- (fem. yakshi)In the VEDA a yaksha was a deity or divinity. Later the term designated certain semidivine beings. These yakshas could change form at will; they lived in caves, mountains, forests, trees, bodies of water, and even magic cities in the sky. They are roughly analogous to gnomes, fairies, or sprites in the European tradition. Yakshas or yakshis were often associated with sacred trees in villages. Indian temple iconography often depicts trees with beautiful yakshis sensuously entwined.Such yakshas and yakshis turn up in the MAHAB-HARATA and the RAMAYANA, and in greater numbers in the PURANAS and in the works of such great SAN-SKRIT poets as KALIDASA and BHAVABHUTI. The earliest Indian sculptures, which tend to be Buddhist (c. 200 B.C.E.), are replete with yaksas and yakshis; they are well known in Buddhist literature as well.Yakshas also appear in Jain sculpture and literature (see JAINISM). Some Jain temples show yakshis particularly in subsidiary shrines. Finally, in the Hindu puranas, yakshas are also frequently encountered. In physical form they tend to be very handsome or beautiful, and they are very prosperous as well. KUBERA, the god of wealth, is always depicted as attended by yaksas.Further reading: Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, Yakshas (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001); Ram Nath Misra, Yaksha Cult and Iconography (New Delhi: Mun-shiram Manoharlal, 1981).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.