Religions of South Asia, Vol 6, No 1 (2012)

Dialogues with Death: Māra, Yama, and Coming to Terms with Mortality in Classical Hindu and Indian Buddhist Traditions

Michael Nichols
Issued Date: 23 Nov 2012


This article compares Hindu and Buddhist narratives involving debate or contest with the gods representing death in each respective tradition. In Hinduism, this is Yama, judge and god of the underworld, while in Buddhism, death, as well as the concept of rebirth and, more broadly, saṃsāra itself, is represented by the malign figure Māra. Through a comparison of Buddhist Pāli Canon texts to the Hindu Kaṭha Upaniṣad, the Sāvitrī episode in the Mahābhārata, and brief excerpts of Purāṇas, I argue that both traditions employed a common trope of debate and contest with a god of death, but used that shared device to emphasize doctrinal beliefs and perspectives unique to their respective traditions. This strongly suggests a shared literary heritage between the two traditions of these mythic figures.

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DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v6i1.13


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