Sanatana Dharma alone recognizes the life in all sentient forms as Jiva. Contrast this with the desert idea that all beings in the universe were created for human enjoyment, opening the door to their perpetual abuse. A Jiva is not defined by the baggage it is in – be it the body, mind or intellect. Hence all Jivas, inherently divine, have the ability to liberate themselves. Nonetheless, it is only in the human form a potentially well-defined intellect can be found, that guides the mind. Sanatana Dharma constantly drives home this idea that a Jiva, irrespective of its cloak, is the real essence of consciousness, life. Due to Karma, the Jiva can take birth in any form. The Karma determines the direction of the Jiva. Due to the past Vasanas, the Jiva has certain proclivities, but it also has the ability to overcome them in certain cases like a human birth.
As the Jiva identifies itself with the body and in the case of humans, mind, or its modifications – desires, it generates more Karma. As the Karmaphala cannot be exhausted in a single body, it takes different bodies. This repetition that keeps us bound to the lower existence is called samsara, often equated with Sagara, as it appears endless like the ocean. The Bhagavata Purana tells us a wonderful story of how Gajendra, an elephant, got liberated from this samsara. The details are elaborated in the Skanda VIII.
In the fourth Manvantara, called Tamasa, an enlightening incident of how an elephant got Moksha due to the grace of Hari took place, that guides us to this day. A Gandharva called Huhu playfully tugged Rishi Devala from underwater to shock him and impress his female partners, who cursed him to lead a life of a crocodile. Indradyumna, a famous Pandya king was devoted to the worship of Mahavishnu. He was engrossed in Mouna, mind control and meditation at an ashram in Kulachala. One day, Agastya Rishi came there with his disciples, due to his focus, Indradyumna did not realize their arrival and honor them. An angered Agastya cursed him to transform into a proud and stupid elephant, which was Gajendra.
In Trikuta mountain, there were numerous lakes, mountains, valleys filled with wondrous places. It was filled with diverse trees, animals and divine beings. Once an elephant, Gajendra arrived there with his herd trampling its way toward the lake infusing fear in other animals. The lake was filled with golden lotuses that attracted the pachyderms. The herd entered the waters to cool themselves. The elephant king suddenly found himself being tugged beneath by a huge crocodile. As the cow elephants expressed their distress, the other male elephants attempted to rescue in vain. The tug of war lasted a thousand years even as the devas came to watch this wonder. (This duration gives us the clue to it being a metaphor). The elephant grew exhausted as its strength and hope started to slip away even as the crocodile consolidated its dominance.
Slowly the elephant realized that it was a huge mistake as it was identifying itself as the body. The futility of the battle, the inability of others to help and the gradual realization that the real identity of the self as beyond the body prompted Gajendra to turn its mind and attention towards the Supreme Reality, Paramatma, in whom he took refuge and prayed mentally. The impersonalized Stotra is steeped in deep Vedanta and takes a real Saatvic mind to grasp. The in-dweller in all, Hari, was invoked by his fervent appeal to the eternal Principle.
Hari came in haste on Garuda with his Sudarshana chakra, even as Gajendra was intent on offering it to him as worship. He cut the crocodile with the discus and pulled out Gajendra’s foot with his hands. The Gandharva, Huhu, got released from his curse, prostrated and worshipped Hari for his mercy and sang hymns in praise, eventually departing to his Loka. Gajendra joined Hari in Vaikunta as one of his attendants.
Phalasruti: Sri Hari, Himself, revealed the secrets of knowing Gajendra Moksha as follows:
Those who hear will be spiritually elevated.
No adverse effects of Kali, even amidst its full impact all around.
No evil dreams ever in their worldly existence.
Reciting the Gajendra Stotra early morning purifies one from all the sins. Hari encourages to visualize the entirety of the story from the trees to lake to mountains described, along with visualizing Hari with four arms, with Gada, Padma, Shanka and Chakra, wearing Kaustuba on the chest, Srivatsa mark, Sesha and Garuda with Sridevi and remembering all the Bhagavadas from Brahma, Narada to Prahlada. Extolling his virtues at night, Hari grants that such a Jiva will have a pure consciousness before the end of their lives.
Highlights of Gajendra Stotra:
The 28 sloka hymn is the highest distilled Vedanta, which may need a separate detailed treatment. Here we limit it to only a few major broad ideas.
The first point to be noted, contrary to the popular belief, Gajendra never asks himself as an elephant to be saved as the entire Stuthi is of very high Vedantic import.
जिजीविषे नाहमिहामुया किमन्तर्बहिश्चावृतयेभयोन्या । इच्छामि कालेन न यस्य विप्लव-स्तस्यात्मलोकावरणस्य मोक्षम् ॥
jijīviṣe nāham ihāmuyā kim
antar bahiś cāvṛtayebha-yonyā
icchāmi kālena na yasya viplavas tasyātma-lokāvaraṇasya mokṣam ॥SB 8-3-25
I have no desire to live in this world or want a better next. What is the use of living in ignorance (that veils the Truth within and without) as an elephant? (He prays for liberation not from the crocodile, but from this Avarana, veil of ignorance) Time puts an end to the physical body, but not ignorance, which only illumination can. Only thy grace can remove this persistent ignorance.
Once we are clear in our mind that Gajendra never sought Paramatma to liberate him from the crocodile, but something more dangerous that continues across Janmas, our Avarana, the root cause of our existence, we start appreciating his Stuthi in a totally different light.
Secondly, the Stuthi is a very intense plea for Moksha, filled with deep wisdom. The hymn is towards the impersonal Brahman, which personifies as Sri Hari. The choice of words पुरुषायादिबीजाय (puruṣāyādi-bījāya) – Purusha, the seed of the earliest creation; आत्मप्रदीपाय साक्षिणे (ātma-pradīpāya sākṣiṇe) the indwelling illuminator, the witness; amongst others clearly indicate that this is a salutation from the Atma not that of the ego or mind of the elephant and much less to free from its bodily misery caused by the crocodile.
Thirdly, the Stuthi indirectly highlights what qualifications a Sadaka must aspire to possess. The big recommendation Gajendra provides us is to renounce attachment.
सक्तै-र्दुष्प्रापणाय गुणसङ्गविवर्जिताय ।मुक्तात्मभि: स्वहृदये परिभाविताय
ज्ञानात्मने भगवते नम ईश्वराय ॥
ātmātma-jāpta-gṛha-vitta-janeṣu saktair duṣprāpaṇāya guṇa-saṅga-vivarjitāya । muktātmabhiḥ sva-hṛdaye paribhāvitāya jñānātmane bhagavate nama īśvarāya ॥ SB 8-3-18
The ones who are attached to the body or mind as ataman (mithyatman), spouse, children, friends and relatives, home (location), wealth, possessions, etc are extremely difficult to approach Him, who is uncontaminated by the three Gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas). The self-realized and liberated meditate upon you in the core of their hearts. You are an embodiment of Consciousness and Knowledge. That Ishwara, the controller of everything, I humbly salute.
Gajendra shows the way for us less mortals to overcome ‘I-ness’ by giving up attachment. He also hints at rising above the Gunas and look at the in-dweller within, rather than hallucinating at the heavens. He goes on to vouch for that depending on what one aspires, they can achieve Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha, but with His grace, he even bestows a spiritual body. (This is what Gajendra achieved, a place in Vaikunta to serve in person)
Lastly, for the pondering types, there is a special sloka that can be very useful to meditate upon, amongst others.
नमो नमस्तेऽखिलकारणाय निष्कारणायाद्भुतकारणाय । सर्वागमाम्नायमहार्णवाय नमोऽपवर्गाय परायणाय ॥
namo namas te ’khila-kāraṇāya niṣkāraṇāyādbhuta-kāraṇāya ।
sarvāgamāmnāya-mahārṇavāya namo ’pavargāya parāyaṇāya ॥ SB 8-3-15
Salutations to Thee, the cause of all causes, the one who is beyond causation, thus the Wonderful cause of everything. (Despite being the cause, is unaffected by the cause). Salutations to Thee; who is a limitless ocean into which Vedas, agamas flow into it to find fulfillment. Salutations to the one who gives Moksha and the sole refuge to all spiritual aspirants.
Metaphor and its practical applications
Gajendra Moksha is not a bedtime story or mythology. It is a metaphor that is connected to every living being and has deep practical implications. Gajendra represents all of us, the Jivatmas. Just like Gajendra was happy leading a life of pride and ego, filled with sensory pleasures with a lot of attachments, we do the same. Attracted by thirst, golden flowers, he enters the lake, which is the representative of the samsara sagara. The Makara, crocodile, is our vasanas. Just like our vasanas keep us pulling deeper into the samsara, so did Gajendra find himself too. As the battle gets intense, the jivatma relies upon its strength. Gajendra got some support from his herd, but found it inadequate to negate the makara. The futility of the external aid to quench this deep internal fire that is raging is beautifully brought out. The Jivatma gets humbled over a long time, usually across many janmas. But due to the grace of Hari and also the prior spiritual achievements came to the aid of Gajendra, even us. The real prayer is not for materialistic gains or pleasures, but one that transcends the worldly plane by seeking to root out the ignorance, avarana.
Paramatama bestows anything we seek – Dharma, Artha or Kama, but is fond of those seekers who are ready to separate themselves from ego and ego-centric desire-based living and want Moksha. (Learn more in the three-part series – Whom does God Love – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). As noted above the Gajendra stuthi is ripe with the highest and subtlest Vedanta and deserves deeper study and meditation.
Another interesting aspect is the importance of hope in life. Initially Gajendra had hope in his own strength, his herd and the will to battle for his own existence. Yet when the realization dawned that none of this was enough to outweigh the makara, he was filled with only dejection. Hope on external or foisted attributes is like clutching straws. The only refuge is Parmatma. This is very similar to the state Arjuna found himself at the beginning of Chapter 1 and early part of Chapter 2 in the Bhagawad Gita. This despondent state plus the past memories of his spiritual proclivities made him realize that he is not an elephant, nor is he a mind or intellect or the lifeforce, prana. Once he realized that the true nature of his was Atman, his mumukshatva, desire to be liberated became so intense that it bursts out as the wonderful 28 slokas.
In the case of Huhu, who got cursed due to his offenses to the Bhagavata, his liberation could come only by holding on to the feet of another Bhagavata, nonetheless aggressively due to his ignorance. His liberation due to Sudarshana was only due to the grace of the feet of Bhagavata. The worst apachara is against the true devotees, Bhagavatas, even Bhagawan doesn’t brook it or come to such a person’s aid till getting the blessings of the Bhagavata.
The interesting point to note here is Bhagwan could have taken care of the makara without even appearing. The one who creates the prapancha and the creator, Brahma by mere sankalpa, could easily knock out the crocodile without manifesting in person. But we see that He displays extreme haste and anxiety to aid Gajendra. Perhaps He thought He had tarried bit longer enjoying the beauty of the hymn or was it His overwhelming desire to serve His bhaktas! His presence was needed as Gajendra reached exalted state as a Bhagavata.In the Bhagavad Gita (BG 4-8), Krishna reminds through Arjuna that he will come to the deliverance and protection of the Sadhus, Good – परित्राणाय साधुनां paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ.
Most of us immediately will certify ourselves and ask why Bhagwan is not answering our laundry list of prayers or like some religions that sell prayers for desire fulfillment. The answer is very simple; all our prayers are basically morphed desires of the ego and egocentric aspirations. Only when we transcend this state by repeatedly rising above this worldly grasp, we can start listening to our own Atman’s true needs. Such cries from Atman are sure to catch Bhagwan’s attention who is waiting for an opportunity to come to our aid. This will happen only when the Jiva is willing to cleanse itself. This process is Jnana, which leads to bhakti which ripens into a deeper evolved state – saranagati.
Having known the wondrous illustration of our own lives through the story of Gajendra, may we be assured by the guarantees given by Hari in this regard. We can incorporate this deeper understanding by meditating upon Gajendra Stuthi. May we be worshipful to the grace of Hari who is ever compassionate and waiting to listen to the cries of our Atman. May we purify our chitta by repeatedly listening to His stories and lilas, by pondering on the true meaning of our scriptures, which we must attempt to study more periodically. May His grace kindle all the good vasanas of ours to remind about His lotus feet.