Dhp 44: Are Yama & Mara the same or different?

Dear forum

Wikipedia states:

Yama or Yamarāja, also called Imra, is a god of death, the south direction and the underworld, belonging to an early stratum of Rigvedic Hindu deities… Yama is the lokapala (“Guardian of the Directions”) of the south and the son of Brahma. Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the 10th book of the Rig Veda are addressed to him. He has two dogs with four legs and wide nostrils guarding the road to his abode (cf. hellhound). They are said to wander about among people as his messengers.[11][better source needed] He wields a leash with which he seizes the lives of people who are about to die…

Joanna Jurewicz says:

This place is undecaying (ákšita) and immortal (ámåta), the sun or its shining (svàr) is there together with everlasting light (jyótir ájasram), there are shining spaces there (lokÁ jyótišmantaÿ) and it is high up in the sky (triòaké tridivé diváÿ, 9.113.7, 9). The place thus described evokes the idea of the sun understood not as the heavenly body but as the embodiment of the extra-terrestrial happiness gained in Somic exaltation. At the same time, this is the place where rules Yama, who is here called King Vaivasvata (rÁjā vaivasvatáÿ, 9.113.8). This very name makes us think about the sun because vivásvat is explained as the sun in the RV9. We may presume that King Yama, who was the first to die and to show the way to all mortals, went back to his father’s place, i.e. to the sun.

Considering the above, originally it seems Yama represented death in a neutral way, similar to how the stork in the West delivers babies to parents, Yama takes away dying people to another place, possibly to a positive place.

In MN 130, Yama is also the god of death. When beings die they are led before him to be judged according to their deeds. Birth, old age, illness, punishment for crime and death, are regarded as his messengers, sent among men as a warning to abstain from ill and do good. Yama questions beings brought before him as to whether they have seen these messengers and profited by them. If the answer is in the negative, the nirayapālas (wardens of hell) take them away to the different hells.

This seems somewhat consistent with the Vedic & Brahmanistic tradition, although not totally with a positive outcome.

Dhp44 to 48 refers to Yama, Mara & the Destroyer (Antaka), where it states:

44. Who shall overcome this earth, this realm of Yama and this sphere of men and gods? Who shall bring to perfection the well-taught path of wisdom as an expert garland-maker would his floral design?

45. A striver-on-the path shall overcome this earth, this realm of Yama and this sphere of men and gods. The striver-on-the-path shall bring to perfection the well-taught path of wisdom, as an expert garland-maker would his floral design.

46. Realizing that this body is like froth, penetrating its mirage-like nature, and plucking out Mara’s flower-tipped arrows of sensuality, go beyond sight of the King of Death! (maccurājassa)

47. As a mighty flood sweeps away the sleeping village, so death carries away the person of distracted mind who only plucks the flowers (of pleasure).

48. The Destroyer brings under his sway the person of distracted mind who, insatiate in sense desires, only plucks the flowers (of pleasure).

My questions are:

  1. Did Mara originate in Buddhism?

  2. Are Yama & Mara depicted as the same in Dhp 44?

  3. If not, how to they differ?



Clearly the names / personages “Yama” and “Mara” appear to have related associations, in both Vedic-Brahmanic and Buddhist-Therevada literatures. Good idea to try to pin this down more exactly (i.e. this thread).

The Wikipedia entry for “Mara (demon)” adds:
“The word “Māra” comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *mer meaning to die… It is related to other words for death from the same root, such as: maraṇa and mṛtyu. The latter is a name for death personified and is sometimes identified with Yama.”

Another potential source to consider here might be Stephen Batchelor’s book “Living with the Devil” (2004), Chapter 3 “Mara – The Killer” (pp. 17-28), in that he cites and analyzes several sutta quotations. In particular, he lists (p. 26) the theory of four maras (adding, in parentheses, the Pali terms I found that appear to correspond):
1: the devil of psychophysical existence (khanda-mara)
2: the devil of compulsions (kilesa-mara)
3: the devil of death (yama-mara)
4: the devil who is born of a god (devaputa-mara)

(Stephen Batchelor, as many here may be familiar with, is something of a scholar of the Pali Canon, but is considered also a “cherry-picker” in the way he uses Theravada sources to support his popular “Secular Buddhism”. I for one don’t find Batchelor’s ideas that convincing, but his quasi-scholarly treatment of the topic may be useful here.)


It’s an interesting question, but so far as I can see in the EBTs they are quite distinct. Yama is, as you said, a just and fair god of the afterlife. He is not really a judge; he interrogates, but does not pass judgment. Kamma does that job for him!

Māra is mostly depicted as a deceiver, and the associations with death are, I think, secondary. Maccu or maccurājais used more explicitly as the god of death or mortality in the sense of the embodiment of death. He brings death, while Yama questions those who are already dead.

In Dhp 44, there’s no mention of Māra, so there’s no explicit overlap. Yamaloka seems to mean simply the world of mortality.

Nevertheless, there is clearly some overlap in the ideas around these deities, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see some ambiguity in later texts.


The two Vedic hell-hounds, Śyāma and Śabala, reappear as Sāma and Sabala in the Mahānāradakassapa Jātaka. I named two of my own dogs after them, though opting for their Vedic rather than their Pali names, for whereas the dogs of the Ṛg Veda seem to be basically benevolent, those of the Jātaka are ones you don’t want to mess with:

Sabalo ca Sāmo ca duve suvānā,
pavaddhakāyā balino mahantā,
Khādanti dantehi ayomayehi,
ito paṇunnaṃ paralokapattaṃ.

“Two dogs Sabala and Sāma of giant size, mighty and strong, devour with their iron teeth him who is driven hence and goes to another world.”

Ṛg Veda, Hymn to Yama

But it’s in the Atharva Veda that the dogs are named:
Prayer for exemption from the dangers of death


Each Indian Buddhist school appears to have had its own Māra taxonomy. In the commentaries to the Khuddakapatha and Suttanipāta there’s a fourfold classification (khandha, kilesa, abhisaṅkhāra, devaputta), while everywhere else the classification is fivefold: the aforementioned plus maccu-māra, Māra as death.

Batchelor seems to muddled the two schemes, by including death, which belongs to the fivefold scheme, while omitting abhisaṅkhāra (Māra as the kamma-creating volitions in a puthujjana and sekha).


The following is from Williams “Handbook of Hindu Mythology” who gives a nice big picture on Hindu Yama:

Yama came to be the god of death in later mythology, but he had wide range of roles in the earlier mythology. In the Rigveda Yama was one of the first pair. As such he was referred to as the first mortal (later being called the first human). His twin sister Yamî wanted him as her partner, but he refused. Later mythology charged him with incest. In the earliest mythology he was the son of Vivasvat, an early solar deity. Later he was assimilated into Dharma, god of social order, and made one of the guardians of the four corners of the earth (Lokapâlas). Yama was personified in the Katha Upanishad, and his talk with the youth Naciketas about the nature of death and its mystery portrayed him as a great philosopher-teacher.

During his evolution in later mythology Yama became more sinister, the feared god of death. His two dogs, Syama and Sabala, came for souls, no longer leading them to Devayâna (way of the gods) or Pitryâna (way of the departed ancestor spirits), but to a stopover in Pâtâla (hell). Pâtâla too had changed from a comfortable abode of the dead to a realm of punishment populated with all sorts of dreadful creatures: rakshâsas (blood-thirsty demons), yakshas (tree spirits), ganas (dwarfs), and angirasas (a class of ghosts), as well as souls of the dead. Yama became associated with time as a killer (Kâla) and death (Mrityu), and thereby with the lord of the cremation ground, Shiva.


Wayman, A. (1959). Studies in Yama and Māra. Indo-Iranian Journal, 3(1), 44-73.

It is clear enough that there are two strains of Yama: (1) A divine Yama of solar nature - the prototype of immortality; (2) A fearful Yama, personification of the evil in man and of his inevitable death - the principal Epic and Buddhist Yama.

Nichols, M. (2010). Scholarly Approaches to the Concept of “Evil” and the Figure of Māra in South Asia. Religion Compass, 4(9), 530-537.

…the Buddhist tradition clearly considers the personage Mara ‘evil’ in the sense of representing or advancing the impermanent ills of samsara, rather than inherently or irredeemably.

As exemplified by the symbol of Mara, though that Buddhist god is undoubtedly a being representing ill and opposition, it is not considered an absolute figure of complete corruption and malice. Mara, king Vena, and other figures in South Asian traditions are considered ‘evil’ primarily in terms of representing the ills of life.

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That is wonderful, venerable! They are some of my favorite characters in the Jatakas.


Thanks you for the additional perspective.

Not to apologize for Batchelor’s interpretation, but such “muddling” would seem to be endemic to tradition, in that most of it, especially for the initial 400-500 years, was oral, and subject to the vagaries of human memory.

It brings up a point, tangential to this thread but pertaining to the overall EBT focus of SC – that it’s a feature of oral traditions to use such numbered lists, for obvious mnemonic purposes. The iconic symbolization of this appearing in the Buddha statues depicting the “teaching” mudra – showing the fingers of the hands counting-off list items. But it seems to have happened that the lists evolved into versions of various different numbers of items, and various differing contents to the items.

Finding this in Buddhist tradition is less surprising in my experience having earlier studied classical Chinese medical literary tradition, whose formative historical period roughly approximates that of Buddhism. There likewise a prominent feature is categorizing essential information in numbered series of items. S/t referred to as “numerology”. This tradition was also oral, and set down in written texts just slightly later than the Pali Canon, i.e. about the same time the Agamas were being written.

A joke remarked in modern times is that the numbered lists rarely found with exactly the right count. For instance, the classic “10 questions” used in diagnosis: the earliest form of which is found as a list of 8 questions, and the other recorded forms vary in length from 8 to 12. It’s only in the modern pedagogical standardization that one finds 10.

To another point – it would seem there’s some Indo-European root commonality here, i.e. Yama and his dogs echoed in Greek mythology, where the canine Kerberos – “hound of Hades” – played a similar role at the gate to Hades. Just one dog, but had 2, or 3 or 50 heads. And the power of such mythology lives on – there’s Kerberos, a network authentication protocol from M.I.T. – guarding the gate of the hell that is the internet, if you will.


The concept of a mara or yama is less convincing for me. I doubt whether such beings exist in reality . since brahmanism played a prominent role during the buddha’s era These mythological creatures would have been a part of ancient indian culture, and in order to make the majority comprehend dhamma easily , buddha would have used such mythology to emphasize certain facts . for an example , buddha would have used the concept of a mara in order to personify the defilements so that one could realize the presence of them in the mind. Buddha did not reject mythology but, instead he would have used it skillfully .

Thanks ,
With metta :anjal: