Among the most ancient deities of South Asia, the yaksa straddles the boundaries between popular and textual traditions in both Hinduism and Buddhism and both benevolent and malevolent facets. As a figure of material plenty, the yaksa is epitomized as Kubera, god of wealth and king of the yaksas. In demonic guise, the yaksa is related to a large family of demonic and quasi-demonic beings, such as nagas, gandharvas, raksasas, and the man-eating pissacas.
Translating and interpreting texts and passages from the Vedic literature, the Hindu epics, the Puranas, Kalidassa’s Meghaduta, and the Buddhist jataka Tales, Sutherland traces the development and transformation of the elusive yaksa from an early identification with the impersonal absolute itself to a progressively more demonic and diminished terrestrial characterization. Her investigation is set within the framework of a larger inquiry into the nature of evil, misfortune, and causation in Indian myth and religion.
Gail Hinich Sutherland is Assistant Professor of Asian Religions at Louisiana State University.
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