Yanluo Wang

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Yanluo Wang or Yamla (Chinese: 閻羅王; pinyin: Yánluó Wáng; Wade–Giles: Yen-lo) is a deity in Chinese religion and Taoism, and the ruler of Diyu, the underworld. The name Yanluo is a shortened Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term Yamarāja (閻魔羅社). He is also the judge of the underworld and passes judgment on all the dead.

Azuchi-Momoyama period wall scroll depicting Yanluo Wang

According to legend, he is often equated with Yama from Buddhism, but actually, Yanluo Wang has his own number of stories and long been worshiped in China. His personification is always male, and his minions include a judge who holds in his hands a brush and a book listing every soul and the allotted death date for every life. Bullhead and Horseface, the fearsome guardians of hell, bring the newly dead, one by one, before Yanluo for judgement. Men or women with merit will be rewarded good future lives, or even revival in their previous life. Men or women who committed misdeeds will be sentenced to torture and/or miserable future lives. Yanluo is not one particular god. There were said to be cases in which an honest mortal was rewarded the post of Yanluo.

Adoption by Taoism and folk religionEdit

Statue of Yanluo Wang (Enma) at Nariai-ji

Drawing from various Indian texts and local culture, the Chinese tradition proposes several versions concerning the number of hells and deities who are at their head. It seems that originally there were two competing versions: 136 hells (8 big ones divided into 16 smaller ones) or 18 hells, each of them being led by a subordinate king of Yanluo Wang.

They were strongly challenged from the Tang dynasty by a new version influenced by Taoism, which adopted Yanluo Wang to make it the fifth of a set of ten kings (Shidian Yánluó wáng 十殿閻羅王, Guardian king-sorter of the ten chambers) each named at the head of a hell by the Jade Emperor. The other nine kings are: Qinguangwang (秦廣王), Chujiangwang (楚江王), Songdiwang (宋帝王), Wuguanwang (五官王), Kachengwang (卡誠王), Taishanwang (泰山王), Pingdengwang (平等王) Dushiwang (都市王) Zhuanlunwang (轉輪王), typically Taoist names. They compete with Heidi, another Taoist god of the world of the dead. Yanluo Wang remains nevertheless the most famous, and by far the most present in the iconography.[1]

However, then it disappears completely from the list, giving way to a historical figure, a magistrate appointed during his lifetime as judge of the dead by a superior deity. This magistrate is most often Bao Zheng, a famous judge who lived during the Song dynasty. Sometimes he is accompanied by three assistants named "Old Age", "Illness" and "Death".[2]

Variable identityEdit

In the syncretistic and non-verbal world of Chinese religion, Yanluo Wang's interpretation can vary greatly from person to person. While some recognize him as a Buddhist deity, others regard him as a Taoist deity in competition with Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha. Generally seen as a frightening deity, he can also present the more reassuring image of a righteous and just judge or advocate of dharma.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Chenivesse, Sandrine (1998). Fengdu : cité de l'abondance, cité de la male mort. pp. 287–339.
  2. ^ "酆都鬼城與道教有何關係 ?" [Yama is not a "lifetime system"? The history contains more than three people]. www.wikiwix.com (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 2010-09-30.