The Disguises of the Demon

The Development of the Yakṣa in Hinduism and Buddhism

By Gail Hinich Sutherland

Subjects: Buddhism
Series: SUNY series in Hindu Studies
Paperback : 9780791406229, 250 pages, July 1991
Hardcover : 9780791406212, 250 pages, July 1991

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Table of contents





Approaching the yaksa

The problematic function of demons Indian ethical paradigms

My approach to the material

Chapter 1. The Yaksa And The Waters


Iconography and method

Yaksa beginnings in Buddhism and Jainism

Iconography and metaphor

Mythological background

Nature cosmology

The essence of the waters

The demiurge in the waters

Trees, water, and fertility

Trees in Buddhist tradition

The lotus

Pots of plenty


The naga

The magic fish

Local waters

The family of demons


Yaksas and raksasas



Kinnaras or kimpurusas



Kubera and the lokapalas

Chapter 2. The Yaksa In Hinduism

Vedic Sources


Chapter 3. Trial By Water In Hindu And Buddhist Texts


The testing naga

The testing yaksa

The Bodhisatta and yakkha

Varuna as yaksa

Trial by water continued: moral conclusions

Chapter 4. The Yaksa In Buddhist And Jain Representations And Thought

Buddhist cosmology and myth

The Buddhist cosmos and the demonic

Transformation and conversion

The fluid, physical, and moral forms of the demons

Humans, gods, and demons

Outwitting the yakkhas

Monstrous yakkhas

Kings and yakkhas

The yaksa in Jainism

Chapter 5. Yaksis


The Buddhist yakkhini

Yaksis as saktis

Chapter 6. The Meghaduta





Among the most ancient deities of South Asia, the yaksha straddle 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 yaksis epitomized as Kubera, god of wealth and king of the yaks In demonic guise, the yaksis related to a large family of demonic and quasi-demonic beings, such as nagas, gandharvas, raks, and the man-eating pisaacas.

Translating and interpreting texts and passages from the Vedic literature, the Hindu epics, the Puranas, Kālidāsa's Meghadūta, and the Buddhist Jātaka Tales, Sutherland traces the development and transformation of the elusive yaksfrom 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.


"The author does a very successful job in exploring the place and function of demons in Hindu/Buddhist mythology and iconography. She addresses the ways in which demons dwell on the boundaries between good and evil, human and divine, and, as boundary transgressors, serve to connect the disparate aspects of the religious traditions together. " -- Paul Courtright, Emory University