The Story of
Rahu and Ketu
By Dr K S Charak
Genesis of Conflict Between Gods and Demons
Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu were the twins born to the sage Kashyapa through his wife Diti. These two formidable demons terrorised the gods as well as the three worlds. Hiranyakashipu’s daughter, Simhika by name, was married to the demon Viprachitti. Raku was their son. It is said that a hundred and one sons were born to the Simhika-Viprachitti couple. The eldest of them was named as Rahu while the remaining one hundred were collectively called as Ketu. Rahu and Ketu are, however, more often considered as the head and the headless body respectively of the same demon ‘Rahu’. It is this latter concept that is of relevance to Vedic astrology; Rahu and Ketu act as two parts of the same unit, set 180 degrees apart in the zodiac.
Indra’s Folly; Durvasa’s Ire —- Sage Durvasa, the effulgent son of sage Atri, has been known for his spiritual eminence and his quick temper. He represents the Shiva-element characterised by fury and subdual. Quick to pronounce a curse upon any one who would dare defy him, he inspired awe equally amongst the gods, the demons and the earthlings.
Once upon a time, sage Durvasa visited the Swarga or heaven. Amaravati is the capital of Swarga and the abode of lord Indra, the king of the gods. Sage Durvasa was in a pleasant mood and intended to see Indra. The sage went to Indra who was seated on his majestic white elephant, Airavata, and was about to leave on a trip.
Drunk with power and prosperity, and worshipped even by the gods, Indra was enjoying his stature and splendour. The renowned sage was pleased to see Indra, the lord of the Swarga, and affectionately offered him a garland of never-wilting flowers. The king of the gods accepted the garland and placed it on the head of Airavata. The elephant caught hold of the garland with his trunk, threw it on the ground and crushed it under its feet. This was enough to infuriate the irascible sage who witnessed Indra’s impudence with shock and disgust. His eyes red with anger, sage Durvasa quickly pronounced a curse on the arrogant Indra:
“Lord of the gods! The wealth of the three worlds that you possess has rendered you haughty, so much so that you dare humiliate me thus. Be you then most certainly deprived of the riches of the three worlds.”
Indra came to his senses only too late. He sought forgiveness of the sage but the sage bluntly replied, “I am the awesome Durvasa. Forgiveness is not in my nature.”
Indra cancelled his trip and returned to his abode. In the meantime, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, disappeared, leaving the whole existence in abject penury. Lakshmi is not only the consort of lord Vishnu, the Preserver, but she also signifies material prosperity and affluence. Devoid of ‘Lakshmi’, a household is not worth living in.
As Lakshmi, the Mother-goddess, vanished, all existence experienced suffering. Gods, demons, human beings, animals, birds and insects, nay all the living and non-living existence, suffered misery and deprivation. All these ‘beings’ joined together and approached Brahma, the Creator, to suggest some solution to this misfortune. Lord Brahma led them all to the shore of the mighty Ocean, the abode of the supreme lord, the god of all gods, lord Vishnu. They prayed before lord Vishnu and sought His intervention in their hour of need.
Guru’s Resentment—- There is another version of the story of Indra’s arrogance and its consequences.
Corrupted by power and riches, Indra was seated on his throne, surrounded by gods, rishis and celestial beings. The heavenly damsels were dancing around him while the musicians were singing in his praise. It was at such an occasion that Brihaspati, the ‘guru’ or the preceptor of the gods, accompanied by his disciples, entered the court of the king. The gods as well as others present in the court of Indra bowed their heads at the feet of the guru and paid him their respects. Indra, however, failed to greet his preceptor, and did not even get up from his seat or acknowledge guru’s arrival. Power had corrupted the judgement of the king of the gods.
Brihaspati felt humiliated. Angered, he made himself invisible. This worried the gods and lord Indra too. It was, however, too late. They searched for the guru but in vain. They did not get any help at guru’s residence either where guru’s wife Tara told them she didn’t know of the whereabouts of her husband. Dejected, Indra returned home amidst sudden appearance of omens that indicated that all was not going to remain well too long.
The absence of Brihaspati suddenly deprived Indra of his splendour and grace. When the demons heard of Brihaspati deserting the gods, they felt emboldened. King Bali, the virtuous and mighty ruler of the demons, residing in the underworld, attacked the kingdom of the gods and, in a fierce battle, subjugated them. The demons totally destroyed the power of the gods and captured all their wealth and objects of indulgence.
Indra, deprived of his possessions, was deserted by his subjects, the gods. He left the Swarga and went elsewhere while his wife went into hiding to escape the adverse glances of others.
The demons transferred the godly treasures to their natural abode, the Paataala or the underworld. These treasures included such ‘jewels’ as the Airavata elephant, the Uchchai-Shrava horse, and many others. Such objects of desire, however, are meant only for the enjoyment of the virtuous and the well-meaning. They turned out to be the will-o’-the-wisps for the demons. These ‘jewels’ jumped into the mighty Ocean and were thus lost to the demons too.
Indra was in a miserable state of mind. He approached lord Brahma for help. Brahma’s sane counsel to Indra was:
‘Get all the gods together. Let us then proceed to the shore of the milky Ocean, the abode of lord Vishnu, the ultimate Saviour, and seek His help.
Together they went to the Ocean and besought the intervention of lord Vishnu.
Truce Between Gods and Demons—- Lord Brahma, the gods as well as the various sages offered their prayers to lord Vishnu at the shore of the Ocean. The lord of the three worlds manifested Himself before them and thus spoke to them:
“Listen ye gods! Lack of respect towards one’s parents and preceptors consumes the eminence and prosperity of the individual. Indra’s folly has brought misfortune upon all of you. Destiny at this time is favourable towards the demons and unfavourable towards you all. Wait thus for a more fortunate occasion to retrieve your wealth and your kingdom. When times are adverse, the individual must seek cooperation from others. My counsel to you all is to go to the demons and seek their friendship and cooperation.
“In order that you all regain your strength and splendour, you need to procure Amrita, the elixir of life. This will only be possible with the help of the demons. Seek thus their help and motivate them to join you to extract Amrita from the Ocean. Amrita is extremely invigorating and makes its consumer immortal. I will help you too in this process, and ensure that the Amrita eventually does not fall in the hands of the demons.
“Put into the Ocean all crops, medicines, shrubs and vines. Then pull out the mighty mountain, Mandarachala, to act as a churn-staff. Use the formidable serpent king, Vasuki, as the string to rotate the mountain. Motivate the demons to join you to churn the Ocean in order to obtain the Amrita. Several objects will come out of the Ocean, including the all-consuming poison, but be not distracted by them. Do accept even the unreasonable demands of the demons until the Amrita is obtained. I shall be constantly present there to ensure that your venture succeeds.”
Thus did lord Vishnu encourage the gods. They all bowed to the Lord and returned. Indra and the gods then left Amaravati and proceeded toward the underworld to meet the demons. Bali, the demon king, was annoyed when told that Indra and the gods had come to their abode. Seeing Indra and the gods without weapons, the demons wanted to slaughter them all. Bali, however, was a virtuous being, well-versed in the rules of truce and warfare. He controlled his subjects and bade them to let Indra and his army of gods approach him.
Bali saw that Indra had lost the glow on his face. Nor was there any trace of vanity and arrogance. He felt pity for the erstwhile king of Swarga and asked him smilingly:
“What brings you here, O’ king of the gods?”
Indra smiled back and said, “Brother! we are unnecessarily getting angry at each other. We are both in fact in a similar plight. I lost all my possessions to you in no time. Equally so, you lost all those possessions to their original source, the Ocean. There is really no need for any further hostilities between us. We should sit together and think about our future course of action. I have primarily come to you for your help and protection.”
Naarada, the heavenly sage, intervened and told Bali to follow the course of the men of greatness, and to provide shelter and protection to the king of the gods.
“Verily they are the greatest sinners,” pronounced Naarada, “who do not protect the Brahmins, the ailing, the elderly, and the ones seeking refuge.”
King Bali pondered over what sage Naarada had said. Rules of duty no doubt dictated that Indra and his subjects be accepted as honoured guests. Soon, Indra and Bali became friends and vowed to remain so to each other.
Several years went by. One day, Indra addressed king Bali thus:
“Valiant one! Our prized possessions that you so much deserve to enjoy have fallen into the Ocean and lost. We must make an attempt to retrieve them. In order to achieve your end, we must join hands and churn the Ocean.”
Bali was curious. “How could churning of the Ocean be possible?” he queried.
At that time, a loud voice was heard, as if coming from all directions. It said:
“Gods and demons! Join hands to churn the milky Ocean. This will yield Amrita, the nectar of immortality, and undoubtedly increase your vigour. Let the Mandarachala be the churn-staff and the serpent Vasuki the string to rotate the mountain.”
The gods and the demons decided to undertake the grand project of churning of the Ocean
The Story of Rahu and Ketu
Samudra-Manthana: Churning of the Ocean
The Mandarachala is a massive mountain, its peaks scraping the sky. Laden with all sorts of vegetation, it is an abode to thousands of creatures. It extends as much into the bosom of the earth as it does above the surface. The gods and the demons approached the mountain and asked for his help.
“King of the gods,” said the Mandarachala to lord Indra, “you cut off my wings, as also of all other mountains, long ago. I cannot thus accompany you to the Ocean on my own. You may carry me to the Ocean and replace me here after your purpose is served.”
The mighty mountain was too heavy for the gods and the demons joined together. It was with the help of lord Vishnu that the mountain was carried to the shore of the Ocean.
They all then addressed the Ocean thus: “We want to churn you to extract the Amrita.”
“I shall endure the immense pain that the process of churning would generate,” said the Ocean, “provided I am also granted a share in the Amrita.”
This was graciously agreed to. Vasuki, the serpent king, was also offered a share in the Amrita for the pain that he would have to endure while being used as a string to rotate the mountain.
As the process of churning was about to begin, lord Vishnu stood toward the head of Vasuki wrapped around the Mandarachala mountain. The gods too moved there. The demons did not like it, saying:
“The tail is the inauspicious part of a snake’s body. We would not work at the tail-end.”
The Lord smiled and, along with the gods, moved towards the tail. The demons took hold of the head-end of Vasuki. The process of churning was then commenced.
Kurma-Avatara: The Tortoise Incarnation —
The heavy weight of the mountain being used as the churn-staff pulled the mountain deep into the water for want of a solid support underneath. All the strength of the gods and the demons could not hold it. Lord Vishnu again came to the rescue of all concerned. He took the form of a massive tortoise, the Kurma, and went underneath the Mandarachala, lifting the mountain out of water and providing it solid support to rotate on. The process of churning could thus proceed unhindered.
While the gods and the demons were straining their sinews, it was in fact the Maya, or the delusive energy, of lord Vishnu alone that was operating in various forms. The Lord functioned as demoniac energy in the bodies of the demons and as godly energy in the persons of the gods. He supported the mountain from below as Kurma, the Tortoise, and stabilised it from above as a weight on top of the churn-staff. He alone entered into the body of the mountain as strength and firmness, and into the Vasuki serpent as somnolence (lest the serpent king should suffer pain on being pulled).
The Process of Churning—
Rotation of the Mandarachala in the Ocean made a loud noise, as if of lightning and thunder, as the gods and the demons pulled it alternately.
The strain on the body of Vasuki acting as a string was also great. Repeated pulling on his body tired him and he became breathless. His hot and poisonous breaths consumed the energy of the demons working at the head-end. On the other hand, his breaths turned into clouds that fell as a refreshing rain on the toiling gods at the tail-end.
Thousands of aquatic animals were crushed to death and dissolved in the Ocean water as the churning process went on. Various species of inhabitants of the Ocean as well as the Paataala, the underworld, were destroyed. Animal and plant life on the Mandarchala itself was not spared. Tall trees on the mountain peaks rubbed against each other generating heat and fire. Massive fire on the Mandarachala destroyed vegetation as well as wild animals inhabiting its peaks, caves and valleys. Indra, the king of the gods and the lord of thunder then ordered his clouds to control the all-engulfing fire. Gums from the trees and extracts of herbs then began to trickle into the Ocean, providing vigour and deathlessness to the gods. However, despite much effort, the Amrita still eluded the gods and the demons alike. They, therefore, became disheartened.
Seeing this, lord Brahma requested lord Vishnu to confer strength upon the gods and the demons.
“So be it,” said the Lord. And, as if through some magic, the gods and the demons started churning the Ocean with fresh vigour and caused great turbulence in the water.
The Deadly Poison—
The intense turbulence caused in the Ocean by the rotating Mandarachala generated the deadly Poison that started spreading in all directions and consuming life forms, threatening the very existence of the three worlds. All the gods and the demons left the Mandarachala and the serpent Vasuki where they were, and ran away for dear life. There seemed to be no escape from the all-consuming Poison, the very smell of which destroyed the consciousness of the living creatures.
It was at such an hour of dire need that lord Shiva, the benign, omnipotent well-wisher of the three worlds, came to the rescue of every one. He drank the Poison and established it in His throat. The blue discoloration of His throat caused by the Poison earned Him the title of Neelakantha, the blue-throated lord. Lord Shiva thus protected the three worlds from the ill effects of the Poison. A few drops of the Poison trickled from His hands. These were taken up by snakes, scorpions, poisonous animals, and poisonous herbs on the surface of the earth.
Daaridraa, the Goddess of Suffering—
As the churning process was resumed, the elder sister of goddess Lakshmi, known as Daaridraa, the goddess of Suffering and Misery, emerged from the Ocean. Dressed in red robes, she thus enquired of the gods:
“How may I serve you?”
The gods replied, “May you reside in the homes of those where domestic strife exists. Take with you the Amangala (inauspiciousness!) and live where people use harsh language, tell lies and sleep at the hour of sunset. May you live happily in these places, effecting misery and penury.”
The strife-loving goddess happily obliged!
Fruits of Churning: Labour Rewarded—
As the gods and the demons resumed the churning of the Ocean, out came the brightly dazzling Moon-god who equalled the Sun in brilliance. The gods and the demons saluted him, and lord Shiva acquired him, establishing him in His locks as an ornament.
“Go on with the process of churning,” said sage Garga to the gods. “The Moon is conjunct with Jupiter at this time, and all the natural benefics are located in quadrants.”
The churning continued. This yielded the most auspicious Kama-Dhenu, the celestial Cow that yields milk, ghee and other objects necessary for Vedic rituals. She was acquired by the exalted rishis.
Varuni Devi, the goddess of Intoxication, came next. The demons accepted her.
Uchchai-Shrava, the white celestial Horse that moves with the speed of the mind and is a jewel among horses, was desired by the demon king Bali. Indra did not object to it.
The churning went on with still more vigour. Out of the Ocean then came the heavenly elephant, Airavata, white in colour and possessing four tusks. This was taken by Indra, the king of the gods. Kaustubha-Mani, the Jewel, emerging from the Ocean, was offered to lord Vishnu who wears it on His chest. Kalpa-Vriksha, the wishing Tree that bejewels the Swarga-loka, came next. This tree fulfils all the desires of those living in the heaven.
In order to meet the physical needs of the gods, the demons, and the ones who attain the heavenly regions due to virtuous deeds in the mortal world, an army of Apsaras, the celestial damsels, too came out of the Ocean on prolonged churning. Several intoxicants, vegetables, herbs, and the like also came out of the Ocean as the churning continued.
As the gods and the demons laboured further, a female form of immense beauty, divine Grace herself and the Mother to the three worlds, Lakshmi, manifested out of the Ocean. Her charm and youthfulness aroused, amongst the gods, the demons and the men alike, a desire to possess her. Indra brought her a seat to sit upon. The rivers brought sacred waters in golden jars for her worship. The earth yielded sacred herbs and the seasons brought for her the choicest flowers. The Gandharvas (the celestial musicians) played heavenly music while the damsels danced around. The clouds took physical form and played loud music. The elephants brought pitcher-fulls of water for her bath and the Brahmins chanted Vedic hymns in her praise. The Ocean gave her yellow silken robes to wear and Varuna, the god of waters, gave her a garland of never-wilting flowers. Several other gods and goddesses gave her varied ornaments, garlands, and the like. The Mother-goddess proceeded to lord Vishnu who accepted her as His eternal consort.
The demons did not like the indifference of goddess Lakshmi towards them. They, however, continued along with the gods to churn the Ocean for Amrita.
A godly individual in yellow robes appeared next as the churning of the Ocean continued. His limbs were long and muscular, his complexion dark and beautiful, and he was wearing priceless ornaments all over. His youthful appearance, curly hair, broad chest and bright eyes indicated as if he were born with an element of lord Vishnu’s divinity. He was Dhanvantari who held a pitcher full of Amrita in his two hands.
Soon there was a turbulence amongst the demons. They snatched the pot full of Amrita from the hands of Dhanvantari and started shouting to each other:
“This is mine! I’ll have it first.”
The demons took the pot of Amrita to the underworld. The gods followed them there. The demon king, Bali, asked the gods to leave since the Amrita was not for them. The gods felt disappointed.
Seeing that the ambition of the gods was about to be foiled, lord Vishnu came to their rescue. Through His Maya or delusive nature, He changed Himself into a young maiden of immense beauty, Mohini or the Enchantress, and went to the demons quarrelling over the distribution of Amrita. King Bali himself was attracted towards Her and asked Her to distribute the Amrita amongst the demons.
Mohini said to Bali, “The wise should not trust women who have the natural characteristics of falsehood, courage, charm, foolishness, greed, uncleanliness, and mercilessness. Even facts like who you are and who I am are not known. You must only trust Me after due consideration.”
But the demons had reposed their full trust in Her. They would do all that She wanted them to do. She made them and the gods sit in rows and began distributing the Amrita to the gods only, even as the demons were engrossed in appreciating the undulations in Her physical body, made all the more obvious by the slipping thin garment that inadequately covered Her. She served Amrita to the gods alone; the demons were not given any of it.
Emergence of Rahu—
Even as Mohini was distributing Amrita to the gods, a powerful demon, Rahu by name, guised himself as a god and sat between the Sun and the Moon. He partook of the Amrita but, before he could swallow it, the Sun and the Moon disclosed his identity. The Amrita-serving Mohini immediately resumed the form of lord Vishnu Who beheaded the demon with His Chakra or discus. A war ensued between the gods and the demons wherein the demons had to suffer defeat.
Because of ingesting some Amrita, Rahu’s head became immortal. His headless body is known as Ketu. Rahu was subsequently given the status of a graha (or planet). Since the Sun and the Moon exposed the mischief of Rahu, the latter has picked up a permanent hostility towards them. He eclipses them on the New Moon day and the Full Moon day even now!
Rahu in astrology is a highly malefic ‘graha’ which is sometimes harsher than even Saturn in meting out punishments upon the native. It can cause chronic and long lasting ailments during its dasha. An unorthodox planet, it causes the native to deviate from his normal path. Rahu, however, is not all poison. It can produce Raja-yogas if favourably disposed in a chart. Modern scientific pursuits are governed by Rahu and other malefics, and many an allopathic doctor receives his medical education under the major or sub-period of Rahu. Like Rahu, Ketu too is a malefic. While Rahu resembles Saturn in virulence, Ketu mimics Mars. Ketu too can produce Raja-yogas if favourably disposed in a chart. Ketu is also a spiritual planet. A favourable disposition of Ketu, especially under the benefic influence of Jupiter ensures freedom from material bondage and attainment of spiritual excellence.
The gods and the demons undertook the same venture, at the same moment, at the same place, and for the same objective. However, the demons only laboured but received no returns. The gods on the other hand fully reaped the fruits of their labour. Verily it is our intentions and the extent of our faith in the Almighty Lord that determines the outcome of our actions.
Rahu in Astrology
—Physical attributes :Complexion like that of a blue cloud, wild in bearing, residing in a forest, intelligent, of a windy disposition, robed in a garment of variegated colours, a bluish throne to rest on, with eight black horses, fast like the mind itself, yoked to its dark chariot; king of the chandals (or outcastes).
— Nature :A natural malefic.
— Gender : South-west.
— Place : A crevice of termites.
— Directional strength : Kumbha (Aquarius); Kanya (Virgo) according to some.
— Own Sign : Makara (Capricorn) and Kumbha (Aquarius)
— Exaltation : Vrisha (Taurus).
— Mooltrikona :Mithuna (Gemini).
— Debilitation :Scorpio (Vrishchika).
— Friends :Mercury, Venus, Saturn.
— Enemies :Sun, Moon, Mars, Jupiter.
— Significations :
Foreign travel or residence, long journeys, pilgrimage, disinclination, faulty logic, harsh speech, sudden happenings, irreligious pursuits, adultery with a fallen woman, sin, falsehood, wickedness, benefit from outcastes, royal status, royal insignia, air, space, breathing, a muhurta (48 minutes), old age, poison, snakes, reptiles, south-west direction, wandering in mountains and in difficult terrain, maternal grandfather, gambling, blue cloth, dark flower, emerald, sudden disaster, technical education, chronic or incurable disease, insanity, phobias, weeping wound, poisoning, snake bite, malignant tumours.