In Indian astrology all planets have been classified into two categories, one auspicious and the other inauspicious. Besides, every planet has two phases, one when it leads its subject to better and the other when it leads to worse. Shani is considered as an inauspicious planet and quite tough and powerful. Hence when it is in its adversely affecting phase, it tremendously harms its subjects but contrarily in its favourable phase it as tremendously uplifts them. Similarly when appeased by worship it endows its devotees with unthought of happiness and riches. Hence people offer to Shani daily or at least on Saturdays oil to win its favour.
This brass piece is a wondrous representation of Shani. It seems to have been devised as both an art-piece and an altar for them who wish to appease Shani by their worship.Complicated patterns, threaded and intricately textured body define the character nature and ways of Shani. Its gold-like being is indicative of its immense power, wealth and of its origin from Sun, but the dark recesses set within are suggestive of its links with darkness. It moves as does a viper into imperceptible courses. The artist has hence cast its legs in python type. On both forearms there are human figures tied and upon its stomach there lies crucified yet another man. Its mind is Evil's abode symbolised in this representation by human figures clinging to its ears.Both figures are armed with huge rods. A Vaishnava 'tilaka' on its forehead relates to its origin but its owl type eyes to its birth from darkness. Shani's entire figure has been devised as hollow for it has to devour whatever comes its way.
Mythologically Shani was one of the three sons of Martanda, or Surya by Chhaya. Chhaya was the attendant of his wife Sangya who was Vishvakarma's daughter and had by Surya three sons. Grown weak after bearing three sons Sangya was unable to bear constant heat which prevailed around Surya. She persuaded Chhaya to take her place and when she had agreed, transformed her into her own form and leaving her to take care of Surya returned to her father's abode. Taking Chhaya as Sangya Surya cohabitted with her and bore by her three sons with Shani as the youngest. Born with the brilliance and energy of Surya Shani was exceptionally brilliant and energetic but with the genesis of Chhaya, or Darkness, he was as much ill minded. He always harassed his other brothers particularly those born of Sangya. Finally to get rid of him Surya allocated to him a place amongst planets and he became one of them. He served Shiva and Brahma and fought against Narakasura in favour of Shiva during his battle against Tripura. But grown powerful he began harassing human beings. Shiva persuaded him to refrain from it and as compensation declared him as the chief of all planets and commanded him to grant them happiness and prosperity who worshipped him. Shani threatened Rohini. As Rohini was Vishvakarma's favourite, the tussle between the two took a devastating turn and it engulfed into it entire earth. Since then whenever Rohini and Shani are in the same zodiac division, which is quite rare, destruction lands on earth. Once it happened during the reign of Dasharatha, the king Ayodhya. For protecting his subjects Dasharatha attacked Shani for the release of Rohini. However, Shani proved mightier. Dasharatha ultimately worshipped Shani and appeased it. Rohini was released only thereafter.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.