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By Nick Black

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 is just 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.

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.

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 a huge amount of 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.

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 ...

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