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  • Yama, God of Death

Early 20th century, Late 19th century
Karnataka, South-West India

In the sacred geometries of Hinduism, Vajrayana, Buddhism and Jainism alike, the universe is imagined as a mandala, eight quadrants ranged around a centre, each quadrant presided over by one of the ashtadikpalas or ‘the guardians of the eight directions’– Indra, Agni, Yama, Niruti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera and Ishana. Collectively, they ensure the order of the universe and the protection of its inhabitants. Sculpted or painted representations of the ashtadikpalas are often seen on the walls and ceilings of temples, symbolically representing the omnipresence of God. When devotees circumambulate the shrine or enter the sanctum,they not only salute the principal deity but also the spiritual self and the divine manifests all around them.The ashtadikpalas are also invoked during rituals– requested to watch over the worshippers gathered and ensure the success of the ceremony.

This carved wooden panel is one of a set, each bearing an image of one of the ashtadikpalas.

The figure represented on this panel is Yama, Lord of Death and of Time. He is the mythological personification of divine justice–tasked with recording the actions of human beings on earth and deciding their fate in the afterlife.

The hymn to the guardians of the directions, the Ashtadikpala Stotram instructs the devotee to pray to “Yama, the guardian of the South, the embodiment of dharma (law) who bestows favours on those who are righteous.

Meditate upon Yama, the Lord of the South quarter, who puts an end(to the lives of beings),rides a buffalo,has a staff (danda) in his hands,has a terrifying form and carries the rope of time (kalapasha).




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