Yama (Hinduism)

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This article is about the deity Yama in the Hindu tradition. For the deity Yama in other religious traditions, see Yama . For other uses, see Yama (disambiguation).
"Dharma (Hinduism)" redirects here. For the Hindu concept, see Dharma.
Yama on buffalo.jpg
Devanagari यम
Affiliation Deva
Abode Naraka
Mantra Om Surya puthraya Vidhmahe MahaKalaya Dheemahi Thanno Yama Prachodayath[1]
Weapon Danda
Consort Syamala
Mount water buffalo

In Hindu mythology, Yama (Sanskrit: यम) is the lord of death. He is mentioned in the Rigveda, as one who helped mankind find a place to dwell in and gave every individual the power to tread any path he wants to.[2] In Vedic tradition Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes, thus in virtue of precedence he became the ruler of the departed.[citation needed] He is described as Yama's name can be interpreted to mean "twin", and in some myths he is paired with a twin sister Yamī.

Yama is associated with different and inconsistent roles in Hindu mythology, sometimes as the lord of justice, sometimes with Dharma as in Brahma Purana, sometimes different from deity Dharma as in other Puranas.[3]

Yama is also found in Buddhist texts. The Buddhist Yama, however, has developed different myths.[4]


Yama holding a danda

Yama is the deity of death in Indian mythology. His assistants who help him in doing his work, in Hindu Puranic mythology, are Kala (time), Jwara (fever), Vyadhi (disease), Krodha (anger) and Asuya ( jealousy). He is one of the Lokapāla and represents the south cardinal direction. Yama is varying referred to, in different texts, as the god of justice, Dharma or someone different from these deities.[3]

In the Katha Upanishad, Yama is portrayed as a teacher to Nachiketa the legendary little boy, and their conversation evolves to a discussion of the nature of man, knowledge, Atman (Soul, Self) and moksha (liberation).[5]

In the Epic Mahabharata, he is the father of Yudhishthira (also known as Dharmaraja), the oldest brother of the 5 Pandavas (Karna was born prior to Kunti's wedlock, so technically Karna is Yudhishthira's older brother) and is said to have incarnated as Vidura by some accounts in the Mahabharata period.

In other texts, Yama is called Kāla ("Time"), but so are other gods in Hindu patheon, such as Shiva.[6] the latter is also called Mahākāla ("Great Time") in his form as the destroyer of the world.[7]

In the Rigveda[edit]

In the Rig Veda he is mentioned as the son of Vivasvat and of Saranya, the daughter of Tvastar, with a twin sister named Yami.[8] Only three hymns (10.14, 10.135, and 10.154) in the Rig Veda are addressed to him. There is one other (10.10) consisting of a dialog between Yama and his sister Yami.[9] Yama's name is mentioned about 50 times in the Rig Veda but almost exclusively in the first and (far oftener) in the tenth book.[10]

Agni, who is a conductor of the dead, has close relations with Yama.[11] In RV 10.21.5 Agni is said to be the friend (kāmya) of Yama, and in RV 10.52 Agni is Yama's priest, serving as the burner of the dead.[12] Agni, Yama, and Mātariśvan are mentioned together as the names of one being, along with other forms of the divine, in RV 1.164.46, which says that "learned priests call one by many names."[13]


In art, some Sanskrit sources say that he should be of dark color, resembling the rain-cloud, with two arms, fire-colored eyes and sharp side-tusks. He is depicted with red clothes (somewhere black cloths), and seated either on a lion throne or a he-buffalo.[14] A different iconographic form described in the Viṣṇudharmottara depicts him with four arms and wearing golden yellow garments.[15] He holds a noose (pāśa) of rope in one hand. He is also depicted holding a danda which is a Sanskrit word for "stick".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yama mantra
  2. ^ The Rig Veda/Mandala 10/Hymn 14 Ralph Griffith (Translator), see also hymns 10.135-10.136
  3. ^ a b K Merh (1996), Yama: the Glorious Lord of the Other World, DK Publishers, ISBN 978-8124600665, pages 196-199
  4. ^ Alice Getty (1988), The Gods of Northern Buddhism, Dover, ISBN 978-0486255750, pages 149-154
  5. ^ Paul Deussen, Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120814684, pages 269-273
  6. ^ Chidbhavananda 1997, p. 77, name #533
  7. ^ Apte 1965, For Mahākāla as an epithet of Shiva see p. 749, middle column
  8. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 525
  9. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  10. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  11. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  12. ^ The characterization of Agni as "priest" in RV 10.52 is from Macdonell (1898, p. 171). Arya & Joshi (2001, vol. 4, p. 319) note Wilson's version "(the servant) of Yama" referring to Agni as the burner of the dead.
  13. ^ Arya & Joshhi, vol. 1, p. 434.
  14. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 526
  15. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 526


  • Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965). The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Fourth Revised and Enlarged 1975 ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-0567-4. 
  • Arya, Ravi Prakash; Joshi, K. L. (2001). Ṛgveda Saṁhita: Sanskrit Text, English translation according to H. H. Wilson and Bhāṣya of Sāyaṇācārya (4 volumes, Second Revised ed.). Parimal Publications. ISBN 81-7110-138-7. 
  • Chidbhavananda, Swami (1997). Siva Sahasranama Stotram (Third ed.). Sri Ramakrishna Tapovanam. 
  • Macdonell, A. A. (1898). Vedic Mythology (Reprint Delhi 1974 ed.). Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd. ISBN 81-208-1113-5. 
  • Rao, T. A. Gopnatha (1914). Elements of Hindu Iconography (2 volumes, 1999 reprint ed.). D. K. Publishers. ISBN 81-7536-169-7. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Garuda Purana. Wood, Ernest and Subrahmanyam, S.V. (trans.). BiblioBazaar, LLC. 2008. ISBN 1-4375-3213-6. 
  • Meid, W. 1992. Die Germanische Religion im Zeugnis der Sprache. In Beck et al., Germanische Religionsgeschichte – Quellen und Quellenprobleme, pp. 486–507. New York, de Gruyter.

External links[edit]