Yamaraj, the Lord of death is indeed one of the most feared Gods among the people of India. He is the father of our ancestors and believed to be the 1st human to live on Earth. Some even believe that he was the one to help mankind settle on Earth. Lord Yama has been portrayed as a muscular royal man who has a greenish or black complexion. He is seen riding a buffalo as his mount. He is also shown with 2 dogs who are considered as gatekeepers for the city of Yamaloka.
Yamraj was born to Sun God and his wife Sandhya. He also had a twin sister by the name of Yami. His other siblings were Manu and Shani dev (Saturn). Some scriptures suggest that Yamraj was cursed by his father Surya when he was inside his mother's womb. Surya visited his wife Sandhya when she was pregnant with the twins. Since Surya's brightness was immense, Sandhya could not greet him properly and shut her eyes. This angered Surya and he cursed that the child in her womb shall be known for destruction. Soon she gave birth to Yama and Yami. Sandhya was not very happy with her husband as Surya's brightness was too much for her to handle. She could hardly open her eyes in front of him. She decided to leave Surya and stay at her father's place. She created a replica of her and named her Chaya. She then instructed Chaya to take care of her husband and her children in her absence. Chaya started living with Surya disguised as Sandhya. Soon she gave birth to Shani and two other children, Tapti and Savarni Manu. After their birth, Chaya became partial towards her children and started ignoring Sandhya's children. Yama saw this and in the fit of rage kicked Chaya. This is when Chaya cursed Yama that his leg shall become permanently damaged and eaten by maggots. Looking at all this Surya realized that this could not be Sandhya as no mother can curse her own children. He also felt bad for Yama as he had been cursed so many times but remained virtuous. Surya then made him the God of Death and the ultimate judge for all the living entities.
In another version, Surya sent Yama and Yami to Earth. It is believed that souls can come back to Earth as living beings only when they leave their kin behind. Anyone who dies without an offspring remains in the city of the dead for eternity as he has no means of returning to Earth. Yama being the 1st person to live on Earth had no wife and hence died without any children. This way he became the king of Dead and started ruling the city of the dead which is Yamaloka. Yamraj was a virtuous man and stood by righteousness. This is the reason he was also called Dharmaraj. Because of his virtuous nature, he was endowed with the responsibility of being the ultimate Judge. Yama is also known to be the father of Yudhishtra in the epic tale of Mahabharata.
It is believed that the two hounds are sent by Yamraj on Earth to escort the departed souls to his city. In some versions, it is said that Agni (fire) helps the souls to reach Yamalok. After reaching the city of the dead, the souls are presented in the court of Yamraj. There in the court, Chitragupta who is a God responsible for maintaining books of Karmic records for all the souls reads the karmic records for the departed souls. Based on his karma the soul is either rewarded or punished. If the soul is good with a lot of positive karma he is transported to heaven. If the soul is guilty with a lot of negative karma he is sent to hell as punishment. The soul can also be sent back to Earth to live a physical life again. Birds like crows and pigeons are also known as messengers of Lord Yama.
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