From Academic Kids
Yama is the Hindu lord of death whose first recorded appearance is in the Vedas. He is one of the most ancient mythological beings in the world and parallel forms of one sort or another have been found all over Eurasia. He is known as Yima by Zoroastrians, and is considered to be be cognate with Ymir of Norse legend. He may also share the same mythological roots as Abel, and has become known as Enma in Japanese legend.
The spirits of the dead, on being judged by Yama, are supposed to either pass through a term of enjoyment in a region midway between the earth and the heaven of the gods, or to undergo their measure of punishment in Naraka, the nether world, situated somewhere in the southern region. After this time they return to Earth to animate new bodies.
In Vedic mythology, Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died and espied the way to the celestial abodes, and in virtue of precedence he became the ruler of the departed. In some passages, however, he is already regarded as the god of death.
Characteristics of Yama
He is a Lokapala and an Aditya. In art, he is depicted with green or red skin, red clothes, and riding a buffalo. He holds a loop of rope in his left hand with which he pulls the soul from the corpse. He is the son of Surya (Sun) and twin brother of Yami, traditionally the first human pair in Hindu mythology. Later, he was deified and worshiped as a son of Vivasvat and Saranya. He is one of the Ashta-Dikpalas and represents the south. He reports to Lord Shiva the Destroyer, an aspect of Trimurti (Hinduism's triune Godhead). Three hymns (10, 14, and 35) in the Rig Veda Book 10 are addressed to him.
In Hinduism, Yama is also the lord of justice. He is sometimes referred to as Dharma, in reference to his unswerving dedication to maintaining order and adherence to harmony. It is said that he is also one of the wisest of the devas. In the Katha Upanishad, among the most famous Upanishads, Yama is portrayed as a teacher.
Yama was revered in Tibet as a guardian of spiritual practice.
Subordination to Shiva and Vishnu
Another story, found in the Bhagavata Purana, shows Yaman's subordinance to Vishnu. The man Ajamila had committed many evil acts during his life such as stealing, abandoning his wife and children, and marrying a prostitute. At the moment of his death he involuntarily chanted the name of Narayana (the Sanskrit name for Vishnu) and achieved moksha, becoming saved from the messengers of Yama. Although Ajamila had actually been thinking the name of his youngest son, Narayana's name has powerful effects, and thus Ajamila was released from his great sins.  (http://www.chennaionline.com/festivalsnreligion/religion/religion33.asp)
Yamas as codes of conduct
In a related usage, a yama is a "restraint" or rule for living virtuously. Ten yamas are codified in numerous scriptures, including the Shandilya and Varuha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular. Patanjali lists five yamas in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The ten traditional yamas are:
- Ahimsa: abstinence from injury, harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed at any time. This is the "main" Yama. The other nine are there in support of its accomplishment.
- Satya: truthfulness, word and thought in conformity with the facts.
- Asteya: non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt.
- Brahmacharya: divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithful when married.
- Kshama: patience, releasing time, functioning in the now.
- Dhriti: steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion.
- Daya: compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.
- Arjava: honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.
- Mitahara: moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor to little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
- Shaucha: purity, avoidance of impurity in body, mind and speech.
- Aparigraha: absence of avariciousness, non-appropriation of things not one's own.
Yama in popular culture
- In the anime and manga Dragon Ball, Enma (The Japanese name for Yama) is portrayed as a harried bureaucrat with a short temper, attended to by an army of office-worker Oni. Though the ruler of the afterlife, he is surpassed in power by both the four Kaiō and the one remaining Kaiōshin (higher gods in whose hands rest the stewardship of the entire universe). He is depicted in a similar fashion in YuYu Hakusho, as the pen-pushing ruler of the spirit world; however, he is also the father of Koenma, who often runs the underworld in his father's stead. He is known as "Yemma" (based on an older Japanese pronunciation) in the English-dubbed Dragon Ball Z anime, and Yama in the English version of YuYu Hakusho.
- Painting of Yama (http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/vehicles/3829.htm)
- Yama's subordinance to Shiva (http://www.balagokulam.org/kids/markandeya.html)
- Yama's subordinance to Vishnu (http://www.chennaionline.com/festivalsnreligion/religion/religion33.asp)
- Foundations of Yoga (http://www.atmajyoti.org/med_foundations_of_yoga.asp) - Discussion of Yama and Niyama, by Swami Nirmalananda Giri
- Yama and Niyama (http://www.religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Ec/Ecology_28.html)