Journey Through The Temples of Saturn or Shani

With its arsenal of shrines, temples, and palaces, India is one of the most fascinating cities in the east. It is also a country of fairs and festivals, celebrating thousands of them every year. Among all the deities, Shani or Saturn is the most feared, but Indian literature also abounds with glorification that praises his power.

Each deity or planet can affect both positively and negatively. In the case of Shani, these two peaks reach stratospheric heights or abyssal depths. India itself is particularly influenced by Shani. In Vedic Mythology Shani is the legendary evil king. He is associated with death, poverty, illness, separation, sadness, and perversion.

The figure of Shani is one of the most complex, in the Indian religion. The main difficulty encountered by scholars is to discern what part of the cult belongs to the original figure and what part is due to later modern influences. His relationship with Brihaspati or Jupiter is also shrouded in legends, which is evident in India, Greece, and Rome during the times of Pontius Pilate and celebration of Saturnalia.

In other mythologies, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous generosity of the land and were in a state of innocence. Saturn was seen as the deity of generation, abundance, wealth, agriculture, and renewal, who had taught the Aborigines to cultivate the earth, according to its ancient attributes of civilizing deity.

It was also said that under his reign humanity had known a golden age and, therefore, Saturn was part of the most archaic religion. In the oldest images, he was represented with the head or all covered with a veil. This trait is in accordance with the character of Varuna and also is to the Nordic god Odin. Like Jupiter, one day of the week was dedicated to him and conserved in the English word Saturday.

Journey Through The Temples of Saturn or Shani

Shani is one of the Navagraha and is also known as Sanaiscara. Shani is a demigod and is represented as the son of Surya and his wife Chhaya. So he is also known as Chayyaputra. Yama, the god of death is said to be his younger brother.

He is depicted as dark, who is dressed in black, holding a sword, arrows and two daggers in the company of a Crow. In many different ages, both idol worshipers and adherents have erected buildings considered in their entirety as temples or so-called mandirs.

In fact, the term used by the Indians to define them is mandir, which means mansion or enclosure of a god. The presence of the deity in the temple is believed to be a nexus of union between the divine and the human world and allowed the latter to relate to them through various rituals.

As evidence of the exclusivity of ancient temples, we find that the worship altar was placed, not within the temple itself, but in front of the entrance. Here were consecrated the most solemn ceremonies, of which the temple was the visible symbol and the material example.

The Indian temples continued to evolve without any foreign influences. New architectural forms continued to be developed, such as covered kiosks in front of access doors and more ornate columns styles. Shani temples are present throughout India. The exact location of the temple was decided for religious reasons. It could be the birthplace or mythical burial of a deity. The orientation of the temple could be decided to align it with places of religious significance, such as a neighboring temple, the position of the sun or a star.

For example, some temples are lined up in such a way that twice a year the rays of the rising sun illuminate the statues of the deity in the Sancta Sanctorum. Some temples, however, are lined, with an axis running roughly east to west. The construction of the temple is preceded by a series of complex foundational rituals.

The use of stone, limestone, and sandstone to raise the temples was only to emphasize and assure their purpose of serving as eternal dwellings for the gods. It also distinguished them from the buildings for the use by mortals, which were generally raised with mud and wood. However, in the early days' temples were built only of clay and other perishable materials. The stone blocks could come from a quarry near the temple under construction or transport from distant places of extraction.

To create the foundations of the temples, ditches were dug into the sand, which was then filled with stone slabs. The walls and other structures were erected with huge blocks of different shapes and sizes. Each block is carved to achieve a perfect union with the adjacent prismatic blocks. The inside of the walls was filled with uneven stones of waste, and earth.

Once the temple structure is completed, the rough surface of the stone blocks was polished to make it smooth. If the stone was of poor quality to carve, it was covered with a layer of mortar. Paints were usually a mixture of pigments bound with any adhesive, possibly natural rubber. In most temples, the focus was on the image of worship and so a statue of the temple deity was placed.

To emphasize the sacred nature of the sanctuary the idol would mostly be kept in total darkness. If in the early days the sanctuary was at the bottom of the building, in the later periods, the idols would also be kept in public view within the temple, although isolated from the outside world by barriers. The Indians believed that the gods were present in their images, flooding the temple with its sacred power.

The symbols of places in India or parts of the cosmos complemented the mythical geography, which was also present in the architecture of the temple. The images enhanced the magical effect of rituals and perpetuated it even after its completion. Due to their religious nature, the decorative motifs showed an idealized version of reality, that is emblematic of the purpose of the temple, rather than the authentic context.

The temples of the antiquity were considered to be the room of the mythical deified gods and goddesses whose names they carried, and whose service consecrated the buildings. Although the immediate vicinity of these temples was used as sites for general assembly and public ceremony, there were always inner enclosures. And in which, it was said, the presence of their deity was manifested.

Here only consecrated priests could enter to make offerings to the deity and recreate mythological passages during festivals. The requirements for the priesthood varied over time and between different cults to the gods. The priests were obliged to observe the strict standards of ritual purity in the sacred space. Mostly, they shaved their heads and bodies, washed several times a day and only wore clean clothes.

Many cults imposed additional restrictions related to their mythology, such as the prohibition of eating the flesh of animals associated with divinity. In the old ages, many women were believed to exercise the priesthood, but their presence in the clergy was reduced drastically in the middle ages. The ritual of the daily offering was very similar throughout India, although the exact sequence of events is uncertain.

At dawn, the priest opened the door and entered the sanctuary carrying a candle to light the room, after which he prostrated before the image of the deity reciting hymns of praise. Then he would remove the figure of the deity from the podium, dress it by replacing the garment of the previous day and anoint it with oil and paint.

At some point, the priest also offered him food, such as fruits and vegetables. It was the sustenance of which people thought that the god only consumed the essence. This Prasad was then distributed. Other offering rituals took place at noon and at dusk, although the god's Sancta Sanctorum was not reopened. Other ceremonies were also made daily, including specific rituals.

These rituals were seen as necessary for the deity to maintain the divine order of the universe. This is particularly true during the Saturdays when people come in droves to praise the deity. The people also went to the sanctuary with their concerns and needs hoping to find refuge and comfort. Sometimes they went to confess their sin and seek the forgiveness in order to be numbered among the righteous.

On days of particular religious importance, daily rituals were replaced by festivals. These festivals were held at different intervals, although the majority were annual, with a temporality based on the civil calendar that was very different from the present one. Therefore, although many festivals had a seasonal origin, their dates do not coincide with our calendar.

The ceremonies of the festivals included the recreation of mythological passages or the accomplishment of other symbolic acts. Ceremonies like this took place only within the precincts of the temple, but other festivals involved the visit to the temple of the deity. In many occasions, a procession was carried out with the priests carrying the divine image.

The divinities involved in a festival received much more abundant offerings than in daily rituals. Some temples had sacred animals that were believed to be manifestations of the deity, just as this manifested itself in their worship images. These animals were kept in the temple and worshiped for a variable time, that could be a year or the whole life of the animal.

At the end of this time, they were replaced by a new animal of the same species, selected by a priest or based on specific marks, which were supposed to indicate their divine nature. These animals were not considered as especially sacred, but only as a species associated with a deity that was represented by its form. Although there is no evidence of this practice during the modern era, it was assumed that the primitive cult of Saturn also demanded human sacrifices.

At the beginning of the modern ages, and possibly earlier, festival processions had become an opportunity for people to consult the priest to address issues ranging from locating a lost object to the best choice for an issue. The priests interpreted the movements of the sacred animals or returned the answers in writing or words, that the deity supposedly transmitted to them. The Indians also interacted with the divinities through offerings, ranging from simple pieces of jewelry to animal offerings to pray for a good harvest or for a child delivery.

The question arises as to how did ancient people know that Saturn existed without telescopes? How did they know that it was a star that exploded and formed a Black Sun? Well, there is no answer officially. It is not known. These symbols are like another oopart or out-of-place artifact.

This is the key to the question, which means that our ancestors knew more than what appears in the books. In many ancient beliefs, Saturn was used as a marker for when the position of the Sun would change, simply to mark the most enlightened nights and the darkest days or solstices.
Kalyan Panja