Rahu is one of the nine major astronomical bodies (navagraha) in Indian texts. Unlike the other eight, Rahu is not a real astronomical body but a shadow entity, one that causes eclipses and is the king of meteors.
|North Lunar Node|
Rahu: Head of Demon Snake, Konarak Idol, British Museum
|Sanskrit transliteration||rāhu (The point of intersection of ascending node of lunar orbit with the elliptic plane of earth’s orbit)|
|Mount||chariot drawn by eight black horses|
Rahu is mentioned explicitly in a pair of scriptures from the Samyutta Nikaya of the Pali Canon. In the Candima Sutta and the Suriya Sutta, Rahu attacks Surya, the Sun deity and Chandra, the Moon deity before being compelled to release them by their recitation of a brief stanza conveying their reverence for the Buddha. The Buddha responds by enjoining Rahu to release them, which Rahu does rather than have his "head split into seven pieces". The verses recited by the two celestial deities and the Buddha have since been incorporated into Buddhist liturgy as protective verses recited by monks as prayers of protection.
Rahu is found in the Puranic genre mythology. The tale begins in the "remotest periods of prehistoric time, when the gods and titans, in the first days of the world, churned the cosmic Milky Ocean to extract from it the Amrita, the elixir of immortality." Rahu was present and couldn't resist stealing a sip. Vishnu reacted immediately, throwing his discus and beheading Rahu. However, state the Purana, the parts of Rahu's body that had imbibed the nectar (his mouth and neck) became immortal. "The head ravenous for another taste, has been chasing the cup of the elixir, the moon, ever since." When he succeeds in catching the moon and swallowing it, that part of the moon disappears, but of course reappears once it passes beyond Rahu's neck.
Rahu also appears in the story of the Kirtimukha, as he is the messenger sent by the vain king Jalandhara to demand Shiva's wife, Parvati, to a disastrous result.
Rahu is described as one of the parties of a historic eternal feud between asura Rahu and deva Surya (sun) and Chandra (moon) in particular, where Rahu attempts to take revenge by devouring them, but fails every time, stays for short while and is forced to leave by the interventions of the gods (Vishnu in Vaishnava Puranas).
In film, art and literatureEdit
- Roshen Dalal (2010). Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Penguin Books. p. 324. ISBN 978-0-14-341421-6.
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 77.
- Thomas E. Donaldson (2001). Iconography of the Buddhist Sculpture of Orissa: Text. Abhinav Publications. pp. 214–215. ISBN 978-81-7017-406-6.
- Natubhai Shah (1998). Jainism: the world of conquerors. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. pp. 168–172. ISBN 978-81-208-1939-9.
- Candima Sutta
- Suriya Sutta
- Access to Insight; see the summary in the Devaputta-samyutta section
- Cornelia Dimmitt (2012). Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Temple University Press. pp. 75, 347–349. ISBN 978-1-4399-0464-0.
- Heinrich Zimmer, Myth and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1946, p. 176
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