Lord Yamaraj or Yama, was good looking and handsome. But he lost his good looks by the act of Lord Shiva. There is an interesting story behind this.
Once there was a deity who was very handsome. All his features were very attractive that he attracted a lot of attention from the women folk. He had an interesting job, which was escorting dead people to heaven or hell. He was Yama Dharmaraja or the God of Death.
This was several eons ago, before he had a makeover of sorts from Shiva, who gave him a gory countenance, which would make people shudder to see him.
Yama did not discharge his duties properly
There is an interesting anecdote behind this. Long ago when Yama was sent to be the God of Death, he did not render his duties properly. He was flirting with the women in Devaloka and on earth. Nobody was dying on earth and the earth was unable to bear the burden anymore.
Lord Shiva changes his looks
So Shiva called Yama to Kailash. When he arrived Shiva asked him “Yama, I heard thatnobody is scared of you on earth?”“Yes, my Lord,” he said.
“You also seem to attract women a lot,” he added. “No, my Lord, it is the women….”Yama said shamefacedly. Shiva knew that Yama was attracting women due to his good looks and changed his looks with a gory countenance. Then he told Yama to look at his reflection in the pond nearby. When Yama looked in the pond he was shocked beyond belief at the face staring at him from the water. He came running back to Shiva and said “Lord there is a fiery looking character staring at me from the water. He has dark looks, big teeth and big moustache and looks very scary. Who is he?”
Yama is sad
Shiva laughed heartily at this and said “It is your own reflection!” Yama was saddened beyond belief. He asked Shiva “Is there a way to get back my earlier countenance,” he cried. Shiva just smiled in answer and went back to his penance. He looked at Shiva for a while and decided there was no point in waiting for his reply.
He tried to meet Brahma and Vishnu
He went looking for Brahma in Sathyaloka. But Brahma was busy writing something in a palm leaf manuscript. Yama looked at Brahma who had himself lost one head out of his five and thought “What is the point asking him about my plight?” and he left without meeting Brahma.
He goes to meet Vishnu in Vaikuntha. But Vishnu was seriously discussing something with wife Lakshmi, so Yama unwilling to disturb them, leaves without meeting Vishnu.
He does penance for Lord Vishnu
He returns to earth and travels south. He reaches the foothills of a mountain and is attracted by its serenity. He goes on a rigorous penance, to Vishnu. Years rolled by. Pleased by his devotion, Vishnu appears before him. Seeing Vishnu in front of him Yama falls at his feet and respectfully asks “Can you recognize me Oh Lord?” Vishnu says “I know everything that happened Yama. But it is all of your own doing. If you had not forgotten your duties, this situation wouldn’t have risen. “Forgive me Lord, You have to help me out of this,” he prayed. Vishnu felt sorry for Yama’s plight. “I will make your unsightly horns go away. Instead you will have a bull which will be your vehicle from now on,” he said.
Not satisfied with his appearance, Yama said “Can’t you change the appearance of my teeth which look so scary?” “Yama, when you went to Sathyaloka to meet Brahma, you offended him by not meeting him, so Brahma cursed you to have this gory appearance for life and I am unable to help you,” said Vishnu.
People will get scared by your appearance and it will help in your profession of bringing death.
Yama is at peace with himself
Convinced that nothing or nobody could change his fate, Yama, accepts his fate and returns to earth. Before that, he asks Vishnu to reside near him in Azhagar Kovil for people to propitiate him. Vishnu agrees and resides there. Lakshmi arrived one day looking for Vishnu and Yama asks her also to reside by the side of Vishnu. She also agrees. This place is known as Kallazhagar temple. Since Vishnu attracts people with his good looks, he is also known as Sunderraja Perumal and the place also came to be known as Azhagar Kovil. It is believed that Yama visits this temple to this day to propitiate Vishnu.
Note: Azhagar Kovil is near Tiruchirappalli