Monday, April 25, 2011


The story of Ajamila occurs in the sixth skanda of Srimad Bhagavatam.

Parikshit asks Shukacharya how to avoid naraka (hell) and the horrid experiences of hell that Shukacharya narrated in the fifth skanda. Shuka says the practice of spiritual discipline is the remedy. By means oif austerity, celibacy, control of the mind and the senses one can overcome great sins. Some rare persons however, by the path of devotion, eradicate sins entirely like the sun clearing off the mist :

Kecit kevalyA bhaktyA vAsudeva-parAyaNAH /
aghaM dhunvanti kArtsnyena nIhAramiva bhAskaraH // VI – 1 – 15

If a man, with a feeling of passionate attachment, unites his mind with Krishna’s feet even once, he will not see Yama or his emissaries with noose in hand, even in dreaM (VI – 1 – 19):

sakRRin-manaH kRRishhNa-padAravindayoH niveshitaM tad-guNa-rAgi yairiha /
na te yamaM pAsha-bhRitashca tad-bhaTAn svapne-pi pashyanti hi chIrNa-nishhkRRitAH //

And, sparked by this statement of himself Shukacharya narrates the story of Ajamila.

Ajamila was once a very noble brahmin, performing his duties and prescribed rituals most sincerely and was also a good husband, good son and good father. Once when he was in the forest to gather the fuel-wood for his rituals, he fell for a woman, heart and soul. Actually the woman was one of very low morals. From that time onwards he lived with her, abandoned his family and his own parents. He got ten children by her, made a living and supported this large family by blackmailing rich people, by cheating, fraud and gambling. He was particularly fond of the youngest child, Narayana, by name. The attachment to the child was so pronounced that whether he was eating, drinking, relaxing or working, he would always want Narayana to be by his side and partake of his food or participate in his enjoyment. When finally the call from Yama, the God of Death, came, it came suddenly and in his agony he called his child to his side and cried: O Narayana. He called aloud with great fear, *plAvitena svareNa ucchaiH* (VI – 1 – 29) says Shuka.

The messengers of Yama who almost got him in their noose suddenly found from within his heart four well-clad beautiful angel-like figures, each with four hands, preventing the messengers of Yama from discharging their duty. An intense conversation ensued between the messengers of Yama on the one side and the messengers of Narayana - because that is what they were - on the other side. They asked: You are the emissaries of Dharma-raja; then you should know what dharma is and what rules apply for punishment. The messengers of Yama replied: (VI – 1 -40 to 68):

What is declared by the Vedas is dharma. What is prohibited by Vedas is adharma. The one God who has created this entire world and who has allotted the different duties to varnas and ashramas is Lord Narayana. He has ordained that our Lord Yama take the lives of people when their time is over and punish them according to sins committed by them. There are several witnesses to whatever a man does in his life. They are:

sUryo’gniH khaM marud-gAvaH somaH sandhyA-hanI dishaH /
kam kuH kAlO dharma iti hyete daihyasya sAkshhiNaH // (VI – 1 – 42)

They are the Sun, Agni the Fire-God, Space, the Wind-God, Animals, the Moon, the God of SandhyA the twilight, Day, Night, the eight quarters, Water, Earth, Time and the God of Dharma, who is Yama himself. Nothing can be hidden from any of these. Sitting there in the town of Samyamini, our Lord Yama knows every action of Man by his mental powers, knows all their previous lives, and their future lives. Man thinks that what he has before him, namely his body and mind, is his personality. He has no idea of what went before this life and what is going to come after. He experiences good and bad, performs meritorious as well as sinful actions, by means of his five organs of action and five organs of perception, through which he experiences the five objects of perception, namely, sound touch, smell, form and taste. The sixteenth is his mind and with himself as the seventeenth, he goes through all his experiences, actions and thoughts. His subtle body has these sixteen components. This subtle body is ours once his time is up. We are doing our duty ordained by our boss.

Back came a pretty long rejoinder from the messengers of Vishnu: Your Master who must show to the world what right action is, has sent messengers like you who do not seem toi know the rules! This Ajamila, though he has forgotten his real divine nature, has pronounced the four-syllabled name of God Narayana at the time of death and by that very action has done the prAyascitta (repentance act) for all his sins.

A thief of gold, a drinker of wine, a betrayer of a friend, a killer of a brahmin, one who commits adultery with the wife of his Guru, a killer of a woman or of a king, or of a cow or of his father -- all these worst sinners have been declared to be absolved by the recitation of God's name because by that very act he becomes God's protege and deserves to be under His care.

Not all the penitence-rituals of the scriptures can wash a man's sins off as much as the name Narayana can. The repentance acts only purify past sins; they do not guarantee the non-commission of future sins or the non-repetition of the same acts for which the atonement-ritual was done. But taking God's name on the tongue will eradicate the vAsanAs that are the causes of sinful acts and so the future actions and his entire character will change. There are rituals and rituals (for atonement and purification) of different degrees -- easy ones for elementary sins and difficult ones for deeper sins. But as far as taking the Lord's name is concerned it is only one. The one name of God absolves and purifies sins of all kinds, small or large. Even when he has uttered the name without really intending to call the Supreme Lord, it purifies him just as wood is burnt by fire, irrespective of the intent.

After all this explanation by the messengers of Vishnu the messengers of Yama felt overpowered and they went back to their overlord. In the meantime Ajamila came back to his senses and remembered all the conversation that went on in the presence of his subtle body between the messengers. He was about to say something, when the messengers of Vishnu also disappeared. It was quite a while before he could take stock of the situation. Here he was. alive and kicking, by the mercy of God Narayana, whose name he had just taken on the point of death, not in remembrance of the Lord but in passionate affection of his child. If this single act of the utterance of a four-syllable word Narayana can make such a difference to life after death, what larger worlds of fullness and majesty he may not conquer by really leading a noble life of Dharma in the memory of the Lord? -- so thought Ajamila. And that very moment he renounced everything to which he was attached, went to Benares and engaged himself in austerities and meditation and in due time reached the abode of the Lord.

According to Ajamila Charitra in Srimad Bhagavatam, the practice of chanting the Divine Names would uproot all inherent Vasanas, carried over from previous lives, cleanse our mind and take us to the right path. The mind that is pure and free from all negative thoughts would then be able to concentrate on Krishna, the divine Power. The supreme Good that one is able to realize through meditation can now be easily achieved through the means of Nama Sangeerthana.

"Kalau Kalmasha chittaanaam Paapa Dravyopajeevinaam
Vidhi Kriya viheenaanaam gathir Govinda keertanam"

The scriptures say that the practice of Nama Sangeerthanam would liberate us from past karmas (consequences arising out of past actions) and help us to attain spiritual fulfillment There is a misconception that the people of Kali Yuga are unfortunate because at this age only we witness a general decline in religious and moral values. The Vishnu Purana refutes this belief and says that the people of Kali Yuga are fortunate because they can achieve God Realization (Ishwara Sakshathkaram) through simple means of Nama Sangeerthanam whereas devotees of bygone ages had to undergo extreme hardship and struggle to attain the same end.

---------------------------- In other Words ---------------------------------------

Ajamila was a man from the far antiquity. He fell to urges of sense gratification, and then was saved by chanting the name of God. His story is found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam (6.1-6.3).

Ajamila was born to devout Brahmin parents from Kanyakubja (known today Kannauj, a city in central Uttar Pradesh). At one time, Kannauj was a center of Vedic learning, today, it is more known for its attar industry. Some attars are worn as fragrance, like rose attar (rose petal distillate mixed in sandalwood oil), others are used to flavor foods (rose water, kewra water etc). Coming back to our story, Ajamila did not possess Brahmin-like sense of honor and strength of character, but he had studied some parts of the Vedas. His parents recognized his character flaws, and so, they married him to a beautiful, virtuous girl. They hoped that such a wife would be able to keep him straight, particularly after they pass away. For a while, it worked according to plan.

Then one day, Ajamila’s father sent him to the forest to collect fruits, flowers and samidh (fallen dry sticks of yajna-dumur plants, a type of fig tree) for worship. Samidh is used as firewood in yajnas.

Ajamila picked these things for the better part of the day. Then, he headed for home. He was almost to the edge of the forest, and there, he saw something. Two people were making out in the open. A loutish guy was tickling a young forest woman, who was intoxicated from drinking maireya madhu (according to the Amarakosha, sweet juice of sugarcane, probably not too fresh; according to the Charaka-samhita, it is made from rice). The two did not particularly care to keep their clothing in place. They were singing crude songs to each other and laughing out of their bellies. Even though they saw Ajamila approaching, they did not bother to control themselves. Instead, seeing Ajamila come, the guy decided to wrap his arms around her. It was gross exhibitionism.

Such public display of passion is not acceptable behavior in traditional India. However, some forest people have always lived for the passions of life, like the Gond tribe in central India and the Dang tribe in Gujarat. They live exuberantly, and intoxicate themselves by drinking Mohua flower distillate (honey tree flower, Madhuca longifolia). At one time, we had many Mohua forests all over India. The British decided that we should get rid of them and instead, plant teakwood. They had no use for Mohua, they had their own real alcohol. They just wanted to use the land to make money.

Let’s get back to the story. When Ajamila got there, the young woman glanced at him enchantingly. He was instantly hooked. He tried to control himself for one moment, but gave in to lust. He dropped his load of samidh and joined them. In one moment, he forgot all about his home, his beautiful and pious wife and his parents. Lust is one of our six prime ripus (enemies). It is a mighty enemy. Sages have warned us to not become servants of the genital and the belly (shishnodara-paraayana).

Unfortunately, Ajamila was a person of weak character. When the other guy left, he decided that he would stay back. He decided that he’d rather spend his life drinking and making wild love with the forest woman than go back to the sedate and structured life at home. He was a closet sex addict, and she was his ticket to explore his desires. So, he stayed with her, and later, married her. He needed money to support his new life and to buy gifts for her and her relatives, but he wasn’t going to spend time in finding honest work. He became a thief. You’d think that his upbringing and his Vedic education would have stopped him. But no, that was not Ajamila. He never ever thought about atoning or going back home.

Ajamila grew old, but continued having children with his forest wife. He was in his late seventies when they had their tenth and final child. It was a boy. They named him Narayana. Narayana, as we know, is one the names of God. Now, why should a couple, not too interested in Spiritual life name their child after God? The Bhaktamala grantha describes this part of the story.

When Ajamila’s wife was carrying this child, a saint visited their house. He took pity on their situation and said to Ajamila’s wife, “I am very pleased with your hospitality. Now you must do me a great favor. Your tenth child will be a boy, name him Narayana.” She agreed with a smile. They did not realize that the saint had planted a seed of holiness in their home.

Narayana grew up to be a very affectionate and kind-hearted boy. His parents loved him very much. He was their child of their old age, and was around them all the time, unlike his older siblings. Ajamila was not strong enough any more to go out and play with Narayana, but he enjoyed watching Narayana frolic in the yard. He also came to depend upon Narayana for getting his little chores done.

When Ajamila was 88 years of age, his health started failing him. He lay in bed most of the time. He was resting one morning, when he saw three fierce-looking Yamadutas (agents of Lord Yama) approaching him. They had twisted faces and hairy bodies. They carried the feared noose to tie his jiva in the subtle body and take to afterlife. Ajamila was scared, he wanted to be helped. Narayana was playing with his toys a little far away, Ajamila called out for him, “Narayana! Narayana! Come here!”

Suddenly, four agents of Lord Vishnu appeared there. They were pleasant-looking, had eyes as beautiful as lotus petals, wore yellow silk and a crown on their heads, wore ear-rings and flower garlands. They had four arms and carried a bow, a quiver, a sword, a mace, a conch, a chakra-disc and a lotus flower. They came because they had heard Ajamila cry out for Narayana, which is a name of Lord Vishnu. They asked the Yamadutas to release the jiva of Ajamila.

It is said that three agents of Lord Yama came, because Ajamila had sinned with his body, mind and speech; and four agents of Lord Vishnu came because there are four letters in the word Narayana.

The Yamadutas were extremely surprised. They asked the Vishnudutas why they should not take a sinner like Ajamila. The Vishnudutas answered with a question, “Why do you consider Ajamila a sinner? Do you really understand the finer points of dharma? Do you know how to decide which man is and which man is not to be taken to hell?” The Yamadutas were not scholars, so they said, “Well, we have heard that dharma comes from the Vedas, originating from the breath of Lord Narayana. He is the One who remains without change, while creating the universe. A man’s karma is witnessed by the fire, the sun, the sky, the wind, the moon, the day and the night, the directions, the waters, and above all, by Lord Yama. We know who is a sinner and who is not from the evidence given by these witnesses. People enjoy or suffer in afterlife according to their karmas. Since karmas done over many lifetimes dictate a person’s birth, just by looking at the activities in the current birth, it is possible to judge whether a person has been a sinner all along. Our Lord Yama can see everything people do. Ajamila had a sinful life, so we came to take him to our Lord. We know that Yama will send Ajamila’s jiva to suffer in hell, and that suffering will pay for his sins.”

The Vishnudutas replied, “What a calamity! Don’t you know that by chanting the name of Lord Hari (Narayana), Ajamila has already paid for all his sins? Now, if you take him to suffer in hell, will it not be a miscarriage of justice? In his last moment, Ajamila had said “Narayana come here.” Even though he only meant to call his son, the power of the name of the Lord has paid for his sins.”

The word Hari means ‘One who takes away all our blemishes and bad situations’.

They said further, “Chanting the name of the Lord is better payment of sins than all the rituals for atonement prescribed by the lawgiver sages. Furthermore, by chanting, a person also gets to know the redeeming qualities of the Lord. Conducting atoning rituals is rarely enough, for the tainted mind (sanskaara) can still make a person do bad deeds again. Chanting atones and cleanses a person, because it engages the mind in the service of the lotus feet of the Lord.”

In the Gita, Sri Krishna confirmed that He purifies a person that thoroughly. He declared that by even if the worst offender comes to worship Him whole-heartedly, he quickly becomes a pure person, and we should consider him so (a dharmatma, a sadhu 9.30-31).

The Vishnudutas continued, “The power of the name of the Lord is such that even if one says it indirectly (a sanket, like Ajamila did), or in jest, or to add it to a lyric for rhyming, or even dismissively, it will instantly pay for all sins. Even when a person subconsciously says the name of the Lord while falling down from above, or tripping on the street, beaten by someone, or bitten by a snake, or as an exclamation from worldly suffering, he does not have to suffer. The Lord’s name is like fire, if it catches a wood, it will burn it to ashes. Chanting the name of the Lord works like a powerful medicine, acting in people who unknowingly take them.”

Indeed, the name of the Lord is all-powerful, and very unique. It can be understood in this way. Consider that our mouths do not feel sweet if we say “sugar, sugar” or our bellies become full by saying “food, food” because, those are mere words, just powerless sounds. Those words are not fundamentally one with the objects they describe. Not so the name of the Lord. The Lord’s names are empowerd words. It is often said that “naam” (the name of the Lord) and “naami” (the Lord) are one. Like other Spiritual truths, this cannot be known by rational thought, it needs to be realized through revelation. And it can be done, and it has been done by many. We know the story of sage Valmiki. He was a robber and his name was Ratnaakar. He was so sinful, that he was asked to chant “mara, mara” (which when said quickly, becomes Rama). By doing that chanting, Ratnakar became the pure sage Valmiki. No wonder in the Gita, Sri Krishna said that of all yajnas, chanting is the most special (10. 25).

God has two kinds of names: guna-names (those which describe His qualities) and karma-names (those which describe His work). God has three qualities: satya (truth), jnana (knowledge) and ananta (infinite). His works are many: visarga-karma (creation-maintenance-dissolution of matter, creation of consciousness and evolution, Gita 8.3, 9.8 etc.), hita-karma (doing good to us, Gita 10.1) such as changing the hearts of bad people (Gita 9.30, 31), liberating devotees (Gita 12.6, 7), as well as His endless lila (sportive activities).

The Yamadutas had no answer. They returned to Lord Yama to complain about the Vishnudutas. When Lord Yama heard the story, He got up and bowed for Lord Hari and was instantly filled with devotion and said to them, “All my authorities come from Lord Hari. He is the Supreme Lord. Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are his emanations. I have dominion over only the sinners, but I am not independent, I merely serve the Lord. Only twelve personalities, myself included, know dharma well. You do not know dharma in all its subtleties; therefore, you did not understand the actions of the Vishnudutas. They were absolutely correct in releasing Ajamila. Let it be a lesson that you should never bring a devotee to suffer in hell.” Saying so, Lord Yama prayed for forgiveness to Lord Hari on behalf of himself and his agents.

Meanwhile, Ajamila had revived. Having heard the conversation between Yamadutas and Vishnudutas about him, he started thinking. For the first time after leaving his home, he felt sorry for himself. He repented for his bad deeds. And decided that he will not be involved in sinful activities again. He took vanaprastha (left home) as indicated in Hindu law. He came to Haridwar (today spelt Hardwar) in north India (modern Uttarakhand). There, he devoted himself entirely to worship and finally, died in the river Ganga. The Vishnudutas came again and took him away.

There could be some questions from this narration. Ajamila must have called for his son Narayana many times before, was he not already purified from that? Commentators do agree. They say that indeed Ajamila atoned by calling for his son earlier. In fact, it had created a new mindset (sanskaar) in him. Only that he did not recognize it himself. Why else when the Yamadutas came, he would think of calling his 10-year old kid? He could not have really expected him to help him at that point. Strange are the secrets of the Spiritual world and how we exist in it. Another question is, did the Yamadutas come for Ajamila earlier than they should have? This question has not been addressed by the major commentators. Clearly, it was not his time to die. It is possible that the Yamadutas might have reasoned that the sins of Ajamila should shorten his lifetime. I leave that for you to decide.

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