There were nine planets in the Hindu astrological systems that influenced a man's thought, desire, and behavior. These were the Nava-Grahas, the forces of Fate that affected a man throughout his life. By their mere existence in the cosmos, they caused man to feel love, compassion, and desire. They also caused them to feel pain, hatred, or anger. However, they were merely influencers of human action. Their persuasion was only so powerful as the man was weak. Take control of your own fate, and even the Nava-Grahas could not harm you.
The Sun was the first of the Nava-Grahas. The administrator of the cosmos, he was a natural commander. Come under his graces, and man would feel an overwhelming urge to take charge. Those around him would be naturally inclined to follow. Such authority, however, comes with its share of pride. When that pride turned to arrogance, man would quickly became a danger to himself and his followers.
The moon was the second of the Nava-Grahas. His was the nurturing influence: kind and caring, but also emotional. A man influenced by the moon found himself compassionate of the woes of others, but he would also lose reasoning and logic.
Besides these, there was also Mangala-Mars-who made man into a hot-headed, charging warrior; Budha-Mercury-who was the sweet-talking politician; Brihaspathi-Jupiter-who was the wise advisor to the gods; Sukracharya-Venus-who was the voracious advisor to the demons; Sani-Saturn-who was the rigid and strict guardian; Rahu and Ketu-two halves of a snake-who, though they were not heavenly bodies, still heavily influenced human lives. Many of them have yet to take shape in the universe as men or gods, but their spirit flows through every man. All were needed for the universe to function; all were needed for humans to evolve, for it is the fight against these Nava-Grahas that allows them to transcend past the immoral human tendencies and to a state of peace that allows them to reach Nirvana. It was also for this reason that the Nava-Grahas had the favor and protection of the Divine Three. After all, no matter their flaws, they were all of them among the most arduous devotees of the Divine Three.
Sukracharya was no different. Having given up his kingdom to another, Sukracharya was now focused on gaining more wisdom through prayer and meditation so as to be a better guru to the demons. It was his dedication and determination that carried his calls to Lord Shiva now as he made his way through the forest with his bride behind him. He smiled, listening to his prayer: Om namah Shivay… Om namah Shivay… The time would soon come to appear before Sukracharya and grant him his wish, Shiva knew, but that time was not now for there was another man seeking Sukracharya's council.
Tharakasur found his guru seated under a Banyan tree, his body so still that the arms of the tree had slowly begun to encircle him. "Om namah Shivay," Sukracharya chanted slowly, repeatedly. He was lost in a trance that could not be broken, not by hunger, thirst, or the forces of nature. His skin hung limply over what was once a muscular frame. His hair hung matted down his back and a thick beard had formed over his once fearsome face. Tharakasur thought back to many years ago when he himself had been where Sukracharya was, praying mindlessly to Lord Shiva for a blessed boon that was now hanging over him as a death sentence. No, he had to wake the demon, he decided. His own fate, as well as the fate of Pathal Lok hung in the balance.
"Guru Sukra!" He called loudly. "Awaken!"
The man did not budge. "Om namah Shivay…" he continued.
Tharakasur pulled out his sword and hacked away a branch of the Banyan tree that had begun to curl its way around Sukracharya's arm. The branch fell heavily against the frail bones, but Sukracharya still would not awaken. With a growl of frustration, Tharakasur leaned forward and shook the man. "Awaken!"
"Fool!" Sukra cried, his eyes snapping open. "How dare you interrupt my prayer-"
"It is I, Guru Sukra!" Tharakasur bellowed. "It is your King come to you for council!"
Sukra stared at the demon before him angrily, half his mind on turning him to ash now, but he knew the efforts would be wasted. Neither was he a fool to think he could break the boon Lord Shiva himself had granted the demon-that only his son would be able to kill Tharakasur-nor did he think wasting him now would be wise for demon-kind. So, with practiced control, he forced himself to be patient. After all, how could he hope to gain Lord Shiva's favor by proving his devotion to him if that devotion was never tested? He would hear Tharakasur's plea, then resume his prayer even more arduously this time.
"Lord Shiva has wed Lady Sathi," Tharakasur told him.
Sukracharya laughed, though it sounded more like wheezing coughs coming from his weakened chest. "Congratulations, Tharakasur. You are about to die soon."
"I refuse to let it happen!" Tharakasur cried. "I-I will kill her! I will kill her before she can birth a child-"
"Kill Adi Shakti?" Sukracharya asked. "Really?"
"She is not Adi Shakti yet," Tharakasur replied, shaking his head. "She is a mere woman."
"A mere woman who also happens to be Lord Shiva's wife. Do you think he will take kindly to having a demon even think of attacking his wife?"
"What can he do?" Tharakasur retorted, chuckling. "Or do you forget that he himself has granted me a boon that no one can kill him except for his son?"
Sukracharya took a deep breath that made his ribs stick out against his paper-thin skin. "I will be surprised if he tries to kill you, Tharakasur. There are many more ways to incapacitate a man-more painful, more torturous ways. Were I him, I would think to cut off your arms, your legs, perhaps your tongues and ears as well, so that you suffer every second of your life and beg him to sire a son just so you may be granted death-"
"Guru Sukra! You forget your allegiance."
"I only give you my honest opinion of the matter."
"I would rather that you give me a plan of attack. Tell me what to do so I may rid myself of this threat once and for all."
"I suggest patience, Tharakasur. I suggest you wait till I receive my boon from Lord Shiva. Then, you will not even have to worry about your impending doom."
Tharakasur looked at him inquiringly. "And how will this boon rid me of my worries?"
Sukracharya smiled. "Be patient… and you shall see." Slowly, he closed his eyes once more and resumed his prayers. "Om namah Shivay…"
Tharakasur felt the sudden urge to run the guru through with his sword, but that would be most unwise for him, wouldn't it? Instead, he threw the sword in a graceful arc at the nearest tree, embedding the blade firmly in the wood. Patience? I am to be patient?! Why-so I may watch my own death approach with its silver blade pointed at my neck? He shook his head. No… no, he could not be patient. Not now! Damn Sukracharya and his puzzling advice! It was time for more drastic efforts...
Vidhya watched Sathi silently as their palanquin bobbed and weaved gently through the woods. They had talked for hours straight at the beginning of the journey, catching up on everything that had transpired over the past ten years. Sathi told her of what had happened more recently-how she had come to meet and fall so helplessly in love with Shiva. Vidhya noticed that she was still vague about the details concerning her father's anger, but she didn't push. She was more than happy to hear as much from her friend; the details could come later, all in due time. Vidhya did notice the uninhibited happiness in Sathi's eyes as they spoke though-it was the same happiness in her eyes even now as she watched the trees pass by, and Vidhya had to admit that she was a bit jealous of it. It was the same happiness Vidhya had longed for all her life-the happiness that came with whole-hearted love. Sathi had found someone who would always care for her and cherish her for as long as she lived. She had found someone who would put her happiness above his own, who would do everything it took to keep the tears from her eyes. What man or woman did not want that?
"What is it?" Sathi asked, finding Vidhya watching her.
Vidhya shook her head. "I am happy for you," she told her.
Sathi smiled. "Thank you, but don't think I've forgotten the promise I gave you all those years ago! We shall find you a charming, wonderful husband as well, just as we dreamed of when we were little girls!"
Vidhya laughed, "Just make sure he does not live on a mountain, alone with a bunch of wayward ghosts and spirits, with not a penny to his name! I'd like my husband to be rich and influential, mind you-" she suddenly stopped herself, realizing what she had insinuated. "I-I didn't mean to say… oh, dear! Sathi, please forgive me! I did not mean anything against Lord Shiva."
But Sathi simply shook her head for nothing could bring her down at the moment. "You are absolutely right in everything you said, Vidhya. He doesn't have a penny to his name and he cares not to influence anyone. He is a loner, but… he is my loner. How silly is that, hearing me say it? I never thought I myself would ever fall so madly for such a man… Someone who cared not for wealth or any material belongings, someone who was perfectly content spending all of eternity nestled into nature… but I have. I have fallen for him and everything that he is."
Vidhya leaned forward, concerned. "Are you not scared, though, of how his home shall be? How you shall live there?"
"Why would I be scared?"
"I don't know," Vidhya shrugged. "To be honest, it is scaring me a bit, and I am only to be a visitor! It's just… I've heard stories about him, Sathi, stories that terrified me! Did you know that he sleeps in a cemetery sometimes? That he is forever surrounded by the spirits of the dead-oh, and those dreadful Ganas of his! I've only known them for a few hours and I am not at all looking forward to dealing with them at Kailash! They neither know manners nor propriety! I walked into the kitchen this morning to find them devouring the left-overs from last night with their bare hands! It was absolutely dreadful to watch and you will have to deal with it all once Kailash becomes your home-"
Sathi's laughter cut her off. "Oh, Vidhya, you have not changed even one bit!" She mused. "Did you ever think, upon seeing the Ganas in the kitchen, that here was a group of hungry men whole-heartedly enjoying a wonderful meal with no regard to the restrictions of decorum? I will admit that I myself was shocked when I witnessed their first meal at the palace… but then there was such joy in their eyes as they praised the cooks! Even the cooks were stunned! What better compliment to them than seeing their food disappear so quickly? They were practically running back to the kitchens to make more and they were so happy to do so… All because the Ganas held no reservation in either enjoying their meal nor expressing their gratitude."
"I suppose," Vidhya replied thoughtfully, "but imagine having to deal with that every day. Imagine having to clean up after them. That will all be your responsibility, will it not? You are, after all, the lady of the house? I mean, you will be the only lady of the house, living among uncultured, improper vagabonds."
Sathi nodded. "That is true… I will be the only lady there. I don't suppose I shall mind though. The Ganas have shown me such love in the past few days that I doubt I will ever feel alone while among them."
Vidhya sighed. "I don't know how you shall cope with it. Personally, it would drive me mad to have to deal with them everyday. They are neither educated, nor cultured. It will be like dealing with a group of unruly children… all your life!"
Sathi leaned her head against the side of the palanquin and silently looked back to the trees outside.
"Tell me more of your husband, Sathi," Vidhya said, leaning forward eagerly. "I want to hear everything about him! How did he woo you? Did he beg your father for your hand? That's the sign of a serious lover, you know. They do not pay any attention to their own ego in order to get the woman they love!"
Sathi grinned. "He neither wooed nor begged, actually. In fact, he mostly told me to stay away from him."
"What?" Vidhya gasped. "Why would he say such a thing?"
"He wished to protect me, I suppose," Sathi replied thoughtfully. "Father did not approve of the marriage-" her eyes saddened slightly. "Shiva did not want me to go against Father's wishes by forcing this marriage."
"Well… I suppose that's nice," Vidhya replied, frowning.
Sathi looked at her, her eyebrows knitted. "What is it?"
Vidhya shook her head. "It's just… it's very sweet of him to consider your father's feelings in the matter…"
Vidhya sighed. "No 'but', Sathi. It's very sweet of him. Lord Shiva is a very nice man, that much is clear to me."
"I've always been able to see past your façades, Vidhya. I know there is something on your mind. Say it, I won't mind! I welcome your opinion."
Vidhya bit her lip. "Truly? You will not take offense?"
"Truly," Sathi replied.
"I only say it because I've known you for quite some time, Sathi-or I did when we were children! We grew up together, and I know the kind of woman you are: strong, fiercely independent, stubborn-your father's daughter in every way! You wouldn't listen to anything anyone said; you always knew what you wanted and you fought for it. No one could control you… no one even thought to try because we all admired you so much for those aspects."
"Thank you, Vidhya… I think?"
"It just concerns me that your husband doesn't seem to think the same."
Sathi rolled her eyes playfully. "And what makes you think that?"
"Oh lord, I don't know how to say this gently. Please do not take offense, Sathi, but I wonder why your husband looks to control your free spirit. Why else would he tell you to not follow your heart? It's as though he looks at you and sees a child, not the amazing, self-sufficient woman that I see. Why else would he seek to protect you?"
"You misunderstand him, Vidhya," Sathi said softly. "He simply understood father's reservations and sought to protect him from humiliation as much as he sought to protect me from losing my father's love. You forget that Lord Shiva is no mere man-he is god."
"From what I hear, you yourself are a goddess, are you not? So why would he need to protect you-?"
The palanquin came to a halt, cutting her off. Sathi leaned her head out of the window curiously and saw Shiva approach her. She smiled warmly, a wonderful joy elating her chest at his sight. "It will soon be nightfall and we have quite a ways to go," Lord Shiva told her. "We shall rest here for the night."
Sathi nodded and ducked her head back into the palanquin. As the men lowered them to the ground, Vidhya looked at their surroundings anxiously. "In the middle of the forest?" She asked. "Does he not worry that we will be attacked by wild animals?"
Sathi giggled. "He is Lord Shiva… what animal would dare to attack us with him standing guard?"
"I suppose," Vidhya replied, "but has he not the care to ask us of our opinion?"
Sathi did not hear her question as she ducked out of the palanquin. Immediately, she went to Shiva's side so she may feel his smile upon her. "My lord, shall we take a walk? I wish to stretch my legs."
Shiva's eyes traveled through the darkening woods slowly and Sathi sensed his apprehension though his smile did not falter.
"It is not dark yet," she said. "There is still an hour before night falls and we will be back plenty before then."
"As you wish," Lord Shiva replied. He waved his hand forward, motioning her to lead the way, and followed close behind her.
Vidhya watched the two leave and made to call to them, but what could she say? How could she interrupt a romantic walk between a newly-wed couple? So instead, she turned to watch the servants set up tents for them and sighed. "No, I'll stay here," she muttered to herself. "Thank you for asking, though."