From the Jacket:
Particular significance attaches to Yaksas in Indian mythology, religion and art. Their almost universal presence in the earlier Indian religions, Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina, wherein they are invested with peculiar traits and powers, indicates their importance.
Ananda Coomaraswamy's Yaksas is an attempt at bringing together the mass of information from literary and monumental sources about Yaksas and Yaksis, their origin, and development from the conceptual, mythological and iconographical points of view. Coomaraswamy has shown how this non-and pre-Aryan "animistic" concept originated and, in the historical times, dovetailed with the Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina religious systems to the extent that the concept of Yaksattva got closely bound up with the idea of reincarnation.
In the preparation of this monograph, Coomaraswamy has extensively drawn upon the sectarian and semi-secular literature and has shown unmistakable evidences of the Yaksas' once honourable status, their benevolence toward men and the affection felt by men toward them. Coomaraswamy begins by tracing the origin of the word yaksa which is first found in Jaiminiya Brahmana, where it means nothing more than 'a wondrous thing.' In course of time Yaksas and Yaksis are often mentioned and their names are found in the Epics, Buddhist and Jaina works and even in sculpture. In Jaina books Yakkhas are often called Devas, where, as Sasana Devatas they are usually guardian angels. In Buddhist works they are sometimes represented as teachers of good morals and as guardian spirits.
Of equal importance are the Yaksas and Yaksis in early Indian art and in the early examples (Bharhut, Sanci, Gandhara, etc.) they are frequently represented as Atlantes, supporters of buildings and superstructures. The early iconography of Yaksas, again, seems to have formed the foundation of later Hindu and Buddhist iconography. Coomaraswamy has traced a kind of Bhakti cult centering round the worship of Yaksas on the basis of the Yaksa caityas, the offerings to the Yaksas and has tried to show that the facts of Yaksa worship correspond almost exactly with those of other Bhakti religions.
"Coming as it does from the pen of Ananda Coomaraswamy, this brilliant monograph is the acme of scholarship and brilliance and provides a mass of well-documented information. The work is divided into the two parts, an Appendix giving Tale of a Yaksa found in the Divyavadana, alongwith 73 plates.
In centuries preceding the Christian era, when the fusion of races
in India had already far advanced, the religion of India passed
through its greatest crises and underwent the most profound changes.
Vedic ritual, indeed, has survived in part up to the present day; but
the religious outlook of medieval and modern India is so profoundly
different from that of the Vedic period, as known to us from the
extant literature, that we cannot apply to both a common designation;
medieval and modern Hinduism is one thing, Vedic Brahmanism
another. The change' is twofold, at once inward and spiritual, and
outward and formal.
No doubt we are sufficiently aware of the spiritual revolution indi-
cated in the Upanisads and Buddhism, whereby the emphasis was
shifted from the outer world to the inner life, salvation became the
highest goal, and knowledge the means of attainment. But while this
philosophic development and spiritual coming of age have gradually
perfumed (to use a characteristically Indian phrase) the whole of
Indian civilization, there are here a background and ultimate signifi-
cance given to the social order, rather than the means of its actual
integration; the philosophy of the Upanisads, the psychology of
Buddhism, indeed, were originally means only for those who had left
behind them the life of a householder, and thus in their immediate
application anti-social. But few in any generation are ripe for the
attainment of spiritual emancipation, and were it otherwise the social
order could not survive. The immediate purpose of Indian civiliza-
tion is not Nirvana or Moksa, but Dharma; not a desertion of the
household life, but the fulfillment of function. And here, in Karma-
yoga, thespiritual support is found, not in pure knowledge, but in
devotion to higher powers, personally conceived, and directly ap-
proached by appropriate offices (puja) and means (sadhana). In
the words of the Bhagavad Gila: t< He who on earth doth not follow
the wheel (of activity) thus revolving, liveth in vain. . . . . He that
doeth that which should be done, he is the true Monk, the true Yogi.
not the recluse who refrains from actions ..... Whatsoever thou
do est, do thou that as an offering to Me ; thus shalt thou be liberated .
. . . . He who offereth to Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit,
or water, that I accept. . . . . Howsoever men approach Me, even
so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is
In the earlier Vedic books there is a total absence of many of these
most fundamental features of Hinduism properly so called; it is only
in the Brahmanas and Upanisads (and afterwards, much more defi-
nitely in the Epics) that the ideas of Samsara (the cycle of birth and
rebirth) , Karma ( causality), religious asceticism and Yoga, and
Bhakti (devotion to a personal deity) begin to appear, and the same
applies to the cults of Siva, Krishna, Yaksas, Nagas, innumerable
goddesses, and localized deities generally. It is natural and reason-
able to assume that these ideas and deities derive, not from the Vedic
Aryan tradition, but, as De la Vallee-Poussin expresses it, from" un
certain fond commun, tres riche, et que nous ne connaissons pas
There is much to be said for Fergusson's view (Tree and Serpent
Worship, p. 244) that" Tree and Serpent worship," i. e., the worship
of Yaksas and Nagas, powers of fertility and rainfall, " was the primi-
tive faith of the aboriginal casteless Dasyus who inhabited northern
India before the advent of the Aryans." But in using language of
this kind, a certain degree of caution is necessary; for, in the nature
of things, it is only the popular and devotional aspect of these" primi-
tive faiths" of which we are able to recover the traces, and there may
well have existed esoteric and more philosophical phases of the same
beliefs. We do not know how much of Indian philosophy should
really be traced to Agamic rather than Vedic origins. Indians them-
selves have always believed in the existence of theistic scriptures, the
Agamas, coeval in antiquity with the Vedas; and if the existence of
such scriptures is beyond proof, it is at least certain that religious
traditions, which must be spoken of as Agamic in contradistinction
to Vedic, are abundant and must reach far back into the past. This
past, moreover, has been proved by recent archeological discoveries
to have been much more ancient and to have been characterized by a
much higher culture than had been formerly recognized. And we
know so well the continuity of Indian racial psychology during the
historical period, that we cannot but believe that long before this
period begins the Indians had been, as they are today, essentially
worshippers of personal deities.
In the beginning, when Aryans and non-Aryans were at war, in
the period of military conquest and greatest social exclusiveness, and
before the two elements had learned to live together, or had evolved
a conception of life covering and justifying all its phases, a divergence
between the two types of religious consciousness had been profound;
in those days the despised worshippers of the sisna (phallus) might
not approach the Aryan sacrifice. As time passed the dividing lines
grew fainter, and in the end there was evolved a faith so tolerant and
so broad that it could embrace in a common theological scheme all
grades of religious practise, from that of the pure monist to that of
savages living in the forests and practising human sacrifice .
Now, regarding the accomplished fact, it is not always easy to dis-
tinguish the separate elements that made so great a creative achieve-
ment possible. Weare apt both to over- and underestimate the sig-
nificance of what we describe as primitive animism.
Hinduism, quantitatively regarded, is a worship of one deity under
various aspects, and of genii and saints and demons, whose aid may
be invoked either for spiritual or for altogether material ends. This
Hinduism, in the period we have referred to, broadly speaking, that
of the last three centuries before Christ, was not so much coming
into existence for the first time, as coming into consciousness and
Dr. Vogel, in Indian Serpent Lore, has very recently and very
admirably studied the old Indian (or perhaps we ought rather to say,
the Indianaspect of the widespread Asiatic) cult of Nagas or Dragons,
guardian spirits of the Waters.
In the following pages I have attempted to bring together, from
literary and monumental sources, material sufficient to present a
fairly clear picture of an even more important phase of non- and
pre-Aryan Indian "animism," the worship of Yaksas and Yaksis,
and to indicate its significance in religious history and iconographic
The status of a Yaksa as typically represented (I) in the later
sectarian literature and (2) in modern folklore will yield an imper-
fect, and indeed an altogether erroneous idea of the original signifi-
cance of Yaksattva if not examined with cautious reservations. As
remarked by Mrs. Rhys Davids:
The myth of the yakkha, and its evolution still, I believe, await investigation.
The English equivalent does not exist. “Geni” (djinn) is perhaps nearest
(cf. Pss. of the Sisters, p. 30). In the early records, yakkha as an appellation is,
like naga, anything but depreciative. Not only is Sakka so called (M. 1,252),
but the Buddha himself is so referred to in poetic diction (M. I, 383)."
We have seen Kakudha, son of the gods, so addressed (Kindred Sayings,
II, 8); and in D. II, 170 the city of the gods, Alakamanda, is described as
crowded with Yakkhas ("gods"). They have a deva's supernormal powers .
. . . . But they were decadent creatures, degraded in the later era, when the
stories of the Jataka verses were set down, to the status of red-eyed cannibal
And it may be added that it was only natural that in losing their
importance as tutelary deities, the Yaksas in popular folklore, influ-
enced no doubt by the prejudices already referred to as apparent in
the sectarian literature, should likewise have come to be classed with
the demoniac Raksasas.' Their fate in this connection may be com-
pared with that of the Devas at the hands of Zoroaster, or that of the
older European mythology under the influence of Christianity (e. g.,
in Saxo Grammaticus). Notwithstanding this, it is quite possible to
gather both from the sectarian and the semi-secular literature a great
deal of information incidentally presenting unmistakable evidences
of the Yaksas' once honorable status, their benevolence toward men,
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