Questing for Immortality

by Esteban

” … Pir-napishtim, the Babylonian Noah, and the semi-divine Gilgamesh appear to be represented in Vedic mythology by Yama, god of the dead. Yama was “the first man,” and, like Gilgamesh, he set out on a journey over mountains and across water to discover Paradise.

He is lauded in the Vedic hymns as the explorer of “the path” or “way” to the “Land of the Pitris” (Fathers), the Paradise to which the Indian un-cremated dead walked on foot. Yama never lost his original character. He is a traveller in the Epics as in the Vedas.

Him who along the mighty heights departed,

Him who searched and spied the path for many,

Son of Vivasvat, gatherer of the people,

Yama, the King, with sacrifices worship.

Rigveda, x, 14, 1.

To Yama, mighty King, be gifts and homage paid,

He was the first of men that died,

the first to brave Death’s rapid rushing stream,

the first to point the road

To heaven, and welcome others to that bright abode.

Sir M. Monier Williams’ Translation.

Yama and his sister Yami were the first human pair. They are identical with the Persian Celestial twins, Yima and Yimeh. Yima resembles Mitra (Mithra); Varuna, the twin brother of Mitra, in fact, carries the noose associated with the god of death.

The Indian Yama, who was also called Pitripati, “lord of the fathers,” takes Mitra’s place in the Paradise of Ancestors beside Varuna, god of the sky and the deep. He sits below a tree, playing on a flute and drinking the Soma drink which gives immortality. When the descendants of Yama reached Paradise they assumed shining forms “refined and from all taint set free.”

In Persian mythology “Yima,” says Professor Moulton, “reigns over a community which may well have been composed of his own descendants, for he lived yet longer than Adam. To render them immortal, he gives them to eat forbidden food, being deceived by the Daevas (demons). What was this forbidden food? May we connect it with another legend whereby, at the Regeneration, Mithra is to make men immortal by giving them to eat the fat of the Ur-Kuh, the primeval cow from whose slain body, according to the Aryan legends adopted by Mithraism, mankind was first created?”

Yima is punished for “presumptuously grasping at immortality for himself and mankind, on the suggestion of an evil power, instead of waiting Ahura’s good time.” Professor Moulton wonders if this story, which he endeavours to reconstruct, “owed anything to Babylon?”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915.