Yama (god of death)

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Yama [ ˈjɐ.ɱɐ ] ( listen ? / I ) ( Sanskrit यम Yama , in India also: Yama- rāja ( यमराज , German "King Yama"); in Chinese spelling 閻羅 王 , Yanluowang ( Yánluó ), short: , alternatively also: 閻 魔 , 閻羅 王 , 閻 摩羅 , 閻 老 ; Tibetan : gshin rje) embodies the Hindu God of death and the "Dharmaraja", the Lord of Dharma , of righteousness . The name Yama means twin , in some stories Yama appears together with his twin sister Yami . Audio file / audio sample

Yama is called Enma in Japanese , after the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters 閻 魔 , Yanmo for the phonetic reproduction of Yama. More common, however, is the analogous rendering of Yama-rāja as Enma-ō ( 閻 魔王 , dt. "King Yama"), in addition to its phonetic rendering Enma-raja ( 閻 魔 羅 闍 ) and Enma-daiō ( 閻 魔 大王 listen ? / I , dt. "Great King Yama") for Sanskrit Yama-mahārāja . Short forms are Enmara ( 閻 魔 羅 ), Enra-ō ( 閻羅 王 ), and En ( ). Audio file / audio sample

He hardly plays a role in the religious life of the Hindus, whereas mythology knows innumerable stories in which he appears to make his sacrifice. Yama is originally a Vedic deity who rules the underworld (and who himself still strives for enlightenment). Life and death are united in him (and his palace). Yama tells visitors to the underworld which of the five (six) paths of destiny he has to follow, based on his karma d. H. the sum of his good and bad deeds.


Indian representation of the god of the dead Yama

Yama, son of Vivasvat , is believed to be the first mortal to enter the heavenly world. He shows people the way to the gods. The iconography depicts him as a richly decorated king, usually green, more rarely black, in a red robe. He carries a mighty club and a rope with which he catches and ties his victims, sometimes a sword and a shield. These attributes can also be interpreted spiritually: the noose, for example, binds to the cycle of rebirths , the sword is often referred to in Hindu literature as the "sword of knowledge". Yama's characteristic companion animal is the black buffalo ( Mahisha ) , often accompanied by two dogs with four terrifying eyes and large nostrils. They always roam the world in search of the souls of the dead. The buffalo as a multi-layered symbol, such as spiritual death, ignorance and all evil, is a frequent motif in Hindu representations.

In the Vedas he is the god of the dead and of time (kala) , as well as god and ruler of the underworld, with whom the spirits of the deceased dwell. He himself was the son of the sun ( Surya ) as well as the brother of Manu and the Ashvins and twin brother of the Yami or Yamuna . They are described in the Rigveda as the first human couple. She is also considered his wife or lover. They are sometimes shown together in a yab-yum pose . Yama wanted to ascend to heaven to the gods and was therefore made mortal by the gods. In later Brahmanic times, Yama is married to Dhumorna ("plume of smoke"), who symbolizes the fire when the corpses are cremated. In later Brahmanic mythology he is one of the eight Lokapālas , guardians of the south and ruler of the Yamadevaloka, and judge of the dead.

Decides in philosophy the consequences of the deeds, karma , as what an individual is reborn as, in mythology Yama appears as judge of the deceased, rewards and punishes. That is why he is also “Dharmaraja”, Lord of righteousness and righteousness. His accountant and servant is Chitragupta , who keeps records of the good and bad deeds of the people and acts as the judge of the dead himself.

One of the most famous is the story of Savitri , who outsmarted death and, with her wisdom and purity, was able to free the beloved husband from his power. The theme is very similar to the Greek Orpheus in the underworld , but in contrast to this, the king's daughter can wrestle her loved ones from death again. She had chosen poor prince Satyavan as her husband, but according to a prophecy, he would die in exactly one year. On the predetermined day, the beloved collapsed while walking, and Yama came up on his buffalo. The princess followed Yama and asked for the life of Satyavan. But the answer was clear: “You can ask me for anything, just not for his life.” The god of death granted the unfortunate two wishes: he made their blind father-in-law see and promised male offspring for their own father. Then Savitri demanded that she be the mother of a hundred sons. Even that could promise Yama. But now she asked the crucial question: “How can I have sons when my husband has died?” With that death had to admit defeat and Satyavan opened his eyes like after a long sleep.

In one of the most important Upanishads , the Katha Upanishad , Yama is the teacher. The framework story tells about Naciketas , the son of a Brahmin : The boy comes to Yama. But because he doesn't find him, he has to wait three days and three nights and Yama grants him three wishes as compensation for his violation of hospitality rights. The boy demands to find out the secret of life and death. Yama wants to distract him with all sorts of other tempting suggestions, because "... it is difficult to grasp this truth." But in the end he lets himself be convinced of the seriousness of the boy and teaches him the contents of the Katha- Upanishad , of Atman and Brahman as well as of the nature of death and the return.

China and Japan

Japanese carving

The image of Yama as a “judge” can be found early in Chinese literature, e. B. in the Ming pao chi (冥 報 記) of Tang Lin (* 600; 唐 臨). He is the only Hindu god who, in unchanged function, was adopted in Chinese mythology. The pictorial nature of the stories is clearly taken from the earthly. Yama has a host of messengers (使 鬼) who - like him - are subject to retribution or punishment themselves, in his name, humiliating people. Your breath is deadly to humans. The details of what is reported about the underworld are very varied. But certain features keep returning, or rather often: the way is long; far and dark the land; "It is like walking in fog"; Messenger suddenly stand there and take the invited person away with them; the slope is steep, the water deep and dark. The office finally shows up. The complex is huge: gates and walls and, far away, gates and walls again. Torture, punishment, and torture are shown place in place. You are brought before the judge. Trembling grips the soul. It often happens that the judge asks: “What good have you done?” And the person called usually answers: “Poor and meager was my house and life; only the word of the Supermundane Knowledge I did not stop singing. ”-“ Excellent, excellent! ”exclaims the judge and sighs deeply with inner admiration and sends those called back to life. - The operation is huge. Despite all the desired accuracy, with such a large legal organism, of course, there are also mistakes: some are falsely ordered.

Perhaps the religious-metaphysical karma experience developed at the same time as the experience of the gigantic Chinese legal organism that reached across provinces, peoples and races. Now in China the office and court have seldom been lacking in commendations, gates of honor, public awards; but the Chinese, akin to the Roman in many ways, insists on strict law. There are many true and exaggeratedly untrue stories about it in the West. The natural inclination of law, completely in ancient times, also goes towards criminal law. The “earth prison (guarded by dogs or dog-like),” as hell is called in Chinese-Japanese, is difficult to separate from “office” (this “office”, which almost all of the related stories speak of, initially becomes Olympic, as it were, from the Chinese Olympus seen). If Europeans still shudder at the Chinese dungeon today, if the sight of the criminal justice system gives them a shudder, how may it all have been in the old days! At times it wasn't much different from Hell. And they talked about it!

The Buddhist concept of a "judge" and of paradise and hell was new to Japan. However, it came to Japan with the earliest Buddhist teachings. However, Enra is not a “judge” in the conventional sense, but only the Walter of the law of (karmic) cause and effect, without which he does not exist either. Buddhist hells, which exist in eight degrees, are always only purgatory.

Already in the collection of Nihon Ryōiki , which was created around 800, there are several legends in which Enra (or Emma ) plays a role and infernal torments are impressively portrayed.

Ksitigarbha (jp .: Jizō Bosatsu) a Bodhisattva - demonstrable in the Mahāyāna since the 4th century, but not very popular in the beginning - is identical to Enra. Especially, based on the teachings of Eshin (= Genshin , 942-1017), he is mainly, but not exclusively , worshiped within the Tendai and Shingon schools, with an annual Jizō confession.

Tibetan Buddhism

Yama in Tibetan representation

In the Tibetan Buddhist myth, the wrathful aspect of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri subjugated Yamantaka Yama and made him a protector of the Dharma . Due to the special relationship between Tsongkhapa and Manjuschri, he is of great importance in the Gelug School. His mate is Chamundi . In art, Yamantaka is usually shown riding or standing on an ox trampling on Yama.

See also


  • Anneliese and Peter Keilhauer: The Imagery of Hinduism. The Indian world of gods and their symbolism . 2nd Edition. DuMont Reiseverlag, Ostfildern 1983, ISBN 3-7701-1347-0 (10), ISBN 978-3-7701-1347-7 (13)
  • Hermann Bohner : Legends from the early days of Japanese Buddhism . (Nihon Ryōiki 日本 霊 異 記); Tōkyō 1934 ( OAG )
  • Alex Wayman : Studies in Yama and Māra; in: Indo-Iranian Jnl, Vol III (1959), No. 1, pp. 44-73.
  • Gerhard J. Bellinger, Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie , Knaur, Munich 1999, Yama
  • Storm, Rachel, Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology , Reichelsheim 2000, Yama

Web links

Commons : Yama (god of death)  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ William Edward Soothill and Lewis Hodous : A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms with Sanskrit and English Equivalents… ; London 1937 (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner)
  2. Yami - Twin Sister of Yama , accessed September 12, 2019
  3. ^ Meaning, origin and history of the name Yama , accessed September 12, 2019
  4. cf. Majjhimanikāya 130: 186
  5. a b c Gerhard J. Bellinger, Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie , Knaur, Munich 1999, Yama
  6. Storm, Rachel, Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology , Reichelsheim 2000, Yama
  7. Soothill, William; Hodous, Louis; A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms…; 閻羅 王
  8. Engl .: Gjertson, Donald Edward; A study and translation of the Ming-pao chi: a T'ang Dynasty collection of Buddhist tales; Stanford, Univ., Diss., 1975
  9. Hermann Bohner; Legends ...; Nihon Ryoiki: Sources: Legends from the early days of Japanese Buddhism ( Memento from August 4, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) (with detailed classic references)
  10. For the "description" of the worst ( Avici Hell; 阿鼻 獄) see: Reischauer, AK; Genshin's Ojo Yoshu, Transactions Asiatic Soc Japan II. Ser. (Dec. 1930) p 40-6
  11. Page no longer available , search in web archives: I, 30 (hell detailed) ; II, 5, 7, 24, 25; III, 9, 22, 23, 35@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / freenet-homepage.de
  12. Visser, Marianus de; The Bodhisattva Ti-tsang (Jizō) in China and Japan; P. 120-.
  13. Dharmapala Thangka Center via Yama