Before looking at the mythological descriptions of Rahu and Ketu, we should first look at how the phenomena of the solar and the lunar eclipse present themselves. If we do, we will find that the mythological images give a striking visual equivalent. Somehow direct experience of the phenomena makes it easier to appreciate the mythological image as well as enabling one to understand the accompanying ‘mood’. The difference is like reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and seeing it performed on stage by good actors. If you have seen an excellent performance of Hamlet, then it is so much easier to grasp the depth of the play when reading it.
IN 1999 I had the good fortune, in spite of very poor weather, to have a good view of the solar eclipse whose path passed over central Europe. The first phase, where the Moon slowly obscured the Sun did not have any notable shift in light, even up to the thinnest sliver. That changed dramatically once the eclipse was complete. A shadow passed over the countryside. It was suddenly very still, not even the birds in the area made a noise. A pensive, brooding twilight settled. It wasn’t quite night but neither was it day.
A lunar eclipse is not as dramatic as there is no strong shift in light. It is already night and the eclipse itself has the effect of a New Moon. The phenomenon seems to focus more on the Moon itself. There comes a point where the Moon becomes a pallid sickly orange. Some like to dramatize and speak of a ‘blood Moon’ but I think the blood colour is a bit anemic, more like a reflection of red rather than red itself. There are some videos on the net that show a strong red, but I wonder if a red filter was used. 🙂 Here is a video link of the lunar eclipse on 15 June 2011.
Let’s compile descriptions of Rahu-Ketu freely taken from the literature. I have elaborated a little. Quotations of the slokas may be found all over the web. You might even recognize them. 🙂
Rahu is a smoky shifting blue-black tall, red-eyed gestalt, horrible to look at. He lives in the dark forest of the sky. The remembrance of his body trails behind him in a cloud of haze, shifting now and then into sight are glimpses of the multicolored clothes he can no longer wear. Trailing far behind him on the far side of the horizon surrounded in a wraithlike haze of smoky shadowy blood, clothed in the rags of a one-time splendor is his headless serpentine body, Ketu.
Now back to the eclipses. Rahu looks at the Sun and Moon with insatiable hunger. His lust for the Sun cannot be directly seen, but when he lusts after the Moon the red of his hunger is reflected by the Moon before being swallowed. Because Rahu-Ketu has no body they cannot but live in the in-between spaces of the sky. They aren’t substantial, just points, mere shadows, echoes of the splendor of the Sun and Moon. Their clothes are an echo of that splendor. The blue-black haze is that of the twilight engendered by the solar eclipse and the darkness of the lunar.
In the next post I would like to look at some of the significations of Rahu and Ketu.