On the fringes of Kolkata, Shani worship is making a comeback.
A number of aspects of local cultlike deities have been projected onto 'borthakur' (i.e. 'big deity', for Shani's name is best not taken directly). Most of the devotees are poor women -- household maids, rickshaw pullers' wives, pavement dwellers -- who all greatly fear the evil eye in their precarious lives. For those of who you want to know if India is Shining, visit one of these Shani shrines on the noonday of a borthakur rite and see a yardful of crones in fearful supplication.
Shani - Saturn - is a son of Sun by his second wife Chhaya (shade). Yama, one of the children of the Sun's first wife Sanjana, became angered with Shani and struck him in the knee. Thus Saturn walks with a limp, and is the slowest of the celestial movers. Chandra the moon stays in each zodiac (background of fixed stars) for 2-3 days, Surya the Sun for a month, Mangal (Mars) for 45 days, Brihaspati (Jupiter) for 13 months, but sanaischara (slow moving) Shani takes a full 30 months to limp across each zodiac. Shani entering Rohini bodes disaster. (Rohini is a vedic asterism, its main star is Aldeberan in the constellation Taurus.)
Of the 9 navagrahas -- primary celestial beings -- Shani is the most sinister and, well, saturnine. Shani is the karak, or instigator, of longevity, misery, sorrow, old age and death. He is associated with ignorance and loss of awareness, which can also mean a loss of awareness of the material plane. In that sense Shani is also ascetic with a rich mine of inner spirituality.
Who Shani does not break, he makes. Those in favor with Shani get from him ambition, power, and a slow, canny determination to prevail. The legend of Shani also intersects with another aboriginal deity of India, Hanuman. Hanuman was instrumental in releasing Shani from the clutches of Ravana. A sure antidote to shani-dasha (falling in the clutches of Saturn, i.e. a string of bad luck) is to worship Hanuman on a Saturday. In other words, Hanuman is a symbol of selflessness, while Shani is symbolic of ego and pride; to counter the malefic karma borne of selfish action, one must inculcate humility like Hanuman.
A king setting up a market guaranteed that he would purchase anything that remained unsold. One day a blacksmith brought an iron image of Shani. Alas, no buyer could be found for this malefic icon. The king bound by his promise took the image of Shani to his palace and installed him along with the other household gods. The next day, Lakshmi bid adieu to the monarch -- she would not share premises with someone as sinister as Shani. The riches of the kingdom went with Lakshmi and the king fell on hard times. One by one, the other gods, too, left -- with Kartikeya went military might; with the Ashwini twins gaiety and entertainment; with Dharma went the moral compass of the subjects, who started to fall upon each other. Finally, only Satya -- Truth -- was left. Why don't you leave too? asked the other gods. I can't, said Truth. In keeping his word to the blacksmith the king has become protected by me. In forsaking the king, O gods, you are forsaking one who lives by Truth, said Satya. A shamefaced Dharma returned to the king's household. In his trail came Lakshmi, and then one by one all the other gods and goddesses, restoring the kingdom to splendour and glory.