Learn About the Hindu Deity Shani Dev

Shani Dev
E. A. Rodrigues/Wikimedia Commons

Shani Dev is one of the most popular deities to which Hindus pray in order to ward off evil and remove obstacles. In translation, Shani means the “slow-moving-one”. According to myths, Shani oversees the "dungeons of the human heart and the dangers that lurk there."

Shani is represented as having a dark complexion and is said to be the son of Surya, the sun god, and Chaya, the servant whom his wife Swarna surrogated. He is the brother of Yama, the god of death, and is believed by many to be an avatar of Shiva. He is also known as Saura (son of sun-god), Kruradris or Kruralochana (the cruel-eyed), Mandu (dull and slow), Pangu (disabled), Saptarchi (seven-eyed) and Asita (dark).  In the mythology, he is represented as riding a chariot, carrying a bow and arrow and pulled by a vulture or crow. Shani is depicted wearing a blue cloth, blue flowers and sapphire.

The Lord of Bad Luck?

Stories about his evil influence abound. Shani is said to have chopped off Ganesha’s head. Shani is lame and has a limp because his knee was injured when he fought as a child with Yama.Hindus are under fear of evil from his planet, Saturn. In Vedic astrology, the planetary position at the time of birth determines the future of a person. Hindus accord immense importance to the planets, and Saturn or Shani is a planet which they fear the most for ill-luck. Anyone born under his influence is believed to at risk.

How to Appease Shani

To appease him, many pay obeisance every Saturday by lighting a lamp before the image of Shani and reading the ‘Shani Mahatmyaham’. He is pleased to accept lamps lit with sesame or mustard oil. Even the day named after him, Shanivara or Saturday, is considered inauspicious for beginning any new venture.

“Yet o son of Chhaya (shadow) you are the fire who can destroy Time itself and like Kamadhenu, the wish-giving cow, you grant us all good things with kindness and compassion”, wrote Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) in his musical ‘Navagraha’ (Nine Planets) composition in Sanskrit.

Shani Temples

Most Hindu temples have a little shrine set apart for the ‘Navagraha,’ or the nine planets, where Shani is placed. Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu is the oldest Navagraha temple and has the most benign Shani. Another important Shani temple is at Shingnapur in Maharashtra, where the deity is represented as a block of stone. Navi Mumbai has a Sri Shaniswar temple at Nerul, while Delhi has a popular Shanidham at Fatehpur Beri,  in the historic Mehrauli area.