“Since a son delivers his father from the hell named Put, a son is called putra; he who protects his ancestors in every way.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 107)
This statement was part of a series of teachings given by Lord Rama to His younger brother Bharata. According to Vedic tradition, the son is the deliverer of the father, thus Rama wanted Bharata and the rest of His brothers to act in such a way that their father, Maharaja Dashratha, would be saved from going to hell.
Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is not a Hindu god, as some dictionaries define it. God can never be the exclusive property of any group or sect. He is for everyone. Though He has many different forms, expansions, and avataras, there is still only one God. In the Vedic definition, only Krishna or His Vishnu expansions equate to God in His original form. Rama was one such expansion, so He is worshiped by millions throughout India and the world as God Himself. Many thousands of years ago, Maharaja Dashratha was presiding over the kingdom of Ayodhya. He had no sons to pass his kingdom down to, so he performed a great yajna, or sacrifice. Being pleased with him, God decided to take birth as his eldest. Simultaneously, God also expanded Himself into three other forms, thus Dashratha was blessed with four sons who took birth in the wombs of his three different wives. Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi was the mother of Bharata. On a previous occasion, the king was very pleased with Kaikeyi, so he offered her any two boons of her choosing. Waiting for just the right moment, Kaikeyi decided to ask for the installation of Bharata as king and the banishment of Rama to the forest for fourteen years.
Rama was the eldest son, so protocol dictated that He would succeed His father as king. Nevertheless, Rama was more than willing to oblige Kaikeyi’s two requests. During those times, the kshatriyas, the warrior class of men, served as the government leaders. Among their many duties was the requirement that they keep their word under all circumstances. It is customary for politicians to lie quite often today, but kshatriya kings would never engage in dishonesty. If they did lie, it was considered a grievous sin. For this reason, Rama agreed to go to the forest. Being ever dedicated to the welfare of His sire, Rama didn’t want Dashratha to commit any sins due to the affection he held for Rama. Bharata was away on business when these events went down. Upon returning to Ayodhya, Bharata found that Dashratha had quit his body due to the pain of separation from Rama. Quickly heading out to the forest in search of his elder brother, Bharata eventually found Rama and begged Him to come back to the kingdom and take over as king. Rama then informed Bharata that it was their duty as the sons of Dashratha to make sure that their father didn’t go to hell. Rama already did His part by going to the forest. Now it was Bharata’s turn to make good on Dashratha’s other promise by ascending the throne. If these two events didn’t occur, Dashratha would be considered a liar and also a sinner, subject to punishment in the afterlife. Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world, and its word for son is putra, meaning one who delivers his ancestors from the hell known as Put. Since time immemorial it has been the tradition for sons and grandsons to annually visit the holy site of Gaya and offer a pinda (rice ball) to their departed ancestors.
“Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went to Gaya to offer respectful oblations to His forefathers. This process is called pinda-dana. In Vedic society, after the death of a relative, especially one's father or mother, one must go to Gaya and there offer oblations to the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Therefore hundreds and thousands of men gather in Gaya daily to offer such oblations, or shraddha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.8, Purport)
Our souls are eternal, while our gross material bodies are not. If we are pious we go to heaven, and if we are sinful we go to hell. Residence in either heaven or hell isn’t permanent and we eventually take birth again after an allotted period of time. The really sinful however, don’t go to heaven or hell, nor do they accept a new material body. They remain in a ghost state consisting of just the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego. The pinda is really intended for these people since they are in such dire straits. Having a son is just an insurance policy which saves one from being stuck in a horrible state in the afterlife. We commit so many pious and sinful deeds throughout our lifetime that it’s difficult to tell what the future holds for us after death. That is the nature of karma, or fruitive activity. Therefore, to eliminate all doubts relating to the afterlife, it is important to rise above the platform of karmic activity.
Aside from fruitive activity, there is a higher discipline known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. A pure devotee of God does everything for the satisfaction of the Lord, thus he isn’t subject to the laws of karma. Ajamila is a great example in this regard. A pious brahmana in his youth, Ajamila fell down from his exalted position through association with a prostitute. The couple then had a son who was named Narayana. Even though he was no longer abiding by brahminical principles, Ajamila still had a hint of devotion in him, thus he had the good sense to name his son after God’s four-handed form of Narayana. God is absolute in any form, so He has the same potency in His original form of Krishna as He does in His various Vishnu expansions. Aside from His physical expansions, the Lord also incarnates in the form of His holy name. Therefore there is no difference between the name Narayana and Narayana Himself. This fact would turn out to be very important at the time of Ajamila’s death. On his deathbed, Ajamila called out for his son Narayana out of affection. The agents of Yamaraja, the Yamadutas, immediately came for Ajamila’s soul. Many people believe in the concept of a judgment day where someone judges the activities performed during our lifetime and then makes a determination of whether we go to heaven or hell. The Vedas tell us that this judgment is performed by the god of death, Yamaraja. He is also known as the god of justice, Dharmaraja.
These agents were all set to bring Ajamila in front of Yamaraja for judgment. However, they were intercepted by the Vishnudutas, the agents of Lord Vishnu. They declared that since Ajamila had uttered the name of Narayana at the time of death, he was now to be taken to Lord Vishnu’s spiritual realm. This fact is validated by Lord Krishna Himself.
The Yamadutas, being very puzzled, then returned to Yamaraja and asked him what had happened. They thought the laws of karma were absolute, so they couldn’t understand why Ajamila wasn’t going to hell. He was a sinner after all. Not only was he not going to hell, but he was going to the eternal heaven only found in the spiritual realm belonging to Lord Krishna or one of His Vishnu expansions. How could this happen? Yamaraja explained to his agents that those who abide by bhagavata-dharma, devotional service, are not subject to the laws of karma. Loving service to the Lord elevates a person above any material designation. We see on the highways that there are certain areas where local police officers don’t have any jurisdiction. A person may be speeding, but only a state officer can pull over drivers on specific roads. In a similar manner, the path of devotional service means driving on the spiritual highway to the Vaikuntha planets. Yamaraja and his agents have no jurisdiction on this road.
Bhagavata-dharma should always be practiced. This was the real meaning behind Lord Rama’s statements and actions. “Do everything for Me and you will be happy.” This was exactly the path taken by Rama’s associates. They did everything for His benefit. In actuality, Dashratha didn’t require deliverance from hell since he died while uttering Rama’s name. Nevertheless, Rama set an example for all of us on how to behave properly.
A son or daughter can both deliver their parents from any hellish condition. If a son is purely God conscious, he can deliver not only his parents, but many generations of ancestors, as was done by the great sage Bhagiratha. Women can also serve their ancestors by helping their husbands and children to become God conscious, as was done by the great Savitri, the wife of Satyavana. God rewards parents who raise their children to become devotees. That is the primary duty of a parent. Children give great pleasure to their parents in their youth, but as they grow older, it is important that the children become first class people. There can be no better person in this world than a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. The example set by Lord Rama is the guideline that should be followed by all parents and children. Devotional service is very easy to practice. Simply worship the Lord’s deity in the morning and night, offer and eat prasadam, and invite others to chant the Lord’s glorious names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.