Yaksha (Sanskrit यक्ष, yakṣa , yakkha (ञक्ख) in Pāli ) is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots. They appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology. The feminine form of the word is yakṣī (यक्सि) or yakṣiṇī (यक्सिनि) (Pāli: yakkhī (यक्खि) or yakkhinī (ञक्खिनि)).
In Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist mythology, the yakṣa has a dual personality. On the one hand, a yakṣa may be an inoffensive nature-fairy, associated with woods and mountains; but there is a much darker version of the yakṣa, which is a kind of cannibalistic ogre, ghost or demon that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakṣasas.
In Kālidāsa's poem Meghadūta, for instance, the yakṣa narrator is a romantic figure, pining with love for his missing beloved. By contrast, in the didactic Hindu dialogue of the Yakṣapraśnāḥ ("questions of the Yakṣa"), a dangerous cannibalistic Yakṣa, the tutelary spirit of a lake, threatens the life of the epic hero Yudhiṣṭhira.
The yakṣas may have originally been the tutelary gods of forests and villages, and were later viewed as the steward deities of the earth and the wealth buried beneath.
In Indian art, male yakṣas are portrayed either as fearsome warriors or as portly, stout and dwarf-like. Female yakṣas, known as yakṣiṇīs, are portrayed as beautiful young women with happy round faces and full breasts and hips.
In the state of Kerala, in South India, Yakshis are depicted as vampire enchantresses.
Yakṣas in Buddhism
In Buddhist countries yakṣas are known under the following names: Chinese Pinyin: 夜叉 yè chā, Japanese: Yasha (夜叉), Burmese: ba-lu, Tibetan: གནོད་སྦྱིན་ (gnod sbyin) Thai: ยักษ์ (Yaksa).
In Buddhist mythology, the yakṣa are the attendants of Vaiśravaṇa, the Guardian of the Northern Quarter, a beneficent god who protects the righteous. The term also refers to the Twelve Heavenly Generals who guard the Buddha of Medicine (Sanskrit: Bhaiṣajya; Tibetan: sangs-rgyas sman-bla; Chinese and Japanese: 藥師如來, 薬師如来)
In the Pali Canon
The Alavaka Sutta (SN 10.12) of the Pali Canon details a story where the Buddha was harassed by a Rakshasa, who asked him to leave and then come back over and over. The Buddha refused to leave, whereby the Rakshasa threatened to harm him if he could not answer his questions. The rest of the sutra concerns the question and answer dialogue, and at the end, the demon is then convinced and becomes a follower of the Buddha. Sri Lankan (Sinhala) ancentral legends refer to Yakshas as well.
Yaksha and Yakshini in Jainism
Jains mainly worship idols of Jinas, Arihants, Tirthankars, who have conquered the inner passions and attained God-consciousness status. Some section of jains believe that Yaksha and Yakshini look after the well beings of Thirthankarars. Usually, they are found in pair around the idols of Jinas as male (yaksha) and female (yakshini) guardian deities. Yaksha is generally on the right hand side of the Jina idol and Yakshini on the left hand side. In earlier periods, they were regarded mainly as devotees of Jina, and have supernatural powers. They are also wandering through the cycles of births and deaths just like the worldly souls, but have supernatural powers. Over time, people started worshiping these deities as well.
Some sections of Jains looked at yaksas and yaksanis for the immediate returns, and gave them the places in their temples. Some Yaksa were and are known for bestowing fertility and wealth upon their devotes. Therefore, they had become very popular and their idols had been placed in Jain temples and Jains worship them. Jains offer them different things in favor of boons for children, wealth or freedom from fear, illness or disease.
Jainism provides very clear foundations and guidelines, and it is up to every individual jains to decide which idols to worship and which ones we should just acknowledge. Please note that Sthanakvasi and Terapanthi Jains of Svetambers sect and Taranpanthi Jains of Digambar sect do not believe in idol worshiping.
Prominent Yakshas and Yakshanis
Padvamati Devi is the dedicated deity of Lord Parshvanath, the 23rd Tirthankar. 23rd Jain tirthankar Parshvanath is always represented with the hood of a snake shading his head. The Yaksha Dharanendra and the Yakshi Padmavati are often shown flanking him.
Her color is golden and her vehicle is the snake with a cock's head. She has four arms and her two right hands hold a lotus and a rosary. The two left hands hold a fruit and a rein.
Chakreshware Devi is the dedicated attendant deity of lord Adinath (Rishabhadev). She is also called by another name, Apratichakra. The color of this goddess is golden. Her Vehicle is the eagle. She has eight arms. In her four right hands she holds the blessing mudra, arrow, rope and wheel. In her four left hands she holds the rein, the bow, the protective weapon of Indra and the wheel.
Ambika Devi is the dedicated deity of Lord Neminath the 22nd Tirthankara. She is also called Ambai Amba and Amra Kushmandini. Her color is golden and the lion is her vehicle. She has four arms. In her two right hands she carries a mango and in the other a branch of a mango tree. In her one left hand she carries a rein and in the other she has her two sons.
Saraswathi, the goddess of knowledge, is considered to be the source of all learning. This divine energy is the source of spiritual light, remover of all ignorance and promoter of all knowledge. She is respected and adored by all faiths, worldly persons and saints. She has four arms, one holding a book, the other a rosary and two hands holding a musical instrument Veena. Her seat is a lotus and the peacock is her vehicle representing equanimity in prosperity. In some places it is mentioned that the swan is her vehicle.
The goddess Lakshmi represents wealth. People worship her as the goddess of wealth, power, money, etcetera. Just like Saraswathi, She is respected and adored by all faiths, and popular amongst worldly persons. In the upper two hands, she is holding a lotus with an elephant, in the lower-right hand a rosary and in the lower left hand a pot.
- Didarganj Yakshi
- "yaksha". Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9077732/yaksha. Retrieved 2007-07-15.
- Alavaka Sutta (SN 10.12)
- Pramodaben Chitrabhanu, Jain symbols, Ceremonies and Practices
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- Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna Dhallapiccola
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Yaksha, EBC: Yaksha
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