Yama God of Death

17309458_432827577059330_7756345657675019337_nYama 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. In Sanskrit, his name can be interpreted to mean “twin”. In the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism, he is called “Yima”. According to the Vishnu Purana, his parents are the sun-god Surya and Sandhya. In Hinduism he is the twin brother of Yami, brother of Shraddhadeva_Manu and the step brother of Shani. He is sometimes depicted riding a buffalo.

In Hinduism, Yama is the lokapala (“Guardian of the Directions”) of the south and the son of Brahma. He has two dogs with four legs and wide nostrils guarding the road to his home. He wields a leash with which he seizes the lives of people who are about to die.

In the Vedas, Yama is said to have been the first mortal who died. By virtue of precedence, he became the ruler of the departed, and is called “Lord of the Pitrs”. Yama entered Buddhist mythology when he was mentioned in the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism. He is otherwise also called as “Dharmaraja”. He is said to judge the dead and preside over the Narakas (“Hells” or “Purgatories”) and the cycle of rebirth.

Naraka in Hinduism serves only as a temporary purgatory where the soul is purified of sin by its suffering. In Hindu mythology, Naraka holds many hells, and Yama directs departed souls to the appropriate one. He may also direct the soul to a Swarga (heaven) or return it to Bhoomi (earth). Good and bad deeds are not considered to cancel each other out, the same soul may spend time in both a hell and a heaven. The seven Swargas are: Bhuvas, Swas (governed by Indra), Tharus, Thaarus, Savithaa, Prapithaa, and Maha (governed by Brahma).


Noor Inayat Khan- The Spy Princess

Noor Inayat Khan was a mass of contradictions.  She was a devout Muslim Sufi who believed in nonviolence and refused to tell a lie and disliked the British because of their involvement in India.  Described as a “dreamy” and “sensitive” person who spent time writing children’s stories, poetry and music, Noor was the last person who anyone would have thought could be a spy against the Nazis.  However, underneath that soft exterior was a spine of steel the Nazis could not break no matter how hard they tried.

Noor Inayat Khan was born in the Kremlin in Moscow on January 2, 1914.  Her father was a musician and a Sufi teacher, who was the descendant of famous 18th century Muslim ruler, Tipu Sultan.  Her mother was an an American from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Noor was raised in an atmosphere of religious tolerance and nonviolence.  In 1914, the family left Russia and moved to London and then Paris.  Noor spent most of her childhood in France and grew to love it.  She studied child psychology a the Sorbonne and music at the Paris Conservatory, composing for harp and piano.  When World War II broke out and the Germans invaded France, her family escaped to Britain.  Noor wanted to do something to help free her beloved France.  She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1940 as a trainee wireless operator.

Noor’s fluent French marked her as a valuable asset, and she was selected for special training as a radio operator.  Her first evaluations were not promising.  She would get flustered during mock interrogations and was scared of guns.  Physically petite, one report said she was also”not overly burdened with brains.”  There were also concerns her exotic beauty would draw unwanted attention.  Her instructors reported she was clumsy and scatterbrained, repeatedly leaving her code books out for anyone to see.  She also informed her British handlers she would not lie, and proved this fact by informing them she did not like Britain very much.  She was deeply committed to obtaining India’s independence.  Noor’s father was a personal friend of Mahatma Gandhi and her ancestor, Tipu Sultan, had been killed attempting to stop the British from taking over southern India.  Awkward.  However, she threw herself into training to become an undercover radio operator and overcame her obstacles.  She based her code on a poem she wrote and gave herself the code name “Madeleine”, which was a character from one of her stories.

In June 1943, she was airlifted into France with the cover identify of Jeanne-Marie Regnier as the first secret female radio operator in the Prosper Network.  This was an extremely dangerous job, and most radio operators lasted about six weeks.  In fact, just after Noor landed in Paris, all of the other radio operators in Paris were captured by the Nazis.  The British offered to evacuate her twice, but she refused until there could be a replacement sent.  She spent months evading the Gestapo sending coded messages back to London from Paris.  She used disguises, cunning and straight up running to get away from the agents pursuing her.  She did the work of six people all while outsmarting the Paris Gestapo.  However, she was eventually caught.15551496-_sx540_

As with most things, it was jealousy that brought her down.  Noor was beautiful woman, and drew the attention of her male counterparts.  The sister of her organizer, Renée Garry, was in love with an agent named Antelme.  Apparently, Antelme preferred Noor to Renée so Renée sold Noor out to the Gestapo for revenge.  That’s the official story anyway.   In the book “Flames in the Field,” Rita Kramer wrote that a double agent said the British had deliberately sacrificed women like Noor to distract the Germans from the invasion of Sicily.  However, this has not been confirmed.  The Gestapo agent sent to arrest her probably thought it would be an easy task, but he was in for a surprise.  Petite Noor put up one hell of a fight, biting hard enough to draw blood, kicking and scratching.  He had to call for other agents to assist him in bringing her down.  I bet they gave him hell for that.  A few hours after her imprisonment, Noor made her first escape attempt.  She demanded a bath and insisted the door be shut for her modesty.  Instead of bathing, they found her climbing onto the roof and trying to jump from building to building.  The Nazis must have realized they had a live one.

She was tortured and interrogated, but Noor never revealed any of the messages she transmitted.  She became outwardly compliant to avoid suspicion as she plotted another escape attempt.  This time she was foiled by the timing of a British air raid.  The guards did an unscheduled check of the cells and found her shimming out the window.  Taking no more chances, Noor was classified as extremely dangerous and kept in solitary confinement and constantly shackled.  The torture became worse and she was subjected to terrible violence.  To keep her memory alive, she scratched messages on the bottom of her food bowl to communicate with the inmates of the cells around her in Pforzheim prison.  They only other thing they could report about her was the nightly weeping they heard from her cell.

The Nazis decided they had had enough, and took Noor and three other captured spies to Dachau concentration camp.  The other spies were shot immediately, but Noor was singled out for a prolonged execution.  They beat her brutally for an entire day until she was shot by an SS officer.  She died screaming “Liberté”.  She was only thirty years old.

Hail and farewell to a true hero.  Liberté at last, my friend.



babur_of_indiaThere was the blood of conquerors in his veins.  On his mother’s side, he was descended from the great Genghis Khan.  On his father’s side, the man who took on the Mongols and founded his own empire, Timurlane.  It made sense that this young man would found an empire of his own.  However, he was born far from it.

Zahir al-Din Muhammad was born February 15, 1483 in the principality of Fergana, what is now Uzbekistan. Umar Shaykh Mīrzā,his father, was the ruler of Fergana, but died early when his young son was only eleven.  His death was reported as happening “”while tending pigeons in an ill-constructed dovecote that toppled into the ravine below the palace”.  This seems fishy, but there is no other mention of foul play.  His tribe was the Barlas, which had Mongol origin but members of the tribe considered themselves Turks in language and custom.  Thus young Zahir could claim both ethnicities.  Perhaps because of this, Zahir had a great obsession with conquering Samarkand.  At 15, he besieged Samarkand and held it for 100 days before he had to return to Fergana to put down rebellion.  In the end he lost Fergana to his brother and Samarkand to Muḥammad Shaybānī.  The loss of Samarkand is something he never got over.

Now the young man was living more like a bandit than a prince with a band of followers who attacked the fortified towns in the region and stole cattle and other goods.  Zahir describes in his diaries how he and his followers would place their ladders against the village walls under cover of darkness.  Sometimes they were spotted and had to ride away, but sometimes they got in and fought through the narrow lanes to take what they wanted.  Zahir was based out of Tashkent, which was ruled by his maternal uncle.  He later wrote of this time by saying, “During my stay in Tashkent, I endured much poverty and humiliation. No country, or hope of one!”  By 1504, he had seized the city of Kabul and made it his capital.  Somewhere during this time he acquired a nickname of Babur.  Many people believe this was because his Turco-Mongol army had a difficult time pronouncing his given name.  Babur is thought to have come from “babr”, the Persian word for tiger.  The cultural influence in Kabul was Persian, and Babur took to the poetry and lifestyle and eventually introduced this to India.

Kabul was located on the Khyber Pass and to the east through the pass was northern India.  At that time, northern India was ruled by a confederation of independent princes of the Rajput kings headed by Rana Sanga, ruler of the state of Mewar of Rajasthan.  He made his first raid into Punjab region in 1519.  The governor of the province, Dawlat Khan Lodī, resented his Rajput overlords and invited Babur in to fight them.  Babur did not need to be asked in twice, and invaded.  He ended up invading three times, but was unable to get a clear foothold.  As part of his manipulations in Punjab, the Sultan in charge there sent him the legendary kohinoor diamond. It was described as being worth half-day production costs of the world.  However, there was a curse on the diamond.  “He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.”  This diamond is now part of the British crown jewels.

In April 1526 at Panipat, Babur’s army of 12,000 defeated an army of the Rajput of 100,000 troops and 100 elephants.  Even though they were outnumbered, their use of cavalry tactics and new technology acquired from the Ottoman Turks-  artillery.  Three days after his victory, he occupied Delhi and took Agra a few weeks later.  

Rana Sanga thought Babur would leave like Timurlane before him, but Babur kept his army in the field despite the oppressive heat.  They were 800 miles from their home in Kabul and surrounded by enemies, but Babur describes in his diaries how he keep his followers in place with threats, scoldings, promises and appeals.  Rana Sanga eventually advanced with 100,0000 horses and 500 elephants.  However, Babur’s artillery won the day at the battle of Khanua, stampeding the elephants and breaking the cavalry.   

Before India was secure, Babur had to face an enemy behind him.  Another Sultan took Lucknow in the east while he was dealing with Rana Sanga.  He crossed the Ganges and retook Lucknow then had another great victory at Ghaghara.  Again the artillery won the day along with skillful handling of boats on the river.  By 1529, Babur’s empire was secure.  His empire included Central Asian territories, Kabul, the Punjab, Delhi, and other parts of North India as far south as Gwalior and as far east as the Bihar.  All of this would be passed on to his son, Humayun in what would become known as the Mughal Empire.  Mughal was a corruption of Mongol by later European visitors.

In 1530, Humayun became gravely ill, and was thought to be at death’s door.  Legend said Babur made a vow to God to exchange his life for his son.  He walked seven times around his son’s sickbed to seal the vow.  Humayan recovered and Babur died the same year.  Apart from being a military genius, Babur was a gifted poet and left a wealth of information in his memoirs, the Babur-nameh.  This has been translated into many languages and reveal him to be an cultured, witty man with an eye for beauty as well as conquest.


Sources available on request

Ancient Ghost Stories- Eastern Style

The Hungry Ghost Festival Photo Credit- Original image by Mister Bijou. Uploaded by Karen Barrett-Wilt, published on 30 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.
The Hungry Ghost Festival Photo Credit- Original image by Mister Bijou. Uploaded by Karen Barrett-Wilt, published on 30 October 2014 under the following license: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.

We have discussed the similarities of how the afterlife and ghosts are viewed in the Western World in our previous post. There are also similarities that run through how these subjects are addressed in Eastern cultures, however, there are a few twists that mark them out as different.

As in the West, the ghosts of ancestors could appear to their descendants to give warnings or advice. However, in China this was taken to another level as ancestor worship was widely practiced. The Chinese afterlife was a journey for the soul to cross a bridge over an abyss. There the soul was judged and if it was found worthy, it drank something called Mengpo Soup, which caused it to forget its former life. Some traditions said the soul then went to heaven, others said the soul was then reincarnated. If the soul was judged unworthy, it went to Hell and was not expected to return except on the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Hungry Ghost Festival is held on the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the year. It is thought the veil between the world of the living and the dead is the thinnest at this time and the dead can easily cross over. People leave food and gifts for the ghosts so they will return to their own realm and not trouble the living. Unless the ghost was the spirit of an ancestor appearing in a dream, the Chinese believed some evil force must be involved.

There are generally considered to be five types Chinese ghosts and they are directly related to how the person lived and how they died.

Ba Jioa Gui are the spirits of those connected somehow to gambling debts, either through suicide or murder. These spirits appear under a banana tree and are wailing and sometimes carrying a baby. There is a tradition of tying a red string around a banana tree trunk to ask for lottery numbers, but if they get them and do not fulfill the promise to the ghost they will die a horrible death.

If a person committed a sin of killing, theft, and sexual-misconduct, they become an E Gui or hungry ghost. This ghost is condemned to a perpetual state of hunger, but its mouth is too small to ingest food. It’s skin is green or gray. It is also said that if people forgot their duties of respect for a spirit or the victims of murders who had not been caught, those spirits also became E Gui. They could torment the mind of the living or generally behave like a poltergeist.

Nu Gui are female ghosts, and are most represented in modern day Japanese and Hong Kong movies. This is the ghost of a vengeful and angry woman, who has committed suicide or been raped. She returns to take her revenge on the living and appears as a beautiful girl to seduce her victims like a succubus.

Yuan Gui are also ghosts who have been wronged, usually through wrongful death, but they do not have the drive for revenge of the Nu Gui. They are troubled souls who cannot pass onto the next life, but roam the world of the living in constant depression and restlessness. If they are able to communicate with one of the living, and that person can clear their honor then the Yuan Gui can move on.

The Japanese add a few more specific types of ghosts. One is the Shui Gui, or spirits of the drowned. Since their bodies cannot be found and they cannot receive funeral rites, they are unable to find peace. They live at the bottom of lakes or rivers and drag swimmers down to their doom. There is also the Wu Tou Gui or ghosts of those who received the sentence of being beheaded, and Ying Ling, the ghosts of unborn children who died. Stories also tell of the Ri Ben Gui Bing, who are the spirits of Japanese soldiers who invaded China during the World Wars. They are in uniform and carry guns or katanas.

Ghosts in India most closely resemble the E Gui or hungry ghosts of China. They were known as Bhoots and appeared as shapeshifters who appeared with backward feet. The feet are thought to appear backward to show that something has gone wrong. Bhoots appear when a person dies before their appointed time on earth, and because they were cheated of their allotted time try to possess another body. A woman who died in childbirth became a bhoot called a churail. This ghost inhabited the crossroads, much like the Roman Hecate, and tried to either steal children, possess the body of a woman or seduce and kill a man. Once the bhoot reached their allotted time on earth, they had to leave and become reincarnated.


Sources available on request


5e4373ab4d1a1bb9e23ca6e25ab4a4aeThe Mauryan dynasty of India united most of the Indian subcontinent with Chandragupta Maurya.  His grandson, Ashoka, inherited an empire which stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains to the modern state of Bangladesh in the east.  His father was Emperor Bindusara and one of his lower status wives, Subhadrangi.  Subhadrangi was only the daughter of a Brahmin, however, she was extremely beautiful.  The other wives in the women’s apartment grew jealous of her and contrived to keep her and the Emperor apart.  Finally, the two were united and Ashoka was born in 304 BCE.  The name “Ashoka” comes from his mother’s explanation on the birth of her son, “I am now without sorrow”.

Ashoka was not the only child in the royal nursery and had several half-brothers from his father’s other wives.  The chronicles suggest that Ashoka was not especially good looking, and that his father looked down on him.  However, he made his own place with the rest of the family through his valor, skill and courage.  He was given royal military training and according to legend killed a lion with only a wooden rod.  He cut is his teeth on military action by putting down the riots in the Avanti province.

After his father death, there was a succession fight between Ashoka and his brothers.  According to the Divyavadana, a Buddhist text, Bindusara wanted his son Susima to succeed him.  However, Susima was reported to be arrogant and his disrespect had angered all the ministers in the government.  They supported Ashoka in a coup d’etat against his half brother.  Legends say Ashoka tricked Susima into entering a pit filled with live coals.   This seems a little complicated, but stranger things have happened.  Other legends tell of Ashoka killing 99 of his half brothers, sparing only one.  There is no evidence of Ashoka having that many siblings, and it is thought this may have mythological elements instead of truth.  At any rate, Ashoka was crowned in 269 BCE.

The early part of Ashoka’s reign was similar to his grandfather in that he ruled the empire through brutal force.  He was efficient yet ruthless.  He was especially tough on crime, creating a prison called “Ashoka’s Hell” in the north of the capital.  The outside of the prison was beautiful and elaborate to contrast to the sadistic tortures, which took place inside.  Ashoka’s personal executioner, Girikaa, took charge of the torture and killing of prisoners and apparently was extremely good at his job.  This prison earned the emperor the name Chanda Ashoka, meaning “Ashoka the Fierce” in Sanskrit.  A Chinese traveler named Xuanzang visited India 900 after Ashoka’s reign, and the stories were about “Ashoka’s Hell” were still being passed around.

Ashoka also expanded the Empire by conquering new territories.  The one that profoundly changed him was the conquest of Kalinga in 261 BCE.  Kalinga was a feudal state in the present day territory of Orissa, and is considered one of the most brutal and bloodiest wars in history.  The Kalingans were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, but stubbornly insisted on defending themselves to the last man to keep their honor.  Ultimately, they lost the war, their city and many lives.  It is estimated that there were around 300,000 casualties and many more men, women and children deported.  No one knows exactly what about this experience touched Ashoka so, but it obviously did.  A legend states Ashoka walked through the grounds of Kalinga after his conquest expecting to be happy about the victory, but was moved by the human suffering he saw.  This remorse was reflected in the Edicts of Ashoka.

The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka as well as boulders and cave walls throughout the Empire.  Edict 13 specifically reflect the great remorse Ashoka felt after the conquest of Kalinga.  From that moment on, he officially converted to Buddhism and adopted a policy of non-violence.  He attempted to rule by Dharma, which was what he termed the energetic practice of the virtues of honesty, truthfulness, compassion,  mercifulness, benevolence, nonviolence, and considerate behavior toward all.  A tall order, but Ashoka took it seriously.  This was not a religious doctrine he was pushing, but one that was independent of his Buddhist beliefs.  One of the quotes from the Edicts shows what he desired, “All men are my children. As for my own children I desire that they may be provided with all the welfare and happiness of this world and of the next, so do I desire for all men as well.”

He went on periodic tours through the countryside preaching dharma to the rural people and aiding them in their lives.  He created “dharma ministers” to look to the welfare of the people.  This got to be somewhat high handed as these ministers could sometimes turn into thought police, but it was an attempt.  Ashoka also founded hospitals for men and animals and supplied medicine for all.  He supervised planting of roadside trees, rest houses and watering areas and wells for travelers.  There was also a boom in the building of Buddhist monasteries and stupas, buildings used as a  place of meditation.  He was so committed that he sent his own son and daughter as Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka.  Most of this sounds great, but it did upset the apple cart in some parts of society.  Brahmin priests were prohibited from performing ancient ceremonies with animal sacrifices.  The strict rules on the sacredness of life put limitations on hunters and fisherman as well.

After Ashoka’s death in 232 BCE, his empire and his work disintegrated.  However, Ashoka influenced emperors from China to Japan.  He was to Buddhism what Constantine was to Christianity.


Sources available on request