Śani Jayantī is the day that we honor Lord Saturn and his influence in our lives.
Now, you might be wondering – Saturn?! Isn’t that a PLANET? Why are we taking a whole day to worship a planet? If we’re going to start worshipping planets, we might as well start worshipping mountains and rivers and trees, too. Hmmph.
Well… that’s actually the point. In this tradition, everything is sacred, and worthy of our reverence and appreciation. And over the course of the many festival days and rituals, you’ll find that within any given year, you will actually have acknowledged and honored nearly everything in the universe. This also might explain why there are SO many holy days! :b
All the natural powers – including rain, wind, fire, water, sun, moon, and planets – are conceptualized as devas – celestial beings – who are lords of various aspects of nature. (Note that trying to figure out if they’re actually REAL beings with real personalities vs. archetypal symbols of natural powers isn’t a great use of time from a practitioner’s standpoint. For our purposes, let’s focus on learning to identify their presence/pattern in our life, and enter into right relationship with them).
So Śani, also respectfully called Śanideva (Lord Saturn) is the planet Saturn, and his dominion or area of influence is our karma and fate. Saturn is the energy that decides whether we rise high or fall hard. This is the power that can bring tremendous good fortune, or unbelievable hardship. Because of his ruthlessness, many people fear Śani. After all, it’s human nature to want success, and fear failure. And whether we believe it to be Saturn’s influence, fate, or plain old luck, we all know that at the end of the day, what happens in life is determined by something more than just our individual will and effort. Understanding Saturn is understanding how to improve the chances of good fortune in our life.
Śanideva is described as older, dark, skinny, and dry-skinned – not bright and shiny like the other gods! His vehicle is a crow (who, like his master, has a harsh voice). Saturn’s colors are blue and black – dark, severe, mysterious. Energetically, he’s very stern, heavy, slow, and austere. The kind of person who shows up and suddenly the laughter stops as everyone slowly gets back to work. Kind of deathlike. Just like his brother, Yamarāja, i.e. the Lord of Death. In fact, it’s said that Lord Śani gives you the fruits of your actions in life, whereas his brother Yama gives them to you in death – both stern, but at least Saturn gives you the chance to do something about it while you’re alive.
He’s the lord of discipline, self-restraint, hard work, tradition – the taskmaster who makes sure we fulfill our individual purpose (svadharma). You might be wondering what self-restraint and discipline have to do with fulfilling our purpose. Consider this: if we’re busy trying to consume everything, try everything, and be everything, how can we do what we actually came here to do? Success in any area of life depends on our ability to hunker down and focus our energy, and to say “no” to things that don’t serve our path. It’s not always fun, or pleasant. But it works – and good fortune is generally the result, even if, like Saturn, it comes to you slowly and over a long period of time.
Saturn also embodies the ability to sacrifice yourself in order to do what’s beneficial for all creation. In fact, there’s a story that the powerful demon king Rāvaṇa demanded, mafioso-style, that all the planets stay in auspicious positions for the birth of his equally demonic son, so that he would be immortal.
Lord Śani realized that an unstoppable demon-prince would be really, really, bad for the rest of creation. So at the exact moment of the son’s birth, while the other planets stood still in terror, Śanideva (quite literally) stepped out of line. Rāvaṇa was so mad when he found out that he smashed Śani’s leg, giving him a limp for life. If you look in the sky, you’ll see that Saturn still moves very, very slowly, lagging behind the other planets. But it also shows that for all of his harshness and severity, he could very well be considered the most honorable and generous.
Śani is pleased when we do what we came here to do, and we do it well – with sincere and dedicated effort. He gives blessings to people who hold the attitude of servants – who stay sober, conscious, humble, and dedicated. And he also loves when people uphold tradition and traditional values – which encourage us to love and respect all creation. If you’re living a life of pride, excess, or addiction, it’s only a matter of time before Śani’s harsh power brings misfortune, pain, and loss to your life.
Ultimately, Śani shows us how to embody the greatness we are all capable of – and it’s through a life of discipline, service, and sincere dedication. You can honor his power today by practicing self-restraint, and performing an act of service. In other words, instead of eating that extra cookie or watching that second hour of tv, finish your work, do some sacred practice, or take some time to help somebody. It might not be fun, but we’ll all be thankful for it someday.