By Prasad Sundararajan
The eighth book (skandha) of the Bhagavata Purana contains the episode of the liberation of elephant king Gajendra (Gajendra Moksham) where one of the most magnificent hymns addressed to Vishnu as the supreme deity is presented.
Gajendra Moksham is an important incident found in the Bhagavata Purana where it shows the importance of Bhakti, prayer and true devotion whereby one attains liberation (moksha) by the grace of Bhagavan.
Once upon a time, Indradyumna, the King of the Pandya region of South India, a great devotee of Narayana (Vishnu) was so absorbed in worship that he did not even notice the sage Agastya who came there expecting the king’s hospitality. Agastya was infuriated by the king’s indifference and cursed him to be born as an elephant in his next birth, because he was proud and haughty. In his rebirth, Indradyumna was born as a lordly elephant, Gajendra, with memories of his devotion to Vishnu intact from his previous birth.
One day, in the Trikuta mountain range, the elephant was sporting with female elephants as the leader of the male elephants. The elephant overwhelmed by the heat, began to enter a lake along with the elephant herd. Huhu, a Gandharva (other worldly being) who had become a crocodile of great strength because of a curse of sage Devala, was residing in the same lake. The crocodile caught hold of one of the elephant’s legs and a great tussle ensured for a long time. The elephant herd tried to help Gajendra but overtime the kith and kin’s of Gajendra realized that death is approaching him, since crocodiles are invincible in water as elephants in the terrestrial area. So, they left him abandoned and started to go away.
In the intense stress of the suffering caused by the attack of the crocodile, Gajendra got back his spiritual spark from his previous birth, and worshipped the Lord, addressing as “root cause of everything”. (BhP 8.3.2). After listening to the entire hymn, which related to the attribute-less Brahman, Brahma, Shiva and other gods did not appear before Gajendra, as they felt it was not addressed to them. Lord Vishnu, who pervades the soul of all beings, immediately appeared before the elephant out of His infinite compassion for the devotee.
Lord Vishnu pulled out Gajendra, the elephant, with his divine hands and cut asunder that great crocodile with his discus. The crocodile was released from his curse and got back to his Gandharva form. Gajendra who prayed to the Lord for liberation attained moksha and entered the spiritual world of Vishnu, Vaikuntha.
The following verse assures the devotees of Bhagavan of liberation (moksha) through bhakthi-laced prayers.
“My dear devotee, unto those who rise from bed at the end of night and offer Me the prayers offered by you, I give an eternal residence in the spiritual world at the end of their lives”. (BhP 8.4.25)
The importance of remembering the Lord with bhakti is brought forth by the following Tamil verse of Periyalvar’s Thirumozhi – Fourth Decade (Thivya Prapantham Verse 423), –
“ஒப்பிலேனாகிலும் நின்னடைந்தேன் ஆனைக்கு நீ அருள் செய்தமையால்”
– Though not qualified, I have surrendered to you because you saved elephant Gajendra when he called You.
The primary religious teaching from the Gajendra Moksham episode is that Bhagavan will liberate His devotees without fail and that bhakthi-marga is the most suitable path to liberation to all beings. It is by the illusory energy of Bhagavan that jiva (individual soul), who is part of God, forgets his/ her real identity because of the bodily (material) concept of life. Only by taking shelter of Bhagavan, whose glories are difficult to understand, one can aim to attain liberation. (BhP 8.3.29).
The Gajendra Moksham episode of Bhagavata Purana conveys the important religious principle that in the moment of utter surrender to Bhagavan through bhakthi, God rushes to our aid without regard to other qualifications (birth, knowledge, etc.) and releases our soul from the clutches of death and rebirth and that liberation (moksha) comes by the grace of the Supreme Deity.