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, and 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 loosely related to the Greek deity Hades or Pluto, the god of the underworld.


Characteristics of Yama

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.[citation needed] 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]

Yama in the Ṛgveda

In the Ṛgveda he is mentioned as the son of Vivasvat and of Śaraṇyu, the daughter of Tvaṣṭṛ, with a twin sister named Yami.[4] Only three hymns (10.14, 10.135, and 10.154) in the Ṛgveda 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 Ṛgveda 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).

From: Wiki
Yama (Sanskrit: यम), also known as Yamarāja (यमराज) in India and Nepal, Shinje (གཤིན་རྗེ།) in Tibet, Yamano (야마노) in South Korea, Yanluowang (閻羅王) or simply Yan (閻) in China, and Enma Dai-Ō (閻魔大王) in Japan, is the lord of death, first recorded in the Vedas. The name Yanluo (simplified Chinese: 阎罗; traditional Chinese: 閻羅; pinyin: Yánluó; Wade–Giles: Yen-lo) is a shortened Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit term यम राज Yama Rājā, or "King Yama". Enma Dai-Ō is a further transliteration, meaning "Great King Yama", where Enma means Yama, Enma-Ō means Yama Rājā and Enma Dai-Ō would be equivalent to यम महाराज Yama Mahārāja.

Yama belongs to an early stratum of Vedic mythology. In Vedic tradition Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence he became the ruler of the departed. Yama's name can be interpreted to mean "twin", and in some myths he is paired with a twin sister Yamī.

Yama is a Lokapāla and an Aditya. In art, he is depicted with green or red skin, red clothes, and riding a water buffalo. He holds a loop of rope in his left hand with which he pulls the soul from the corpse. He is the son of Surya (Sun) and twin brother of Yami, or Yamuna, traditionally the first human pair in the Vedas. He was also worshiped as a son of Vivasvat and Saranya. He is one of the Guardians of the directions and represents the south. He reports to Lord Shiva the Destroyer, an aspect of Trimurti. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the Rig Veda Book 10 are addressed to him. He has two dogs (cf. Hellhound) with four eyes and wide nostrils guarding the road to his abode. They are said to wander about among people as his messengers.[1] There is a one of a kind temple in Srivanchiyam, Tamil Nadu, India, dedicated to Yama.

The Vedic Yama, with certain changes of function, was the basis for the Buddhist Yama, judge of the dead, who presides over the Buddhist Hells. The Buddhist Yama became an integral part of Chinese and Japanese mythology. Although ultimately based on the god Yama of the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Yama has developed different myths and different functions from the Hindu deity.

Yama's abode
Naraka (Hindu)

Naraka in Hinduism is not equivalent to Hell in Christian faith. Naraka is only a purgatory where the soul gets purified of sin by sufferings. In Hindu myth, there are many hells, and Yama, Lord of Justice, sends human beings after death for appropriate punishment. Even Mukti-yogyas (souls eligible for mukti or moksha), and Nitya-samsarins (forever transmigrating ones in Dvaita theology) can experience Naraka for expiation.

According to Hindu mythology, based on one's good and bad deeds, Yama decides which Naraka (lower world or hell) and/or Swarga (higher world or heaven) the soul needs to spend time in, before returning to Bhoomi (earth) - the only world from which the soul can permanently escape the birth and death cycle. Good and bad deeds don't cancel out each other, and thus the same soul may spend time in both a hell and a heaven, The seven Narakas are: Athala, Vithala, Suthala, Paathaala, Mahaadhala, Rasaadhala, Dharaadhala. The seven Swargas are: Bhuvas, Swas (governed by Indra), Tharus, Thaarus, Savithaa, Prapithaa, Maha (governed by Brahma).

From: Wiki
According to the popular version of the mythological origins of Yama (the god of death), a holy man was once told that if he spent fifty years living in deep meditation in a cave, he would reach enlightenment. On the night of the twenty-ninth day of the eleventh month of the forty-ninth year, two robbers entered his cave with a stolen bull whose head they proceeded to cut off. When they realized that the hermit had witnessed their act, they decided to kill him. He begged them to spare his life, explaining that in a few minutes he would reach enlightenment and that all his efforts would be lost if they killed him before the expiration of the fifty years. The thieves ignored his request and cut off his head. Immediately, he assumed the ferocious form of Yama and put the bull's head on his own headless body. He then killed the two robbers and drank their blood from cups made from their skulls. In his fury, he threatened to destroy the entire population of Tibet. The Tibetan people appealed to the deity Manjushri (the Bodhisattva of wisdom), to protect them from Yama. Manjushri then had to assume the form of Yamantaka, defeating Yama, and turning him into a protector of Buddhism, in order to save the people.

From: here (also has image of a statue)
Yama is the messenger or god of death and the judge of men. He is represented as a green coloured man, clothed in red garments and wearing a crown. He wears a flower on his head. He carries a mace in one hand, and a noose in the other for catching his victims. He is sometimes shown as having four arms and sometimes two. His mount is a black buffalo.

The twin brother of Yami, who later became the river Yamuna, he was the first mortal to (lie and having discovered the way to the other world, is the guide of those who depart this world, lie has two ravenous dogs, each with four eyes and wide nostrils. They guard the road to his abode and wander amongst men summoning them to their master. In the Puranas, Yama is called the judge of men who, when they die, are brought before him amid Chitragupta (the Record Keeper) with whom their actions have been recorded. The virtuous are conveyed to heaven (Swarga) and the wicked to different regions of hell (Namaka). After death the soul takes four hours and forty minutes to reach Yama. Therefore a dead body should not be cremated before this time has elapsed.

Brahma, after creating the world, realized that a place for judgement and punishment for the wicked was wanting. He therefore requested Vishwakarma, the architect god, to create one. This legendary place created for Yama has a mild and salubrious climate and there is no fear of enemies or any affliction of mind or body. Each person is rewarded according to his past deeds. To the virtuous awl to the sinner Yama appears in different forms. To the virtuous he appears like Vishnu, with a charming, smiling lace and lotus-like eyes. To the wicked he appears to have limbs ‘three hundred leagues’ long, hair like gigantic reeds and eyes like deep wells. Yama is also the guardian of the South.

From: here
Yama is the much-feared Hindu god of death who lives in his gloomy palace Kalichi situated somewhere in the nether regions or the Hindu Patala. He is the regent of the Southern quarter of the compass. Yama has a number of attendants to assist him in his many tasks. In his palace he keeps a register called the "Book of Destiny" in which each person's span of life is recorded. This is maintained by one of the god's attendants and the servant is predictably as gloomy of countenance as his master. When a person's span of life is over Yama sends some of his more robust attendants up to earth to haul the person down to his palace.

Sometimes, when things are not lively enough down in Kalichi, Yama himself ascends riding on his buffalo, his steed of choice, and carrying in one hand a heavy mace to strike down the victim with and in another a noose to drag the hapless person down to his palace. There the dead man or woman's soul is made ready to pass in judgment before Yama, who sits on his throne in a great hall in his terrifying palace. Chitragupta, one of Yama's better-known attendants, reads out of a great book the sum of the soul's virtues and sins. Yama judges the dead person on this basis and he assigns the soul accordingly to either one of his many hells, a mete fate for inveterate sinners, or to the abode of the Pitris (The Pitris are the forefathers and their abode is tantamount to heaven to a Hindu who is reconciled with his or her forefathers in this place. Only a very virtuous person is allowed to enter the abode of the Pitris.). If the person has been rather moderate on Earth and is neither a great sinner nor a great virtuoso then he or she is sent back to Earth by Yama to have another try at striving to enter the abode of the Pitris. Since most Hindus are not fond of dying many ways have been devised to try and elude Yama and his untimely summons.

One such well-known way is to narrate the name of one of the three Hindu gods who form the Hindu Triad -- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Unfortunately this is not very effective over an entire lifetime as no-one can keep narrating one name all one's life. Thus, even Hindus die, like others of other faiths. Nevertheless, over Hinduism's long and illustrious history, there have been a few notable cases in which certain enterprising individuals have utilized the above-mentioned strategy to try and eschew Yama and his fateful noose. We shall now examine a few of these cases to determine how successful these individuals were.

One Ajamila, a notably wicked person of his times, spent his entire life with utmost iniquity. He had a son named Narayana -- one of names of Vishnu, one of the Hindu Triad. When Ajamila lay on his deathbed he called out to his son to bring him his last drink of water. Vishnu heard this and believing that He was being called upon to save the man's life He sent down His emissaries to help Ajamila. When Vishnu's attendants reached Ajamila's abode they found that Yama had also sent up his. A quarrel ensued as to who was more liable to Ajamila. Since Vishnu was one of the Triad His attendants prevailed and Yama's had to go back, crestfallen possibly from having been deprived of their victim. Ajamila was thus saved but, somehow, he reformed himself and became so virtuous that, later, when he died, he attained salvation.

There is also another notable case of a robber who was rather inadvertently saved because Yama mistook him to be an ardent devotee of Shiva, another of the Hindu Triad. He had one singular habit. Day or night, whenever he was awake, he was in the habit of occasionally shouting out Ahara (Bring the Booty) and Prahara (Beat them up). Fortunately for the lusty robber "Hara" is another name by which Shiva is known and worshipped. One day, as the robber lay dying in old age, he kept on feebly muttering his favorite words -- Ahara and Prahara. Yama, hearing these and mistaking them for Shiva's other name, thought that the robber was calling out to Shiva to save him. Thus, Yama dared not take the malevolent man away. Shiva became aware of this and appeared before the dying robber. He offered to save the man's life if he repented for his sins. The robber agreed to this and began leading a virtuous life thereafter till his death when, though he was not granted salvation, he was allowed by Yama to be reborn as a king, which is by far not a bad faith for one who had spent most of his previous life robbing others.

The next instance we have of a notable evasion of Yama is the case of a real devotee of Shiva. Markandeya, not the famous Hindu sage of the same name, was an ardent devotee of Shiva. He lay by the lingam all day worshipping and praying. Unfortunately Markandeya's life span, as written in Yama's Book of Destiny, was only a few years. When that time ended Yama sent his attendants up to get Markandeya but they, seeing the faithful man worshipping at the lingam, dared not touch him. They went back. Yama was inexorable in his resolve this time to get his victim and himself came up and tried to pry Markandeya away from the lingam to which he was then clinging. When Yama found that he could not get his victim to release the lingam he gathered his noose and flung it over both Markandeya and the lingam and started to drag them down to Kalichi. Shiva became aware of what was going on and became incensed at Yama's effrontery. He came down from Kailash, His abode, and kicked Yama to death. Markandeya was saved. All living creatures heaved a sigh of relief at this. With Yama himself dead there was no dying now. Everyone became immortal. But this was not to be. Soon the living places became so crowded that living itself became a hellish experience. Besides, with no fear of dying, everyone began to do just what he or she pleased. There was now no sense of right and wrong and no sin and virtue. So the gods got together and implored Shiva to restore Yama to life and to his grisly duties. This was done and everyone everywhere again had to go about cautiously, with the names of the Triad constantly at their lips to ward off Yama just in case their life span was over.

Yama is depicted as a man with dark green skin, wearing blood-red robes and with coppery eyes staring out of his grisly face. He rides his buffalo when he is traveling and he takes his mace and noose everywhere just in case there is an emergency and someone has to be cut off in the midst of his or her life.

From: here
Also See:
Naraka (Hinduism)
Short article
More info
Himalayan Art: Subject: Hell, Yama, Lord of Death
Short article
RigVeda Hymn
Info, with a few epithets