Background & Myth
Rāhu is one of a number of chaya grahas (shadow planets), celestial objects which affect us but cannot be seen. The shadows of Rāhu, the head of the serpent and north node of the moon, and Ketu, it’s tail and south node of the moon, cause the eclipses of our luminaries, Surya (Sun) and Candra (Moon). Myth suggests that this act of eclipsing was personal, as it was Sūrya and Candra that pointed out the Raksasa Svarbhanu‘s attempt to partake of the divine nectar that the devata had reserved only for themselves.
Out of the nine figures of the Navagraha (nine planets), seven are visible and two are non-visible. The sage Parasara referred to a total of five invisible graha: Rāhu, Ketu, Dhuma, Parivesha, and Indradhanus.1 These powerful, invisible influences are usually considered to be malefic in effect. Like Svarbhanu, their invisibility makes them out of sight to our everyday awareness, which allows them to act under our radar and out of our conscious control. Outside of material gain, graha like Rāhu aren’t commonly associated with benefic results. When I first learned about Rāhu I naturally associated it with a Tasmanian Devil (the Warner Brothers type) because it can tear through a time or aspect of life, leaving a wreck if you avoid it, making life a struggle if you resist it, and making management of your ego difficult if you go along with it.
As Komilla Sutton has described it2, Rāhu “spins” things up, while Ketu “breaks” things through the act of separation. Both have the potential to break things, though, as a spun-up Rāhu (that Looney Tunes version of the Tasmanian Devil) certainly has the potential to break things that lie in his path.
What the shadow planets do is much like the luminaries, but in reverse. They illuminate the deep-rooted, hidden faults, materializing them and bringing them to the surface for us to face and, hopefully, conquer. Rāhu eats his way through the shells, downward, toward the core or center of gravity, where matter is at its densest, unearthing our skeletons. These shells may have formed in this life or in previous ones, but especially previous ones. Such trials brought on by both Rāhu and Ketu seem out of control to us because they are hidden in our own shadows, in our karmic depths. We are blind to them and therefore either don’t understand them and/or don’t know how to overcome the faults they “bring to light.” As with any toxin rising to the surface, Rāhu’s effects should be observed as a process of detoxification. We have to let Rāhu do its thing. We have to conquer our demons and get our deep-rooted issues out of our system in order to move past them. Only then will the serpent loosen it’s grip and reward us with a spiritual awakening. As much as people associate Rāhu with materialism, it’s all about the spiritualization process.
Ahi/Vritra, Shachi/Śakti & Kundalini
Ahi, a serpent of Vedic origin, is another guise of Rāhu. Also known by the name, Vritra, he was a thieving scoundrel, a cloud known as “the enveloper.” Hindus associate him with the Asuras. Ahi, literally “snake,” is symbolized as a serpent or dragon and, like Rāhu, is the form of darkness who obstructs prosperity and happiness as well as the course of the Rgvedic “rivers.” Vritra was destroyed, like Puloman, by Indra. Puloman is the father of Indrani, Shachi (Śakti), from whom Indra took his name. Indra’s link to Śakti makes him a harnesser of power. By destroying Vritra, Indra slays the serpent of the shadows to release (and attempt to control by patriarchal means) the inherent power, or Śakti, of Rāhu: the Kundalini Śakti. This is why Rahu is key to Kundalini awakening. The opening of the cakras also reflects the opening or unlocking of the shells which are broken down by Rāhu. In one Rgvedic account [1.124], Varuna, who presides over the Rāhu-ruled Nakṣatra of Śatabhiṣāk (which brings forth Kundalini awakening), aided Indra with Soma and Agni to defeat Vritra.
As all the Navagraha do, Rāhu rules three Nakṣatram. Each represents a different condition of Rahu as if it’s shadowy effect is cast through the filters of the three gunas: one rajasic (Ārdrā), another tamasic (Svātī), and the third sattvic (Śatabhiṣāk). All Rāhu-ruled Nakṣatram are tamasic at their secondary levels of operation and sattvic at their third. Each of the three Nakṣatram, Ārdrā, Svātī, and Śatabhiṣāk, reside in each of the three cycles of creation.
Ārdrā is where the more brash, stormy, violent nature of Rāhu manifests. Motivated by kama (desire), such engaged, rajasic responses are a result of Rāhu’s immersion in the material and it’s link to the senses. Ruled by Rudra, this is the type of energy that most people associate with Rāhu, as we are all tethered to our senses in the presently desire-motivated world. Ārdrā is the Nakṣatra which Rāhu rules during the first stage in the cycle of creation (governed by Śiva-Kālī), and Rudra therefore presides over Ārdrā as the stormy form of Śiva, the howler, the “mightiest of the mighty.”
Svātī is where Rāhu mellows out its brash strength and focuses its power on principle. This is where Rāhu strives for compassion, virtue, fairness, and balance (though perhaps from self-conscious motivations). Vayu, the god of the winds, rules Svātī and keeps Rāhu in motion, which allows Rāhu to feel compassion from the feedback it receives from its sensitivities instead of being focused on the fierce outward intent of Rudra as it experienced in Ārdrā. These winds are constantly giving Rāhu feedback to the currents of the world surrounding it, immersing Rahu in the condition of it’s surroundings. Such constant feedback from the outside encloses Svātī, isolating it, and results in a separation between internal and external appearances. As a result, Svātī then releases its power into the world around it according to the signals it receives from it. Svātī is purely tamasic. It is the Nakṣatra which Rāhu rules during the second stage in the cycle of creation (governed by Brahma-Sarasvātī), and hence Svātī is appropriately associated with Sarasvātī as she represents those currents which immerse Svātī.
Śatabhiṣāk (Shatabhishak) is the sattvic side of Rāhu, which balances the rajasic and tamasic properties of the shadow planet. Here, Rāhu strives for the type of harmony it reached for in Svātī while completely conscious of the fierceness of it’s nature in Ārdrā. Varuna, the bestower of wisdom, rules Śatabhiṣāk and represents the resulting awakening, the activation of the Kundalini serpent associated with Rāhu, which comes with this consciousness. It’s certainly the most balanced of the three aspects of Rāhu, so offers both fierceness and righteousness.