Yama – The Lord of Death – Indian Mythology


Perhaps other than Indra, no other Vedic character has undergone so large a transformation by the time of the Puranas. In the Rig Veda, he is the son of Saranyu (daughter of Tvashta, the artisan God) and Vivasvant (associated with the sun).
In other places in the Rig Veda, Yama is the first man, sort of an Adam. His twin sister Yami calls him “the only mortal” in her dialogue [R.V.10.10], where she incites him to commit incest with her. He is righteous and rejects her sinful advances. He states, “The Gods are always watching our actions and shall punish the sinful”.
He voluntarily chose death, departing to the other world. He found the path to the land of his fathers. Death is his realm. His death caused immense grief to Yami, who was inconsolable. When the Gods wished her to cease crying, she replied, “How can I not mourn, for today is the day of my brother’s death!” To cure her grief, the Gods created night. From that time, night follows day, and the cycle of time began.
The owl and the pigeon are mentioned as his messengers. Two four-eyed, broad-nosed, bridled dogs, the sons of Sarama (the celestial bitch) are his regular emissaries. They guard the path along which the dead man hastens to join his fathers (Pitris) who rejoice with Yama.
By the time of the Puranas, Yama is said to be the son of Surya and Sangya (who is the daughter of Vishwakarma), and is the brother of the planet Shani. He is one of the eight guardians of directions, responsible for south. He is the lord of the dead, and all mortals go to his court to be judged. His scribe Chitragupta, keeps a record of all the deeds of men. Yama sentences the soul to either heaven or hell based on the balance of Karma. In his role as the judge, Yama is also referred to as Dharmaraja, the lord of justice. His knowledge of the scriptures is immense and and he is the ultimate arbiter of truth and falsehood.
He resides in Yamapuri and is a staunch devotee of Vishnu. His servants are called Kinkaras, who perform the duty of bringing the mortal soul to judgment. He rides a buffalo and is himself dark in color. He carries a noose in his hand, the Yama Paasa, with which he sunders the soul from its mortal cage.
There are many popular stories involving Yama. The Katha Upanishad tells the story of how Nachiketa, a young Brahmana boy, went to his abode and sought from him the answers to the secrets of death and that of the soul.
In another story, Yama is thwarted from taking the soul of Maarkandeya, whose life span was up, but who, by his devotion to Shiva was able to conquer death.
In the Mahabharata, he is the father of Yudhishtra, the eldest Pandava. Vidura, the chief-minister of Dhritharashtra is possess an aspect of Yama, and shares his knowledge of truth and falsehood.

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