To the virtuous and to the sinner Yama appears in different forms. To the virtuous
he appears to be like Vishnu. He has four arms, a dark complexion and lotus shaped
eyes. His face is charming and he wears a resplendent smile. In the case of the
wicked, he is seen with limbs appearing three hundred leagues long. His eyes
are deep wells. His lips are thin, the color of smoke, fierce. He roars like
the ocean of destruction. His hairs are gigantic reeds, his crown a burning flame.
The breath from his wide nostrils blows off the forest fires. He has long teeth.
His nails are like winnowing baskets. Stick in hand; clad in skins, he has a
|YAMA - THE LORD OF THE INFERNAL REGIONS
Yama has three wives, called HEMA MALA (Golden Garland),
SHUSHILA (Good natured one), and VIJYA (Victory). Yama has two ferocious dogs, which were born to SARAMA
(The Fleet one) the bitch that guards the herds of Indra. These two dogs have
four eyes each and very wide nostrils. They guard the road to Yama' s abode and
which the departed are advised to hurry past with all possible speed. These dogs
are said to wander about among men as his messengers.
Numerous stories about Yama are scattered in religious books and especially Puranas
abound in them. One that shows Yama in a different light and is known to every
Hindu is the story of SAVITRI SATYAVAN. This story from Mahabharata has stirred
popular imagination since centuries. It relates to a noble princess who remains
faithful to her husband unto death and even beyond it.
There was a beautiful princess named SAVITRI. One day she met in the woods a
handsome young man, named SATYAVAN who was the son of an exiled and blind king
who had been living in a hut like a hermit. She fell in love with the prince
and wanted to marry him. The astrologers of her father's court warned that Satyavan
was destined to die within one year. But the princess was adamant and married
On the fixed day Yama, the god of death, himself came on the buffalo and took
the soul of Satyavan. Savitri, his wife, did not beg for his soul. She was very
learned and just recited the beautiful and relevant passages concerning this
god from the Holy Scriptures. Yama was pleased and asked Savitri to have any
boon except her husband's life. Savitri requested god Yama to give back eyesight
to Satyavan's father. She still continued her prayers and god agreed to grant
another favor. Savitri asked Yama to give back to her father-in-Law the kingdom
he had lost. This favor was also granted. Yama went away holding Satyavan's soul;
Savitri too followed him. Yama agreed to grant her the third favor. Savitri replied,
'I wish to give birth to hundred sons'. Yama, in a hurry, promised this boon
without giving a second thought to its implications. Savitri immediately said, "But
how can I give birth to them without my husband? '. Yama was caught unawares
and he could no go back of his promise. He had to grant this boon also to her.
Many other such legends are related concerning this god though the wide spread
image of this deity is that of a fearful rod-bearer bent on punishing for deeds
or misdeeds committed during life.