Srimad Bhagavatham, one of the 18 puranas of Hinduism, expounds the many gunas of Lord Sriman Narayana through many stories of His devotees. It has an interesting story of a person named Ajamila.
Ajamila was a pious and religious Brahmin. One day, when he was collecting wood from the forest for his ritual purposes, he came across a beautiful woman and immediately fell for her beauty. His lust for the lady, who was a prostitute, distracted him completely from his earlier pious life. He abandoned his family, his rituals and practices, and started living with her.
Many years later, when it was time for him to leave this mortal world, the messengers of Yama came to him and told him that his time was up and that they were going to tie their noose around him and take him to Naraka (hell) for all his sins. Hearing this, Ajamila was very scared.
Sensing his end is near, he wanted to see his son one last time as he had immense affection for him. Fortunately, he had named his son as Narayana. At this sorrowful time, he called out aloud to his son.
Suddenly there appeared 4 divine beings, whose face was as bright as the sun, whose very presence with their divine smile, soothed the mind of Ajamila. These 4 divine beings stopped Yama dhootas (Yama’s messengers) from tying the noose around Ajamila. Upon enquiry by Yama dhootas, the divine beings introduced themselves as Narayana dhootas (messengers of Lord Sriman Narayana). An interesting conversation ensued between the two sets of messengers:
Yama dhootas (YD): Who are you all?
Narayana dhootas (ND): We are messengers of Lord Narayana
YD: Why have you come here? And why are you stopping us from doing our duty?
ND: We have come here to stop you from taking his life away. We will take him to Vaikunta at the right time (Vaikunta is Sriman Narayana’s abode, and abode of those who have attained moksha/salvation)
YD: How can he qualify to go to Vaikunta? For all the sins he has committed, our Lord Yama has ordered him to be taken to hell!
ND: Sins? What sins are you talking about? Define sins and good deeds for us, please!
YD: Doing duties ordained by Vedas is punya or good deed, doing otherwise is paapam or sin. This man, all through his life, has only committed sins. So he deserves to be taken to hell. So, please stay away and let us do our duty.
ND: Perhaps what you say is true. However, the same man, near his last breath, has called out the name of Sriman Narayana. So his sins have been cleared and he deserves to be taken to Vaikunta.
YD: Just by reciting the name of the Lord, will all the sins vanish?
ND: Yes, and not just that. Even if a man recites the name of the Lord without knowing its meaning, without the intention to call the Lord (in case of Ajamila, he only called out to his son), even for reasons like just to mock a person by calling his name, or to scold him, the divine name will bestow its blessings upon the caller, and hence absolve him of his sins, just like how fire consumes anything that comes in its way irrespective of the intent. Now please go back to your Lord Yama and clarify the same with Him.
The Yama dhoothas went to Lord Yama and appraised Him of their conversation with Vishnu dhoothas. Lord Yama then called them near him and said in a hushed tone, “I’m the Lord for all people but Vaishnavas. Don’t go near any Vishnu bhakthas with the intent of taking their life away”.
Meanwhile, Ajamila realised how powerful, at the same time, merciful the name of Lord Narayana is and repented for his sins. He immediately left the lowly life that he was living until then and went back to his family and lived a pious life, devoted to Lord Sriman Narayana.