Ages ago, when man was yet to encroach into the remotest wilderness to establish his sovereignty and when beasts and deities coexisted in harmony, there lived a mighty elephant in a beautiful garden called ‘Rtumat’. He was the chief of his herd, and was hence named ‘Gajendra’, meaning ‘The Lord of Elephants’. One hot day, he marched to the lake with his herd, showing his prowess on the way by breaking through trees and bamboo clusters. When the herd reached the heavenly lake, they were left mesmerized by the lovely lotus flowers that adorned it. Wanting to relieve himself off the summer heat, Gajendra plunged into the waters with joy. But his exuberance was soon replaced with exhaustion and fear, for a ferocious crocodile living in the lake caught him by one of his legs. No matter how hard his relatives and friends tried to help him out, the crocodile wouldn’t let go off him. Gajendra struggled with all the might he was known for. Realizing that their chief’s death was near, the herd decided to abandon him to his fate.
Desperate, Gajendra trumpeted aloud in pain, till his voice cracked and became hoarse. Meanwhile, droplets of blood fell like rubies and colored the pious waters of the lake. The moment he realized that no mortal could save him from the clutches of the merciless crocodile, Gajendra turned to his last resort. He plucked a lotus flower and held it up as an offering to Lord Vishnu (one of the supreme manifestations of God, in Hinduism). With the tiny amount of energy left in his body, the devoted elephant called out to the Lord with a heartfelt prayer. The kind Lord couldn’t bear to neglect his devotee’s plea, and so rushed to the scene. When Gajendra saw his Lord, he raised the lotus higher as an act of prostration. Needless to say, the Lord saved the troubled elephant and granted him salvation.
The story I narrated here was originally narrated by a sage named ‘Sri Suka’ to a renowned ancient Indian emperor named Parikshit, who was awaiting death. This legend appears as a chapter in the ancient Hindu scripture titled ‘Srimad Bhagavatham’. The tale is recollected with so much importance that it is given a separate title – ‘Gajendra moksha’ or ‘Liberation of Gajendra’.
The legend, in the most probability, might be largely imaginative. But like most myths, it is a symbolism of a larger truth. Gajendra is no ordinary elephant. The mighty tusker represents the man who has dived into the lake of ‘samsara’ (the cycle of births and deaths), caught by the sins of his ignorance. The crocodile symbolizes the materialistic desires and ignorance that drowns man in seemingly eternal pain. Neither relatives nor friends could save one from the pangs of this world. Only God can. Gajendra attained salvation only when he offered himself completely to the Lord, symbolized by the lotus he held up as an offering. In the same way, man can free himself from samsara only when he offers himself entirely to God, shedding his ego and his attachments.
Whenever I remember this tale, I’m immediately reminded of another one – that of Adi Sankara, one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Sankara decided to become an ascetic at a tender age of eight. The only thing he needed to achieve this was his mother’s permission, which he couldn’t attain. One day, as little Sankara was taking bath in the nearby river with his friends, a crocodile caught him by his leg. His friends, unable to figure out what to do, desperately cried aloud for help. Sankara’s mother rushed to the riverside to find her beloved son in the fierce grasp of a crocodile. As she too cried aloud to the Lord for help, young Sankara called out to her and said, “Mother! Kindly allow me to become an ascetic. Only then will the crocodile spare my life!”. The mother had no choice but to grant his wish. As fate would have it, the crocodile spared Sankara just as he predicted, thus giving birth to the immortal ascetic he would later become.
I find it interesting that there can be a parallelism drawn between the two stories. Sankara found his way to moksha (liberation) through the path of asceticism. The moment he was allowed to walk down this path, he was freed from the sins and ignorance of this material world, represented by the crocodile. We all are Sankaras and Gajendras, who are to offer ourselves to God to escape from samsara. Does that mean we should become an ascetic like Sankara? (Or that we should get ourselves caught by a crocodile?😂) No. Each of us have our own ways to reach God. The destination is the same. Only the paths differ. The simplest way to reach God would be to shed our ego and serve our fellow beings. For, there is no greater service to God than service to man.
Finally! I’m posting after what seemed like an era…Glad to be back on WP. Today, we observed ‘Guruvayur Ekadasi‘. I dedicate this post to one of the biggest devotees of Lord Guruvayoorappan (Sri Krishna) – the legendary tusker Guruvayur Keshavan . He was a majestic elephant celebrated for his extreme devotion to the Lord. You could read more about him here.
Thank you for keeping in touch..More posts coming soon!