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Gajendra Moksha


Kannada literature has been blessed with many talented poets over many centuries. Amongst these poets, towards the end of twelfth century, Kavi Someshwara got prominence due to his mastery in Samskruta, Telugu and Kannada. Kavi Someshwara Śataka is a collection of philosophical elements in poetic form. In this amazing collection, we can find a very thought provoking poem on moksha – salvation.

racanaṅgeyyade dharmakīrtiyeraḍaṁ sad’dharmaṁ pāpadā
nicayakkikkade tatva kēḷi jagavellaṁ bōm’mamendennadē।
ucitālōcaneyinda tanna nijavaṁ tāṁ kāṇadē vādipā
vacanabrahmade muktiyē hara harā śrī cenna sōmēśvarā॥

Without earning dharma, keerthi, using the accumulated punya for paapa, understanding the various philosophies and not understanding that entire creation is Brahma, without introspection & not reflecting within, simply using words like I am Brahma, from such wordsmiths, one can never attain salvation.

In this poem, very intricate tenets of philosophy have been cleverly interwoven amongst multiple concepts. In the pursuit towards moksha (salvation), Man should follow the dharmic path, understand the inner and external worlds and works towards the ultimate goal. This is the core essence of this poem. The path towards Moksha, which is the aim of all jeevis, is captured in multiple forms and places across all our shastras and itihasas.

Manava (human) janma is the foremost of all births of a jeevaatma, for it is the gateway for the ultimate goal of moksha (salvation). In this case, a question does come up. What about animals? What is the pathway for salvation? There are some interesting incidents depicted in our puranas that have some indicators.

In the tradition of Bhakti literature, Kannada dāsa sāhitya has a towering position for its vast collection of songs and hymns. One of the foremost proponents of dasa traditions, Kanakadasa, has sung praises for his favorite Krishna as below

āneya nōḍirayya nīvellaru ānanda paḍeyirayya
tānu tannavarembo mānavara salahida āneya nōḍirayya।

See the elephant, all of you, experience the happinesss
Influencing humans as one of its own, look at the same elephant

In this poem, Kanakadasa has described Sri Krishna in the form of an elephant, an eternal favorite of all. Gajaraja, Gajendra, Kunjara are some of the names attributed to this magnificent animal which finds extensive mention in our puranas.

A poignant question that arises, Is there a path for moksha / salvation for an elephant? A very detailed incident in our puranas that describes the philosophy and context of an elephant attaining the highest state is the story of “Gajendra Moksha”. This incident is detailed in the 8th Skanda of Srimad Bhagavatha Mahapuranam.

When Gajendra Moksha is mentioned, a picture of Sriman Narayana in his resplendent form atop his favourite Garuda comes to the mind, where an elephant is offering a lotus with its trunk and whose legs are caught in the clutches of crocodile’s mouth.

Every single aspect of this picturisation has a deep philosophical meaning attached to the same. In which Manvanthara did this incident occur? In which form did Sriman Narayana descend to bless moksha to the Gajendra? In fact who is this Gajendra? Who is the crocodile holding his legs? This article tries to answer these queries and create a narrative connecting each one of these individual aspects.

Avatara Purusha

In Srimad Bhagavathapurana, 8th skanda starts off with a description of various avataras of sriman narayana. The chapter explains the various manifestations of Narayana across various manvantharas.

Towards the  end of chapter 1 of skanda 8, we observe the following shloka

tatrāpi jajñē bhagavānhariṇyāṁ harimēdhasaḥ
harirityāhr̥tō yēna gajēndrō mōcitō grahāt ॥ 8.1.30 ॥

In Tamasa manvanthara, to Harimedha Rsi and his wife Harini, Bhagavan will take avatara in the form of Sri Hari. In this manvanthara only, he rescued Gajendra from the clutches of the crocodile.

In Vishnu Purana, 3rd Skanda, Chapter 1 outlines the names of the various manvatharas that have already elapsed. Currently we are in the timeline of Vaivasvatha manvanthara which is the 7th one in order. The previous 6 manvantharas are:

  • Swayumbhuva Manu
  • Swarochisha
  • Uttama
  • Tamasa
  • Raivatha
  • Chakshusa

It can be observed that Gajendra Moksha occurred in the 4th Manvanthara  i.e. Tamasa manvanthara.

Before encountering the incident of Gajendra Moksha, it is imperative, that one understands the history of Gajendra and the Crocodile. Who exactly were they?

Gajendra / Indradyunmna

The history of Gajendra is captured in the 8th Skanda, 4th Chapter as below

sa vai pūrvamabhūdrājā pāṇḍyō draviḍasattamaḥ
indradyumna iti khyātō viṣṇu vrataparāyaṇaḥ ॥ 8.4.7 ॥

In his previous birth, Gajendra was a king born into the clan of Pandya ruling over Dravida desha. His name was Indradyumna and was well known as prominent devotee of Maha Vishnu.

Once the famous king renounced all his royal fortunes, grew matted hair, became a tapasvi. His ashrama was located in the Malaya mountains.

One day after finishing his morning ablution, he sat down to worship the almighty Bhagwan. Concentrating all his energies on the primordial power, he undertook the oath of silence and started to meditate on the name of Bhagwan with a single-minded dedication.

As fate would have it, due to a divine design, Agastya muni along with his students came to the same ashrama at the same time. Indradyumna had renounced the duties of caring for his citizens as well as upholding the duties of a grhasta.

Looking at the king sitting in solitude and meditating in silence, Agastya muni got angry and cursed him thus:

tasmā imaṁ śāpamadādādhurayaṁ durātmākr̥tabud’dhiradya
viprāvamantā viśatāṁ tamōndhaṁ yathā gajaḥ stabdhamatiḥ sa ēva ॥ 8.4.10 ॥

This king has ceased respecting his elders and teachers. Under the influence of arrogance, he is acting on his own accord. Let the one who disrespected the Brahmanas become an inert animal like elephant.

This lead to the king transforming into a giant elephant who used to roam the same forests with his herd. In the current context, it needs to be noted that the King was  a very dharmic and highly knowledgeable king. This has a significance in the narrative going ahead.

Crocodile / Hu Hu

The story of the crocodile which held the legs of Gajendra is equally fascinating and laden with interesting reasons. From Srimad Bhagavathapurana Skanda 8, chapter 4, there is a brief introduction to the crocodile

yōssau grāhaḥ sa vai sadyaḥ paramāścaryarūpadr̥k
muktō dēvalāśāpēna hūhūgandharvasattamaḥ ॥ 8.4.3 ॥

That which till now was in the form of a crocodile due the curse (shapa) of Rsi Devala has been redeemed by the mere touch of Bhagwan and assumed his former resplendent form of Hu Hu, foremost of Gandharvas.

The crocodile was in fact a Gandharva named Hu Hu. Why did he become a crocodile of all the animals? Is there a lesson for humans to understand and imbibe in their daily lives?

Years ago, Hu Hu was bathing in a lake with his wives. Into the same lake dived the Rsi Devala. The Gandharva who was in a playful mood decided to play some mischief and swimming under the water, pulled the leg of the Rsi. Angered by this act which disturbed his penance, Rsi cursed Hu Hu : “Since you like pulling the legs, may you become a crocodile & continue doing the same throughout your life”. Hu Hu realised the gravity of his actions and pleaded for a reprieve. The Rsi relented and said : “You will live here for a long time. One day, the king of Elephants will come into the lake with his herd. You are to hold his leg and not let go at any cost. You will be liberated from this curse by none other than Bhagwan Sri Hari himself”.

The Gandharva bowed down to the Rsi and made pradakshina to him before assuming the form of a crocodile.

This incident teaches us a very important lesson. Playful acts can lead to disastrous outcomes. What is joy for one could be pain to another. Hence, it is imperative that everyone exercises restraint in those acts of fun which may land up hurting another jeeva.

Moksha

There was a hill called Trikuta which was famed for its beauty and surrounded by the ocean of Milk. In the hill, there was a garden called Rituman filled with flowering trees of every kind: Mandara, Parijata, Patala, Ashoka, Champaka as well many fruit trees. This garden belonged to Varuna. There was also very beautiful large lake on whose face floated lotuses of multiple hues like blue, white, red.

In the hill, there was an immense elephant which was originally Indradyumna who resided along with his herd. The elephant was so wild and powerful that other animals like lion, tiger, wild boar, bulls would run away from the spot where the elephant stood.

Once during summer, after a long march, the herd was tired and extremely thirsty. From a distance, the elephant smelt the perfume of flowers which indicated the presence of a lake nearby. Along with his herd, he walked in the direction of the smell and soon reached the vast lake with its immensely beautiful water accompanied with floating lotuses.

Tired and famished due the heat & the long arduous journey, the elephants took to the water with vigour. Once their thirst was quenched, they didn’t feel like getting out of water and continue to bathe leisurely in the water. Like a samsari who has lost the track of time & is unaware of the upcoming moments, the elephant was enjoying with his herd.

By fate, the crocodile which was residing in the same lake snatched the legs of the massive elephants with its equally powerful jaws. No matter the effort put by the elephant, he couldn’t free himself from the clutches of the crocodile. After fighting for a long time, he realised that the struggle is futile which also a dent to its ego with its massive structure.

The elephant reflects,

na māmimē jñātāya āturaṁ gajāḥ kutaḥ kariṇyaḥ prabhavanti mōcitam
grāhēṇa pāśēna vidhāturāvr̥tōspya haṁ ca taṁ yāmi paraṁ parāyaṇam ॥ 8.2.32 ॥

When I am unable to free myself for a long time, how can the other elephants in the herd be able to rescue me. I have understood that no can help me from this dire calamity. I have only one hope left out. I will seek refuge in the one lord in whom Brahma seeks refuge, looking at whom Yama also stays away. I will focus my energies and pray to Sriman Narayana.

By focusing his mind within himself, the enormous elephant started to recite a stotra in the praise of Bhagwan, which is commonly known as  “Gajendra Moksa Stotra”.

  • You are the ancient; The Purusha and The Prakriti born of Purusha
  • You are the light beyond the sources of all light
  • You stand on the edge of the sea of darkness, of tamas which is all that is found at the end of Pralaya & bring new life into the creation that is born out of the old
  • You have no birth; no karma to perform, no names nor any qualities to distinguish you from others
  • You are beyond the reach of senses, the mind, emotions, intellect. Though you are beyond comprehension, some have realised you by becoming one with you.
  • You are the Drashta, for functioning of Indriyas & their behavior
  • You are ancient, eternal, everlasting – without a beginning or end – Naa bhuto naa bhavisyahaati – Anantha
  • You are unaffected by the gunas and their interplay – Nirguna
  • Jeevis who surrender themselves entirely to you are sure to be cured of their ignorance, their avidya & be able to realise the ultimate truth which is you

The elephant starts to request Narayana for specific blessings

  • This birth of mine which is full of avidya inside & outside, this form of elephant & mind is no use to me
  • I want moksha that will not be destroyed by the passage of time
  • I am a mumukshu and I salute you who is the cause of this universe

The praises by the elephant were highly detailed and directed towards Purusha. Everyone knew that he i.e. the animal was not fit for the words of praise and were filled with surprise.

Sriman Narayana was touched by the plight of the animal and assuming the form of Hari, appeared on the shores of the Lake, sitting on top of Garuda in his majestic resplendent form. The elephant bowed down to the supreme Bhagwan, offered a lotus with his raised trunk and said : “Bhagwan Narayana, I salute you”.

Sri Hari was overcome with compassion for the poor animal and killed the crocodile with his Sudharshana Chakra. He accepted the lotus from the elephant with infinite love.

Our of the carcass of the crocodile, a divine Gandharva form emerged and Hu Hu bowed down to the lord after being rid of his curse.

Though Indradyumna became an elephant, his mind and thoughts had been steeped in Bhakti for Bhagwan & hence, remembered his previous birth. Hence, when he was in trouble, he could pray and sing praises to Bhagwan in words that were quite uncommon for a mere animal.

Indradyumna was freed from his curse and released from the bondage called Samsara. He became one of the attendants of Sriman Narayana and proceeded to Vaikunta atop Garuda along with Bhagwan.

Summary

This story has multiple lessons that need to be imbibed in one’s life.

  • There are situations which are beyond our control and hence, we need to accept the will of God as Indradyumna did when Agastya Muni cursed him
  • We shouldn’t make fun or trouble other knowledgeable souls, for it will have life-altering consequences as Hu Hu discovered
  • When one is steeped in Bhakti, they will be able to transcend the knowledge across births
  • Sriman Narayana is benevolent towards his Bhaktas as observed from the entire episode

Phalaśruti

Shuka Muni explains the importance as thus: Who listens to this story, their bad dreams and mental conflicts will be resolved & shall be blessed with Prosperity, Progress and Swarga

However, Bhagwan Sri Hari himself has given the following directions in Srimad Bhagvatha Puranam

  • In Brahmi muhurtam, completely concentrating one’s senses within oneself, those who worship me and you considering the lake, mountain, forest, etc, they will be rid of their paapa as the entire creation is my own form
  • Who chant the verses chanted by in Brahmi muhurta, such people will be able to realize an unclouded memory of myself at the moment of death

References

  • Śrīmad bhāgavata mahāpurāṇam – Gita Press (kannaḍa)
  • Śrīmad bhāgavata mahāpurāṇam – Gita Press special edition (English)
  • Viṣṇu purāṇa – Bhārata Darśana Publications
  • Śrīmad bhāgavatam – Kamalā Subramaniam
  • Sōmēśvara śataka – Kannada Sahitya Parishat
  • Kanakōpaniṣattu – Dr. Bannan̄je Gōvindācārya

(Image credit: kauthuk.com)


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