Rahu Ketu is 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.
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.