God of Death and Justice
|Other names||Dharmaraja, Yamraja, Kala|
|Affiliation||Lokapala, Deva, Gana|
|Mantra||Om Surya puthraya Vidhmahe MahaKalaya Dheemahi Thanno Yama Prachodayath[a]|
|Weapon||Danda, Noose and Mace|
|Siblings||Yami, Ashvins, Shraddhadeva Manu, Revanta, Shani and Tapati|
|Children||Sunita, Yamakumara, others; Bharata (Ramayana), Yudhishthira (spiritual son)|
|Roman equivalent||Remus, Dis Pater, Pluto|
Yama (Sanskrit: यम), also known as Yamaraja, Kala, and Dharmaraja is the Hindu god of death and justice, responsible for the dispensation of law and punishment of sinners in his abode, Yamaloka. He is often identified with Dharma, the personification of Dharma, though they have different origins and mythologies. From there, he has remained a significant deity, appearing in some of the most important texts of Hinduism including the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
Yama is one of the Lokapalas (guardians of the realms), appointed as the protector of the south direction. He is often depicted as a dark-complexioned man, riding a buffalo and carrying a noose or mace to capture souls. Scriptures describe him as the twin of Yami, and the son of the sun god Surya (in earlier traditions Vivasvat) and Sanjna. Some of his major appearances include in the tales of the Pandavas, Savitri Satyavan and the sage Markandeya. He is accompanied by Chitragupta, another deity associated with death. In modern culture, Yama has been depicted in various safety campaigns in India. He is the god of death and justice as mentioned above.
In Hinduism, Yama is the lokapala ("Guardian of the realms") of the south and the son of Surya. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the 10th book of the Rig Veda are addressed to him. In Puranas, Yama is described as having four arms, protruding fangs, and complexion of storm clouds, with a wrathful expression; surrounded by a garland of flames; dressed in red, yellow, or blue garments; holding a noose and a mace or sword; and riding a water-buffalo. He holds a noose (pāśa) of rope in one hand, with which he seizes the lives of people who are about to die. He is also depicted holding a danda which is a Sanskrit word for "staff". Yama is the son of Surya and Saranyu. He is the twin brother of Yami, brother of Shraddhadeva Manu and the step brother of Shani and his son was Katila. There are several temples across India dedicated to Yama. As per Vishnu Dharmottara, Yama is said to be represented on a buffalo, with garments like of heated gold, and all kinds of ornaments. He has four arms with the complexion of rain clouds. Dhumorna, his wife, is represented sitting on the left haunch of Yama and she has the colour of a dark blue lotus.
In the Rigveda, Yama is the son of a solar deity Vivasvat and Saraṇyū and has a twin sister named Yamī. He is cognate to the Avestan Yima, son of Vīvanhvant. The majority of Yama's appearances are in the first and tenth book. Yama is closely associated with Agni in the Rigveda. Agni is both Yama's friend and priest, and Yama is stated to have found the hiding Agni. In the Rigveda, Yama is the king of the dead, and one of the two kings that humans see when they reach heaven (the other being Varuna). Yama is stated to be a gatherer of the people, who gave dead people a place to rest. Out of the three Rigvedic heavens, the third and highest belong to Yama (the lower two belong to Savitr). Here is where the gods resides, and Yama is surrounded by music. In the ritual sacrifice, Yama is offered soma and ghee, and is invoked to sit at the sacrifice, lead the sacrificers to the abode of the gods, and provide long life.
In the dialogue hymn between Yama and Yamī (RV 10.10), as the first two humans, Yamī tries to convince her twin brother Yama to have sex with her. Yamī makes a variety of arguments, including continuing the mortal line, that Tvashtar created them as a couple in the womb, and that Dyaush and Prithvi are famous for their incest. Yama argues that their ancestors, "the Gandharva in the waters and the watery maiden," as a reason not to commit incest, that Mitra-Varuna are strict in their ordinances, and that they have spies everywhere. By the end of the hymn, Yamī becomes frustrated but Yama remains firm in his stance. However, by RV 10.13.4, Yama is stated to have chosen to leave offspring, but Yamī is not mentioned.
Vedic literature states that Yama is the first mortal, and that he chose to die, and then proceeded to create a path to the "other world", where deceased ancestral fathers reside. Due to being the first man to die, he is considered the chief of the dead, lord of settlers, and a father. Throughout the course of Vedic literature, Yama becomes more and more associated with the negative aspects of death, eventually become the god of death. He becomes associated with Antaka (the Ender), Mṛtyu (Death), Nirṛti (Decease), and Sleep.
Yama has two four-eyed, broad nosed, brindled, reddish-brown dogs, and are the sons of Saramā. However, in the Atharvaveda, one of dogs is brindled and the other is dark. The dogs are meant to track down those who are about to die, and guard the path to Yama's realm. Scholars who adhere to Theodor Aufrecht's interpretation of RV 7.55 state that the dogs were also meant to keep wicked men out of heaven.
The Vājasaneyi Saṃhitā (the White Yajurveda) states Yama and his twin sister Yamī both reside in the highest heaven. The Atharvaveda states Yama is unsurpassable and is greater than Vivasvat.
The Taittirīya Aranyaka and the Āpastamba Śrauta state that Yama has golden-eyed and iron-hoofed horses.
In the Katha Upanishad, Yama is portrayed as a teacher to the Brahmin boy Nachiketa. Having granted three boons to Nachiketa, their conversation evolves to a discussion of the nature of being, knowledge, the Atman (i.e. the soul, self) and moksha (liberation). From the translation by Brahmrishi Vishvatma Bawra:
Yama says: I know the knowledge that leads to heaven. I will explain it to you so that you will understand it. O Nachiketas, remember this knowledge is the way to the endless world; the support of all worlds; and abides in subtle form within the intellects of the wise.— Chapter 1, Section 1, Verse 14
In the epic Mahabharata, Yama is the father of Yudhishthira (also known as Dharmaraja), the oldest brother of the five Pandavas. Yama most notably appears in person in the Yaksha Prashna and the Vana Parva, and is mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita.
In the Yaksha Prashna, Yama appears as a yaksha (nature spirit) in the form of a Crane to question Yudhishthira and test his righteousness. Impressed by Yudhishthira's strict adherence to dharma and his answers to the riddles posed, Yama revealed himself as his father, blessed him, and brought his younger Pandava brothers back to life. From the Yaksha Prashna article linked:
The Yaksha [Yama] asked, "What enemy is invincible? What constitutes an incurable disease? What sort of man is noble and what sort is ignoble"? And Yudhishthira responded, "Anger is the invincible enemy. Covetousness constitutes a disease that is incurable. He is noble who desires the well-being of all creatures, and he is ignoble who is without mercy".
In the Vana Parva, when Yudhishthira asks the sage Markandeya whether there has ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi's, the sage replied by relating the story of Savitri and Satyavan. After Savitri's husband Satyavan died, Yama arrived to carry away his soul. However, Yama was so impressed with Savitri's purity and dedication to dharma and to her husband, he was convinced to instead bring Satyavan back to life.
In the Tirtha-yatra Parva (Book 3, Varna Parva, CXLII), Lomasa tells Yudhishthira 'in days of yore, there was (once) a terrible time in the Satya Yuga when the eternal and primeval Deity [Krishna] assumed the duties of Yama. And, O thou that never fallest off, when the God of gods began to perform the functions of Yama, there died not a creature while the births were as usual.'
This led to an increase in the population and the Earth sinking down 'for a hundred yojanas. And suffering pain in all her limbs.' The earth sought the protection of Narayana, who incarnated as a boar (Varaha) and lifted her back up.
In the Udyoga Parva, it is stated that the wife of Yama is called Urmila.
In the Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata, Krishna states:
Of the celestial Naga snakes I am Ananta; of the aquatic deities I am Varuna. Of departed ancestors I am Aryama and among the dispensers of law I am Yama, lord of death.— Chapter 10, Verse 29
Yama and his abode are frequently mentioned in the Puranas.
In the third and fourth cantos of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Yama was incarnated as a shudra called Vidura due to being cursed by a sage for being too harsh in his punishments. From the A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada / Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) translation:
As long as Vidura played the part of a śūdra, being cursed by Maṇḍūka Muni [also known as Māṇḍavya Muni], Aryamā officiated at the post of Yamarāja to punish those who committed sinful acts.— Canto 1, Chapter 13, Verse 15
Vidura, a devotee of Krishna, is the main protagonist in the third canto. In this canto, after being thrown out of his home by King Dhritarashtra (his older half-brother) for admonishing the Kaurava's ignoble behaviour towards the Pandavas, Vidura went on a pilgrimage where he met other devotees of Krishna such as Uddhava and the sage Maitreya, the latter of whom revealed Vidura's true origin to him:
I know that you are now Vidura due to the cursing of Māṇḍavya Muni and that formerly you were King Yamarāja, the great controller of living entities after their death. You were begotten by the son of Satyavatī, Vyāsadeva, in the kept wife of his brother.— Canto 3, Chapter 5, Verse 20
Krishna also states Yama punishes sinners, as relayed to Vidura (again, an incarnation of Yama) by Maitreya during their conversation about the origin and creation of the multiverse:
The brahmanas, the cows and the defenceless creatures are My [Krishna's] own body. Those whose faculty of judgement has been impaired by their own sin look upon those as distinct from Me. They are just like furious serpents, and they are angrily torn apart by the bills of the vulturelike messengers of Yamaraja, the superintendent of sinful persons.— Canto 3, Chapter 16, Verse 10
A detailed account of the punishment of a sinner upon their death is also provided, beginning with their seizure and journey to Yamaloka (i.e. Hell):
As a criminal is arrested for punishment by the constables of the state, a personal engaged in criminal sense gratification is similarly arrested by the Yamadutas, who bind him by the neck with a strong rope and cover his subtle body so that he may undergo severe punishment. While carried by the constables of Yamaraja, he is overwhelmed and trembles in their hands. While passing on the road [to Yamaloka] he is bitten by dogs, and he can remember the sinful activities of his life. He is thus terribly distressed.— Canto 3, Chapter 30, Verses 20–21
In the sixth canto, Yama (not as Vidura nor with Aryama in the post; see third and fourth canto) instructs his messengers, the Yamadutas, when questioned about who has supreme authority in the universe since there are so many gods and demigods:
Yamarāja said: My dear servants, you have accepted me as the Supreme, but factually I am not. Above me, and above all the other demigods, including Indra and Candra, is the one supreme master and controller. The partial manifestations of His personality are Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva, who are in charge of the creation, maintenance and annihilation of this universe. He is like the two threads that form the length and breadth of a woven cloth. The entire world is controlled by Him just as a bull is controlled by a rope in its nose.— Canto 6, Chapter 3, Verse 12
In the tenth canto, Krishna and Balarama travel to Yama's abode to bring back the dead son of their Guru, Sandipani Muni:
Lord Janārdana took the conchshell that had grown around the demon’s body and went back to the chariot. Then He proceeded to Saṁyamanī, the beloved capital of Yamarāja, the lord of death. Upon arriving there with Lord Balarāma, He loudly blew His conchshell, and Yamarāja, who keeps the conditioned souls in check, came as soon as he heard the resounding vibration. Yamarāja elaborately worshiped the two Lords with great devotion, and then he addressed Lord Kṛṣṇa, who lives in everyone’s heart: “O Supreme Lord Viṣṇu, what shall I do for You and Lord Balarāma, who are playing the part of ordinary humans?”
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Suffering the bondage of his past activity, My spiritual master’s son was brought here to you. O great King, obey My command and bring this boy to Me without delay.
Yamarāja said, “So be it,” and brought forth the guru’s son. Then those two most exalted Yadus presented the boy to Their spiritual master and said to him, “Please select another boon.”— Canto 10, Chapter 45, Verses 42–46
In the Brahma Purana, Yama is the lord of justice and is associated with Dharma. Mentions include:
Riding on his terrible buffalo, the god of Death Yama hastened to that place. He was holding his sceptre (rod of chastisement). His physical body was yellow in colour. In prowess he was comparable to none. He was unparalled in brilliance, strength and power of demanding obedience. His limbs were well developed and he wore garlands.— Brahma Purana, Chapter 30.9–12
In the Garuda Purana, Yama and his realm where sinners are punished are detailed extensively, including in the twelfth chapter called 'The Realm of Yama'. In this text, the name of Yama's wife is Syamala.
In the Matsya Purana, In addition to his battles against the asuras, Yama is mentioned extensively:
In the Vishnu Purana, Yama is the son of sun-god Surya (named Vivasvan in the Vedas, also means 'sun') and Sandhya (named Saranya in the Vedas, is another name), the daughter of Vishvakarma (named Tvastar in the Vedas emerged from the navel of Vishvakarman). During a conversation with his servant, Yama states that he is subordinate to Vishnu.[c] While establishing the relationship between Vishnu and Lakshmi, the Chapter 8 of Book 1 describes Dhumorna as Yama's consort.
The names and numbers of Yama's wives differ from text to texts. In most texts like Mahābhārata, Vishnu Purana and Vishnudharmottara, it is described that Yama married Dhumorna, alias Urmila. In other texts like Garuda Purana, Syamala is described to be his wife. In some texts, Yama is depicted with three wives Hema-mala, Sushila and Vijaya. The most detailed account of Yama's marriage is found in the Bhavishya Purana where his wife is Vijaya (sometimes referred as Shyamala), daughter of a Brahmina lady named Urmila.
As per Brahma Purana, the name of his elder daughter is Sunita, who is the mother of the king Vena. Some texts mention Sobhavati as the daughter of Yama, married to Chitragupta. In the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava, was blessed by Dharma to Kunti.
Yama is generally identified with Dharmadeva, the god who represents the concept of Dharma. However, there are several differences in the mythologies of the two deities. Yama is the described as the son of sun god Surya and his wife Sanjna, while Dharma was born from the breast of the creator god Brahma. Yama's wife is mentioned to be Dhumorna, while Dharma married 10 or 13 daughters of the god Daksha.
There is a Chitral district by the Chitral river in the Swat(Suvastu) region in the north-western Indian subcontinent. The language spoken amongst others are Chitrali and Kalash. Of note is the fact that even in the remaining currently practiced form of ancient Hinduism in the region, certain deities were revered either in one community/tribe or other. Only one was universally revered as the Creator that is the ancient Hindu god Yama Râja called imr'o in Kâmviri. The ancient region had historical and cultural links to the nearby regions of Gilgit-Baltistan, Kashmir and Nooristan. The Srivastu/Suvastu region is also said to be the place of origin of Srivastava clan.
In addition to his depiction in movie and television adaptations of scriptures such as in the television series, Yama has also been depicted in road safety campaigns in India, particularly to warn against the dangers of riding motorcycles without helmets. Dharma Raja has been depicted as a character in "The Star-Touched Queen" and "A Crown of Wishes" by Roshani Chokshi.
Vedic lifestyle, Scriptures, Vedas, Upanishads, Itihaas, Smrutis, Sanskrit
Sanskrit text, English translation according to H.H. Wilson and Bhāṣya of Sāyaṇācārya4 volumes
The Samhitas of the Rig, Yajur (White and Black), Sama, and Atharva Vedas