This article is inspired by my son's persistent queries about Navagrahas.I was unable to answer his questions about the significance of the Navagrahas we saw in the local temple.So I set off on a mission to find out the details for my son,for myself and whoever else would be interested in knowing about it.
Long before modern science identified planets and satellites,many millennia before,Hindu scriptures had identified nine planets known as Navagrahas.You can find these Navagraha vigrahas(statues) in most of the Hindu temples.It is a practice to do nine pradakshina(move around in clockwise direction) around the navagrahas after visiting the main deity's sanctum.As per Hindu astrology,these nine planets affect an individual's life stages.
Usually the Navagrahas are arranged in a square pedestal with the the Surya Bhagwan(Sun God) placed in the middle.This is to signify that the Sun is in the middle of the Universe and the other planets revolve around it.Unlike modern science which regards Sun as a big star,Hindu astrology regards the Sun also as a planet.Surya Bhagwan is always placed facing east and is depicted as riding a chariot of seven horses,representing the seven colours.The Sun,the natural giver of energy and vitality is considered as the bestower of success and prosperity in a person's life.Like in Western system,in Indian system also the first day of the week is named after the Sun God- Ravivar,meaning the day of the Ravi(Sun God).
Chandra(Moon God) Bhagwan is placed diagonally to Surya's left,facing South-East.Chandra is denoted as riding antelope.The moon god is considered as the lord ruling over a person's mental well-being.Chandra is also known as Soma and hence second day of the week is named after him as Somavara.(Monday). The moon is also regarded as a planet in Hindu astrology,in addition to the Sun,as opposed to them being regarded as Sun and satellite in modern astronomy.
Mangal(Chevvai in Tamil) Bhagwan(Mars) is placed on the left of Surya horizontally,facing South.
Third day of the week is named as Mangalvar(Tuesday),in honour of Mars.Mangal or Kuja,as he is known,rides a goat.Mangal is supposed to be the lord governing an individual's heath and life-span.
Buddh Bhagwan(Mercury) is placed diagonally to Surya,facing North-East.Buddha is depicted riding a lion.Mercury is the ruler of a person's intelligence.The fourth day of the week, Budhvar (Wednesday) is named after him.
Brihaspathi(Jupiter) is placed on the right of Surya,aligned horizontally and is facing North.Brihaspathi is the mentor of the Gods as per Hindu mythology and is also known as Guru.Hence the fifth day of the week is named after Guru as Guruvar(Thursday). Guru,being a mentor,symbolizes knowledge and good luck.Guru is shown riding an elephant.
Sukra Bhagwan(Venus) is placed facing East,in a straight line to Surya.Sukra is shown riding a horse.The sixth day of the week is named as Sukravar (Friday) after him.Sukra is considered as the bestower of good fortune,wealth and status.
Shani Bhagwan(Saturn) is placed facing West,again in a straight line to Surya.The seventh day of the week is named as Shanivar (Saturday) after Shani Bhagwan.Shani is one of the most feared of the nine planets as per Hindu astrology.Shani is depicted riding a crow.
The remaining two planets,Rahu and Ketu are quite strange entities.These are not planets but points of intersection of earth and moon's orbits.Rahu is shown as riding on a lion and having the head of a serpent.Ketu is shown as riding on a vulture and having the body of a snake.
Main difference between modern nine planets and Navagrahas is that Earth,Neptune,Pluto and Uranus are not part of the ancient Hindu nine planets.Another difference is that Sun and the Moon are also included as nine planets.The Navagrahas are considered to be affecting a person's horoscope and hence are important in Hindu astrology.
So next time you visit a temple and see the navagrahas,you know what they stand for.