In Hinduism, Yama (Sanskrit: यम) - also referred to as Yamaraja - is the lord of death and of justice, being responsible for the dispensation of law and punishment of sinners. Yama is also found in Buddhist texts; The Buddhist Yama however, has developed different myths.[2]

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


In Buddhism, Yama appears as Yamantaka
  • 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". The Rig Veda (see below) mentions he has a twin sister, Yami.
  • He is one of the Lokapāla - Guardians of the Directions - representing the south cardinal direction.
  • Yama is often depicted as riding a water-buffalo.
  • Yama is also analogous to Hades, the Greek god of the underworld.

In other texts, Yama is called Kāla ("Time"), but so are other gods in Hindu pantheon, such as Shiva.[4] The latter is also called Mahākāla ("Great Time") in his form as the destroyer of the world.[5] Among the Nuristanis, the deity is known as Imra.[6]


Vedas (Rig Veda)Edit

In the Rig Veda, Yama is the son of Vivasvan and of Saranya (the daughter of Tvastar), and has a twin sister named Yami.[7] He helped humankind find a place to dwell, and gave every individual the power to tread any path in life which he or she so chooses.[8]

Yama has three hymns (10.14, 10.135, and 10.154) directly addressed to him. There is one other (10.10) consisting of a dialogue between Yama and his sister Yami.[9]. Yama is mentioned roughly fifty times in the Rig Veda, almost exclusively in the first and (far more frequently) in the tenth book.[10]

Agni, the god of fire, has close relations with Yama.[11] In hymn 10.21.5, Agni is said to be the friend (kāmya) of Yama, and in hymn 10.52 Agni is Yama's priest, serving as the burner of the dead.[12] Agni, Yama, and Mātariśvan are mentioned together as the names of one being, along with other forms of the divine, in 1.164.46, which says that "learned priests call one by many names."[13]


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).[14]


In the epic Mahabharata, Yama 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).

Bhagavad GitaEdit

In the Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata, Krishna states:

'Of the celestial Naga snakes I am Ananta; of the aquatic deities I am Varuja. Of departed ancestors I am Aryama and among the dispensers of law I am Yama, lord of death.' Chapter 10, Verse 29


Yama and his abode are frequently mentioned in the Puranas.

Srimad Bhagavatam / Bhagavad PurunaEdit

In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Yama was incarnated as a shudra called Vidura due to being cursed for being too harsh in his punishments:

'As long as Vidura played the part of a śūdra, being cursed by Maṇḍūka Muni, Aryamā officiated at the post of Yamarāja to punish those who committed sinful acts.' Canto 1, Chapter 13, Verse 15

Vidura, a devotee of Krishna, is the main protagonist in the third canto. In this canto, after being thrown out of his home by King Dhritarashtra (his older brother) for admonishing the Kuru's behaviour towards the Pandavas, Vidura went on a pilgrimage where he met other devotees such as Uddhava and the sage Maitreya, who revealed Vidura's true origin:

'I know that you are now Vidura due to the cursing of Māṇḍavya Muni and that formerly you were King Yamarāja, the great controller of living entities after their death. You were begotten by the son of Satyavatī, Vyāsadeva, in the kept wife of his brother.' Canto 3, Chapter 5, Verse 20

In the third canto, Krishna also states Yama punishes sinners, as relayed to Vidura (again, an incarnation of Yama) by Maitreya during their conversation about the origin and creation of the universes:

'The brahmanas, the cows and the defenceless creatures are My [Krishna's] own body. Those whose faculty of judgement has been impaired by their own sin look upon those as distinct from Me. They are just like furious serpents, and they are angrily torn apart by the bills of the vulturelike messengers of Yamaraja, the superintendent of sinful persons.' Canto 3, Chapter 16, Verse 10

Brahma PuranaEdit

In the Brahma Purana, Yama is the lord of justice and is associated with Dharma.

Garuda PuranaEdit

In the Garuda Purana, Yama and his realm where sinners are punished are detailed extensively, including in the twelfth chapter called 'The Realm of Yama'.

Vishnu PuranaEdit

In the Vishnu Purana, Yama is the son of sun-god Surya and Sandhya, the daughter of Vishvakarma.


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.[15] A different iconographic form described in the Viṣṇudharmottara depicts him with four arms and wearing golden yellow garments.[16] He holds a noose (pāśa) of rope in one hand. He is also depicted holding a danda which is a Sanskrit word for "stick".


There are few temples dedicated to the worship of Yama. All known temples and shrines are located in India.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Yama mantra
  2. ^ Alice Getty (1988), The Gods of Northern Buddhism, Dover, ISBN 978-0486255750, pages 149-154
  3. ^ Arthur Anthony Macdonell. Vedic Mythology. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 172.
  4. ^ Chidbhavananda 1997, p. 77, name #533
  5. ^ Apte 1965, For Mahākāla as an epithet of Shiva see p. 749, middle column
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 525
  8. ^ The Rig Veda/Mandala 10/Hymn 14 Ralph Griffith (Translator), see also hymns 10.135-10.136
  9. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  10. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  11. ^ Macdonell 1898, p. 171
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Arya & Joshhi, vol. 1, p. 434.
  14. ^ Paul Deussen, Sixty Upanishads of the Veda, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120814684, pages 269-273
  15. ^ Rao 1914, vol. 2, p. 526
  16. ^ 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