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Gītōpadēśa in Puranas – Part II

कुर्वन्नेवेह कर्माणि जिजीविषेत् शतं समाः
एवं त्वयि नान्यथा इतोSस्ति न कर्म लिप्यते नरे ॥ I. U. 2॥

(Kurvannēvēha karmāi jijīviēt śata samā
ēva tvayi nān’yathā itō’sti na karma lipyatē narē ॥ I. U. 2॥ )

If one wishes to live for 100 years, one should perform his prescribed duties. Actions are not bound to one who performs his duties with dedication to God, while non-performance leads to sin.  

Karma / actions / duties form one of the more prominent and consistent themes in our Itihasas and puranic literature. This sloka from Isavasya Upanishad delivers a very similar message to what Bhagawan Sri Krishna delivered in his famous Geetopadesha.

Karma is a very encompassing theme across multiple puranic references. In the above sloka, there are 2 distinct themes which is captured so effervescently i.e. Karma and Bhakti (unwavering devotion to God).

Puranas provide very extremely detailed set of steps to be followed by a jivaatma in this human (manava) birth. Vishnu Purana’s 3rd Skanda has multiple chapters detailing every aspect of human life from birth to sraddha karma.

Manava janma has various phases of life from brahmacharya to vanaprastha to mukti. Grihastaashrama forms a major part of the life and there are numerous examples detailing this important phase of life. In Puranas, one of the most widely respected discourse is between Shuka Muni (son of Veda Vyasa) and Janaka (ruler of Mithila) on the importance of Grihastaashrama. This merits a separate thread of its own, but the key essence is about importance of this ashrama detailed so painstakingly across multiple puranic literature.

Manu address every facet of life and provides extremely detailed steps in his famous Manusmriti. In manava janma, one of the aspirations for every jivaatma during the Grishastaashrama is to bear a progeny i.e. putra.

From Manusmriti,

पुत् – नाम्नो नरकाद् यस्मात् त्रायते पितरं सुतः
तस्मात् पुत्र इति प्रोक्तः स्वयम् एव स्वयंभुवा ॥ 9.138 ॥

(put – naamno narakaad yasmaat traayate pitaran sutah

tasmaat putr iti proktah svayam ev svayambhuva ॥ 9.138 ॥ )

Because a son delivers his father from a hell called put, he was therefore called a put-ra (a deliverer from Put) by Svayambhu himself.

Kavi Someshwara, a 12th century Kannada poet, captures the same essence of life so lucidly in one of his famous shatakas. In the 8th shataka, he says

… सुतने सद्गतिदातनै  हर हरा श्रि चेन्न सोमेश्वरा

… ಸುತನೇ ಸದ್ಗತಿದಾತನೈ ಹರ ಹರಾ ಶ್ರೀ ಚೆನ್ನ ಸೋಮೆಶ್ವರಾ

(… sutanē sadgatidātanai hara harā śrī cenna sōmeśvarā)

Son (putra) is the means to sadgati or salvation.

In the same shataka, there is yet another phrase which has a poignant importance in the current context.

.. वर्णमात्रं गुरु

… ವರ್ಣಮಾತ್ರಂ ಗುರು

(… varamātra guru)

One who teaches even a single syllable is a Guru.

While highlighting what is essential for a good life, Kavi Someshwara highlights the fact that even a person who teaches a single syllable would be akin to a Guru essential for a dharmic path.

All these different aspects culminate in one single context of Ajamila which is so beautifully elucidated in Śrīmad Bhāgavatapurāa.

Ajamila’s story is a reflection of how one’s own putra i.e. his name becomes the one syllable for him to attain Vaikuṇṭha in spite of leading a wretched life. It is a very interesting read to understand how this one syllable becomes equivalent to a lifelong devotion to Bhagwan.

In Part-1 of this series, Yama Geetha which was described by the great Bhishmaacharya to Nakula was captured in detail. In this part, we look at Yama Geetha from Śrīmad Bhāgavatapurāṇa, where Yama describes the benefits of Hari Bhakti to his kiṅkaras and bhaṭṭas when they come to escort Ajamila after his death.

Ajamila’s Story

Ajamila’s story is captured in the first 2 chapters of 6th Skanda / canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatapurāṇa. In a place called Kanyakbuja, there lived a brahmin called Ajamila. Originally a well read and chaste brahmin, circumstances led him to lead on evil ways and lead a low life.

Ajamila married a different caste women and had 10 sons with her. The youngest of the children was named Narayana. Over time, Ajamila becomes attached to the youngest son and showers extreme love on the young kid.

He would not eat or drink alone without first offering to his son. Time flies and ultimately, his time of death arrives near. Frail and weak, Ajamila observes the dreadful messengers of Yama, the lord of death coming near. Out of desperation or love, he calls out for his favourite son, one last time:

स पाशहस्तांस्त्रीन्दृष्ट्वा पुरुषानतिदारुणान् ।
वक्रतुण्डानूर्ध्वरोम्ण आत्मानं नेतुमागतान् ॥ २८ ॥

दूरे क्रीडनकासक्तं पुत्रं नारायणाह्वयम् ।
प्लावितेन स्वरेणोच्चैराजुहावाकुलेन्द्रिय: ॥ २९ ॥

sa pāśa-hastās trīn dṛṣṭvā puruān ati-dāruān
vakra-tuṇḍān ūrdhva-roma ātmāna netum āgatān ॥ 28 ॥

dūre krīanakāsakta putra nārāyaāhvayam
plāvitena svareoccair ājuhāvākulendriya ॥ 29 ॥

With tears in his eyes, he calls out “Narayana, come to me. Narayana!” and died.

When Yama bhattas come to escort his soul to Yamaloka, they are stopped in their tracks by the servants of Narayana, Viṣṇudūtas.

Typically, Yama bhattas are expected, but what may surprise in this context is the arrival of Viṣṇudūtas. Why did they arrive to escort Ajamila’s soul to Vaikuṇṭha? This was clarified by dūtas, who explain that, since Narayana’s name came out of his mouth at the time of death, he has earned his place in the divine abode.

Yamabhattas’ & Visnudūtas’ debate

At this important juncture, a very detailed discussion on the different aspects of dharma commences between Yama bhattas and Vishnudūtas.

If one looks at this discussion, we can draw parallels to the modern life, where one is stricken between the rule bound and contextual realities. A situation may have multiple perspectives, each with its own merits and potential limitations.

Yamabhattas on their part highlight the meaning of dharma and why Ajamila went on evil ways with excruciating details on the events that transpired and impact thereof. A constant theme in their explanation is the overpowering impact of the trigua i.e. sat rājas tamas in the day-to-day life of a human.

सम्भवन्ति हि भद्राणि विपरीतानि चानघा: ।
कारिणां गुणसङ्गोऽस्ति देहवान्न ह्यकर्मकृत् ॥ 6.1.44 ॥

(sambhavanti hi bhadrāi viparītāni cānaghā
kāriā gua-sago ’sti dehavān na hy akarma-kt ॥ 6.1.44 ॥)

Oh blessed souls! All jivas who perform their duties (karma) have a relationship with the gunas. Because of the gunas, some amount of sins (paapa) and righteousness (punya) keep occurring. Anyone who adorns the body of human can’t escape from responsibility of performing his karma.

The importance of performing the prescribed duties (karma) is beautifully captured by the Yama bhattas, who go into intricate details about how Gunas impact a jiva.

Yama bhattas also justify the need for Ajamila to be taken to Samyamani (capital of Yama loka) for his judgment. This includes details from his birth to his education including the point that he was very well versed in Vedas.

A chance encounter pollutes his mind and he befalls on the ultimate path that he takes.

It is important to note a few critical aspects here. One incident changed the course of life for Ajamila whose previous education couldn’t stop him from taking a different path. Is it the lack of strength? Or is it a grander scheme of things in the form of prarbdha karma or Maaya?

Yama bhattas present their case and conclude that Ajamila’s soul should be escorted to Yama Loka.

On their part, Viṣṇudūtas provide their own justification in equally greater detail. The initial part of the discourse is about the conduct of Satpurua, about how they become role-models and references for the rest of the society to follow.

If one references this aspect, a more poignant question comes into our minds. Our conduct and behaviour, especially on young and unbiased minds can have far-reaching repercussions in future. The importance of maintaining a constant righteous lifestyle and conduct is highly captured in these verses.

Now, while Viṣṇudūtas are highlighting these points, one question does come up in the this context. Should we stick to the norms to the T or is there a higher plane where contextual reality overpowers the hard-set realities?

This is answered by the Viṣṇudūtas themselves where they describe the most important aspect of the discussion.

अयं हि कृतनिर्वेशो जन्मकोट्यंहसामपि ।
यद्‌व्याजहार विवशो नाम स्वस्त्ययनं हरे: ॥ 6.2.7 ॥

(aya hi kta-nirveśo janma-koy-ahasām api
yad vyājahāra vivaśo nāma svasty-ayana hare ॥ 6.2.7 ॥)

Ajamila has atoned for all his sins, not just for one life, but millions of lives because he chanted the name of “Narayana”. Further, even though it was not chanted purely, but more of an accidental remark, he did chant without offense & hence he is pure & eligible for the lotus feet of Narayana.

A chance remark i.e. one word which happens to the “putra’s” name is considered enough for the soul to attain the salvation for which rest of mere mortals perform sadhana for thousands of years.

Furthermore, they highlight the importance of the name “Narayana” made of 4 syllables “Na-ra-ya-na” in the next sloka,

एतेनैव ह्यघोनोऽस्य कृतं स्यादघनिष्कृतम् ।
यदा नारायणायेति जगाद चतुरक्षरम् ॥ 6.2.8 ॥

(etenaiva hy aghono ’sya kta syād agha-niktam
yadā nārāyaāyeti jagāda catur-akaram ॥6.2.8॥)

Previously also, Ajamila used to call his son: “Narayana, please come here”. Even though he was chanting his son’s name, he was pronouncing the name of Bhagwan correctly & hence, is considered to have atoned for his past sins.

After detailed deliberations, Viṣṇudūtas prevail and escort Ajamila’s soul to Vaikuṇṭha. After this incident, there is a dialogue between Yama and his bhattas which forms the crux of Yama Geeta II.

Yama Geetha II

Yama Bhattas come to their master and describe the happenings between them & Viṣṇudūtas. They are surprised that Yama’s authority is overruled by the utterance of a mere word. They express a desire to know the secret behind the power of the Viṣṇudūtas, who cut the Yama pasha and took Ajamila with them.

Bombarded by their questions, Yama responds to them with a kind smile. He explains,

“There is a much higher supreme power under whom all the worlds exist, out of whom the 3 primordial forms Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara originate, who create, sustain and annihilate the universe. This is similar to the rope in the nose of oxen controlled by the driver of the cart.”

परो मदन्यो जगतस्तस्थुषश्च
ओतं प्रोतं पटवद्यत्र विश्वम् ।
यदंशतोऽस्य स्थितिजन्मनाशा
नस्योतवद्यस्य वशे च लोक: ॥ 6.3.12 ॥

(paro mad-anyo jagatas tasthuaś ca
ota prota paavad yatra viśvam
yad-aśato ’sya sthiti-janma-nāśā
nasy otavad yasya vaśe ca loka ॥ 6.3.12 ॥)

Yama further explains that supreme power’s authority is over the entire creation and not limited to certain entities. The following slokas capture this in high detail.

अहं महेन्द्रो निऋर्ति: प्रचेता:
सोमोऽग्निरीश: पवनो विरिञ्चि: ।
आदित्यविश्वे वसवोऽथ साध्या
मरुद्गणा रुद्रगणा: ससिद्धा: ॥ 6.3.14 ॥

अन्ये च ये विश्वसृजोऽमरेशा
भृग्वादयोऽस्पृष्टरजस्तमस्का: ।
यस्येहितं न विदु: स्पृष्टमाया:
सत्त्वप्रधाना अपि किं ततोऽन्ये ॥ 6.3.15 ॥

aha mahendro nirti pracetā
somo ’gnir īśa pavano viriñci
āditya-viśve vasavo ’tha sādhyā
marud-gaā rudra-gaā sasiddhā ॥ 6.3.14 ॥

anye ca ye viśva-sjo ’mareśā
bhgv-ādayo ’spṛṣṭa-rajas-tamaskā
yasyehita na vidu spṛṣṭa-māyā
sattva-pradhānā api ki tato ’nye ॥ 6.3.15 ॥

Yama says, Apart from me, Indra, Nirrti, Varuna, Chandra, Agni, Shankara, Vayu, Surya, Brahma, 12 Adityas, Vishwadevatas, 8 Vasus, 49 Maruts, 11 Rudras, Prajapatis, etc are all under the influence of the maya of the supreme Bhagwan.

This establishes the supremacy of the Bhagwan to the dhootas. Yama goes on to elaborate that, the wonderful servants of Bhagwan Vishnu, who are adored even by Gods, can’t be easily perceived by earthy beings, shall protect the mere mortals from enemies as well as the lord of death, Yama himself.

The tenets and framework of Dharma laid by Bhagwan Maha Vishnu is not understood by siddhas, asuras, humans et al. This divine and extremely auspicious Bhāgavata Dharma is very secretive and only known to 12 people in the creation. Who are these 12 people?

स्वयम्भूर्नारद: शम्भु: कुमार: कपिलो मनु: ।
प्रह्लादो जनको भीष्मो बलिर्वैयासकिर्वयम् ॥ 6.3.20 ॥

द्वादशैते विजानीमो धर्मं भागवतं भटा: ।
गुह्यं विशुद्धं दुर्बोधं यं ज्ञात्वामृतमश्नुते ॥ 6.3.21 ॥

(svayambhūr nārada śambhukumāra kapilo manu
prahlādo janako bhīmo balir vaiyāsakir vayam ॥ 6.3.20 ॥

dvādaśaite vijānīmo
dharma bhāgavata bhaā
guhya viśuddha durbodha
ya jñātvāmtam aśnute ॥ 6.3.21 ॥)

Brahma, Narada, Shiva, Sanatkumaras, Bhagwan Kapila, Swayambhuva Manu, Prahlada, Janaka, Bhishma, King Bali, Sukamuni (Son of Vyasa) and Yama himself.

The religious principle known as Bhāgavata Dharma is very difficult for common humans to comprehend. However, if by chance one is able to understand the same, they attain the highest fruit of salvation i.e. freedom from the cycle of births.

Yama further describes that the mere utterance of the name of Sri Hari itself liberates one from the cycle of deaths, even if one is a sinner like Ajamila.

Yama goes further to describe the benefits of choosing the Bhakti path with unwavering, unflinching dedicated devotion to Bhagwan. Even if they commit a sin, the mere utterance of the name of the supreme power is enough to cleanse the same.

Now similar to the previous Yama Geeta, Yama cautions his bhattas on whom they should avoid and whom should they be escorting to Yama Loka.

Yama says, stay away from Highly pious souls, Siddhas, Gods who keep chanting the names and stories of Bhagwan, for they are protected by the mace of the supreme lord himself.

Do bring those who

  • Don’t utter the name of the supreme lord
  • Whose mind is not fixed on the lotus feet of Narayana
  • Whose head doesn’t bow down to Sri Krishna
  • Who have never rendered any service to Bhagwan Mahavishnu in their whole life

Yama considers the resistance offered by his bhattas to Visnudutas as an offence and begs for forgiveness with Bhagwan Sri Hari.

Yama has given a wonderful blueprint of how one should conduct themselves in their lives. While the 1st part dealt with the internal introspection and control over the 6 vices, this part deals with the power of Nāma sakīrtana.

To put the different points in perspective, if one is able to focus entirely on Bhagwan by chanting his holy name regularly and is able to exercise control over the different vices, that jivaatma is on its path to the supreme fruit of attaining the lotus feet of Sriman Narayana.

śrī kr̥ṣṇārpaamastu

(Read part one here.)


  • The Principal Upanishads – Prof. S. Radhakrishnan
  • The Principal Upanishads – Prof. K. T. Pandurangi
  • Someshwara Shataka – Kannada Sahitya Parishad
  • Srimad Bhagavatha MahaPuranam – Gita Press
  • Srimad Bhagavatha Maha Purāṇa (Special Edition) – Gita Press
  • Srimad Bhagavatham – Kamala Subramaniam
  • Vishnu Purana – Bharatha Darshana Prakashana
  • Srimad Bhagavatham slokas reference:

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