Janaka Maharaja is the father of Sita and a great devotee of Lord Ramachandra. It is described in Srémad Bhägavatam (6.3.20) that he is one of the twelve great authorities on religious principles in this universe. The following story from Padma Puräëa (pätälakhaëòa 18.31-77) of how Janaka Maharaja once visited hell illustrates the supreme potency of the holy name and the association with saintly persons.
Lord Ananta Sesa once narrated a wonderful account of how King Janaka visited the abode of Yamaraja. After a long life, Janaka Maharaja gave up his body through the process of yoga. A divine airplane decorated with many bells descended and Janaka Maharaja boarded it. On the way the airplane came near to the abode of Yamaraja, the lord of death. There, sinners were suffering punishment in millions of hells. When the wind that had touched the body of Janaka came to them they felt great joy and their misery disappeared. Then those persons, oppressed by sins, wanting to keep Janaka’s association, began to lament. They spoke piteously to Janaka Maharaja, “O blessed one. Please do not leave. We who are greatly tormented are feeling happy due to contact with the breezes that have touched your body. Hearing their words, the very righteous king became filled with pity and thought to himself, “If due to the touch of the breezes that have touched my body I am bringing some happiness to the residents here, then I will stay in this place. This is heaven for me.” Thinking like this, the king stayed there by the gateway to hell. After some time, Yamaraja himself, who inflicts severe torment upon sinners, came to that gateway. There he saw Maharaja Janaka, full of mercy and a doer of great meritorious deeds, standing by the doorway.
Yamaraja smiled and said to Janaka, “O king! You are sarva-dharma-siromani — the crest jewel of piety. Why have you come here? This is a place for wicked sinners who cause harm to others. Men like you who perform meritorious deeds do not come to this place. Only those persons who deceive others, who are engaged in criticizing others, and who are intent on stealing others’ wealth come here. A man who abandons a religious wife who is serving him without fault comes here. One who, out of greed for wealth, deceives his friend, comes here and receives intense punishment from me.” Yamaraja then said, “Those persons who do not remember Lord Ramachandra with their mind, words, or deeds I throw into hell and have boiled.Those who have remembered the Lord of the Goddess of fortune leave the sufferings of hell and quickly go to Vaikuntha.
“O very intelligent king, my servants, unable to even look at persons like you, bring those who are great sinners. Therefore you should leave this place and go enjoy many pleasures. Enter the excellent airplane and go reap the fruits of the religious merits you have earned.”
Hearing the words of Yamaraja, with great compassion Janaka replied, “O Lord, out of pity on these beings I shall not go to Vaikuntha. Although situated in this place, they are feeling some comfort due to the breezes blowing past my body. If you release all of these persons living in hell then I shall be happy and will proceed to Vaikuntha.” Hearing the words of Janaka, Yamaraja pointed out to him each of those living in hell and said:
“This one had sex with his friend’s wife that had confided in him, therefore I am having him roasted on an iron stake for thousands of years. Afterwards he will be born as a pig. Then when he again takes birth in a human body he will be a eunuch. This one repeatedly raped the wife of another man. Therefore he will be roasted in the hell known as raurava for a hundred years. This wicked one stole the wealth of others and enjoyed it. Therefore, having cut off his hands, I shall cook him in puss and blood. This one did not honor or welcome, even with words, a guest who had come to him, oppressed by hunger. He will be dropped into the tämisra hell, which is full of fire. There, bees will torment him for a hundred years.
ayaà tavaà parasyoccair nindäà kurvanna lajjitaù
ayam apyaçåëot karnau prerayan bahuçasta täm
“This shameless person loudly criticized another. This one here, with great interest, listened to that criticism many times. Therefore these two have fallen into a dark well.
“This one, who deceived his friend, is being roasted in the hell known as raurava. After making all of these persons eat the fruit of their sins, I shall release them. O best among men who have accumulated vast amounts of religious merit, please leave this place.” Having pointed out the sinful persons, Yamaraja became quiet. With his eyes full of tears, Janaka, the great devotee of Lord Rama, said, “Tell me, how can these miserable beings quickly be set free from hell and attain happiness?” Yamaraja replied, “These persons have never worshiped Lord Vishnu. They have never listened to the transcendental accounts of the Lord’s activities. How then can they be free from hell? O great king, if you desire to release them, even though they are great sinners, then give them the following religious merit possessed by you: Once, upon getting up in the morning, you meditated with a pure heart upon Lord Raghunatha [Ramachandra], who is known as mahä-päpa-haräbhidhaù — the remover of great sins. Give them the religious merit which you obtained that morning when with a pure heart you uttered, “Rama, Rama.” Obtaining that merit, they will get freedom from hell.”
Hearing these words of the intelligent Yamaraja, the great king Janaka gave those persons the religious merit obtained by him from his birth. Janaka said, “Let these persons be released from hell due to the religious merit earned by me from birth by the worship of Raghunath.” As soon as he said this, those persons dwelling in hell immediately were freed from their suffering condition and obtained divine bodies. They said to King Janaka, “O king, by your favor in one moment we have been freed from miserable hell and will now go to the highest position, paramaà padam.” Seeing those now-effulgent persons freed from hell, Janaka Maharaja, who desired the welfare of all living beings, was very pleased in his mind. All those persons praised the great king Janaka, the very treasure-house of compassion, and went to the spiritual world.
— Translated from the Navabharat Publishers
edition of Padma Puräëa , Calcutta, 1402 jyeñöha .