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In Hinduism, Yama (Sanskrit: यम) is the lord of death. In the Rigveda, he is mentioned as the one who helped humankind find a place to dwell, and gave every individual the power to tread any path which he or she chooses.[2] In Vedic tradition, Yama was considered to be the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes; thus, as a result, he became the ruler of the departed.[3] Yama's name can be interpreted to mean "twin", and in some myths he is paired with a twin sister Yami. He also has two twin brothers, Ashvini Kumaras.

God of Death
Guardians of the eight directions 04.JPG
AffiliationLokapala, Shiva gana
MantraOm Surya puthraya[disambiguation needed] Vidhmahe MahaKalaya Dheemahi Thanno Yama Prachodayath[1]
MountBuffalo/water buffalo
Personal information
ParentsSurya and Sandhya
SiblingsShani, Yami, Ashvins, Tapati, Bhadra, Manu

Yama is associated with various roles in Hinduism that are not always consistent throughout the stories. Sometimes, he is the lord of justice and is associated with Dharma, such as in the Brahma Purana; in other Puranas, Yama has no association with Dharma at all.[4]

Yama is also found in Buddhist texts. The Buddhist Yama, however, has developed different myths.[5]


In Buddhism, Yama appears as Yamantaka

Yama is the deity of justice in Hinduism. In Hindu Puranic scriptures, those who assist him in his work are Kala (time), Jara (old age), Vyadhi (disease), Krodha (anger) and Asuya (jealousy). He is one of the Lokapāla and represents the south cardinal direction. In different texts, Yama can be referred to as the god of justice, as the deity Dharma, or a completely different figure altogether.[4]

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 humans, knowledge, Atman (soul, self) and moksha (liberation).[6]

In the Epic Mahabharata, he is the father of Yudhishthira (also known as Dharmaraja), the oldest brother of the five Pandavas (Karna was born prior to Kunti's wedlock, so technically Karna is Yudhishthira's older brother). In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Yama was incarnated as a shudra called Vidura due to a curse[7].

In other texts, Yama is called Kāla ("Time"), but so are other gods in Hindu pantheon, such as Shiva.[8] The latter is also called Mahākāla ("Great Time") in his form as the destroyer of the world.[9] Among the Nuristanis, the deity is known as Imra.[10]

In the RigvedaEdit

In the Rig Veda he is mentioned as the son of Vivasvan and of Saranya, the daughter of Tvastar, with a twin sister named Yami.[11] 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 dialogue between Yama and his sister Yami.[12] Yama's name is mentioned roughly fifty times in the Rig Veda, but almost exclusively in the first and (far more frequently) in the tenth book.[13]

Agni, who is a conductor of the dead, has close relations with Yama.[14] 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.[15] 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."[16]


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 or black cloths, and seated either on a lion throne or a he-buffalo.[17] A different iconographic form described in the Viṣṇudharmottara depicts him with four arms and wearing golden yellow garments.[18] 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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ Yama mantra
  2. ^ The Rig Veda/Mandala 10/Hymn 14 Ralph Griffith (Translator), see also hymns 10.135-10.136
  3. ^ Arthur Anthony Macdonell. Vedic Mythology. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 172.
  4. ^ a b K Merh (1996), Yama: the Glorious Lord of the Other World, DK Publishers, ISBN 978-8124600665, pages 196-199
  5. ^ Alice Getty (1988), The Gods of Northern Buddhism, Dover, ISBN 978-0486255750, pages 149-154
  6. ^ Paul Deussen, Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120814684, pages 269-273
  7. ^ "SB 1.13.15 - Vanisource". Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  8. ^ Chidbhavananda 1997, p. 77, name #533
  9. ^ Apte 1965, For Mahākāla as an epithet of Shiva see p. 749, middle column
  10. ^ Minahan, James B. (10 February 2014). Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 205. ISBN 9781610690188. Living in the high mountain valleys, the Nuristani retained their ancient culture and their religion, a form of ancient Hinduism with many customs and rituals developed locally. Certain deities were revered only by one tribe or community, but one deity was universally worshiped by all Nuristani as the Creator, the Hindu god Yama Raja, called imr'o or imra by the Nuristani tribes.
  11. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 525
  12. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  13. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  14. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Arya & Joshhi, vol. 1, p. 434.
  17. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 526
  18. ^ 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 readingEdit

  • The Garuda Purana. Wood, Ernest and Subrahmanyam, S.V. (trans.). BiblioBazaar, LLC. 2008. ISBN 1-4375-3213-6.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • 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 linksEdit