The Master of Temptation
The role of Mara in Buddhism is analogous - but not equal - to Satan in Abrahamic religions, in that she herds men under her shadow of temptation to lead them astray. She is a personification of death (the word mara literally means "death" in Sanskrit) but is also described as a psychological entity -- the voice inside all of us that aspires to attain greater physical riches for our fleshly vessels. In that sense, succumbing to any of Mara's temptations is tantamount to the death of the higher spiritual endeavors Buddhist adherents strive to attain.
Mara is said to ride upon a great elephant as her mount, and has countless demons under her influence. There is also an intimate relationship between Mara and the Hindu-Buddhist personification of illusion, the female figure Maya. Both figures originate from the same general sphere of post-Vedic Indian thought, only instead of Mara's temptations of "death" leading away from the truth path, Maya's "illusion" projects a false reality. In both cases Mara and Maya promulgate distractions that must be overcome in order to achieve proper enlightenment.
Temptation of Buddha
As Buddha sat meditating under the sacred fig tree attaining enlightenment, Mara waged a spiritual war against him. Tempting Buddha with the riches of mortal life, Mara even offers him the company and services of her own beautiful daughters. Buddha rejects her at every turn, as he is beyond the need for anything Earth can provide. Mara eventually gives up on him in disgust, or alternatively, the Buddha serenely touches the ground in response to Mara's vices which completely repels the Lord of Death. A future Buddha will eventually defeat and destroy Mara, freeing humankind from her vices.
Shin Megami Tensei series
Mara would appear as a fusable Chaos demon in the first Shin Megami Tensei, but it wouldn't be until Shin Megami Tensei II that she would lead players on a wild ride of sin -- literally. Scoring a blinged-and-bladed-out chariot, Mara is one of Lucifer's guardians in Hell and attempts to tempt Aleph and his crew with visions of large amounts of Macca, a level increase of 10, and power beyond Lucifer himself. Of course, they are all lies and if Aleph accepts any, he will have to fight Mara at a disadvantage.
Mara is an optional boss in both Soul Hackers and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (in a decidedly more impotent form), as well as appearing in Persona 3: FES and Persona 4 as part of the Tower Arcanum. She also rolled onto the mean streets of 1930's Tokyo with a secret boss appearance in Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzonoha vs. King Abaddon. In it, she was given highly suggestive dialogue befitting her true nature.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Mara is part of an alignment-varying EX mission that can be initiated once the player reaches the end of the game in Sector Horologium.
If you are Lawfully-aligned, Seraph will request that you put an end to a great Chaotic evil--Mara. Mara can be found in Sector Grus in Maya's boss room, which suggests the conceptual relationship between the two. Once Mara is defeated, Seraph will join your party regardless of your level, as long as you have free space. Seeing as Seraph is level 89, this may be a significant addition.
If the player is Chaotically-aligned, this time instead Mara will request the player put an end to Seraph. In a special area of Horologium, the eight angelic hosts of the divine-- Angel, Archangel, Principality, Power, Virtue, Dominion, Throne, and Cherub--await the coming of their superior order. These lower eight will then fuse together to form Seraph, who then attacks the player. Like the Lawful version, once victorious Mara will then instantly join your party.
In the Japanese version of Strange Journey, a special version of Mara is able to be summoned with the password EIJIISHIDA, Eiji Ishida being the director of Strange Journey. In the American version, this same Mara can be summoned with the password "Nich Maragos." Nich Maragos is an editor at Atlus who worked on Strange Journey's localization.
Fun Mara Facts
- The Japanese word "Mara" is slang for "penis", which explains her appearance in Shin Megami Tensei. Even without this pun, her design still reinforces her nature as a being who embellishes in sex, wealth (golden chariot), and power (the blades on the chariot).
- A figure of Mara was released by Japanese manufacturer Kotobukiya as part of its Megami Tensei One Coin Figure collection. It was the secret chase figure of its series and features Mara and her chariot. Sources also show that a special golden version was manufactured, perhaps as a promotion.
- Persons who see Mara for the first time are subject to homophobic reactions, childish giggling, and nightmares.