Religion always runs the composite risk of being called superstition. Thankfully today we can differentiate between religion and spiritualism. While it is difficult for many to embrace or understand the religion of other people, the spiritualism at the base of it is something that we manage to connect with almost universally. In this context the Lord Shiva and Shani Dev relationship acquires special significance. In Hinduism Shani Dev is largely revered and considered a significant part of people’s daily life, mainly due to his association with evil foreboding. Unlike Lord Shiva, a huge number of Shani Dev’s followers are influenced by the desire to ensure they do not ire the deity and attempt to perform pujas to propitiate the God.
Almost all ancient religions of the past had this element of having to propitiate the unknown forces that affected their lives significantly. Shani Dev is perhaps the most misunderstood and consequently the most feared God in the Hindu Pantheon. There is very little in the sacred texts that redeem him. His gaze is supposed to be symbolic of such evil that all Shani Dev has to do is to look upon his charge or adversary and misfortune would befall them instantaneously.
The Kashi section of the Skanda Purana mentions the origin of Shani Deva. Born to Surya Dev (or The Sun God) and Goddess Chhaya (or Goddess Shade), Shani Deva is known as the elder brother to the God of the Underworld- Lord Yama. It is said that these brothers were charged with the duty of preserving Dharma or Piety in creation. Lord Yama judged sinners in the after-life while Shani Deva brought judgement to the wicked and evil while they lived on earth. Since suffering after death is still a metaphysical concept but observable suffering in real life is scarier, people fear Shani Deva much more than Lord Yama. People believe that at birth, an individual’s destiny is charted by the particular positioning of the 9 planets or the NavaGraha. Lord Shani’s direct shadow or influence is said to be extremely harmful. There is actually such a phenomenon as the “Shani-Mahadasha”, or the time which is replete with misfortunes in their life.
Shani Dev is known to test the virtue of his devotees repeatedly. When even under duress, his devotees continue to be loyal to him, he makes them rich and prosperous beyond measure. In other words, Shani Deva is an enemy of egoistic personas, and devotees honestly believe one cannot get away with being vain and snooty without inviting the wrath of Shani Dev. An interesting trivia about this aspect of the Lord Shiva-Shani Dev relationship happens to be the fact that in Shani Singhnapur, located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, nobody has houses with doors let alone bolts. People live fearlessly, immune to the possibility of theft of any other form of injury. There is a self-created or Swayambhu idol or rock formation of Shani Dev in this village. Generally the term Swayambhu is used to denote Lord Shiva but this is an exception.
Shani Dev apart from being the brother-in-law to Lord Shiva through the latter’s marriage to Goddess Kali ( sister to Lord Yama and Shani Dev) is also the embodiment of Lord Shiva’s Vairagya principle. Using the elements of Vairagya, Lord Shiva manages to sever his ties with material desires and pleasure of life, focussing attention upon the fact that every form of attachment is essentially evanescent. In the cosmic cycle of time, all forms of attraction to materiality only manages to defer the human soul from attaining Moksha or liberation from the eternal cycles of life, death and rebirth. Shani Dev is then the first guardian of the human soul in so far as he makes it a point to make people suffer for their sins in their lives, so as to purify and cleanse them of the negative influence of evil they have acquired in the pursuit of materiality.
The relevance of Lord Shiva and Shani Dev relationship gains utmost importance in the Kaliyug (the age of Kali or hedonism)- a form of consumerist lifestyle infests the contemporary world. Never in the history of human civilization has human life been so enamoured of superficiality than in our current times. Regardless of which part of the world one may look at or which religious or ethnic demographic one observes, the lure of the lucre rules supreme. Even Christianity marks this as the age of Mammon son of Satan- Lord of corrupt Wealth. The system of creating values and preserving the values that uphold simple humanitarian principles, which in turn reinforce the matrix of social life, lay woefully neglected. The reign of corrupt capital and market economy have successfully commodified the best of human hearts. Oil and energy politics is literally generating devastating wars and catastrophic climate changes resulting in the suffering and deaths of millions of people every year globally.
The time to introspect and make change happen first in our hearts and then to the world is now. Paying attention to the philosophical significance of the Lord Shiva and Shani Dev relationship might be a valid starting point.