Yama is the Indian god of death and the under-world. He is the son of Visvasvat, the Sun. In the VEDAS he is seen as the first mortal to die and thereby becomes king of the world of the dead. According to the Atharva Veda, he is accompa-nied by two four-eyed dogs in his realm. There he dwells with the ancestors, who receive offerings of food from men.
   In the Vedic context, the realm of the dead is quite unlike the Christian hell; it is an afterworld of satisfaction and pleasures. One verse of the RIG VEDA mentions Yama’s twin sister, Yami, who asks him to mate with her to create the human race. Yama refuses.
   The ancient Iranian Avesta knows Yama by the name Yima. In later puranic descriptions Yama’s realm is depicted less pleasantly; karmic retribu-tions are even meted out (see KARMA). Yama in his role as guardian of the realm of the dead appears in many contexts in Indian tradition. In the KAT H A UPANISHAD he offers the wisdom of BRAHMAN, AT M A N, and liberation to the young NACHIKETAS. In the MAHABHARATA he plays an important role in the story of SAVITRI and Satyavan.
   Further reading: John Dowson, A Classical Diction-ary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, His-tory, and Literature, 12th ed. (Ludhiana: Lyall Book Depot, 1974); Alfred Hillebrandt, Vedic Mythology 2 vols. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1990); Kusum P. Merh, Yama, the Glorious Lord of the Other World (New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1996); W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 2d ed. (Calcutta: Rupa, 1973).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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