Yakshas are considered semi-divine, being both half-god and half-demon. They live under the earth in the Himalayas where they guard the wealth of the earth, and are ruled by Kubera, the god of wealth. Yakshas are pot-bellied, squat creatures and are considered to be keepers of water holes. They are very fond of riddles – those who answer their riddles are richly rewarded, while those who don’t risk death.
In the Mahabharata, the Pandava brothers came upon a lake that was guarded by a Yaksha. He demanded that they answer his riddle before drinking the water. Only the eldest brother Yudhistira, paid heed to the Yaksha’s demand.
Enraged, the Yaksha killed all the Pandavas, except Yudhistira. He then asked Yudhistira, “What is the greatest wonder of life?” To which Yudhishtira replied, “That every man must one day die, yet every man lives as if they were immortal.”
Pleased with the reply, the Yaksha blessed Yudhishtira, revived his brothers and gave him rich gifts. Yakshas have been worshiped in India long before the Vedic tradition took root. Such was their popularity that even Buddhists and Jains were forced to include these mysterious spirits in their pantheon. The images of Buddha and the Jains are often shown flanked by images of Yaksha and his consort, the Yakshi. Hindu temple walls are adorned by images of Yakshas.