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Yama or Yamarāja is the god of death, belonging to an early stratum of Rigvedic deities. In Sanskrit, his name can be interpreted to mean "twin". In the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism, he is called "Yima". According to the Vishnu Purana, his parents are the sun-god Surya and Sanjna, sometimes called Ushas, the daughter of Vishvakarman. Yama is the brother of Sraddhadeva Manu and of his older sister Yami, which Horace Hayman Wilson indicates to mean the Yamuna. According to Harivamsa Purana her name is Daya. There is a one-of-a-kind temple in Srivanchiyam, Tamil Nadu dedicated to Yama.
Mentioned in the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism, Yama subsequently entered Buddhist mythology in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism as a dharmapala under various transliterations. He is otherwise also called as "Dharmaraja".
In Hinduism, Yama is the lokapala ("Guardian of the Directions") of the south and the son of Brahma. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the 10th book of the Rig Veda are addressed to him. He has two dogs with four eyes and wide nostrils guarding the road to his abode (cf. hellhound). They are said to wander about among people as his messengers.
In the Puranas, Yama, although one of the most powerful controllers, is still subordinate to Shiva and Vishnu because they are different aspects of the overruling Brahman. A story of Yama's subordination to Shiva is well-illustrated in the case of Markandeya, where Shiva as Kalantaka ("Ender of Death") stops Yama and rescues his devotee Markandeya from his clutches.
Another story found in the Bhagavata Purana shows Yama's subordination to Vishnu. The man Ajamila had committed many evil acts during his life such as stealing, abandoning his wife and children, and marrying a prostitute.
At the moment of his death, he involuntarily chanted the name of Narayana (another Sanskrit name for Vishnu) and achieved moksha and was saved from the "yamdoot"s - the servants of Yama. Although Ajamila had actually been calling out the name of his youngest son, Narayana's name has powerful effects, and thus Ajamila was released from his great sins. Please note however that the "Vishnudoot"s - the servants of Vishnu didn't take Ajamila with them. Ajamila after having heard directly the conversation between the Yamadoots and Vishnudoots realized the importance of human life, left his family, did intense bhakti in Vrindavan and finally Vishnu appeared and granted him liberation from the death and re-birth cycle.
In art, Yama is depicted with blue skin and red clothes and rides a water buffalo. He holds a loop of rope in his left hand with which he pulls the soul from the corpse. His earthly counterparts in Mahabharata were Yudhisthira and Vidura.
The Buddhist Yama has however, developed different myths and different functions from the Hindu deity. He has also spread far more widely and is known in every country where Buddhism is practiced, including China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan.
Naraka in Hinduism is similar to the Christian Hell, but serves only as a temporary purgatory where the soul is purified of sin by its suffering. In Hindu mythology, Naraka holds many hells, and Yama directs departed souls to the appropriate one. Even elevated Mukti-yogyas and Nitya-samsarins can experience Naraka for expiation of sins.
Although Yama is the lord of Naraka, he may also direct the soul to a Swarga (heaven) or return it to Bhoomi (earth). As good and bad deeds are not considered to cancel each other out, the same soul may spend time in both a hell and a heaven. The seven Swargas are: Bhuvas, Swas (governed by Indra), Tharus, Thaarus, Savithaa, Prapithaa, Maha (governed by Brahma).
The idea of Naraka in Sikhism is like the idea of Hell. One's soul, however, is confined to 8.4 million life cycles before taking birth as a human, the point of human life being one where one attains salvation, the salvation being sach khand. The idea of khand comes in multiple levels of such heavens, the highest being merging with God as one. The idea of Hell comes in multiple levels, and hell itself can manifest within human life itself. The Sikh idea of hell is where one is apart from naama and the Guru's charana (God's lotus feet (abode)). Without naama one is damned. Naama is believed to be a direct deliverance by God to humanity in the form of Guru Nanak. A Sikh is hence required to take the Amrit (holy nectar/water) from gurubani, panj pyare (khanda da pahul) to come closer to naama. A true Sikh of the Gurus has the Guru himself manifest and takes that person into sach khand.
Naraka is usually translated into English as "hell" or "purgatory". A Naraka differs from the hells of western religions in two respects. First, beings are not sent to Naraka as the result of a divine judgment and punishment; second, the length of a being's stay in a Naraka is not eternal, though it is usually very long. Instead, a being is born into a Naraka as a direct result of his or her previous karma (actions of body, speech and mind), and resides there for a finite length of time until his karma has exhausted its cumulate effect.
Chinese and Japanese mythology
Mandarin Diyu, Japanese Jigoku, Korean Jiog, Vietnamese Địa ngục literally "earth prison", is the realm of the dead or "hell" in Chinese mythology and Japanese mythology. It is based upon the Buddhist concept of Naraka combined with local afterlife beliefs. Incorporating ideas from Taoism and Buddhism as well as traditional religion in China, Di Yu is a kind of purgatory place which serves not only to punish but also to renew spirits ready for their next incarnation. This is interchangeable with the concept of Naraka.
In Japanese mythology, Enma-O or Enma Dai-O judges souls in Meido, the kingdom of the waiting dead. Those deemed too horrible are sent to Jigoku, a land more comparable to the Christian hell. It is a land of eternal toil and punishment. Those of middle note remain in meido for a period awaiting reincarnation. Others, of high note, become honored ancestors, watching over their descendants.
Yama and Ymir
In a disputable[according to whom?] etymology, W. Meid (1992) has linked the names Yama (reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European as *yemos) and the name of the primeval Norse frost giant Ymir, which can be reconstructed in Proto-Germanic as *umijaz or *jumijaz, in the latter case possibly deriving from PIE *ym̥yos, from the root yem "twin". In his myth, however, Ymir is not a twin, and only shares with Yama the characteristics of being primeval and mortal. However, Ymir is a hermaphrodite and engenders the race of giants.
In Iranian mythology
A parallel character in Iranian mythology and Zoroastrianism is known as Yima Xšaēta, who appears in the Avesta. The pronunciation "Yima" is peculiar to the Avestan dialect; in most Iranian dialects, including Old Persian, the name would have been "Yama". In the Avesta, the emphasis is on Yima's character as one of the first mortals and as a great king of men. Over time, *Yamaxšaita was transformed into Jamšēd or Jamshid, celebrated as the greatest of the early shahs of the world. Both Yamas in Zoroastrian and Hindu myth guard hell with the help of two four-eyed dogs.
In Javanese culture
There is Yamadipati in Javanese culture, especially in wayang. The word adipati means ruler or commander. When Hinduism first came to Java, Yama was still the same as Yama in Hindu myth. Later, as Islam replaced Hinduism as the majority religion of Java, Yama was demystified by Walisanga, who ruled at that time. So, in Javanese, Yama became a new character. He is the son of Sanghyang Ismaya and Dewi Sanggani. In the Wayang legend, Yamadipati married Dewi Mumpuni. Unfortunately, Dewi Mumpuni fell in love with Nagatatmala, son of Hyang Anantaboga, who rules the earth. Dewi Mumpuni eventually left Yamadipati, however.
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- F. Max Müller (Editor): The Zend-Avesta Part III, page 232
- Effectuation of Shani Adoration pg. 10-15.
- H.H. Wilson: The Vishnu Purana Volume 1, page 384
- Shanti Lal Nagar: Harivamsa Purana Volume 2, page 281
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- Shanti Lal Nagar: Harivamsa Purana Volume 1, page 85
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- Rigveda 10.14.10-12.
- Srimad Bhagavatam SB 5.26.3
- Sherman, Josepha (August 2008). Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore. Sharpe Reference. pp. 118–121. ISBN 978-0-7656-8047-1.