So, with that in mind – let us take a brief look at probably the oldest Indo-European origin myth that has come down to us: the Vedic understanding, which is to my mind also the ‘cleanest’ and easiest to directly understand. Both due to its age, and the strong presence of pretty much all the elements which underpin other, later iterations – we can probably fairly say that this is, in some ways, the most “complete” accounting that has come down to us.
So, what do we have? A pair of Twins – Manu & Yama. Sons of Vivasvan – often identified as the Sun (Surya), although to my mind the intended definitional field for Vivasvan [‘He Who Shines Out/Broadly’] is actually a little broader and higher than that. But we’ll come to that later. First, a look at the etymologies involved. “Manu” is almost exactly what you think it is. It means “Man”. But where does this term come from? Its ultimate origin is likely to be Proto-Indo-European “Men” – which, as I discussed at length in MahaShivratri And The Mytholinguistics Of War, roughly means ‘active mind’, ‘spirit’, the faculty of ‘thought’. Its occurrence in “Manu” [which would therefore give it the same root as “Mantra” etc.] is likely to encode the idea of Man as a ‘thinking being’, something clearly invested with sapient spirit. And, therefore, the bestowal of the title of “Man” upon another man as being a recognition that he, and we, are both able to think. We are both sentient. It is, in a fundamental, foundational sense, what separates us from inanimate matter – although not necessarily from the animal kingdom, and certainly not from various other spirits and even greater being still. “Manu” is such a dominant element, and accords so well with various other origin of Man Indo-European myths, that we have often taken to referring to Manu as “Man(n)u(s)” – bringing together “Manu” with the Germanic ‘Mannus’, of whom we shall hear more about in a moment … and utilizing this “Man(n)u(s)” to help ‘stablish the concept of “Mankind” as “Sons of Man(n)u(s)”. Thus emphasizing that all Indo-Europeans are, ultimately, from the same familial tree – the same people, broadly considered.
Now, “Yama” is perhaps more interesting. In more recent Sanskrit, it has of course come to take the meaning of “Death” (both due to Yama’s status as Lord of the Realm of hte Glorious/Ancestral Dead, as well as His being First to Die, in order to chart a path out thereto) – however it has also continued to maintain a figurative understanding as “Twin”. And that should absolutely not surprise us, considering the nature of Yama’s relationship with Manu – and also, for that matter, Yama’s relationship with His Twin Sister, Yami. However, I don’t think that “Twin” quite captures the concept here. Instead, we ought perhaps trace things back furhter – not to PIE ‘Yehm’ [‘Twin’], but to PIE ‘Heym’, which underlies even that, and refers to a ‘copy’, an ‘imitation’ [it is, in fact, the ultimate origin of modern “Image”]. Why do I suggest this? Because if “Manu” is the ‘living’ Man, then what is a Dead Man? An ‘image’ – a ‘reflection’, but ‘colder’ of what the mortal man is in life. Interestingly, this name and broader concept survives also in another set of ‘progenitor twins’ whom we’ll be looking at later in the piece – Romulus & Remus; wherein Remus, earlier “Iemus” or “Yemos”, both by thanatology and etymology makes for a strong cognate in some ways with “Yama”.
So, to recap – what we have is a situation wherein, on the face of it, the Sun (or, at least, a Solar paternal deific) fathers two Sons. One who lives, and goes on to father the human (there’s that ‘man’ again) race [in the process, bringing order to his progeny via the promulgation of a caste-like social division – whether the CaturVarnas of Manu or the various classes of Roman society brought about by Romulus]; and the Other, who instead takes another route – and becomes the foremost amidst the Ancestors in another way, by dying. Becoming, in fact, a Hades-like figures [both Hades & Yama have a dog named ‘Spot’] as the result. And speaking of which – it is necessary to make a brief note before progressing further of the rather strong coterminity of the iconography (and, in a certain sense, the mythology) of Yama with not only Hades, but with Odin. Lord(s) of the Glorious/Ancestral Dead in the High(est) Heaven, wielding a Staff, accompanied by two dogs, and both having already, symbolically, died. This has important ramifications, given the Varuna-Odin and Aryaman-Odin linkages that I have already demonstrated, the Yama-Varuna and Yama-Agni linkages in evidence in the Vedas, and the linking of all of the above to Shiva-Rudra. That is to say – the Sky Father. The implications of which, I shall discuss later in the piece.
[Coming in Part III – Zoroastrian Yima – The Death of Manu;
Part IV on Romulus & Remus yet to be titled, also contains an expansion upon the Vedic understanding of Yama & Manu]