Gajendra Moksham or “Liberation of the King of elephants” is an episode in the Eighth Chapter of Bhagavata Purana believed to be composed by Vyasa and narrated by Shuka to Parikshit. The story revolves around the struggle of Gajendra, the elephant against a crocodile in a lake at the foot of Trikuta range. My reference for the current post however is Andhra Maha Bhagavatam by Bammera Pothana, a close translation of Vyasa’s Srimad Bhagavatam.
The crocodile tries to drag the elephant king into deeper waters when Gajendra is engrossed in playful bathing along with his consorts. The detail with which Pothana (assumedly Vyasa too) describe the environment of Trikuta and the lake which subsequently turns into a battle field is noteworthy. The episode is believed to symbolize the struggle of a human between materialistic indulgence and spiritual pursuit. The battle between the two as the author describes goes on for a thousand years in which the crocodile gains over the elephant. Gajendra, at the end of his wit, will and strength turns to pray to the Supreme spirit.
The prayer of Gajendra has many interesting aspects to observe, mainly its tone which transits from a philosophical and scholarly beginning to a pleading tone at the end. The prayer begins with Gajendra invoking the Supreme Spirit who is the reason behind the emergence, sustenance and collapse of the universe himself being beyond the cycle of birth and death and the one who is the cause of his own existence.
Gajendra then compares the Supreme Lord to that of an actor who plays different roles and is yet unaffected by the nature of those roles. The Supreme spirit while described to be having many forms is still beyond the physical constraints of those forms. The Supreme spirit is also extolled as the one whose level of purity is unattainable by any thought, word and deed. He is beyond the Gunas, names, forms, actions, creation and deluge.
The next part of the prayer tends to elaborate more on the compassion of the Supreme Lord (Gajendra needs that more than anything!) with attributes like Dayasindhu (Sea of compassion), Soumya (gentleness personified), Dukhanta Kriti (One adept at ending miseries) and still balances with attributes related to detachment, knowledge and being beyond sensory constraints.
The prayer then goes on to elucidate the various kinds of people who are favoured by the supreme spirit. Gajendra describes them as being free of materialistic desire and as seeking the truth and as those who have surrendered themselves to the Supreme Spirit. The Supreme Spirit though described largely with male characteristics is then acknowledged as someone who is beyond the three genders (Male, Female and Transgender).
The Human psyche that doubts its own faith is acknowledged by Pothana (Assumedly by Vyasa) in this turn of the prayer. Here Gajendra who is now tired of extolling even doubts the existence of the Supreme spirits. The loose translations of those doubtful prayers are given below.
He who is described as present in those who pray for his grace and the great Yogis, in all directions and everywhere, does he exist at all?
Why doesn’t he come to my rescue, the one who is famed to protect the oppressed from the hands of oppressors, why doesn’t he listen to me? He being the one who protects his refugees without qualifying their merits and demerits, why does he heed my call of distress?
To a keen reader, the increasing desperation in each verse becomes evident in this second half of the prayer. Before the prayer, Gajendra is described as the one who is the lord of the most exalted species of elephants (Bhadra Gajas) and as someone who supported the sustenance of multiple trees by his constant watering and as the one who sported with tens of thousands of female elephants. (Quite some reasons to feel arrogant and egoistic, right?) He is the King who cannot be seen as rescued by any lesser being than the Supreme spirit himself! The distress of Gajendra towards the end can melt even the agnostic readers where he says his strength, every ounce of it is spent, his courage is exhausted, his vitality is slipping fast and he is near fainting as his body is collapsing. At this stage of helplessness, Gajendra says he knows nobody but the Supreme Spirit and only that spirit can protect him.
The swing of tone between extreme surrender and doubt intensifies when Gajendra again says he is now doubtful of that compassionate being who can listen to every being in the universe, who can move even among the inaccessible spaces, who is a witness to every event and who rushes to help those seeking refuge. One can observe the striking similarity with one’s own experiences where one’s faith passed through a similar roller coaster ride.
In the next Post, I shall write about the response of Vishnu to this call and it is more exciting!
For a verse by verse reference of Gajendra’s prayer in Telugu, refer here