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Devanagari यम
Affiliation Deva
Abode Naraka
Weapon Danda
Consort Yami or Syamala
Mount water buffalo

Yama (Sanskrit: यम) is the lord of death in Hinduism, first recorded in the Vedas. Yama belongs to an early stratum of Indo-Iranian theology. 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. In some passages, however, he is already regarded as the god of death. Yama's name can be interpreted to mean "twin", and in some myths he is paired with a twin sister Yamī.

Yama is assisted by Chitragupta who is assigned with the task of keeping complete records of actions of human beings on the earth, and upon their death deciding to have them reincarnated as a superior or inferior organism, depending on their actions on the earth (Karma).

Yama is also the lord of justice and is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his unswerving dedication to maintaining order and adherence to harmony.

Yama can be compared to the Greek deity Hades or Pluto, the god of the underworld.


Yama holding a danda

Yama is a Lokapāla and an Aditya. He is the son of Surya (Sun) and twin brother of Yami, or Yamuna, traditionally the first human pair in the Vedas. Interestingly Surya's two sons Shani and Yama judge. Shani gives us the results of one's deeds through one's life through appropriate punishments and rewards; Yama grants the results of one's deeds after death.[1]

He is one of the Guardians of the directions and represents the south. Yama is also the god of justice and is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his unswerving dedication to maintaining order and adherence to harmony. It is said that he is also one of the wisest of the devas. In the Katha Upanishad, among the most famous Upanishads, Yama is portrayed as a teacher. He is the father of Yudhisthira (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.

Yama is called Kāla ("Time"). Shiva is also called Kāla ("Time")[2] as well as Mahākāla ("Great Time") in his form as the destroyer of the world.[3]

In the Rigveda

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

Agni, who is a conductor of the dead, has close relations with Yama.[7] 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.[8] 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."[9]


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, and seated either on a lion throne or a he-buffalo.[10] A different iconographic form described in the Viṣṇudharmottara depicts him with four arms and wearing golden yellow garments.[11] He holds a noose of rope (pāśa) in one hand.

Garuda Purana mentions Yama often. His description is in 2.5.147-149: "There very soon among Death, Time, etc. he sees Yama with red eyes, looking fierce and dark..., with fierce jaws and frowning fiercely, chosen as their lord by many ugly, fierce-faced hundreds of diseases, possessing an iron rod in his hand and also a noose. The creature goes either to good or to bad state as directed by him." In 2.8.28-29, "...the seven names of Yama, viz Yama, Dharma-raja, Mrtyu, Antaka, Vaivasvata, Kala, Sarva-pranahara...". His wife is Syamala (3.17.4-5, 3.29.16, 24-25).

Subordination to Shiva and Vishnu

Kalantaka-Shiva defends his devotee Markandeya from Yama, who is seated on his bull.

Yama, although one of the most powerful controllers, is still subordinate to the controllers Shiva and Vishnu because they are different aspects of the overruling Brahman. A story of Yama's subordination to Shiva is well-illustrated in the story of Markandeya, where Shiva as Kalantaka ("Ender of Death") slays Yama and rescues his devotee Markandeya from his clutches.

Another story found in the Bhagavata Purana shows Yama's subordination to Vishnu. The man Ajamila had committed many evil acts during his life such as stealing, abandoning his wife and children, and marrying a prostitute. At the moment of his death he involuntarily chanted the name of Narayana (another Sanskrit name for Vishnu) and achieved moksha, becoming saved from the messengers of Yama. Although Ajamila had actually been thinking the name of his youngest son, Narayana's name has powerful effects, and thus Ajamila was released from his great sins.

See also


  1. Effectuation of Shani Adoration pg. 10.
  2. Chidbhavananda 1997, p. 77, name #533
  3. Apte 1965, For Mahākāla as an epithet of Shiva see p. 749, middle column
  4. Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 525
  5. Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  6. Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  7. Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  8. 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.
  9. Arya & Joshhi, vol. 1, p. 434.
  10. Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 526
  11. 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. 

Further reading

External links