Rahu Ketu - The Shadow Planets  by KOMILLA SUTTON

The Moon's Nodes in Vedic Astrology

Note: All planetary positions in this article refer to the sidereal Zodiac which is currently 23 degrees 49 minutes and 30 sec. behind the Tropical Zodiac. Nakshatras are fixed stars or lunar mansions.

  • The Mythology
  • Understanding Rahu & Ketu in Our Natal Charts
  • Vedic Hymn to Rahu
  • Rahu and the Nakshatras
  • Ketu
  • Vedic Hymn to Ketu
  • Ketu and the Nakshatras
  • Kal Sarpa
  • Yoga Transitions

Rahu Ketuis the name given to the Nodes of the Moon. Rahu is the North Node and Ketu is the South Node. They are points on the ecliptic where the Moon is in alignment with the Sun and the Earth. They indicate the precise point of the harmony with the three most important influences in our life- the Sun, the Earth and the Moon. This relationship plays an important part in the enfolding of individual consciousness.

Their role as Karmic indicators of our life is connected with their power to cause eclipses. The eclipses occur in the vicinity of Rahu Ketu during the Full Moon and the New Moon. (During New Moon when it is +/- 18 degrees from Rahu Ketu, the Solar eclipse takes place. At the full Moon +/- 11 degrees 15' from the nodal position, the Lunar eclipse takes place.) As they symbolically eclipse the Sun (consciousness) and the Moon (the Mind), they have a great part to play in darkening our perspective in order to bring in new light. They deal with the concept of death and re-birth, transformation and regeneration. During the eclipses the light from the Luminaries is darkened. The energies created are powerfully psychic, pregnant with new information and occult power. The period after the eclipse is considered a rebirth of the Sun and the Moon. The role of Rahu Ketu in this powerful alignment of the Sun Moon and the Earth gives them the role of the ultimate controllers of the destiny.

The prime importance given to Rahu Ketu in Vedic Astrology is one of it's key features. They have been given the status of Planets to emphasise their significance and the importance placed on eclipses. They are known as Chayya Grahas (shadow planets). They have no substance and are physically non-existent. Yet their influence is full of potency and spiritual significance. They work in unison 180 degrees apart, two opposite points in the zodiac with a mission to churn our lives in order to externalise hidden potential and wisdom. In keeping with their shadowy nature, they work on a psychological level. It is always difficult to gauge their effect because their main concern is with our emotional makeup. They effect us internally. We are unaware of what exactly is happening to us at the time.

In Vedic Astrology, the concept of the Soul's journey through different lifetimes is central to it. The final goal of the soul is to break this cycle of life and death. Like the beads on a necklace, various lifetimes are joined together to form a necklace, each life being different but interconnected by an invisible thread. The invisible thread is Rahu and Ketu. The purpose of the soul in this life to act out his given Karma, destroy the illusions of the materialistic life and move towards the pursuit of self realisation. To live on the astral planes where pleasure and pain do not have the capacity to hurt, the mind is still and at peace. The soul's journey in a particular life time and it's connection with eternal life is indicated by the position of Rahu and Ketu. Ketu deals with the past Karma and Rahu with the future.

The five instincts that keep us attached to the materialistic purpose of life are Kaam (Desire, passions) Krodh (Anger) Madh (intoxicants- drugs, alcohol etc) Moh (Attachment) Lobh(Greed) and Matsaya(Jealousy). We need to control our instincts rather than allowing ourselves to be controlled by them. Both Rahu and Ketu have the ability to keep our mind focused on these instincts- Rahu by exaggerating and Ketu by obscuring or blocking. We are tied down to the cycle of unhappiness and dissatisfaction as we cannot break away from our lower selves. We are born again and again to experience the pleasures and pains of the earthly life until we recognise them to be the illusions that they are. On a subconscious level we are afraid that if we give up these desires, we will lose out. Once we start understanding the principle of letting go, enjoying what life has to offer but not getting attached, then we are able to grow spiritually. Rahu Ketu deals with the inner fight within us, the moral and the social choices we have to constantly make and the inner dilemmas.

The Mythology

There are many Myths and legends attached to Rahu Ketu. The most well known one is of Rahu Ketu as the Naga Vasuki- the ruler of the Patala Loka (the nether regions of the earth). Nagas in Vedic literature are not ordinary snakes but Serpents with much hidden knowledge and wisdom. There was a great war between the gods and the demons for the control of the universe and at the centre of it was the ocean which was being churned to find the hidden treasures and the Amrita- the nectar of immortality. Vasuki helped the gods in their mission. He was the rope tied around the spiritual mountain Mandara, which was the rod, used by the gods to churn the ocean.

When the Amrita was found the gods wanted to keep it for themselves as they felt that the demons would use it for the wrong purpose. Vasuki being a demon, his instincts were for personal glorification and materialistic happiness rather than universal good. (Sacrificing self for others is considered the godly impulse). Vasuki, was more intelligent than the other demons, he was not willing to be distracted by the gods. He drank the nectar of immortality secretly. The Sun and the Moon complained to Lord Vishnu, the creator of the Universe, who was very angry at this deception. In anger he threw the Sudharshan Chakra at Vasuki and cut him into two. Vasuki had drunk the Amrita and was immortal, therefore could not be killed. He remained in the skies as Rahu(the head)Ketu (the lower half), a permanent reminder to the other planets(gods) of the darker side of life which we have to defeat in the pursuit of immortality.

Rahu Ketu are considered great enemies of the Sun and the Moon because they told Lord Vishnu about them. They symbolically swallow the two luminaries during the eclipses. Their capacity to darken the Sun and the Moon make Rahu Ketu the most powerful influences in the Zodiac. The Sun around whom the other planets and the solar system revolves, the Moon which controls life on earth, are obscured by Rahu Ketu during eclipses. Rahu Ketu represent Cosmic Law which everyone including the Sun and the Moon have to obey.

This allegory has to be understood as life. The Gods without the help of Vasuki (Rahu Ketu) could not find the secret of immortality. In the same way we as humans cannot find our higher selves without understanding the lessons of Rahu and Ketu. They represent the darker side of our nature which we need to overcome. Our inner emotions are like the ocean being churned. Within this ocean lie a number of treasures as well as poisons and nasty things. We have learn to recognise the precious from the dross and finally find Amrita- the secret of immortality or true happiness. The conflict between our attachment to materialistic achievements (this gives us momentary happiness which is a fantasy as it has no real basis, the domain of Rahu) and liberation of the soul, finding bliss and tranquillity which is eternal and everlasting (Ketu is the Moksha karaka significator for spiritual realisation). The gods needed the help of Vasuki in the Amrita manthan and in the same way we need the knowledge provided by the wise nodes to give direction.

Understanding Rahu and Ketu in our Natal Charts

To understand the influence of Rahu Ketu in our chart we must learn about their shadow nature. This is the most important factor in when dealing with the influence of the nodes. They are only points in the Zodiac therefore they are unable to enact their effect on their own. The nodes take on the characteristics of their dispositor as they have no substance themselves. It is very important to study the sign, position and placement of the depositor. Here it is important to understand that although the nodes are influenced by their depositor, the depositor itself carries forward the influence of the nodes. The basic results of Rahu- Ketu are modified by their location in your chart. The signs/ houses they are placed in. The aspects they receive and the aspects they throw out. Also if they are in conjunction with another planet (note in Vedic Astrology a planet in the same house is considered conjunct. The closer the conjunction the stronger the influence.) they will throw out it's influence. For example if Rahu is in conjunction with Mars it will throw the aspect of Mars along with that of it's depositor.

Rahu Ketu are the personal eclipse points. Therefore they are areas where you need to work out your Karma, past as well as future. They are our Karmic responsibilities. We have to learn to look beyond the momentary darkness that Rahu Ketu represent. They highlight the negative side of our nature which we need to overcome to move towards the spiritual growth. They work psychologically, therefore it is hard to pin- point their effect. They are the axis of life which indicates the path of spiritual growth from past life ( Ketu) to the Future (Rahu). Knowledge of both the past and present are needed for true understanding of life. The past shapes the personality we are now, the negative and the positive Karma we are going to experience. It shades our psyche to how we are going to tackle the present. The future is always uncertain therefore can seem like darkness and carry fear and uncertainty within it. We have to really come to terms with our past to be able to not get afraid of the future. Rahu is showing this direction, Ketu is sometime blocking due to our actions of the past.

Rahu Ketu have twin purpose, one in the mundane life and another in the spiritual life but it is intertwined, like their shadowy nature. Their actions in the material realm are meant so that we change our thoughts and ideas about what we want and desire. What is darkness to a person enmeshed in materialistic ambitions can be powerful spiritual energy for those on the path of Moksha and spiritual enlightenment.

The nodes always serves opposing purposes- good and bad, lots and nothing, give and take. Rahu gives, Ketu takes back. The are no straight rules about them. They operate in so many different colours which can lead you to the highest spiritual pinnacle to the greatest financial achievements or vice versa. They can give contrary results. You can never give predictions dealing with surety.

They can create fear of the unknown. They can create sudden and unexpected results.

The saying is that Rahu Ketu always take away what they give because they have a special reason for granting you your wishes. To realise that what they give is not necessarily what you want once you have achieved it. They highlight dissatisfaction within ourselves.


Vedic Hymn to Rahu

'Rahu is snake shaped, born of a lioness and a devourer of the Sun and the Moon'

Rahu is the head part of the celestial snake. This hymn refers to Rahu being snake shaped. The snakes are given great importance in Vedic mythology. Lord Shiva has a snake around his neck, Lord Vishnu's throne was Shesh Naga - the Eternal Serpent. Shesh Naga represents the cycles of time and space which the seed of cosmic creation. The Nagas are shaped like snakes but stand tall. The Nagas are highly evolved beings. They are wise, but their wisdom can be used for both good and bad. The Naga sheds his skin, this symbolises transformation,re-birth. The snakes in Vedic literature remind people of their mortality.

The 'devouring of the Sun and Moon' are when Rahu eclipses the luminaries. This shows the important part Rahu has to play in changing the course of our life. The Sun and Moon are Royal planets under whose dictates the universe and life on earth revolves. But Rahu can darken this light, therefore it controls the process of life. The Sun is the Soul and Moon the Mind, when they are eclipsed, they go through regeneration, transformation and death.

Rahu takes people off their Dharmic past path to tempt them on the road of self destruction. But Rahu has a very definite purpose in doing so. It wants you to learn, taste and feel everything so that from the full satiation of your senses you turn a new leaf on the path of self realisation and find their true enlightenment. Rahu on a physical plane gives you insatiable desire to achieve, to conquer. Once you have reached the pinnacle of achievement, you realise this success you have achieved has not brought with it happiness because you were in fact chasing an illusion. There are many cults in India which preach satiation of all your mundane and carnal desires so that we can learn the important lesson of fulfilment of all your desires do not give you the true happiness.

Rahu signifies foreigners in all fields- people, countries, tastes.

Rahu behaves like Saturn. It deals with drugs, poisons, over ambition, power play, hidden knowledge,

Rahu's element is air. It deals with all aspects of air related activities air travel, Air accidents, Aviation, Pilots etc. Other significations of Rahu include students of Astrology, metaphysical knowledge, witchcraft, skin diseases, small pox, deception, politics, political manoeuvre, inventions, scientists, execution, diseases, disenchantment etc.

Rahu and the Nakshatras

Rahu Ketu rule 3 Nakshtras (fixed stars) each. Rahu rules Ardra ( 6 degree 40' to 20 degrees 00' Gemini), Swati ( 6 degrees 40' to 20 degrees 00' Libra) and Shatabishak (6 degrees 40' to 20 degrees 00'Aquarius), all in the Air triplicity . Mercury, Venus and Saturn represent intellectualism, pleasure and righteous behaviour. Rahu has the capacity to bestow in all these areas.

As the ruler of the fixed star Ardra( 6 degree 40' to 20 degrees 00' Gemini), Rahu represents the highest thinking, Ardra is the Nakshatra where we begin our learning about the nature's law. Ardra is in 6 degree 40' to 20 degrees Gemini a sign ruled by Mercury. At the cosmic stage of Ardra, there is conflict on the outer level where we are dissatisfied with our present surrounding, so we start looking for answers. This can be through knowledge, occult and communication The duality of Gemini as well as the celestial powers of Mercury are present. Ardra's symbol is of a head or a single jewel. both symbolising ideas, mind and thinking. Rahu is always about matchless ambition and in Ardra it combines it with the capacity for knowledge. Planets in Ardra get motivated towards greater occult learning. Rudra, the God of Destruction is Ardra's presiding Diety.. Rudra is a form of Shiva. Rudra's mission is to destroy ignorance, therefore he directs the consciousness towards knowledge and finding the answers for ourselves about this manifestation. At Ardra we start to study or learn about the Law of Nature. The first time we become dissatisfied with the materialistic nature of our lives and start towards expanding the horizons of our spiritual selves..

The Second Nakshatra ruled by Rahu is Swati ( 6 degrees 40' to 20 degrees 00' Libra) Planets in Swati indicate the depth of the soul's involvement in Materialism. The indicator of the soul in our chart, the Sun, is debilitated here and Saturn the worker of the Zodiac is exalted here. Under Swati, the impulse is all about material gain. Venus rules the earthly needs in an individual. Combining it with Rahu it adds further to the desire for success, wealth and finance. Many millionaires are born with their Moon's or Saturn in Swati. The presiding diety is Vayu (air).The Symbol is Coral. The location of this Nakshatra in Libra indicates that the experience of full involvment into earthy, materialistic pleasures will bring with it dissatisfaction because the scales will be heavy to one side. Once success is achieved we feel empty, alone and dissatisfied with our achievement, many try for more success but the correct thing would be to look towards your higher self at this time. Libra is a stage of life when we start thinking about the spiritual meaning of life but only once the other urges have been fulfilled.

Shatabishak( 6 degrees 40' to 20 degrees 00'Aquarius) is the final Nakshatra ruled by Rahu. Aquarius is ruled by Saturn and Rahu's rulership of the Nakshtra makes a very difficult combination where life has to have a purpose and the total direction is about learning lessons. Rahu gives results like Saturn but on a psychological level. This double Saturnine influence on planets placed here is difficult to handle unless our activities are directed towards service to humanity. Here both Rahu and Saturn are concerned about changing our purpose of life, giving us the final answers. Rahu on the internal level and Saturn on an external level offers restrictions, obstacles and transformation. The need to understand the final lessons of life as well as duty to others are two of the important aspects of Shatabishak. Its symbol is the thousand petalled flower, Shatabishak is where the Kundalini flowers and we reach towards the full awareness of our consciousness. This is the stage in life where we activate the Sahasara (Crown) Chakra. Rahu brings forth its full power as the teacher of cosmic law. When the Moon is in Shatabishak, its materialistic tendencies are shed completely and we moves towards the true purpose of life. We are ready to transcend to the next phase of spiritual development.

All the quarters of Rahu's Nakshatra are ruled by Jupiter and Saturn, the significators of spirituality and occult initiation. They are Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Each pada (quarter) represents the ninth harmonic of the natal chart. Together these four signs represent the final stages of spiritual development. As the Rahu Nakshatras represent a point in cycle of life where we are starting to change, these padas further indicate that life on an internal level remain the same again. Sagittarius is the level when man learns to control the base emotions,changes from animal to human, at Capricorn we learn about the duties and responsibilities to others, Aquarius represents the stage of development where we are now privy to full knowledge. At Pisces we are able to make the final change, sow the seeds for future growth. So although the stages of the soul's journey are different in Ardra ( Gemini) Swati ( Libra) and Shatabishak( Aquarius) the underlying urge, represented by the quarters, is still the same- to evolve. The ending of one way of life and the beginning of another.

Vedic Hymn to Ketu

' Decked with silk, flowers, garlands, sandal paste and an umbrella, of variegated colour, born of Jaimini's family under Abhijit Nakshatra…'

Ketu is the lower part of the celestial snake.

This hymn shows the main difference between Rahu and Ketu, Rahu is dark in colour but Ketu has a variegated colour. Therefore it has the capacity to shine a light on you suddenly, bring about enlightenment.

Ketu is born to the Jaimini family who followed the Mimasa school of philosophy. Their main concern was the correct interpretations of the vedic rituals and settling any controversies about the Vedic texts. Ketu himself is guiding towards meditation of the nature of creation, intuitiveness, the true understanding of universe and the guidance of the soul towards it's final salvation or Moksha.

Ketu causes great impediments in your paths. It sets up roadblocks, traffic jams, boulders in your journey of life. It causes pain. It wants to change your psyche. You learn to leave your excess baggage of past Karma behind. Travel lightly into your this existence so that you can understand there are areas of your life which need to address and some left behind. Those unable to harness the power of Ketu or understand its karmic path can be lead to a sorrowful existence. Sometimes it is difficult for any one do stand in the way of Ketu power. We need to accept and understand the divine plan which is part of our destiny and Ketu is doing its work to produce in you the enlightenment which would lead to true enlightenment and honour. The effect of the Ketu problems are like the going through the ritual of fire from which one comes out stronger more powerful to be able to take on the problems thrown at us

Ketu will act like Mars and so will it's dispositor. Fiery in nature, it signifies accidents or injury specially due to fire.

Ketu rules 7 years in the planetary life cycle. Ketu always has a sting in it's tale. So the ending of Ketu Maha Dasha one has to be vary of unexpected happening

Ketu is considered the keeper of the book of our life- past and present Karmas.

Ketu is known as Dhwajah- flag. It's association with in dignity with a planet has the capacity to boost it's capabilities- good or bad beyond recognition for lotteries and windfall. Ketu in conjunction with a benefic can give beyond your wildest expectations.

Some of the signification of Ketu are Ascetics, assassinations, trouble through cats, calirvoyance, contemplation, desire for knowledge, deep thinking, imprisonment, poison, intrigues, magical powers, poverty, mysticism etc.

Ketu and the Nakshatras

The Nakshatra's Ketu rules are Ashwini (Aries), Magha (Leo) and Mula (Sagittarius), the fire triplicity. These are the beginning stages in the cycles of life. Mars, Sun and Jupiter the rulers of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius are friends with each other. Together they represent strength, the soul and wisdom, Ketu has the capacity to give in these areas. A proper blending of these three planets in our natal charts direct us towards seeking Moksha- the final liberation from the cycle of life and death.

Aries deals with birth, a new life, freshness of approach and start of the cycle of Life.

0 degrees to 13 degrees 20 is Ashwini, the first Nakshatra ruled by Ketu. Ashwini indicates the beginning of the soul's journey into the earthly life. Ketu's rulership of this part of the Zodiac is full of occult significations. Ketu is the significator for Moksha. The beginning part of life indicated by Aries ruled by Ketu Nakshatra shows that the true reason of our manifestation on earth is to find the Moksha- the final salvation from the cycles of life and death. This is the stage where mind is pure and we have not yet entangled ourselves into knots which represent the attachment to life. Sun, the signifactor of the soul, our inner consciousness is exalted in Ashwini. Ashwini is in Aries ruled by Mars. Ketu acts like Mars but on a psychological level so the purity of Martian action, courage and protection of humanity is powerfully indicated by the planets located here. The past life connection is very strong as Ketu, specially if the Moon is located here.

Magha is the second Nakshatra ruled by Ketu. Magha is in the sign of Leo ( 0 degrees to 13 degrees 20' Leo) ruled by the Sun. Magha is the beginning of the second cycle in the soul's Journey. The signs Leo to Scorpio indicate the soul's full involvement into the pleasures and pains of the earthly life. Ketu, the significator of spiritual realisation ruling the commencing point of the materialistic journey shows the importance of the experience of the realities of life in fulfilling the divine mission of the Soul. Magha's ruling deity is Pitris, who are the fathers of humanity whose mission is to guide their children to the right course of life. The father's only interfere if you are going off the right path. Ketu and Pitris both guide the soul towards it's special mission in life. Planets in Magha are idealistic even if their mission is to fulfil their materialistic needs. This does create misunderstandings at times. Others suspect their honour and sincerity. Magha gives a lot materially, but the person ruled by Magha knows intuitively that the material happiness is only an experience, he still needs to follow the inner purpose of life and move towards Moksha.

Mula is the third Nakshatra ruled by Ketu. Mula is 0 degrees to 13 degrees 20' Sagittarius. This is the start of the final part of the Soul's mission towards finding the answers that will lead to his breaking away from the cycles of life and death. This is one of the most difficult Nakshatra for planets to be situated in specially the Moon. The deity that rules Mula is Nittriti, the goddess of death and destruction. This personifies the destruction of the material sheaths and the foundation on which the spiritual enfoldment can be undertaken. The pain experienced by the influence of Mula changes the personality. Attachment to the lower nature and material tendencies have to be severed so that a new spiritual beginning can happen. This is the Nakshatra of initiation towards spiritual realisation. Ketu fulfills it's role as Moksha karaka by arousing the soul towards it's ultimate destination. Mula means root and it also is Muladhara chakra (Base Chakra) where the Kundalini power lies dormant and has to be activated. Ketu rules this and Rahu with it's rulership of Shatabishak- the Crown Chakra indicate the real spiritual insight provided by the nodes. At times they create powerful negativity to focus your mind towards the absolute knowledge.

The quarters of Ketu's Nakshatras are ruled by Mars, Venus, Gemini and the Moon. Mars is courage, Venus- the guide to material fulfilment, Mercury the pure intellect and Moon, the emotional Mind. The signs these planets rule are Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer- the four sign that lead the soul towards experiencing the life on earth. Each pada (quarter) represents the ninth harmonic of the natal chart. Together these four signs represent the beginning stages of spiritual development. As the Ketu Nakshatras represent a point in cycle of life where we have to move towards the divine mission of the soul. They always indicate a beginning and an ending at two different levels. Aries is about discovery of new ideas and the courage to explore them. Taurus is where we nurture the creative potential of our new beginnings. Gemini develops the mind and the recognition of time, space, the working of the universal law. Cancer makes time and space possible. It is ruled by the Moon and Water which also leads us towards purification of mind and harmonising the spiritual and the material. The stages of the soul's journey are different in Ashwini (Mars) Magha (Leo) and Mula (Sagittarius) the underlying urge, represented by the quarters, is still the same- to evolve. The ending of one way of life and the beginning of another.

Kal Sarpa Yoga

Kala Sarpa Yoga is formed when Rahu Ketu hem in the planets in the natal chart i.e. if Rahu is 10 degrees Leo and Ketu 10 degrees Aquarius and all the planets are within these degrees, either from Leo to Aquarius or Aquarius to Leo (Vedic Astrology does not use the outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto). For this yoga to be complete, no planet should conjunct Rahu or Ketu. It restricts completely any indications of the charts. However capable the person, his life is impeded due to past Karma. Important lessons have to be faced in this life, where no amount of effort is rewarded, obstacles are encountered at every junction for inexplicable reasons.

The Yoga does not suggest either success or failure, but a person caught up in Karmic forces so great that they restrict his/ her destiny. It acts mysteriously, without other indications in the birth Chart. A heavy price is paid for past Karma in this life. Understanding and counter- acting the effects of Kala Sarpa Yoga needs a person to move towards his higher self. As Rahu and Ketu act on the inner self, the need to understand the psychic implications and the inner blocks created by this combination is important.


To judge the transits of Rahu Ketu we have to look at the planets they conjunct during their transit. The Sun and Moon being the most important planets. In 1998 when Rahu Ketu are transiting through the Leo Aquarius Axis, people with Leo Sun, Moon, Ascendant and Aquarius Sun, Moon, Ascendant are feeling the transforming effect of Rahu Ketu. The transit of Rahu Ketu gives clues to their unpredictability. They normal travel in a retrograde motion, the opposite to other planets. They will suddenly go direct and backwards again, representing the churning process. They can churn up your life, your inner emotion, force you to transform yourself, create unpredictability in your life. To know exactly how powerful their influence will be, you will have to study the eclipses. If the eclipses are taking place within 1to 2 degrees of your natal planets then they will be indicating a time for change. Here it is important to remember that the eclipses work on a psychological level, some of these influence may not be immediately obvious but will reveal themselves in time.

The transit of Rahu also needs to be seen through their Dashas- planetary cycles. They are each assigned a Mahadasha. Rahu has an 18 year period and Ketu a 7 years period. They also have sub- periods in planetary cycles of other planets through which they exercise their power and influence. Whenever the life cycles come into our life they have the overall control over factors which dictate what we are going to be doing.

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