V-S-Gopal / 5 yrs ago /





Do you know that Yamuna is another name for Yami, the sister of Yama, the god of death? Yami and Yama were born twins.


Yama and Yami were Surya’s children. Although I have not come across any person called Yama, or Narada for that matter, we often remember these two characters in our day to day life! If anyone thwarts a serious activity of yours, you will complain to another: “That fellow turned up like a Yama..” And if someone creates a misunderstanding between you and a friend, you will refer to him as a “Naradar” (with ‘ar’, denoting due respect!).


If you know what is behind the names in India, you then know India! Our names, of men or women or places or rivers, are part of Indian mythology and lore.


I intend to take up at least three rivers, say Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, and trace out their origins and evolution in the course of a few blogs. Here, I am starting the series with Yamuna.


India is a vast country blessed with perennial rivers and seasonal rivers. I just shudder to think of the geography of a country like the Philippines which consists simply of islands, more than one thousand of them! Our perennial rivers like Ganga and Yamuna have a lofty birth, in the great heights of the Himalayas, thanks mainly to melting snows. I should expect that if the snowfall precipitation is poor in a year – like our monsoon rainfall precipitation could turn out to be very poor in a year leading to a drought situation – then Ganga and Yamuna should run very scanty, but that never seems to happen! Can someone explain to me if snowfalls upon the Himalayas every year happen to be nearly constant?


River Yamuna finds mention even in Rig Veda, our earliest literature. The immensity of Rig Veda, in verse form, can be gauged from the fact that its translation for the first time into English by Max Muller and his companions and assistants, consumed 51 volumes! The Vedic Aryans occupied the areas from Eastern U.P. to Afghanistan. Thirty one river names are mentioned in Rig Veda out of which 16 rivers are those which flow in present Afghanistan! Sure enough, apart from Yamuna’s name, many other rivers are also mentioned therein, such as Ganga, Saraswati, Sindhu (Indus) and the five rivers of the Punjab.




You will find the above map to be interesting. (Source: In the Rigveda, Ganga is also alternatively referred to as Jahnavi. Similarly Yamuna is alternatively referred to as Amsumati in the Rigveda. Amsumati also means “sunlight”. Interestingly, Gomati and Sarayu are shown in the Afghan area. It is inferred that the rivers Gomati and Saryu in the U.P. must have been post-Rigvedic nomenclatures. There is a theory that the Vedic Aryans migrated eastwards from their central location in Saptasindhu (the Punjab). Several lifetimes are required to study the available literature on Aryans!

Yamuna flows over 1370 kilometres (nearly 850 miles), coursing through H.P., Delhi, Haryana and the U.P. Its origin is at Yamunotri glacier in Uttarkashi District in the Uttarakhand State, at a height of nearly 6300 metres. Cities like Delhi, Mathura and Agra lie on its course. It joins Ganga at the Triveni Sangam at Allahabad. (Hardwar and Rishikesh are on the Ganges, not to be confused with Yamuna.) Thus, Yamuna is Ganga’s biggest tributary. Yamuna has also several tributaries such as the rivers Chambal, Tons and Betwa.

RiverYamuni is sacred as it is identified with Yami who is sometimes regarded as goddess of death. A dip in Yamuna is supposed to eradicate any fears of death. And some people regard Yamuna as even more sacred than Ganges as the feet of baby Krishna were washed in it as he was being carried by Vasudeva across the river from the Mathura side to the Gokul side. Besides,the river was witness to Krishna's games and amorous pranks with gopis, and the growing Lord liberally indulged in swimming in it.


Now, let us go back to the Surya (sun god) story. Surya had three wives, sometimes referred to in politer language as consorts or queens. They were named Saranya (or Sanjna), Ragyi and Prabha. The twins Yama and Yami were born to Surya (also called Vivasvat) and Saranya. Saranya was also mother to Ashwins, twin sons, the divine horsemen cum physicians to the Devas. When Saranya could not bear the intensity of Surya’s rays, her shadow named Chayya gave birth to children including the planet Saturn (Shani) and the river goddess Tapti.


Surya is a Vedic God, and in Rigveda  he is one among the seven solar deities or the seven Adityas (Surya, Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman, Bhaga, Daksha, Ansha). He was the chief solar deity. He was golden coloured and he rode a chariot with a single wheel drawn by seven horses. Surya’s father was rishi Kasyapa, father of the Nagas and the humankind.

The twins Yama and Yami (Yamuna) are regarded in the Vedas as the first man and woman (mortals) on earth. Yama becomes a promotee to a higher rank on his demise and is given the charge of supervising the deeds of humankind and punishing or rewarding them when their time is ripe. Thus, he is Dharmarajan, or rather god of justice. Yama’s vahan is a buffalo whereas Yami’s vahan is a tortoise. Yama, it is said, as per Rigveda, was also a great seer, teacher and philosopher.


It is said that while on a sea voyage, Yami expressed a wish to have sex with her brother Yama. Yama rejected the idea saying that it was not in consonance with the tradition of the ancestors “Apsu Gandharva”, “Apya Gandharvi”.( It seems that “Apsu Gandharva” must have been another name for Puru. And “Apya Gandharvi” must be referring to Saranya, as per Sayana and Muir.) He explained to her that sisters never had sex with brothers in their society. As per Atharvaveda, Yama was the first mortal to die. It is noted in the veda that music played in the residence of Yama all the 24-hours! It reminds me a bit of my Worldspace radio!

In Tibetan beliefs, Yami is the goddess of death and rules the female spirits in the underworld (Naraka). She is also the consort of Yama, lord of the underworld. There are perhaps some Indian stories that Yama and Yami parented the human beings but I could not read about it. In the Old Testament, we are presented initially with only Adam, Eve, and their sons Cain and Abel. So, how others evolve is a parallel mystery.


In the next blog in this series, I shall deal with the story of river Ganga.




V-S-Gopal / / 5 yrs ago

Hi Dr.Mehra,
It is clear that the rivers Saraswati, Sindhu (Indus) and Yamuna are specifically mentioned even in the first Veda, Rig Veda, a number of times. I have not come across any theory that the IVC was actually related to 'Saraswati valley'. Indus flowed west of the Punjab (Saptasindhu). Saraswati flowed East of the Punjab.
Anyway, I shall try a greater probe on the issue pointed out by you before I write on Saraswati river.
Many thanks and regards!
vs gopal

V-S-Gopal / / 5 yrs ago

Hi Swarajya sir,
Catch-22! Who took away the life of Yama, the first mortal? LOL! Only shows that in the beginning, there was always a beginning!
There have been so many Manus including the ones born to Surya.Manu and Satrupa created by Brahma were in the form of man and woman but were not mortals but celestials.
Thanks and regards!
vs gopal

Dr Arun Mehra / / 5 yrs ago
Dr Arun Mehra

Dear Dr Gopal,
In this blog, at the very outset, you frighten me, with the meaning of the word "Yamuna"!
On a more serious note, this is a very interesting and informative article.
I would like to add something else I have read (I have no recollection where): there is a theory that the Indus Valley Civilization was really a "Saraswati Valley Civilization", but the Saraswatti dried up for some reason, and some geological phenomena caused the Yamuna to become the principal tributary of the Ganga. This resulted in the initial references of the Saraswati (in the Vedas) giving way to references to the Yamuna, which had gained in economic and civilizational value and importance. I am sure that you, too, must have read some version of this hypothesis. Do you feel it has any credibility? Do you find anything in the Vedic literature to suggest such a thing?

swarajya / / 5 yrs ago

Thanks for educating us on the history of Yamuna.It is good to learn that Yama and Yami were twins born to Sun's wife.Sani is also Sun's son.To my knowledge Manu and Satrupa were the first humans created by Brahma.The question which comes to my mind is who took away the life of Lord Yama?Was he not a greater Yama?

V-S-Gopal / / 5 yrs ago

Thanks Ravindraji!
vs gopal

V-S-Gopal / / 5 yrs ago

Hi Vety,
Thanks! Just a popularisation of relatively unknown myths!
vs gopal

Ravindra Datta / / 5 yrs ago
Ravindra Datta

Dear Gopalji,
Very interesting. Looking forward to other two portions of the triology.

VETY / / 5 yrs ago

Great scholarly post VS which gives an insight into our rich heritage of beliefs and myths about which we know so little.

V-S-Gopal / / 5 yrs ago

Hi Meera,
Too serious hai naa?
Let me try a comedy before I go to ganga!
vs gopal

Meera / / 5 yrs ago

Gopal Sir!
That made a very interesting read..Wonderful stories of Yami Yama,
awaiting next!


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