Shani Dev is one of the most popular deities that the Hindus pray to ward off evil and remove obstacles.
Shani literally means the “slow-moving-one”. According to myths, Shani oversees the "dungeons of the human heart and the dangers that lurks there."
Shani is represented as having a dark complexion and is said to be the son of Surya, the sun god, and Chaya, the servant whom his wife Swarna surrogated. He is the brother of Yama, the god of death and is believed by many to be an avatar of Shiva.
The Lord of Bad Luck?:
Stories about his evil influence abound. Shani is said to have chopped off Ganesha’s head. He is lame and has a limp because his knee was injured when he fought as a child with Yama. In the mythology, he is represented as riding a chariot, carrying a bow and arrow and pulled by a vulture or crow. Shani is found wearing a blue cloth, blue flowers and sapphire.
He is also known as Saura (son of sun-god), Kruradris or Kruralochana (the cruel-eyed), Mandu (dull and slow), Pangu (disabled), Saptarchi (seven-eyed) and Asita (dark).
The Ill-effect of His Planet - Saturn:
Hindus are under fear of evil from his planet - Saturn. In Vedic astrology, the planetary position at the time of birth determines the future of a person. So, Hindus accord immense importance to the planets, and Saturn or Shani is one such planet which they fear the most for ill-luck. Anyone born under his influence is believed to at risk.
How to Appease Shani:
To appease him, many pay obeisance every Saturday by lighting a lamp before the image of Shani and reading the ‘Shani Mahatmyaham’. He is pleased to accept lamps lit with sesame or mustard oil. Even the day named after him, Shanivara or Saturday, is considered inauspicious to begin any new venture.
The Giver of Kindness:
“Yet o son of Chhaya (shadow) you are the fire who can destroy Time itself and like Kamadhenu, the wish giving cow, you grant us all good things with kindness and compassion”, wrote Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775-1835) in his musical ‘Navagraha’ (Nine Planets) composition in Sanskrit.
Most Hindu temples have a little shrine set apart for the ‘Navagraha’ or the nine planets where Shani is placed. Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu, the oldest Navagraha temple has the most benign Shani. Another important Shani temple is at Shingnapur in Maharashtra where the deity is represented as a block of stone. Navi Mumbai has a Sri Shaniswar temple at Nerul while Delhi has a popular Shanidham at Fatehpur Beri in the historic Mehrauli area.