This timeless tale of ‘Gajendra Moksham’ from Srimad Bhagavatham echoes through the voices of saintly poets in every corner of India, resounding in folk songs, dancing shows, and elaborate enactments. It weaves its intricate thread through many temple rituals, traditional arts, and finds its essence nestled within the heart of the nation. Found in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Adhyaya, 8th Skanda of the Shrimad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāna, these verses, carried like pearls of wisdom, were revealed by Shri Shukadev Goswami to King Parikshit. It is also found in the Vāmana Purāna, echoing through the narration of Rishi Pulastya to Rishi Nārada.
In the age of the fourth Manu, Tāmas, a land of resplendence, called Trikut Parvat, emerged from the milky ocean. Crowned by three regal peaks sculpted from the precious metals of the earth—gold, silver, and iron—it painted a masterpiece on the canvas of Nature. Other peaks, adorned with the luminescence of jewels and rare metals, added their hues to this living masterpiece. The land sang with the symphony of life: lush trees, creeping vines, gushing rivers, cascading waterfalls, and a vibrant parade of creatures, both winged and hoofed. Amidst this choreography of Nature, even celestial dancers and songbirds lent their ephemeral grace.
Upon a tranquil plateau in this landscape, nestled in the embrace of divine nature, bloomed a garden named Ritumān, filled with flowering trees of every kind: Mandara, Parijata, Patala, Ashoka, Champaka as well many fruit trees. It was Lord Varuna’s secret sanctuary. Gajendra, a mighty elephant king reigned here. He commanded a retinue of nurturing females and playful calves, and his dominance extended even over the formidable might of his fellow elephant companions. His sheer might sent lions and tigers scurrying for cover.
During the course of a scorching summer, Gajendra was drawn to the tranquil waters of a sprawling lake. Here, beneath the sun’s watchful gaze, Gajendra revelled in water sports, in laughter and joy with his beloved herd. Amid this tapestry of joy, destiny wove its intricate threads. A crocodile, stealthy and patient, suddenly ensnared Gajendra’s powerful leg in its vice-like grasp.
In the Narayaneeyam, a poetic form of the Bhāgavata Purana, Melpathur Narayana Bhattathiri, a celebrated 16-century Sanskrit poet in Kerala, describes Gajendra’s struggle for freedom thus:
“As soon as he was trapped, Gajendra, very well aware of his indomitable strength, attempted to free himself on his own, for a 1000 years. When his own strength failed him, he called upon his mighty friends and family to help him come free. They too, despite their fervent yearning and effort for another 1000 years, were powerless against the grip of the crocodile. As death loomed before Gajendra, one by one, his mates began to leave him.
It was at this point that a divine ember ignited within Gajendra’s heart. An age-old prayer, etched in the memory of his soul, resurfaced—an invocation to the cosmic conductor, Lord Vishnu.
He recalled the mantra, “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya”, from the Tapobal of Sadhanas done in previous lifetimes and he could do this only because of the grace of Sri Krishna. Sri Shukadev Goswami says in the Bhagavatam, “One remembers Bhagwan only by the grace of Bhagwan.” Only after he chanted the Dwadasakshari mantra with such a fervent call, did the Gajendra Stotram cascade from his lips. Gajendra’s spirit soared, seeking solace in surrender.
His fervent call echoed through the cosmos, reaching the ears of Sri Hari, the universal responder to the cries of his devotees.”
na māmimē jñātāya āturaṁ gajāḥ kutaḥ kariṇyaḥ prabhavanti mōcitam
grāhēṇa pāśēna vidhāturāvr̥tōspya haṁ ca taṁ yāmi paraṁ parāyaṇam ॥ SB 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 one 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.
Again Narayana Bhattathiri beautifully describes how the Lord arrives in the Narayaneeyam:
Till the time Gajendra assumed that his own powers could redeem him, Mahavishnu did not move. But, once Gajendra cried out in utter surrender, Sri Hari arrived in great hurry. So much so, that he did not even wait for Ma Lakshmi to hand him His Uttariyam or AngaVastram(the upper piece of cloth).
He was in such tearing hurry that he simply hung on the side of Garuda, not even wasting the time to mount him properly.
As Gajendra saw Mahavishnu descending on His Garudavaahan, he welcomed him with a lotus held aloft on a trembling trunk. Sri Hari accepted the lotus from Gajendra with infinite love and then unleashed the Sudarshan Chakra. In a breathtaking crescendo of divine intervention, the crocodile’s grip was severed. Huhu, the gandharva, trapped in a crocodile body due to a curse by Rishi Devala, reclaimed his celestial form.
Gajendra’s deliverance was sealed—a testimony to his steadfast devotion and unwavering faith. In the twilight of existence, the elephant king’s journey circled back through the corridors of lives lived and choices made. In a prior incarnation, Gajendra bore the name Indradyumna, a king of the illustrious Pāndya lineage. Driven by a fire for asceticism, he abandoned his throne in pursuit of higher truths. He was cursed by Sage Agastya—to take the form of an elephant, because he had neglected his duties as a king and a Gruhastha(householder).
The story of Gajendra Moksha resonates deeply within Vaishnavism with its embodied symbolism. Gajendra symbolises egoistic humans, the crocodile represents ignorant, sinful acts and death, which ends everything. The murky lake signifies the cycle of life (samsara). The narrative illustrates how material desires, ignorance, and sins bind individuals in an unending cycle of karma, akin to a crocodile ensnaring a helpless elephant in a muddy quagmire. As long as we humans rely on other earthly beings to redeem us, we will only sink deeper into the karmic lake of bondage. It is only in deep and true surrender that Lord Vishnu hears us. And once He does hear us, there is no stopping Him from protecting His devotee and helping us break free from the cycle of Samsara.
Whenever you feel lost and see no light ahead, chant this Mantra and seek the sole refuge of the One who is the Supreme Lord of this Universe – Vasudeva Sri Krishna.
🌸🐚Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya 🐚🌸