Categories: Hindu God and Goddess

Lord Yama: The God of Death

In Hindu mythology, Lord Yama, the God of death, holds a significant and complex role in the cosmic order. He resides in Kalichi, situated in the nether regions of Patala Loka, the netherworld. While Yama is often feared by living beings, his presence and actions are essential for the rejuvenation and maintenance of balance in the world through the continuous cycle of birth and death.

Yama’s Origin

According to Hindu scriptures, Yama is attributed as the son of the Sun God, Surya, and Sanjana. The Vedas describe him as the first mortal to have died, and he presides over the nether regions of the dead. Yama is also known as Dharma, symbolizing his unwavering commitment to maintaining order and harmony in the universe. Interestingly, Yama takes on the role of a teacher in the Katha Upanishad and is believed to have incarnated as ‘Vidur,’ the wise man during the Mahabharata period. His influence extends beyond Hinduism, finding mentions in Buddhist texts and becoming the subject of Chinese and Japanese folklore.

Depiction of Lord Yama

Lord Yama

Yama is typically depicted with dark green skin, adorned in red robes, and a glittering crown atop his head. He rides a buffalo and carries his mace and noose with him at all times. His piercing coppery eyes are watchful, missing nothing, as he takes a keen interest in ushering the souls of the departed to face their fates.

The Regent of the Southern Quarter

Yama is considered the regent of the southern quarter of the universe, and he is ably assisted by several attendants known as ‘Yamaduttas’ in carrying out his tasks. His primary responsibility revolves around the meticulous recording of each person’s span of life in what is known as the ‘book of destiny.’ This sacred register is diligently maintained by one of Yama’s attendants.

The ‘Book of Destiny’

Within this book, the span of life for every individual is meticulously recorded. When a person’s allotted time comes to an end, Yama deputes one of his henchmen to bring that person to his abode. At times, Yama himself descends to Earth to personally escort someone to the netherworld. The soul of the departed is then made to appear before Yama, who passes judgment based on the deeds performed in the earthly realm.

Chitragupta-The Meticulous Bookkeeper

Yama’s faithful assistant, Chitragupta, plays a crucial role in the judgment process. Chitragupta reads out all the virtues and sins committed by the deceased person during their lifetime. Based on this account, Lord Yama decides the fate of the departed souls. Sinners are consigned to various hells, while the virtuous are sent to the abode of the Pitris, where they are reunited with their forefathers. Occasionally, a person’s soul may be sent back to Earth to perform additional good deeds, paving the way for reconciliation with their ancestors.

Legends Associated with Lord Yama

Throughout Hindu mythology, there are intriguing legends associated with Lord Yama. One of them tells the tale of a person who resisted Yama’s claim on his soul by seeking refuge in a Shiva temple. Clutching the sacred Shiva Lingam (Shivling) in his hands, he recited the Maha Mritunjaya Shiva Mantra of Lord Shiva. Impressed by his devotion, Lord Shiva personally intervened, confronting Yamaraj and commanding him to leave. When Yama refused, Shiva temporarily defeated him, earning the epithet ‘Maha Mritunjaya.’ Eventually, due to the entreaties of other Gods, Shiva relented and brought Yama back to life.

Another captivating story revolves around a Brahmin named Ajamila, who was saved from Yama’s grasp. Ajamila continuously called out to his son Narayan (one of Lord Vishnu‘s names) while lying on his deathbed. Unknowingly, by invoking the name of Narayan, he had called upon Vishnu himself, rendering Yama powerless to claim his soul.

Veneration of Lord Yama

The fourteenth day of the dark half of the Hindu month ‘Aswini’ is considered sacred to Lord Yama, known as ‘Yamatarpanam.’ On this day, people observe rituals, including lighting torches often used for funeral pyres. These rituals are believed to facilitate the journey of the deceased to the abode of Lord Yama, where they will ultimately face judgment.


Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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