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LEXICON

 

 

Yama

Sanskrit-Pali. Vedic god of death. The judge of the dead and guardian of the South. His name is related to the Sanskrit word yahma (याम), which means ‘cessation’ or ‘end’. He is the very powerful son of the sun god Surya (fig.). As the god of death, Yama executes the orders of Kala, the god of time, as it is time that eventually leads to death. His mount is a buffalo (fig.), or sometimes a bull, and in India and Tibet, he is often depicted with a bull's head, in line with a popular myth about his origins. That particular myth relates that a holy man was told that if he would spent 50 years living in deep meditation in a cave, he would reach Enlightenment. On the very last night before completing the 50 years, two robbers entered his cave with a stolen bull. As they were in the process of beheading the bull, they realized that the hermit had witnessed their act and they decided to kill him. He begged them to spare his life, explaining them that he would soon reach Enlightenment, and that all his efforts would be lost if they would kill him before the 50 years had expired. However, the thieves ignored his request and beheaded him. Immediately, he assumed the ferocious form of Yama and put the bull’s head on his own headless body. He then killed the thieves and drank their blood from cups made from their skulls. However, in his fury, he threatened to wipe out the entire population of Tibet, causing the Tibetan people to appeal to Manjushri for protection against Yama. In response, Manjushri assumed the form of Yamantaka (fig.) and defeated Yama, then turned him into a protector of Buddhism, and thus saved the people. To confront death, Yamantaka manifested the form of death itself, but in a magnified appearance. Hence, in art, both Yama and Yamantaka may be represented with bull’s heads, but Yama can be distinguished by a dhammachakka that he wears as an ornament on his breast, a symbol of the Buddhist teaching and his idiosyncratic mark. In tantric iconography, he may appear standing on a bull, which is copulating with a woman lying on the ground (fig.). Another myth narrates that Yama was a king in Aryan times, who was the first man to die, thereby venturing into the realm of the dead, of which he eventually became the ruler (fig.). In some instances, he is depicted with a large scale, used to measure ones deeds and pass down a befitting judgment (fig.). In Thai, called Yom (fig.) and Phra Yom, and in Chinese Yan Wang (fig.) and Yan Mo (fig.). In the Mahabharata episode on the Pandava Tribe, this deity is associated with (or known as) Dharma, the god of virtue, justice and morality, as well as of politics, and the heavenly father of Yudhishthira with Kunti, the first wife of King Pandu. Yama's consort is known as Yamuna. See also Diyu.