The Rehu & Ketu

The Rahu & Ketu

When Saturn’s champion abruptly stopped speaking a
stunned silence descended on the audience hall until the eighth
pundit found his voice: “Rahu and Ketu, the Two Nodes, are two
most terrible planets, born in the race of asuras. Whenever the Sun or
Moon enter the Nodes’ space, those shining ones begin to quiver in
fear, for an eclipse occurs whenever these demons conjoin the
luminaries. Some say that Rahu expressly afflicts the Moon, and Ketu
the Sun. Rahu and Ketu likewise eclipse the lives of living beings,
and, though they spare no one, you can be happy if you worship
them and make appropriate offerings. Since they among the planets
are particularly cruel, it is essential to worship them regularly. When
propitiated, Rahu fills one with mercy and removes diseases and fear
of snakes, while a pleased Ketu gives transcendental wisdom.

“The intelligent Rahu, who has a Vata constitution, is the
severed head of the son of the mighty Viprachitti and his wife
Simhika, the sister of Prahlada. Prahlada, as you know, was made
deathless because of his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Ketu is the
dismembered body of which Rahu was the head. Some say that a
comet is Ketu’s tail made visible. Rahu’s form is like bluish-black
smoke; he lives in forests and is fear-inspiring. The ugly and terrifying
Ketu, the chief among the stars and planets, is akin to Rahu but is
variegated in color. Rahu’s temple icon wears a half-moon on his
head, and Ketu’s image holds in his hands a sword and a lamp.

“Rahu rules lead and agate, while Ketu rules earth and
turquoise. Together they rule the southwest. Rahu’s names include
Svarbhanu, Minister of Asuras, the Half-Bodied, the Ever-Angry, the
Serpent, Persecutor of the Luminaries, the Horrible, King of Seizers,
the Black, the Terrifier, the Powerful, the Fanged, Bloody-Eyed,
Indolence, and the Big-Bellied, while Ketu is known as the Crested, the
Bannered, the Head, the Chief, the Smoky-Headed, and the Appalling.

“Rahu and Ketu were split apart at the time of the Churning
of the Ocean of Milk, which came about as the result of a curse by
Durvasas, the incredibly irritable brother of the Moon. This curse by
Durvasas caused the glory, luster, and prosperity of the devas to wane,
as the Moon had waned when he was cursed by Daksha. Dejected and
forlorn, the celestials consulted Brahma, who consulted Lord Vishnu.
Vishnu told them. The present time is propitious for your foes the
asuras, but not for you. You will have to bide your time until Time
turns in your favor. Meanwhile, make peace with your enemies, and
cooperate with them to churn the Ocean of Milk, that you may obtain
amrita. (the nectar of immortality) thereby.’

“This they did. Adding all kinds of medicinal grasses, bushes,
creepers and other plants into the Ocean, and using Mount Mandara for the churning rod and the Serpent Vasuki for the churning stick, the
devas and the asuras industriously churned the Ocean of Milk. The
Blessed Vishnu, incarnate as the Primordial Tortoise, helped them by
simultaneously holding up the mountain on His back and pressing it
down invisibly. The high and low tides that we find in the ocean today
derive from the surge of the Divine Turtle’s breath that escaped as He
was being lulled to sleep by the scratching of the gyrating Mount
Mandara’s rocky bottom on His back during the Churning.

“Lord Vishnu also assisted the process by making Vasuki
resistant to pain, and by entering the hearts of both devas and asuras to
embolden them. In the words of the Srimad Bhagavata, ‘with the
furious abandon of drunkards, they churned the ocean with all their
might and main, causing wild consternation among the aquatic
creatures.’ The egotistic asuras, proud of their knowledge and glory, had
insisted on holding Vasuki s head, and Vishnu had advised the devas to
acquiesce. The devas therefore smugly clung to Vasuki’s tail as they
churned and watched the asuras being blasted by the fiery poison that
the distressed snake exhaled.

“The first substance to emerge from the Ocean of Milk
during this churning was the notorious Halahala poison, which seemed
ready to destroy the universe. It sent everyone scrambling for Lord
Shiva, Who drank but did not swallow it; he kept it in His throat,
which it turned blue. The drops of poison that leaked from His hand
were appropriated by scorpions, snakes, venomous reptiles, and
poisonous herbs.

“The next thing to emerge was Kamadhenu, the wish-
fulfilling cow, whom the rishis took for themselves. Next came the
celestial horse Ucchaishravas, who was requested by
Bali, king of the asuras. The fourth treasure was Aip’vata,,the celestial
elephant, who went. to Indra. Fifth was the Kausthubha gem, which
Lord Vishnu placed on His own chest. The sixth treasure was the
Parijataka (wish-fulfilling tree), which was transplanted to heaven. This
was followed by a bevy ofapsarases, who attracted all the celestials. The
eighth treasure was the alluring Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity,
Who chose Vishnu for Herself. Lakshmi’s gracious glance perfected all
virtues in the celestials, and established them in perfect bliss. The asuras,
thus abandoned by Lakshmi, lost all their higher qualities, including
valor, restraint, and cooperation, and propensities like greed gained
ascendancy in their minds. After Lakshmi appeared Varuni, the goddess
of liquor, whom the asuras took, since Vishnu had taken Lakshmi.

“Finally Dhanvantari, the god of medicine, arrived, holding in
his hand the pot of amrita. The asuras snatched it, and would have
devoured it had not Mohini (‘the Enchantress’) arrived on the scene.
When Mohini displayed to all the most beautiful female form ever seen
in the universe, the asuras were overwhelmed with lust for her. Little
did they suspect that She was Lord Vishnu in disguise. She agreed to
divide the amrita between the gods and asuras only if they would all
abide by her actions, irrespective of whether those actions seemed right
or wrong. Blinded by their craving for her, the asuras agreed.

“The next day Mohini moved among the exhausted churners,
the cloth slipping suggestively from her jug-like breasts, murmuring
sweetly to the still-dazzled asuras while feeding the amrita to the devas
all the while. Rahu disguised himself and, seating himself amidst the
gods between the Sun and Moon, managed to drink a drop of the
amrita. Seeing this deception, those two effulgent orbs speedily snitched
to Vishnu, Who severed Rahu’s head with His discus. Since the nectar
droplet had by that moment only reached his neck, Rahu’s body fell
down dead, but his head lived on, to torture the Sun and Moon for
betraying him. Rahu swallows them with gusto, but since he is now
only a head, the luminaries pass through him, and again become visible
when the eclipse is ended. Rahu’s body was later revived and became
Ketu. Garlic sprang up wherever drops of Rahu’s blood fell to Earth; its
identical qualities are like those of amrita, but it has a Rahu-like effect
on the minds of those who consume it.

“I bow to Rahu and Ketu, the two shadow planets who eclipse
the minds of those they afflict.”