Yamraj: The Hindu pantheon is full of a number of Gods and Goddesses, who all represent something or the other. For example, when it comes to wealth and prosperity, we worship Goddess Lakshmi, when it comes to destroying all evil, we refer to Maa Durga or Maa Santoshi, etc. Have you ever wondered from where did the origin of all these gods and goddesses take place? Well, the answer lies in your ancient texts, the Vedas. The earlier Vedas and the suktas contained in them have various hymns, which are sung in the praise of gods, who all represent a natural phenomenon or quality that is essentially human in nature, something that is a part of your daily life. It is in these ancient texts that we find mention of the Lord of one of the greatest fears of the human race- death.
Who is Yamraj?
Lord Yama or Yamraj as he is popularly referred to is revered as the God of Death. It is believed that after a soul departs from the body, Yamraj stands at the door, and he takes the call as to whether one will be allowed to pass on to heaven or be sent to the netherworlds, and then, get stuck again in the cycle of rebirth. For the Hindus, the most important thing that everyone should strive for is salvation. It is only through attainment of salvation can one be freed from the tedious and never ending the cycle of birth and re-birth. Yama is the one who decides whether you have attained the salvation that you must, and then, takes the call as to whether you will be free or get caught again in the cycle. So, basically, Yama is entrusted with the responsibility of a judge for all the departed souls.
Appearance of Yama
Yama is often shown as a man with a large crown that has horns of a bull sticking out from them. He is dressed mostly shown to be dressed in black and has a rope and mace in each of his hands. It is believed that this rope is used to pull out the souls from the deceased bodies. Like every other God, Yama too has a vahana, and that is a water buffalo, pitch black in colour. Overall, the Yama has an imposing appearance and depicted as the picture of death.
The origin of god of death
Like every other God in the Hindu pantheon, there are various stories associated with the origin of Yama. One story says that Yama is actually the first man ever to die, and thus, he became the preserver of the netherworlds. He is sometimes equated as dharma since he is the one who takes the decision and judges the actions of a person during his lifetime. Another origin story says that Yama is the son of Sanjana and Surya or the Sun God. Yama is believed to be the one who upholds the order of the universe, maintaining the very essential balance of life on earth. Yama is found to play various roles in various scriptures. While some scriptures show him as the God of Death, others like the Upanishads depict Yama as the father of Yudhisthir- Dharma. The story goes like this- Pandu, even after learning that he would be unable to have children of his own, could not give up the desire to father heirs to the throne. So he asked Kunti, his eldest wife to use a boon that she had been granted once, whereby she could call upon any god at any point of time, and he would grant her a wish. So, she had called upon Dharma and asked a son from him, and thus,Yudhisthir had been born. Another story says that Yama was integrated as a character into the plot line of the Mahabharata as Vidur. It is believed that Vyasdev, the composer of Mahabharata is actually the father of Dhritarashtra, the blind king and Pandu, the father of the Pandavas. The story says that Vidur was born out of a union between a palace maid and Vyasdev, and he resided in the royal court along with his step brothers.
Thus, there are many stories that some way or the other wish to integrate the fear of death and overcoming them into our daily life.
A few other facts about god of death
Yama is assisted by Jwara or Fever, Kala or Time, Krodha or anger, Asuya or jealousy and Vyadhi or disease. These forces assist Yama as he sets out in his work as the God of Death. He is also believed to be a very knowledgeable person as we see him in the Katha Upanishad. It is said that he was Nachiketa’s guru, and their discussion talks about the liberation of the Atman or the soul. He is often referred to as Kala or Time as well.
Stories related to Yama
Since the fear of death is an integral and everyday part of our life, there are various stories about Yama which try to instil the faith in life by talking about ways to escape. Let’s take a look at one of these stories:
There was a man, who once, refused to die in the hands of Yama. He was so stubborn that Yama himself had to come and threaten him to take him along with him. This man, however, was resolute in his desire not to die, and hence, he ran to a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva to take shelter. He saw the Shiva lingam and hugged it tight. He then began to recite a hymn in obeisance to Lord Shiva. The Lord himself appeared and commanded the God of Death to leave this man alone. Yama, however, was quite stubborn himself, and so, he insisted on taking this man’s life. So, Shiva was finally forced to destroy Yama, and hence, he is known as the Maha Mrityunjaya. However, the order on earth became topsy-turvy when Yama was not there to look after it, and hence, the God of Death himself was restored back to life by the other Gods.
Thus, Yama is a picture of one of the hardest but inevitable truths of life- death. People, in an attempt to keep the fear of death at bay, pray and worship to Lord Yama, chanting the mantra:
“Aum Kala Roopaaya Vidmahe
Thanno Yama Prachodayath”