undertaker at a midnight rave. But glitz, excitement, living life to the max.. this is all the antithesis of a Sani lifestyle. Our society is speeded up at a frantic pace. Sani is not. And it come as a huge shock when Lord Sani comes to slow a life down.

Another area which Lord Sani rules is servants and service. Only the best of servants would agree to the kind of job Lord Sani has to do - doling out harsh lessons is not the kind of thing anyone would volunteer for. But Lord Sani is responsible, unswerving in his duty, the perfect servant of God's instructions.

Sade Sati
To followers of Vedic astrology, Lord Sani has a special significance in one particular lengthy transit dubbed "Sade Sati". This is when Sani transits the 12th, 1st, and 2nd houses from the house in which your Moon is placed at birth. The period of influence is 7.5 years long- hence the name "Sade Sati" which means seven and a half, and occurs roughly every 30 years.

Sade Sati makes Hindus especially particularly nervous - as it seems to threaten untold miseries and calamities. But the period, especially in middle age, all depends on your attitude. Texts threaten all sorts of failure, journeys, losses, tiredness -the standard frighteners put in jyotish texts. But the reality can be entirely different: a liberation, a learning of vital life skills, a growth in maturity, tolerance and understanding.

Sani in your life
Lord Sani occupies everyone's chart, and in each chart also rules two of the twelve houses. Therefore everyone, at some point in their life, comes face to face with his influence.

In some charts he can be relatively well placed - in his own signs, or in the signs of friends Budha (Mercury) and Sukra (Venus). These placings and relationships are well documented elsewhere. But there are also exceptions to general planetary rules in Sani's case. Lord Sani gets "dik bala" - directional strength, in the seventh house, but strengthening the Sarturnian indications in the seventh house can bring great trouble in the house of partnerships and relationships.

Whichever house that Sani occupies, you can almost be guaranteed some delay, some ageing, some holding back in the house matters concerned. In charts I have studied for clients, time and time again I have been surprised by the seemingly infinite complexity of Saturn's influence, in the house he occupies, the houses he rules,the houses he aspects.

A Sani action plan
If you have to come face to face with Saturn, wise advice has come down the ages about how you can deal with it.
Your first impulse may be to run, to hide, to escape from some long-threatened disaster (Saturn's presence tends to bring crises to a head). But you can't run,. You can't hide.. at least, not for long. Lord Sani always gets his man. So, first bit of basic advice: let events come to you, and as far as possible surrender to them.

Lord Sani is a respecter of discipline, responsibility, moderation. These are all yogic virtues and vital to an ultimately rewarding life. So Sani's influence will mean a compulsory end to burning the candle at both ends. If you have never lived a regulated life, you maybe in for a shock: it is deeply satisfying!

Facing trouble, it is a common thing to look for a way out. Jyotish offers various means to propitiate the planetary deities. But Lord Sani cannot easily be fobbed off by an expensive gem, or a yantra, or mantras uttered carelessly - or worst of all, by someone other than you on your behalf. If you feel you really want to propiate Sani to ward of his ill affects, then take a little time to work out what you are trying to do. Far better than propiating Sani is to enter a relationship with him. He has gifts to offer.

I call this relationship entering the school of Sani - his gurukula, and it is a school like none other. You can only enter this school, and learn the lessons, if you check the ego by the front door, keep humble, and accept the events which come to you.

Lord Sani is a magnificent teacher! By his own example he represents effort, endeavour, endurance. He is wise, grave, not torn here and there by the demands of the senses.

You can learn to live a life full of simple goodness, grow enormously in a compassionate wisdom, and understand that in moments of unhappiness there is great beauty too. You can learn the power of humility, endurance, perseverence.

The best way to keep this relationship alive, I have found, is to do a bit of chanting and recitation of sacred texts. It is a way of focussing, of bringing the strength of Lord Sani to you.. a way of saying "Teach me what you know, I bow to your greatness" rather than "Here's a bribe now leave me alone please". Chanting is a great great tool, and it costs nothing to do.

Ideally the time for Sani propitiations is on Saturday, two hours and forty minutes before sunset. But this may seem a little too austere for some.

Here's my suggestion - that you chant on your mala beads the Sani root mantra 108 times (1 round) on a Saturday.. or once a day during Lord Sani's influence. But if you commit to do this, then don't rush it, or gabble the words. Everything is slow, deliberate, patient in the world of Sani.

The root mantra is

Om pram prim proum sah shanaye namah

A more radical way is also to make a commitment to chant this 23,000 times over a period of 40 days - which is easier than it sounds and can bring profound understanding of Lord Sani.

Yet another free method: Fast on a Saturday. Offer the fast to Lord Sani and then simply go for it. And offer the break of the fast to Sani as well.

One method I use, to good effect, is to chant the 108 names of Lord Sani every day , as a kind of simple and beneficial practice. This may need some familiarity with how to chant in sanskrit but can be done anywhere, at any time of your choosing: The chant is given below:

Shanya-astottara-shata-nama-vali (The 108 names of Shani)

Om shanaescaraya namah
Om shantaya namah
Om sarvabhistapradayine namah
Om sharanyaya namah
Om vagenyaya namah
Om sarveshaya namah
Om saumyaya namah
Om suramvandhaya namah
Om suralokaviharine namah
Om sukhasonapavishtaya namah
Om sundaraya namah
Om ghanaya namah
Om ghanarupaya namah
Om ghanabharanadharine namah
Om ghanasaravilepaya namah
Om khadyotaya namah
Om mandaya namah
Om mandaceshtaya namah
Om maha-niyaguna-atmane namah
Om martyapavanapadaya namah
Om maheshaya namah
Om dhayaputraya namah
Om sharvaya namah
Om shatatuniradharine namah
Om carasthirasvabhavaya namah
Om acamcalaya namah
Om nilavarnaya namah
Om nityaya namah
Om nilanjana-nibhaya namah
Om nilambara-vibhushaya namah
Om nishcalaya namah
Om vedyaya namah
Om vidhi-rupaya namah
Om virodha-dhara-bhumaye namah
Om bhedaspadasvabhavaya namah
Om vajradehaya namah
Om vairagyadaya namah
Om viraya namah
Om vitarogabhayaya namah
Om vipatparampareshaya namah
Om vishva-vandyaya namah
Om gridhnavahaya namah
Om gudhaya namah
Om kurmangaya namah
Om kurupine namah
Om kutsitaya namah
Om gunadhyaya namah
Om gocaraya namah
Om avidhya-mula-nashaya namah
Om vidhya-avidhya-svarupine namah
Om ayushyakaranaya namah
Om apaduddhartre namah
Om vishnu-bhaktaya namah
Om vishine namah
Om vividhagamavedine namah
Om vidhistutyaya namah
Om vandhyaya namah
Om virupa-akshaya namah
Om varishthaya namah
Om garishthaya namah
Om vajram-kushagharaya namah
Om varada bhayahastaya namah
Om vamanaya namah
Om jyeshthapatni-sametaya namah
Om shreshthaya namah
Om mitabhashine namah
Om kashtaughanashakartre namah
Om pushtidaya namah
Om stutyaya namah
Om stotra-gamyaya namah
Om bhakti-vashyaya namah
Om bhanave namah
Om bhanuputraya namah
Om bhavyaya namah
Om pavanaya namah
Om dhanur-mandala-samsthaya namah
Om dhanadaya namah
Om dhanushmate namah
Om tanu-prakasha-dehaya namah
Om tamasaya namah
Om asheshajanavandyaya namah
Om visheshaphaladayine namah
Om vashikritajaneshaya namah
Om pashunam pataye namah
Om khecaraya namah
Om khageshaya namah
Om ghana-nilambaraya namah
Om kathinyamanasaya namah
Om aryaganastutyaya namah
Om nilacchatraya namah
Om nityaya namah
Om nirgunaya namah
Om gunatmane namah
Om niramayaya namah
Om nandyaya namah
Om vandaniyaya namah
Om dhiraya namah
Om divya-dehaya namah
Om dinartiharanaya namah
Om dainyanashakaraya namah
Om aryajanaganyaya namah
Om kruraya namah
Om kruraceshtaya namah
Om kama-krodha-karaya namah
Om kalatraputrashatrutvakaranaya pariposhita-bhaktaya namah
Om parabhitiharaya namah
Om bhakta-sangha-manobhishta-phaladaya namah
Begin with a prayer, end with a prayer, and see how this settles with you.
Getting to know Lord Sani

I have evolved another technique that works for me, which is to visualise Lord Sani appearing, in a landscape I have often used before. For me, this is actually a kind of 1950's sci-fi version of the moon - all jagged mountains and a black sky. I compose this landscape in my mind and then ask for the sight (darshan) of Lord Sani.

He is not unnapproachable - but you need to be open, not treacherous, and willing to listen to his lessons. Why bother? Well, don't you want to get a little bit of wisdom from your life on earth?
I once read a story about two teachers - one, who was always smiling and joking, and who created great gusts of laughter in the big crowds as he taught. But, afterwards, no one could remember a word he said. The other was grim, silent, said very little. Only a few disciples sat with him. But every word he said they carried with them until the end of their days, and never forgot.

This is the kind of teacher Lord Sani is. He can teach you acceptance of the impossible; he can move you past grief, past addiction, past miseries, past the worst humiliations and unhappiness. Within his protective grasp is much to enrich your life. And, in his own way, Lord Sani is loveable. The rest is up to you ... 

Thursday, 11 October 2012


In most of what are sometimes derisively called older or indigenous religions, an instinctive reverence for the forces of the natural world is clearly evident, part of our natural DNA as spiritual beings. But our strange obsession with cities and industry has destroyed this link with natural surroundings. Take water... for most of us, a cup of water is simply something we get anonymously from a tap or from a bottle, impersonal, lifeless, probably chemically altered. Water is water, right? Well, then, you have probably never seen the Ganges.

In the Sanatan Dharma, or the Vedic tradition, water is greatly venerated  and in the daily ritual of the Sandhya Vandana, - the practice of Gayatri veneration morning, noon and evening - water plays a central role as a purifier and embodiment of Varuna, Deva of the waters and various other deities associated with water, loosely collected together as Apo, or the spirit of God manifested in water. But there is a further layer, and a prayer at the start to the great rivers of old India, which nearly every Hindu knows by heart:

Gange ca Yamune caiva
Godavari Sarasvati
Narmade Sindhu Kaveri
Jale'smin sannidhim kuru
Puskaradyani tirthani
Gangadyah saritas tatha
Agacchantu pavitrani
Snanakale sada mama.

It is a beautiful prayer for Ganges and all holy rivers such as the Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati and others  to be present and give blessings when we take a bath.

The River Ganges has a simple conventional religious iconography, being the form of the celestial Goddess Gangadevi whose overwhelming of the earth is stopped and softened by Lord Shiva's matted locks. This is the elemental movement of life we are invited to contemplate: the great personification of yoga and austerity (Shiva), breaking, filtering and softening the raging forces of nature (our greeds, lusts, animal propensities). So it's a handy pointer to our own spiritual efforts.

The Ganges is universally hailed as Mother Ganges, the river that accepts all, nourishes all, moves ceaselessly and yet remains eternally the same. The Ganges is untouched by any poisons and yet blesses every place in Her path. She is worshipped by millions of people, many of whom have never actually seen Her. Such is the power of Mother Ganges.

On an earthly level, what you see when you look at the Ganges depends on where you are along its considerable length. Up in the mountains at its Himalayan source the river is icy cold, an enchanting  light ultramarine and sparkling turqouise colour. By the time it gets to the plains of India it has turned a rich impenetrable brown. It passes at various points along great holy cities, industrial plants, cremation ghats and lonely mountain valleys. All sorts of unsavoury things can float in her embrace, but still she flows through the land, emptying at last into the Bay of Bengal.

But when you look at Mother Ganges through the eyes of a spiritual practitioner you might, if you are lucky, get a sense of just why She is worshipped in this way.

My first experience of the Ganges came relatively late in life, when I visited Rishikesh and spent a little time practising sadhana in a riverside cave above Her. At this particular point in her ceaseless journey, She is alive and sparkling with a very light greeny blue colour, leaping through rocks and narrow passages. 

I was gripped by a surprisingly strong emotion at seeing Her. It was one of those precious moments when time seemed to dissolve, when the hint of ancient memories surfaced. I was unprepared to be so moved by a river. But I was, caught in a joy that I could not rationally explain.

From where I sat, the river burst continually over an outcrop of stone that formed a natural lingam, but you could only see this site at the precious angle at which the cave was situated in the cliff. The river leapt in crystalline forms in the bright sunshine, taking shapes of what seemed to my fancy like figures with long watery hair, playing and dancing.

It was a winter's day, few were around, and the river was relatively high. The sound of the river was entrancing, a song many people have noticed and remarked upon. 

Then the very strangest thing happened, perhaps a hallucination, a trick of the eye. But it seemed that the very far bank resolved itself briefly into an enormous crocodile that had been perfectly camouflaged up to that point. This crocodile moved... just slightly. Then the vision vanished.

It was only much later back in the UK after this India Yatra that I remembered what I had completely consciously forgotten: The mount or vehicle associated with Mother Ganga is indeed the crocodile! I must have known this before and buried it in my subconscious. But, whether a trick of the eye and of perspective, or a real experience, the result to me was wonderful. Just for a few hours I felt I met the living spirit of Mother Ganga and her attendants. And that experience has stayed with me ever since. 

This explains my love for the river Ganges and reverence to Her. She is included in my daily prayer. You can in fact even buy packaged Ganges water in London, believe it or not. I have an unquestioning faith in Her healing power and urge you to do the thing. The luckiest destiny in the world is to be born near Her banks and live next to Her, this I truly believe! alas, not my fate this time round... there is always the next life!

Perha[ps this is a way to say to you who read this: revere water! Revere this wonderful substance, its mysteries and properties. Perhaps, too, the Goddess is part of your heart. I  am sure it must be so! If you suffer from agonies of the mind - take Ganges water. If you are overwhelmed by desires, anger, restlessness - take the water. Drink the blessings, and learn the lessons that when life seems bleak, a simple drop of water contains every good thing for you. And all glories to Mother Gangadevi!!