An allegory pointing towards this nature of Shani contends that Shani has its house on the mound of gold but, not around on the mound, Shani always looks below and beyond it in the darkness. This mask with gold’s glow on the face and with impenetrable darkness in the eyes seems to reconstruct this allegory into a visual medium. Shani’s ways are obscure, and designs, intricate. Slower than the sun and faster than most other planets, Shani, riding its iron chariot, accomplishes its round of the earth in thirty months period; obviously it frequents a zodiac division faster than do most other planets, and hence, its influence is more often and more powerfully felt. Conventionally Shani loves oil as offering made to it, perhaps because it helps lubricate and move the wheels of its iron-chariot, which it rides, and which, being over-used, frequently jam.
The Indian astrology classifies all planets either as auspicious or as inauspicious. Similarly, every planet has a phase of positive influence leading its subject to greater heights in the areas it operates in, as also a phase of negative influence when it affects reversals. Tough to deal with, and powerful in casting its influence, Shani is classed among inauspicious planets. Obviously, Shani inflicts severer damage than do other planets when it passes through the phase of negative influence, though contrarily in the phase of its positive influence its power to uplift is simply tremendous. It bestows its subjects with unprecedented happiness and wealth when by their worship they are able to appease it.
Basically a mask for a wall in the house, this magnificent brass cast is both, a lustrous art-piece as also an auspicious symbol guarding the house-inmates from all evil influences whether planets-generated or otherwise. The representation of a mere face, in the mask reflects Shani’s complete astrological personality. Its gold-like lustre symbolises its power to bestow happiness and riches, and is also suggestive of its origin from the sun, while in its horror-inspiring owl-like eyes, wide open mouth and dark recesses set within the eyes and the mouth reveal its fearful aspect as also Shani’s links with darkness, which it inherited from its mother Chhaya – shadow, the sun’s other wife. Dotted eyeballs, large fully exposed teeth, threadlike textured moustaches with knotted ends and over-large and thickly conceived eyebrows, and an over-imposing headdress appropriately define Shani’s character, nature and ways, and all so powerfully that the rest of the planet’s figure, its anatomy and mythicism, becomes irrelevant.
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.