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Yaksha (Sanskrit यक्ष) or Yakkha (Pāli यक्ष) are nature-spirits who appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist mythology. Usually benevolent, they are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots.

Greek scroll supported by Indian Yaksha, Amaravati, 3rd century CE, Tokyo National Museum.

Etymology

The feminine form of the word is yakṣī or yakṣiṇī (Pāli: yakkhī or yakkhinī). In Buddhist countries yakṣas are known under the following names: Chinese Pinyin: 夜叉 yè chā, Japanese: Yasha (夜叉), Burmese: ba-lu)


Description

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.


Behaviour

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.


Place

The banks of river Narmada is described as the birth place of yaksha king Kubera (Vaisravana), where his father Visravas, who was a sage, lived. It is also a territory of Gandharvas. (Mahabharata: 3,89). Gokarna, Karnataka is also mentioned as a place of yakshas and pisachas, and kinnaras and the great nagas, and siddhas and charanas and gandharvas.


History / Beliefs

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 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 Jainism, (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.


Story

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.