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Yama is the Hindu Lord of death whose first recorded appearance is in the Vedas. He is one of the most ancient mythological beings in the world and parallel forms of one sort or another have been found all over Eurasia. He is known as Yima by Zoroastrians, Enma in Japanese legend, may be cognate with Ymir of Norse legend and even share the same mythological roots as Abel.

The spirits of the dead, on being judged by Yama, the Pluto of Hindu mythology, are supposed to be either passing through a term of enjoyment in a region midway between the earth and the heaven of the gods, or undergoing their measure of punishment in the nether world, situated somewhere in the southern region, before they return to the earth to animate new bodies. In Vedic mythology Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died, and espied the way to the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence to have become the ruler of the departed; in some passages, however, he is already regarded as the god of death.


Characteristics of Yama

Yama, Lord of Death, was revered in Tibet as guardian of spiritual practice. The Dharmapala at the upper right is painted wood and four feet high in total.

  • In Hinduism, Yama is also the Lord of Justice. He is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his unswerving dedication to maintaining order (death is inevitable) and adherence to harmony. It is said that he is also one of the wisest of the gods, devas, and he is in fact a teacher in one of Katha Upanishad , one of the most famous of the Upanishads (sacred Hindu texts).
  • He is a Lokapala and an Aditya. In art, he is depicted with green skin, red clothes and riding a buffalo. He holds a loop of rope in his left hand with which he pulls the soul from the corpse. In Vedic belief, Yama refers to the first mortal to die, and having discovered a way to the other world, he is the guide of the dead. He is the son of Surya (Sun) and twin brother of Yami, traditionally the first human pair in Hindu mythology. Later, he was deified and worshiped as a son of Vivasvat and Saranya. He is one of the Ashta-Dikpalas, representing the south. He reports to Lord Shiva the Destroyer, an aspect of Trimurti (Hinduism's triune Godhead). Three hymns in the Rig Veda Book 10 are addressed to him (hymn 10, 14, 135).

Subordination to Shiva and Vishnu.

Yama, although a controller, is still subordinate to the Ultimate Controller, Shiva and Vishnu.

  • A story of Yama's subordinance to Shiva is well-illustrated in the story of Markandeya , available at [[1]] The story of Markandeya, illustrates that God's grace can overcome karma and death for His beloved devotee. Yama is called Kala or Time while Shiva is called Mahakala , whose meaning is available at [2]
  • Another story shows Yama's subordinance to Vishnu is described in the story of Ajamila , who in the Bhagavata Purana, in reference[[3]] had done a lot of bad deeds during his life such as stealing, abandoning his wife and children, and marrying a prostitute, at the moment of death, involuntarily chanted the name of Narayana, and moksha or union with God and was saved from the messengers of Yama. Ajamila, at the moment of his death, actually was thinking the name of his youngest son. But the name of God has powerful effects and he was forgiven for his great sins.
  • The two stories of Ajamila and Markandeya , illustrate Yama's subordinance to Shiva and Vishnu. Death, although a controller, is still subject to God whose grace can make the lame walk and the blind see.
  • Yama is said to judge all actions of human beings after death and renders punishments such as sending them to Naraka or hell.

Ten Traditional Yamas or Codes of Conduct

  • The Yamas are codified as "the restraints" in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varuha Upanishads, Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, the Tirumantiram of Tirumular and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. All the above texts list ten yamas, with the exception of Patanjali's work, which lists only five. They comprise the "shall-nots" in our dealings with the external world.
  • The ten traditional yamas are:
  1. Ahimsa: abstinence from injury, harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed at any time. This is the "main" Yama. The other nine are there in support of its accomplishment.
  2. Satya: truthfulness, word and thought in conformity with the facts.
  3. Asteya: non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt.
  4. Brahmacharya: divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithful when married.
  5. Kshama: patience, releasing time, functioning in the now.
  6. Dhriti: steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion.
  7. Daya: compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.
  8. Arjava: honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.
  9. Mitahara: moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor to little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
  10. Shaucha: purity, avoidance of impurity in body, mind and speech. (Note: Patanjali's Yoga Sutras list Shaucha as the first of the Niyamas.)

They are found in the Sadhana Pada Verse 30 as:

  1. Ahimsa
  2. Satya
  3. Asteya
  4. Brahmacharya
  5. Aparigraha: absence of avariciousness, non-appropriation of things not one's own.

Other Meanings of Yama.

  • In the anime and manga YuYu Hakusho, Enma (The Japanese name for Yama) is fictionalized as the ruler of the spirit world and the father of Koenma. He is known as Yama in the English anime.

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Last updated: 10-18-2005 14:49:19
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