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Yama in Hinduism


  • Yama is a god of death, belonging to Rigvedic deities. In the Rigveda he is mentioned as one who assisted human beings to find a residence and provided power to everyone to follow path he desires. Agni has close relations with Yama. Agni is said to be the friend of Yama. Yama, Matarisvan and Agni are mentioned together as the names of one being. As per the Vishnu Purana, his parents are the sun-god Surya and Sanjna. Yama is the brother of Yami and Sraddhadeva Manu. In Hindu Puranic mythology, Asuya (jealousy), Krodha (anger), Vyadhi (disease), Jwara (fever), and Kala (time) are his assistants. In the Katha Upanishad, Yama is shown as a tutor to Nachiketaa and they discuss moksha (liberation), Atman (Soul, Self), knowledge and the nature of man. There is a temple in Srivanchiyam, Tamil Nadu dedicated to Yama.
  • In the Vedas, Yama is the first mortal who died. He became the ruler of the departed, and is called "Lord of the Pitrs".
  • As mentioned in the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism, Yama later entered Buddhist mythology in East Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. He is also known as "Dharmaraja".
  • In Hinduism, Yama is the son of Brahma and the "Guardian of the Directions". His two dogs with four eyes and wide noses guard the road to his residence. They wander about among people as his messengers.
  • In the Puranas, Yama is still subordinate to Vishnu and Shiva. A story of subservience of Yama to Shiva is explained in the case of Markandeya, in which Shiva prevents Yama and saves his follower Markandeya.
  • One more story in the Bhagavata Purana illustrates subordination of Yama to Vishnu. The man Ajamila had committed a number of evil acts such as marrying a prostitute, abandoning his children and wife and stealing. At the time of his death, he chanted the name of Vishnu and attained moksha and was saved from the servants of Yama and thus Ajamila was released from his sins.
  • In art, Yama is shown riding a water buffalo with red clothes and blue skin. In his left hand he grips a loop of rope through which he takes out the soul from the dead body. Vidura and Yudhishthira were his earthly equivalents in Mahabharata.
Yama in Buddhism
  • In Buddhism, Yama is a dharmapala (angry god) said to assess the deceased and preside over the Narakas (Hells) and the cycle of rebirth.
  • The Buddhist Yama has developed different functions and different myths from the Hindu deity. He has spread more widely and is known in Japan, Vietnam, Korea and China.
  • In the Far East, Yama is among the 12 Devas, like caretaker deities, who are found in or around Buddhist shrines. He has been called "Emma-ten" in Japan. He joins following other 11 Devas of Buddhism, found in Japan and other areas of southeast Asia: Chandra (Gat-ten), Surya (Nit-ten), Prithvi (Chi-ten), Brahma (Bon-ten), Varuna (Sui-ten), Kubera (Tamon-ten), Ishana (Ishana-ten), Vayu (Fu-ten), Nirrti (Rasetsu-ten), Agni (Ka-ten) and Indra (Taishaku-ten).
  • In Tibet, Yama is revered as a protector of spiritual practice and as the Lord of Death.
  • Yama's precise role is vague in official texts, but is clearer in unofficial texts and common beliefs, even though these are not always same as Buddhist philosophy.
  • The Buddha states in the Pali canon that one who has ill-treated elders, holy persons, ascetics or his parents is brought to Yama after his death. Yama asks the person if he ever thought his own bad conduct in light of death, worldly retribution, sickness, deterioration and birth. The person answers that he did not. As a result is sent to a hell so long as that bad action has not exhausted its result.
  • Modern Theravadin countries depict Yama sending punishments, disease, old age and other tragedies among human beings as warnings to behave well. After death, they are brought before Yama, who evaluates their character and sends them to their proper rebirth, whether to one of the hells or heavens or to earth.