You may know that Yama is the Hindu god of death. You may also know that he is a pretty scary-looking fellow. But Yama was not always such a frightening sight.
Once upon a time, Yama, the god of death, was a very handsome god. He was so good looking that all the apsaras in heaven vied for his attention. Yama couldn’t stop admiring himself in the mirror all day. He was so much in love with himself that he forgot that he had a job to do – ending people’s lives! The people on earth were happy at first. Their wrinkles grew in number and their hair turned grey but death did not call on them.
But slowly, things began to get difficult. There were too many people and everywhere you turned, there was a crowd! There simply wasn’t enough food and water for all of them.
Shiva was not pleased with what was happening. He was the god of destruction, the one who had to ensure that the cycle of life was complete. He was not amused by Yama’s casual attitude to his work.
Shiva summoned Yama to Kailash. Yama went reluctantly. He was just planning another party with all his fans when Shiva asked for the meeting. When he reached Kailash, Shiva smiled broadly at Yama. Yama was surprised. He had a sneaking suspicion that he was being called to be reprimanded and was taken aback by Shiva’s warm welcome.
“Having a good time, Yama?” asked Shiva, still smiling.
“With your grace, my lord,” said Yama, smiling even more.
“That’s wonderful,” said Shiva. “Would you mind going to the pond over there and getting me some water please?”
Yama took a small pot and went to the pond to do Shiva’s bidding. As he bent down to get water from the pond, a frightening sight met his eyes. There was someone in the pond! He had a huge moustache and his eyes were red and fearsome. On the top of his head were two large, curved horns.
Yama took a step back, and then another one. What sort of a demon was hiding there in the pond? He didn’t want to know.
He ran to Shiva and told him what he’d seen. Shiva smiled and said, “Touch your head, Yama.”
Puzzled, Yama put his hands to his head… What was this? He could feel something new on his head… a pair of curved horns! It dawned on Yama that what he’d seen in the pond was his own reflection. He pleaded with Shiva to change his looks but Shiva merely closed his eyes in reply.
Yama tried Brahma next. But the latter was busy writing a manuscript.
Vishnu and Lakshmi were in a deep discussion about some cosmic issue and Yama couldn’t get a moment to speak to them. At last, Yama decided that the only way ahead was to do a penance and pray to Vishnu. Years rolled by and finally, Vishnu appeared before him.
“What can I do for you, Yama?” asked Vishnu.
“I want to be handsome again!” said Yama.
Vishnu shook his head.
“That’s not possible,” he said. “You’ll become vain and let your job suffer. But I can remove the horns for you. I will give them instead to an animal who will become your vehicle.”
Yama resigned himself to his fate. He knew that the gods were right. He had become too vain for his own good.
He looked at the buffalo that stood next to him. His new vehicle! Yama smiled at the animal grimly. At last, he looked like the god of death.