Dharam Raj ….
A beautiful concept that got distorted over time.
Now a days, when we hear the word “Dharam Raj” (also known as Yamraaj) the picture of a scary big man with horns on his head riding on the back of a buffalo comes to our mind. His role is to pull the life (soul) out of the body and take it to the ‘other world’. After checking the record of their life, he sends the souls to heaven or throws them in the hell.
The concept of Dharm Raj was totally different during the early Vedantic period. The earlier Upanishads portray the picture of Dharm Raj as an extremely gentle, kind and benevolent wise person.
In fact the word Dharma Raj was commonly used for the Sadguru.
I was too when I first found it out.
The literal meaning of ‘Dharma Raj’ would be ‘the king or highest authority of Dharma’, and that is the Guru. Though his picture was very different in ancient times but his basic function was same.
The function of Dharma Raj or the Guru was to take the “mind or consciousness” away from this mortal world of misery, pain and sufferings to the ‘other world’ of everlasting peace and bliss.
A beautiful story in the Kathopanishad shows Dharma Raj as a gentle, extremely kind and wise person.
The story goes as, when the young prince Nachiketa thought he had made his father, the king, angry, he went to see the Dharam Raj. After a long and tedious journey, when he finally arrived at his palace, he was informed that Dharm Raj had gone out and would be back after three days. Nachiketa sat at his doorsteps waiting for him without any food or drink.
When Dharm Raj came back after three days, he saw a pale young boy sitting at his doorsteps. He immediately realized that the boy was hungry and thirsty. He apologized and asked his household companions and servants why this boy was not invited in and attended to properly? He told his servants that any guest, regardless of the age or status, should be welcomed and served like a god and ordered them to bring food and water for this unknown young guest.
He then turns to the boy and asked for forgiveness for the rude behavior of his household companions. He asked for the purpose of his visit and as an apology, he also offered to grant the young boy three boons (wishes) …. One for each night he waited outside his house.
As his first boon, Nachiketa asked that his father should not be angry with him when he goes back.
For the second boon, he desired to know the 'yagna' (a process or gyana), by which, one enjoys a long life of contentment, free from suffering, sorrow and fear.
Both these boons were granted.
Both these boons represent all the happiness one expects to enjoy on earth.
But Nachiketa knew that such happiness, which is associated with the physical world, is transitory.
So for his third boon, he asked Dharam Raj for the knowledge of the Self, the Atman - its origin, its nature and its destiny.
With the asking of this third boon, the teaching of the Kath-Upanishad begins and Dharm Raj bestows upon him the Gyana (knowledge) of Atman and Brahman, the self and the supreme God.
Having received this wisdom, Nachiketa became free from death and attained Moksha.
Now.... This picture of the Dharam Raj is definitely not of a terrifying, frightening scary man with horns on the head. Nachiketa did not get frightened or ran away after seeing him.
Then, how and when did this picture got distorted?
Perhaps it got changed, first with the Greek and then with the Judo-Christian and Islamic influences in Indian cultures, because the current portray of Dharm Raj or Yam Raj is very much similar to the picture of devil in Christianity or Satan in Islam.
Should we wait for a frightening, scary Dharm Raj to show up at the end of our life?
Or, should we, like Nachiketa, go right now to a kindhearted loving Dharm Raj (Sat-Guru), who would take our consciousness to the “other world” of everlasting peace and bliss?