literally means 'the seizer'. Ketu literally means 'bright appearance, clearness,
Rahu and Ketu are the last two of the nine planets or grahas (see Janmapatri). In astronomy they are the ascending and descending nodes of the moon respectively.
Rahu is believed to be the cause of eclipses. Sometimes the name is used to designate the eclipse itself. Ketu is believed to be a comet who gave birth to numerous other comets.
Mythologically, Rahu was a four-armed, dragon-tailed demon called Svarabhanu. Sometimes he is represented as a black man riding a horse. He is believed to have been a great mischief-maker. When amrita arose from the churning of the ocean (see samudra manthan) and was being distributed to the gods who stood in a line to receive it, Svarabhanu is said to have disguised himself and joined them. The sun and the moon detected this mischief and reported it to Vishnu who immediately cut off his head. The head became Rahu and the body became Ketu. However, because the demon had drunk a bit of the amrita, he attained immortality and his body was placed in the stellar sphere.
It is believed that Rahu traverses the heaven in his eight-horsed chariot and tries to devour the sun and the moon for denouncing him. Whenever he succeeds in whole or in part, an eclipse of the sun or the moon takes place. Hence to this day, whenever an eclipse is noticed, people make noises, shouting, blowing horns and beating drums to drive away Rahu and thus restore the sun and the moon.
Rahu and Ketu are believed to be inauspicious and fierce. If a person is born under the influence of these planets, it is considered extremely inauspicious for them. Such persons are believed to have no peace, they are exposed to enemies, and their wisdom, riches and children are willed to be destroyed. Various yagyas and japas are enjoined to pacify these planets.
The effects of Rahu are said to be at a peak at certain parts of the day. There are many ways through which the exact time of this can be calculated. During this time, called Rahu-kala, many people cease all work and refrain from speech. No ceremony or new project begins at this inauspicious time.
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