Thinking of the Lord or chanting His name at the time of death is what a devotee considers the greatest blessing that could be bestowed on him. When confronted with uncertain situations such as one’s demise, a bhakta prays for redemption and seeks the Lord’s help in overcoming obstacles to reach Him.
The Jivatma can carry with him only the fruits of one’s karma at the transitional stage caused by death, while everything else earned during the life-time has to be abandoned. Aware that ill health, loss of memory, etc., may prove to be a hurdle in seeking the Lord’s munificence at the moment of this transition, Azhwars and acharyas plead with Him to enable them to remember His Nama at the time of cessation of life. There are untold benefits in recalling the Lord’s name at the moment of death, irrespective of Jivatma’s subjective attitude or understanding. This was enunciated by Sri Sankararama Dikshitar while narrating the story of Ajamila in a discourse.
Ajamila adheres to the duties pertaining to the religious-minded household to which he belongs. But he strays from his path and falls into immoral ways when he associates himself with a woman in the forest. At the time of death, when the emissaries of Yama approach him, he cries out in fright to his youngest son, Narayana, on whom he lavishes his love. But this act of calling out the name Narayana has a miraculous effect. Yama’s emissaries are intercepted by Vishnu’s messengers who take charge of Ajamila. The former argue that Ajamila has to be taken by them for his many sins that deserve punishment. But Vishnu’s messengers reply thus: “Utterance of the Lord’s name itself is atonement for sins. Srutis and Smritis have laid down vows and observances that can absolve a person of sins; but these austerities do not remove the sinful tendencies in them. Only service to the Lord puts an end to the both. Ajamila has atoned for his sins when he uttered the name Narayana. The utterance of the divine name even in ignorance burns up sins. Such is its power. Just as fire burns up fuel and medicine cures a disease, the name sanctifies miraculously.”