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By Swami Harshananda and Himanshu Bhatt

Yama literally means ‘one who controls’.

Yama as per Ṛgveda

In the Ṛgveda, the word yama has been used in several mantras, in the sense of twins.[1] It has also been used to indicate a god or deity, sometimes identified with the Supreme.[2] As one of the deities like Indra or Varuṇa, he is said to be the offspring of Vivasvān[3] and his wife Samjñā. Hence he is called Vaivasvata also. Yami was his twin-sister. He is the lord of the pitṛs or manes. He is the king of the Pitṛloka, the world of the manes.[4][5] He is considered as death for the human beings.[6] He sends the dead persons to the regions they deserve, good or bad.[7]

Typical depictions of Yama show the king mounted on a buffalo.

Yama as per Kathā Upaniṣad

The Kathā Upaniṣad is the teaching given by Yama-Vaivasvata to the young seeker Naciketas.

Yama as per Purāṇas

In the epics and the purāṇas, he is described as the lord of the South. His capital is the city called Sarhyamani. Mahiṣa or the buffalo is his vāhana or mount. The river Yamunā is his sister. He gave many boons to Arjuna when he was performing austerities at the Indrakīla mountain. He also gave many boons to Sāvitrī, being pleased with her devotion to her husband Satyavān.[8] As a result of the curse of the sage Aṇimāṇdavya, Yama was born as Vidura, considered a śudra by caste.[9] After testing Yudhiṣṭhira, his own spiritual son, as a Yakṣa, he blessed him, fulfilling all his wishes.[10] When he wanted to take away Mārkaṇḍeya after his life-duration was completed, he was chastised by Lord Śiva. He reminded Rāma at the end of his earthly sojourn of his promise to return to Vaikuṇṭha.

Yama as per Yoga

Yama is the first of the eight steps of yoga. Yama is the Hindu god of death. He was one of the three children of Vivasvant. His siblings were brother Manu and sister Yami. His mother was Samjna.[11]

As a scholar

Yama is a lawgiver and his name is included in the list of 21 people within the Yajnavalkya Smriti.[12]

Yama declares in the Katha Upanishad[13], "The means for the attainment of the world does not become revealed to the non-discrimnating man who blunders, being befooled by the lure of wealth. One that constantly thinks that there is only this world, and none hearafter, come under my sway again and again."

Yama's kingdom

That Yama's kingdom was in India is no doubt, for even the Harivamsa substitutes the region of Yama for Jambudwipa (Indian Subcontinent) in passages from time to time.[14] Yama's kingdom was in Kashmir which has been called Yamaloka, Yamapuri, Yamasadanam, and Dakshinasapti. In the Ṛgveda[15] the realm ruled by Yama is said to be the lower heavens adjoining earth, though his realm extends through the universe in the upper and middle regions of the earth.[16] His capital city is Samyamani which is also known as Kalichi.

There are instances one comes across in Hindu scriptures wherein Yama is connected with the Kashmir region. For example, it is written that the Vaitarana River, also known as "Auspicious Mandakini", is the body of water which takes one from earth to Yama's abode.[17]

The central portion of Kashmir, more specifically the Srinagar region, is known as 'Yamraj'.[18][19] Furthermore, Varuṇa is said in Kashmiri folklore to rule "the west", while Yama, south of that land.[20] One can see this reflected in modern times, as Varuna's sacred shrine exists in western Kashmir. Scriptures mention the sacred pilgrimage centre Vimala, also known as Nirmala, and through it passes the holy Vātarani River. This river is called the river of Yama and Vimala is identified with Baramula, which is in Kashmir.[21] Baramula means "Boar Face" and hence, the Vimala Tirtha is also known as Varāha Tirtha. Buddhist scriptures also speak of the Vatarani as Yama's river.[22]

The etmytology of Srinagar is 'siri-nagar' and the earliest records mention it as such, which in turn is a local transformation of the original Sanskrit name 'sūrya-nagar', meaning City of the Sun-god.[23] This makes sense, as Yama, being sun-god Vivasvant's son, also has the name 'Saur'[24] (Of Surya.) Yama was the son of Vivasvant Martanda, and it is of no surprise that there is an important temple dedicated to that god in Kashmir.[25]

There are number of other associated of Yama with Kashmir, including Kashmir's placenames, its legends, and its proverbs. Daman-i-Koh, are the "Mountains of Daman"[26] which are in the southwestern border of the modern Jammu & Kashmir Indian state. The Yamal is a mountain near Gāndarbal in Kashmir.[1]

Festivals of Mazdaens corresponding to those of Kashmiri Hindus

Just as Mazdaens celebrate Ahura Mazda (Varuṇa) and King Jamshed so too do Kashmiri Hindus. During the festivity of Tararatrih, on the 14th of the dark half of Magha, King Yama is worshiped.[27] On Varuṇa Panchami, Varuṇa is worshiped.[28] Varuṇa again is worshiped on the 5th day of the festivity of Yatrotsava, whereby Hindus are encouraged to visit his 'abodes' or temples.[29]

Yama's subjects faced harsh winter climate change, so he resettled many in Sapta Sindhava
Atharva Veda[30] & Rig Veda[31] Atharva Veda[32]
Worship with oblation Yama the King, son of Vivasvat,
the assembler of people,
who departed from the deep to the heights,
and explored the road for many.

Yama was the first who found for us the route.
This home is not to be taken from us.
Those who are now born,
(go) by their own routes
to the place where unto our ancient forefathers emigrated.
...they cross by fords the mighty streams
which the virtuous offerers of sacrifice pass

"Let us prosper with our progeny for a hundred winters."[33] "May we live a hundred winters."[34] "Scatter our foes. Increase our store. Let us enjoy a hundred winters with our great heroes."[35]

Yama propitiated in Himalayas

Yama was a king in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, peoples of the Himalayas revere him outside of story-telling even today. In Tibetan cultures he is known and worshiped as Shinje Khorlochen.[36]

See also


  1. Rgveda 1.164.15; 2.39.2
  2. Rgveda 1.164.46
  3. Vivasvān means the Sun.
  4. Rgveda 9.113.8
  5. Ṛgveda 10.16.9
  6. Ṛgveda 10.165.4
  7. Rgveda 10.14.1
  8. Mahābhārata, Vanaparva 297
  9. Mahābhārata, Ādiparva 108.16
  10. Vanaparva 313
  11. She was also called Saranyu.
  12. P. 620 History Of Ancient India (portraits Of A Nation), 1/e By Kapur, Kamlesh
  13. Katha Upanishad 1.2.6; P. 2 Reflections: April May June 2016 edited by Sasvati Nome
  14. P. 212 Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 39 By American Oriental Society
  15. Ṛgveda 1.35.6
  16. P. 65 Ātman: A Reconstruction of the Solar Cosmology of the Indo-Europeans By Alexander Jacob
  17. P. 291 Kamandalu: The Seven Sacred Rivers of Hinduism By Shrikala Warrier
  18. It means Yama's rule.
  19. Northern Kashmir is known as 'Kamraj', and the southern portion is 'Maraj'.; P. 456 Kalinda
  20. P. 306 Medieval Kashmir By Jogesh Chandra Dutt
  21. P. 13 The Mahābhārata: Volume 3, Volume 3 By Bibek Debroy
  22. P. 261 Cultural History from the Vāyu Purāna By Devendrakumar Rajaram Patil
  23. M. Monier Monier–Williams, "Śrīnagar", in: The Great Sanskrit–English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1899
  24. P. 432 The valley of Kashmir: the making and unmaking of a composite culture? By Aparna Rao
  25. P. 92 The Hindu Temple, Volume 1 By Stella Kramrisch, Raymond Burnier
  26. It means the son of Yama.
  27. P. 314 Kashur The Kashmiri Speaking People By Mohini Qasba Raina
  28. P. 318 Kashur The Kashmiri Speaking People By Mohini Qasba Raina
  29. P. 320 Kashur The Kashmiri Speaking People By Mohini Qasba Raina
  30. Atharvaveda XVIII.1.49
  31. Ṛgveda x.14.1
  32. Atharvaveda XVIII.4.7
  33. Ṛgveda satan himah: 1, 64, 14
  34. Ṛgveda satam himah: 5, 54, 15
  35. Ṛgveda 1 6, 10, 7
  36. P. 332 The Clear Mirror: A Traditional Account of Tibet's Golden Age By Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore