IN Hindu belief, Yama resides over hell, a place of punishment. His gloomy palace Kalichi is situated below the earth of which he is the regent. All souls pass before his throne of judgement where his recorder Chandragupta reads out the record of the dead man’s virtues and sins. According to this register, Yama passes judgement to consign the soul to hell, or the abode of the pitras, or to another life on earth.
Many ways were found to elude Yama, the most effective being worship of the Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This propitiation could be done through repetition of God’s name, so as to win him over.
A wicked man called Ajamila, who had spent his entire life flouting his obligations and neglecting the gods, had a son named Narayana. When his father Ajamila lay was on the death bed, Narayana called out to Vishnu.
Vishnu, on hearing the call, sent his servants to find out why Narayana had called. They reached Narayana and found Yama’s emissaries already waiting on the scene. Narayana pleaded, “Please spare my father’s life. Do not take his body away.”
Vishnu took pity on him and said to Yama, “I want you to spare Ajamila’s life as the son will die of grief.”
Yama needed a lot of persuasion to relent to the demand. Ultimately he agreed to spare Ajamila’s life.
Ajamila remained ever grateful for this and repented for his sinful life by practising austerity so strictly that he found liberation.