Yaksha under seven heads naga
63cm high with stand, 56cm without
Yaksha (Sanskrit: यक्ष yakṣa) is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots. They appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature. The feminine form of the word is yakṣī (यक्षी) or Yakshini (yakṣiṇī, यक्षिणी).
A Yakshi – female benevolent fairy – engraved at Vittala temple, Vijayanagarain Karnataka. The temple and her face was damaged and defaced during the Islamic Sultanate campaign against Hindu idols in 1565.
In Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist texts, the yakṣa has a dual personality. On the one hand, a yakṣa may be an inoffensive nature-fairy, associated with woods and mountains; but there is also a darker version of the yakṣa, which is a kind of ghost (bhuta) that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakṣasas.
In Kālidāsa’s poem Meghadūta, for instance, the yakṣa narrator is a romantic figure, pining with love for his missing beloved. By contrast, in the didactic Hindu dialogue of the Yakṣapraśnāḥ “Questions of the Yakṣa”, it is a tutelary spirit of a lake that challenges Yudhiṣṭhira. The yakṣas may have originally been the tutelary gods of forests and villages, and were later viewed as the steward deities of the earth and the wealth buried beneath.
In Indian art, male yakṣas are portrayed either as fearsome warriors or as portly, stout and dwarf-like. Female yakṣas, known as yakṣiṇīs, are portrayed as beautiful young women with happy round faces and full breasts and hips.