On Shani dev’s birthday, how to make him really, really happy

Renuka Narayanan
Renuka NarayananMay 15, 2018 | 16:40

On Shani dev’s birthday, how to make him really, really happy

This Tuesday brings a multiple cultural whammy with it. For one, every Tuesday is dedicated to Hanuman anyway and it’s go-to-the-temple day for many believers. Additionally, it’s the voluntary weekly no-meat detox day for several Hindus in the north who are enthusiastic meat eaters otherwise.

However, this Tuesday there’s also the fast called the Vat Savitri Vrat and, of particular interest, it’s Shani Jayanti or Saturn’s birthday.


Shani or Saturn is a powerful figure among the nine planets or Navagraha that are traditionally flattered as influencers of frail human destiny; and we may wonder why Shani’s birthday isn’t automatically happening on a Saturday. But his birthday, like that of us mere mortals, follows the lunar calendar.

Shani is a very real persona for many, someone in whom they’re deeply invested like how people are in the Harry Potter stories.

You have only to see the huge crowds of devotees outside his shrines, the long lines for the prasad that some distribute and the atmosphere of intense fervour.

You can see this most convincingly at Shani’s exclusive shrine at the very gates of IIT Delhi. However, I wonder if people know how sad it is to give money to innocent beggar children who ask for alms in Shani’s name on Saturdays.

Shani is a very real persona for many, someone in whom they’re deeply invested like how people are in the Harry Potter stories.

They’re actually inviting us to “give away” our bad luck to them, as if they were not wretched enough already. I was told about this cultural belief and decided never to dump my bad luck on them after that but to try and work out my prarabdha or ongoing karma myself, with a prayer to God to accept my effort.


Shani’s “malefic gaze” is deeply dreaded, as is the Sadeysati, the seven-and-a-half years of bad luck called Shani Dasha or Shani’s Phase that is believed to afflict every person. One third of the Sadeysati sees the onset of trouble, the next third sees stagnation and the last third sees improvement. There’s also the cheerful conviction that when Shani leaves one’s kundali or horoscope, he gives it a parting kick to speed us on our way to good luck.

But since “Shanaishchara” means slow-moving, people are supposed to make an extra effort to be kind and good during the time because it’s believed to be the only thing that really moves him, not the outward prescription of wearing black clothes and handing out sesame oil, which function like “Hey, it’s Saturday” bells and whistles.

How come someone as dreaded as Shani is said to be such a softie beneath his dire gaze? Possibly, it’s because he’s had his share of trouble. His mother ran away when he was little; his stepmother was horrible to him and his brother and sister; and his dad, the Sun, was too busy at work to notice anything for a long time.


On another occasion, as described in the Ramayana, when Ravana grabbed the kingdom of the celestials, he arrogantly ordered the Navagraha to lie face-down on the steps of his throne so that he could walk up on their backs.

But Narada, the wandering sage, dropped by and asked Ravana in the course of conversation if he lacked the guts to step on them face-up. Ravana fell straight into the trap and told the Navagraha to turn over. They did, and Shani glared at him with full force. Ravana’s downfall began then, with Surpanakha rushing in, shrieking in outrage.

So Shani knows a lot about bad times though personal experience, says tradition, and encourages us to be extra nice to others through our bad times or at least fake it till we make it through our Shani Dasha.

Shani is also distinguished as “Shanishvara”, the Lord Shani. Ishvara is a name reserved exclusively for Shiva, so how did that happen? An almost unknown story goes that Shani showed up on duty even for Shiva, humbly apologetic but wholly unafraid. Delighted by Shani’s sincerity, Shiva pretended that even he could not avoid Shani. He hid inside a rudraksha on Parvati’s neck for a token seven-and-a-half nazhigai or ghadi (units of 24 minutes) and blessed Shani for always with the title “Shanishvara”.

These are charming coping stories, don’t you think, created to help us deal optimistically with whatever befalls us?

Last updated: May 16, 2018 | 13:32
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