Image from Thomas.
Basic Description: Yama is considered the first human, the first to die, and therefore the lord and judge of the dead.
Alternate Names: Yama has dozens of alternate names, including Dharmarja (a name which describes his role as judge), Dherma, Pitripeti, Mritu, and Vivaswata.
History/Practices: In the Vedas, Yama is said to be the first mortal who died and went to heaven, becoming its monarch. Nowhere in these books is he said to be the king of hell. However, in the Vedic times, the conception of hell had not fully developed. Currently, Yama is the god of death and holds charge of the several hells mentioned in the Puranas. He is regent of the South, or Lower World. Yama’s abode is the infernal city of Yamapur, the place of departed souls.
Iconography: Attending Yama are two dogs, each with four eyes. The dogs assist him in dragging unwilling souls to hell. Yama wears red robes, and plays a flute. At times, Yama is depicted with a bull's head, flaming hair, and a club.
Mythology: Yama possesses no power of a devotee of Vishnu. There is the story of Ajamila, a sinful Brahmin, who was saved from the clutches of Yama by his merely uttering Narayana, a name of Vishnu. Thus, Yama is considered to have no control over one who utters Vishnu’s name of his death-bed.
Yama has a clerk named Chitragupta, who keeps record of the good and bad actions of mortals. When a person dies, he is conducted to Yama who calls upon Chitragupta to read out the account of his deeps. If the balance goes against him, the person is taken to hell where he is tortured under the supervision of Yama.
Yami is said to be Yama’s wife in some accounts, and his sister in others.
The fourteenth day of the dark half of the month Aswini is called Yamaterpanam and is sacred to Yama. On this day, torches and flaming brands are kindled, and consecrated to burn the bodies of kinsmen who may be dead in battle and light them through the shades of death to the mansions of Yama.
Riding Animal: Buffalo
Moor, Edward. The Hindu Pantheon. Los Angeles: Philosophical research society, 1976.
Thomas, P. Epics, Myths and Legends of India. Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Private Ltd, 1961.