THE SANSKRIT-PURANIC CONNECTION – YAXACHILAN, MEXICO

The ancient city of Yaxchilan is located on the banks of the Usumacinta River in Chiapas, lying between the borders of Mexico and Guatemala.  In general, during the Late Classic  period of Mesoamerican history, that is between 600-900 CE, Yaxchilan was an important center of power amongst the Mayan cities located long the Usumacinta River region of Mexico. However, it becomes evident from the Sanskritic etymology of the names of these sites and their mention in the Puranic texts of India, that these sites are perhaps much older than the dates arrived at by present historians and archaeologists.

If we apply Sanskrit to the name Yaxchilan, we find it to be a close cognate of Yaksha-shila (यक्षशिला), shila (शिला) meaning stone or stone-sculpture or stone plate. The well known lintels of Yaxchilan Temples are decorated with, if we were to use Vedic terminology of India, what can only be described as carvings of ‘Yakshas’. In the ancient Indian-Puranic tradition, Yakshas (यक्ष) are a class of spirits who were both benevolent and mischievous trouble makers. They were midgets who were also super-natural guards, who were the custodians of treasures hidden in palaces, temples, in the earth and in the roots of trees. The name Yaksha-Shila (यक्षशिला) very aptly describe the Yaksha like stone lintels of Yaxchilan, and of many ancient Mayan sites. 

In the Mayan folklore of the Yucatán Peninsula, lying in South-eastern Mexico between the Gulf of Mexico and the Carribean sea, as well as in Guatemala, there are tales of mythical creatures with magical powers called aluxes.

Aluxes are dwarf-like creatures of Mayan civilization. They 
 are the same as Yakshas of the Puranas. The Puranas state that
Patala Loka (South America, more specifically Mexico)
was the home of the Yakshas.

A Yaksha from Sunga Dynasty, 1st Century BC
Bengal, India. Yakshas are described as celestial guards, often mischievous but also benevolent, who were custodians of wealth. Their home according to the Puranas was in Patala Loka, identified as South America, especially Mexico.

But it is claimed that Yaxchilan is a modern name. It is said that Teobert Maler, later Teoberto (1842– 1917), an explorer who devoted his energies to documenting the ruins of the Mayan civilization, was the one who gave the name Yaxchilan to the site. The word ‘yaxa’, he said meant ‘green stones’, albeit in an unknown Mayan language. However, this may not be entirely true. In naming the site Yaxachilan, Maler may in reality have been renaming the site with its ancient most known name.

The reason is that many Mayan sites bear the suffix Yax. A similar suffix ‘ox’ appears in the name Oxwitik exists, in the ancient name of another ancient Mayan city, present day Copan in Hondurus. Here the prefix ‘ox’ is translated as ‘three’ though the meaning of ‘witik’ remains unknown. There is a possibility that ‘yax’ and ‘ox’ are the same words, especially because  no meaningful information can be derived from the meanings that have been given to these words. The closest Sanskrit cognate is Yakshavitt (यक्ष्वित्त) which refers to the ‘Yaksha code of conduct’, which was to guard temple treasures but not own them.

The word ‘yax’ appears in a slightly different form in the name Yaxha, a Mesoamerican archaeological site in the northeast of the Petén Basin region. Regarding its name it is said that since the city was located on a ridge overlooking a lake which was blue-green, hence the site was given the name Yaxha, yax meaning blue-green or green.  However David Stuart an archaeologist studying the Mesoamerican civilization states that the name on the emblem-glyph of the city should read Yax-ha, and not Yaxha or Yaxa, therefore raising questions about equating the name Yaxha with ‘yax’. Besides, even though yax is equated with the colour blue-green, it is unknown in which particular Mayan language yax holds thus meaning. 

Yucatan, the name of a state in Mexico sheds some light on the source of the word Yax. Many theories regarding the name Yucatan of exist. Perhaps the most appropriate explanation is that the name derives from the Maya people who inhabited Yucatan. Today the people are referred to by their Aztec name, the Chontal, but the Chontal Maya people refer to themselves as the Yokot’anob, belonging to the Yokot tribe. Yax might be a distortion of the name Yokot.

The native people who live in present day Calkmula call themselves ‘Kuhul Kaanal Ajaw’ or  ‘Divine Lords of the Snakes’. Though researchers such as Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube state in their ‘Chronicles of the Mayan Kings & Queens’ that the  name is ambiguous because in their research they have found no connection as to why the tribe should be regarded as devotee of snakes, it is here that the Puranic texts of India become relevant. According to Puranic literature, one finds that the Patala Loka or South America was the territory of the Yakshas (celestial guards) and the Nagas (the serpent tribe).

More specifically, the Vishnu Purana states that the Danavas (demon sons of Danu), Daityas (demon sons of Diti), Yakshas and the snake-people Nagas (Serpent-human formed sons of Kadru), lived in the realms of Patala Loka, literally ‘under the earth’, or ‘under the surface’ or the ‘southern hemisphere’. Indian researchers generally accept that the other side of the earth from Bharatkhanda (India) mentioned in Puranas is South America.


In his ‘Works, The Vishnu Purana, A System of Hindu Mythology and Tradition’, Horace Hayman Wilson (1865)  states that the regions of Patala Loka, “are embellished with magnificent palaces in which dwell numerous Danavas, Daityas, Yakshas and great snake-gods….. ” Rishi Narada, after his return from Patala Loka is said to have declared amongst the celestials that Patala Loka was much more delightful than Indra’s heaven. “What”, exclaimed the sage, “can be compared to Patala, where the Nagas are decorated with brilliant, and beautiful, and pleasure-shedding jewels.”

A Naga (serpent-like) entity from Yaxchilan, Mexico.
(Lintel 15)


This information indicates that the temples and palaces and structures of the Mayan civilization, that according to the Puranas belonged to non-human, yet human-like  entities such as Danavas, Daityas, Yakshas and snake-gods, were much more magnificent, and definitely  much more ancient than what remains at these reconstructed sites.


Lintel 24 is interpreted as a representation of a blood-letting ritual. In the Puranic writings, the Yakshas of Patala loka were regarded as benign as well as evil.

The ancient most name of Yaxchilan was Pa’Chan meaning ‘cleft’ or ‘broken sky’ in Mayan. In Sanskrit ‘PaShan’ (पाषण) means stone. It is especially relevant because the word ‘Pashan’ is seen commonly inscribed on stone inscriptions either in Sanskrit, Dravadian or Pali languages in India. There is a connection to Mayan sites too, since these sites are indeed places of magnificent stone structures, guarded by Yakshas sculpted in stones.

Stone carvings of Yakshas are very common in the ancient temples of India. They are normally placed outside of the temple, as they were regarded as guards, rather than the owners, of the treasures of the temples.

Yakshas at the Western Gate of Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India

Yaksha Carving from Madhya Pradesh, India. 

We also see the female counterpart,. 

Yakshini in the carving.

The Yaksha legend of the Puranas is alive and a part of the Indian culture today. The popularity of Yakshagana (Song of the Yakshas), the musical presentation of the Yaksha folklore, is equivalent to the popularity of the opera in the west. 


A Yaksha from a Yakshagana theatre presentation.


Further Readings:

1. Works… : Horace Hayman Wilson : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

2. Mysterious Maya Snake Kings And Their Powerful Kingdom In The Jungle Reveal More Ancient Secrets | Ancient Pages

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