7.05.2005

Cult of Yakshas and Yakshis

When you look up a reference book, they call it the Yaksha cult. A very cold blooded approach to emotions that rule faith so strong. As per art historical text, yakshas were fertility gods as well as village guardians. They played a very strong role in Grama shilpa, and didnt get much attention from the ruling kings. their female counter parts are yakshis associated with the fertility cult and mother goddess worship.

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They largely take up demi god status. They are not human, not Super gods but somewhere in between.They join others of a similar nature who would be the likes of gandharvas, apsaras, mithuna couples, ganas, siddhas?, kinnaras, river goddesses, and maybe nagas if i am thinking right.

But who are these guys and why did they interest the local audience so much?



Well lets get started with their name. Why call them Yaksha? It seems that Brahma uttered a phrase for them which calls them "Yakshamam" or those who protect. Hence Kubera being the Guardian of the northern quadrant is not surprizing. Yakshas can be divided into those who attained God status and those who didnt make it to the top. Those who didnt make it to the top ended up being the attendants of Kubera Yaksha, the protector of wealth, not necessarily gold and precious stones, but all minerals of the earth. But those who did were the likes of Ganesha, Lakshmi, Hanuman, Kali and kubera himself apart from the sapta Matrika.

So tomorrow if you go to a temple and see the seven mothers flanked by two men it would largely be ganesha and Kubera indicating yaksha cult origins. Of course there are some places in northwest india where they also include Buddha. Caves at Ellora and aurangabad display such sculptures to empahsize the same. It is interesting though to note that the greater Gods needed to be flanked or "protected" by the lesser gods.

So whats with them? Yakshas are mortals in terms of the fact that they are full of passion and do not escape the cycle of birth and death. But they are magical beings enough to change form and take on any threat with their supernatural powers. They are largely the good guys and inoffencive, hence they are refered to as "punyajanas".

They are known to ask too many riddles, the wrong answers for which might land you in trouble. The right answer of course gets you their favour. For eg. Yudhistira is known to have lost all his brothers when the Yaksha asked them questions. But his right answer got them all back to life. For anyone who is curious, the so called riddle was "What is the greatest wonder of life?" and the right answer was "That every man must one day die, yet every man lives as if they were immortal."

Those men must have been really evolved if they called a question like that a "riddle".

But there are bad guys too, not all Yakhas are good guys. They are semi demon too. Anyway coming back to the point, they have been taken over by various religions to join their respective pantheons. Not that they really belonged there, but the need was high enough to get the attention of the masses. Lets say each religion Buddhist, Jaina or Brahmanical had to add to their CUG (closed user groups) and an increase in community figures mattered. Hence the Yakhas most common to the masses than the kings were brought in as either being replaced by a buddha in a similar pose (i always wondered why the laughing buddha of feng shui was a short stout guy, with a belly, so unlike the Buddha we know), or as protectors of thirtankaras or guardians for villages or as fertility images or flanking the sapta matrikas.

Interesting guys none the less, but very much to the background. So tomorrow when you see a Buddha looking really short and fat with plump legs, he might just have been a Yaksha some centuries ago.

So much for faith. I wonder sometimes whether we were any better than the church when it came to preservation and marketing of religion. It seems so political. Such is life.

6 comments:

JC Joshi said...

With a view to attempting generalisation, it would be seen that the ‘Hindu Philosophy’ generally revolves around Trinity, the number three (3), and infinity, plus and minus, that reflects the ‘Nature’, viz., the functional divisions of creation, sustenance, and destruction or transformation; and, heirarchy in each category, respectively.

The ancients divided mortal men - having varying efficiencies at any time reflecting characteristics of a particular Yuga – as multiple reflections of the formless also into three categories: The common man (variety of Jana), the link between ordinary men and the demi-gods (variety of Ganas), and the physical demi-gods (variety of rulers of men, Manas).

Yakshas and Yakshis thus could be visualised as human beings, viz., their leaders like Ganesha, Hanuman, Buddha and so on, who ‘naturally’ exist at any given time or Yuga, accessible to a limited group of people only, generally for guiding the concerned souls to higher planes. Of course, because of hierarchy - to cover all locations on the globe - there essentially would be a large numbers and varieties of such individuals among each of the three categories of men.
There would thus be Yakshas/ Yakshis who might appear to be doing negative functions also, perhaps for a positive function later, which becomes apparent only when the story is seen in its totality by the generations that follow subsequently. For example, the hunchback of Ayodhya in Tretayuga, Manthara, apparently misguided Kekayi, the favourite queen of king Dasharatha (the name itself indicating the Solar system), which acted as a turning point in the life of Rama (a typical model of our Sun, that took over on his father’s death after fourteen years of training in exile during which time his brother, Bharata looked after administration of Ayodhya ideally, detachedly, as a model of centre of our galaxy), who apparently bore hardship for the rest of his life, to prepare him for reflecting the typical characteristic of our Sun that sustains life on earth purely selflessly. Goswami Tulsidas’s Ramayana made Rama a household name in recenttimes. It is said that the name, like the beej mantra OM, has liberated more men than Rama did personally during his limited existence in human form on earth. So also in Kaliyuga the name of Krishna of Dwaperyuga, who too Bharat-like assisted Arjuna, the then Rama-like expert archer. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 - 1534), a 16th century saint and social reformer of India converted thousands of followers to the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Rama and introduced public chanting of the names, kirtans and sankirtans or the walking kirtans.

(Satyavadi or truthful, and simple or bhola) Yudhister, a typical model of Earth in Dwaperyuga, like Shiva in Satayuga, and Lakshamana in Tretayuga (who selflessly dedicated his life for welfare of his brother’s family) reflects one of the Panchbhoots or the believably eternal earth. He alone could reply truthfully to the fact about mortality of man and immortality of the Supreme soul, and therefore message to all humans about need of consciousness of the fact that one should perform actions during his apparent existence without ego about material possession etc – only as a caretaker, like Kuber the cashier of the demi-gods.

JC Joshi said...

In view od the long silence, I would now end by raising a question in view of the present day controversy raised by the 'Potter mania'that apparently threatens even the Church!

'Hindus' should already know that Harry Potter or Hari Putter (Putra), i.e., Krishna, the reincarnation of Hari, or Vishnu, in Dwaperyuga, is ‘much ado about nothing’ or illusion!

Arjuna was eventually satisfied when - like Shakespeare at apparently a much later date (or rather at the same time, for real time is zero) - he got convinced by Krishna in the ‘battle field’ of Mahabharat (that is, the whole world) that he is only an instrument, and that life is only a drama, a story in the mind of the Supreme form of Krishna - a dot or Naadbindu - a point source of sound energy, the seed of the apparent universe!!!

As everything is serving some useful purpose, could anyone suggest what Naadbindu is looking for in the infinity - minus to plus, good and bad, and all such opposite aspects of apparent human life, the superior most among all animal forms on earth? Or, rather would He ever be able to reach His Own origin and end (that is why the drama perhaps continues eternally)?

Perhaps one could visualise His states of mind - mental suffering reflected in the mind of, say a typical historical character, Jesus, at one stage at being called a 'bastard' by a particular society and, similarly, in the minds of the typical mythological characters of Sita/ Rama after their return from Lanka, with every Tom, Dick and Harry questioning the character of Sita. And, despite all this, their thinking ever about the welfare of the same society (with 'Indian' tolerance, till recent times, also in mind)!

Saurabh Saxena said...

Hi,
Its not Kubera with sapta-matrikas but Veerbhadra. We usually see Ganesha and veerbhadra flanking sapta-matrikas. This also indicates the association of sapta-matrikas with Shiva as according to one story in a purana, these were created to assits Shiva in the war with Raktabeeja/Andhaka.

Anonymous said...

Yakshas were an ancient vedic tribe, disconnected from the mainland community and settled down in the islands south of India.

Shome Shome said...

Great post and lovely comments. Yakshas are fantastic creatures.

@yahoo.com said...

Yakshas make links of humans to prehistoric religion of worshipping unseen powers of nature. Given thee limited landscapes which communities used in the early times Yakshas (known by different names) were associated with some of the pristine elements of landscape. With increasing mobility of humans and spread over vaster regions corporal gods emerged, yet linked to Yakshas and other Upadevatas. In India the Yakshas are still not forgotten.

M D Subash Chandran