“Gajendra Moksha” a prayer, addressed to Lord Vishnu by Gajendra, the King Elephant, is one of the most magnificent hymns of bhakti from the Bhagavat Mahapuran, embellished with the jnana and vairagya of the Upanishads. It is a legend from the 8th Skandha of Srimad Bhagavatam where Lord Vishnu comes down to earth to protect Gajendra (King Elephant) from the clutches of death of a Crocodile. The story runs as follows.
In one of the secluded valleys of Mount Trikota, which was surrounded by the Ocean of Milk and intersected by lakes and rivers of various sizes and shapes, there was a beautiful garden which belonged to Varuna, the Lord of the oceans.
Once a family of elephants, which inhabited the forest on the mountain, entered the garden led by their mammoth chief, Gajendra, and made it to a big lake in it to drink water and cool themselves. As soon as Gajendra dipped his feet in the lake, a crocodile clutched at one of his feet and started dragging him into the water. The cow-elephant and other fellow elephants seeing their leader in distress pulled Gajendra forcibly but they were unable to extricate him.
The long fierce tug-of-war left the unfortunate victim exhausted in body and spirit. When all hope of rescue faded away and death was staring at his face, Gajendra turned his thoughts to the Lord and recalled to his mind a hymn which he had learnt in his previous life as virtuous Pandya King which he had forgotten in his present animal body.
He recalled that hymn now with great feeling, praising the Lord for his many mercies and ended with a prayer to Him to listen to his cry of distress and save him.
GAJENDRA’S PRAYERS OF SURRENDER TO LORD VISHNU
[Skandha 8 Chapter 3]
श्रीगजेन्द्र उवाच ||
ओं नमो भगवते तस्मै यत एतच्चिदात्मकम
पुरुषायादिबीजाय परेशायाभिधीमहि ||
यस्मिन्निदं यतश्चेदं येनेदं य इदं स्वयम
योऽस्मात्परस्माच्च परस्तं प्रपद्ये स्वयम्भुवम ||
om namo bhagavate tasmai yata etac chid-atmakam
purushayadi-bijaya pareshayabhidhimahi -2
yasminn idam yatash chedam yenedam ya idam svayam
yo ‘smat parasmach cha paras tam prapadye svayambhuvam -3
I salute the Supreme, Omnipotent Lord, who is denoted by the mystical syllable OM,
who forms the bodies asprakriti, and dwells in them as purusha,
the Self-efficient Lord, from whom this universe emanates, and in whom it lives,
who is verily the universe itself, yet beyond it as its unmanifest cause.
यः स्वात्मनीदं निजमाययार्पितं क्वचिद्विभातं क्व च तत्तिरोहितम
अविद्धदृक्साक्ष्युभयं तदीक्षते स आत्ममूलोऽवतु मां परात्परः ||
yah svatmanidam nija-mayayarpitam kvachid vibhatam kva cha tat tirohitam
aviddha-drik sakshy ubhayam tad ikshate sa atma-mula ‘vatu mam parat-paraha – 4
He is the unimpeded Awareness and the Witness of all, who by his own Maya (power) has established in Himself this universe,
which is seen in its manifested condition and not-seen in its causal state by others,
but is witnessed by Himself in both these conditions. He is the Self-conscious awareness, from whom all other centers of self-conscious awareness (Jivas) arise.
I seek refuge in that Being, transcending all the highest human conceptions of Him.
कालेन पञ्चत्वमितेषु कृत्स्नशो लोकेषु पालेषु च सर्वहेतुषु
तमस्तदासीद्गहनं गभीरं यस्तस्य पारेऽभिविराजते विभुः ||
kalena pancatvam iteshu kritsnasho lokeshu paleshu cha sarva-hetushu
tamas tadasid gahanam gabhiram yas tasya pare ‘bhivirajate vibhuhu – 5
When all the worlds and their illuminaries and protectors like Brahma had been dissolved or reduced to their primeval state by the power of Time and only the fathomless darkness or ignorance in the shape of the Unmanifest prevailed, at that time He, the Supreme Light of Consciousness shone undimmed over such darkness.
न यस्य देवा ऋषयः पदं विदुर्जन्तुः पुनः कोऽर्हति गन्तुमीरितुम
यथा नटस्याकृतिभिर्विचेष्टतो दुरत्ययानुक्रमणः स मावतु ||
na yasya deva rishayah padam vidur jantuh punah ko ‘rhati gantum iritum
yatha natasyakritibhir vicheshtato duratyayanukramanah sa mavatu – 6
The spectators in a drama do not understand the identity of an actor because of his make up and diverse actions on the stage.
So too, the Gods and the Sages do not comprehend Him, The Lord, who is disguised in His own Yoga Maya.
How then an ordinary person, much less an animal like me, can understand or describe anything about His inscrutable ways?
May that Lord, whom none knows, in truth and in reality, protect me!
दिदृक्षवो यस्य पदं सुमङ्गलं विमुक्तसङ्गा मुनयः सुसाधवः
चरन्त्यलोकव्रतमव्रणं वने भूतात्मभूताः सुहृदः स मे गतिः ||
didrikshavo yasya padam sumangalam vimukta-sanga munayah susadhavaha
charanty aloka-vratam avranam vane bhutatma-bhutah suhridah sa me gatihi. – 7
Let that Lord be my refuge, whom the sages, giving up all attachments for worldly attractions,
wandering in the forests and performing incessant penances, search for.
न विद्यते यस्य च जन्म कर्म वा न नामरूपे गुणदोष एव वा
तथापि लोकाप्ययसम्भवाय यः स्वमायया तान्यनुकालमृच्छति ||
na vidyate yasya cha janma karma va na nama-rupe guna-dosha eva va
tathapi lokapyaya-sambhavaya yaha sva-mayaya tany anukalam ricchati – 8
He who has neither birth nor actions to perform, neither name and form nor is subject to the Gunas of Prakriti,
and yet assumes all these through His inherent power of Maya from time to time for the creation,
preservation and dissolution of the universe – to that Supreme Being, I bow down !
तस्मै नमः परेशाय ब्रह्मणेऽनन्तशक्तये
अरूपायोरुरूपाय नम आश्चर्यकर्मणे ||
tasmai namah pareshaya brahmane ‘nanta-shaktaye
arupayoru-rupaya nama ashcarya-karmane – 9
To Him, the Brahman, the formless, who, yet assumes infinite forms and performs amazing deeds,
to that Supreme Being, I bow down!
नम आत्मप्रदीपाय साक्षिणे परमात्मने
नमो गिरां विदूराय मनसश्चेतसामपि ||
nama atma-pradipaya sakshine paramatmane
namo giram viduraya manasash chetasam api.-10
I bow down to the Lord who cannot be reached by speech or by the mind
or by diverse mental faculties and who remaining as a witness to all phenomena of the world, illumines it!
सत्त्वेन प्रतिलभ्याय नैष्कर्म्येण विपश्चिता
नमः कैवल्यनाथाय निर्वाणसुखसंविदे ||
sattveno pratilabhyaya naishkarmyena vipashcita
namah kaivalya-nathaya nirvana-sukha-samvide -11
I bow down to the Lord who is attainable by a wise man through purity of mind,
to the Lord who is the bestower of final beatitude, who is Wisdom and Bliss.
नमः शान्ताय घोराय मूढाय गुणधर्मिणे
निर्विशेषाय साम्याय नमो ज्ञानघनाय च ||
namah shantaya ghoraya mudhaya guna-dharmine
nirvisheshaya samyaya namo jnana-ghanaya cha -12
I bow down to the Lord who through assumption of three Gunas appears as calm and peaceful (due to absence of desire, greed, and anger),
who is terrible (on account of destroying the wicked),
who is devoid of all distinctions, who is without any modifications,
remains same always and in all places and who is wisdom crystallized.
क्षेत्रज्ञाय नमस्तुभ्यं सर्वाध्यक्षाय साक्षिणे
पुरुषायात्ममूलाय मूलप्रकृतये नमः ||
ksetra-jnaya namas tubhyam sarvadhyakshaya sakshine
purushayatma-mulaya mula-prakritaye namaha – 13
I bow down to the Lord who is the Knower of the field (body),
who is presiding over and witnessing everything,
who is the source of spirit and matter ( atman and prakriti)
and who is the Original Being (Mula Prakriti).
असता च्छाययोक्ताय सदाभासाय ते नमः ||
asata cchayayoktaya sad-abhasaya te namaha -14
I bow down to the Lord, who is the perceiver of all organs of perception and their objects,
who makes all the concepts and precepts possible,
whose true nature is made known by bestowing consciousness to the ego (I-sense)
just as the substance behind a shadow.
नमो नमस्तेऽखिलकारणाय निष्कारणायाद्भुतकारणाय
सर्वागमाम्नायमहार्णवाय नमोऽपवर्गाय परायणाय ||
namo namas te‘khila-karanaya nishkaranayadbhuta-karanaya
sarvagamamnaya-maharnavaya namo‘pavargaya parayanaya -15
You are the cause of all the causes, but you yourself are not the effect of any cause.
You are the wonderful cause because the ordinary causes undergo change when they become the effects,
but you produce the world without undergoing any change.
You are the scriptures and you are the ocean into which all the scriptures flow.
You are the bliss of salvation and the refuge of great souls. I bow down to you.
नैष्कर्म्यभावेन विवर्जितागम स्वयंप्रकाशाय नमस्करोमि ||
naishkarmya-bhavena vivarjitagama svayam-prakashaya namas karomi -16
I bow down to you, who are the spiritual fire of consciousness which remains hidden in the fire-wood of prakriti’s gunas.
When the equilibrium of gunas is disturbed, there arises in you the will to create.
You shine by your own luster in the minds of those who having given up the scriptures and actions
prescribed in them and keep themselves engaged in your contemplation.
मादृक्प्रपन्नपशुपाशविमोक्षणाय मुक्ताय भूरिकरुणाय नमोऽलयाय
स्वांशेन सर्वतनुभृन्मनसि प्रतीत प्रत्यग्दृशे भगवते बृहते नमस्ते ||
svamshena sarva-tanu-bhrin-manasi pratita-pratyag-drishe bhagavatebrihate namaste17
I bow down to you who bless ignorant creatures like me by severing our binding fetters of ignorance;
who are ever free yourself and ever- watchful in bestowing your mercy
to save the devotees and who by an atom of yourself shine in all embodied beings
as individualized self-consciousness without any mutilation to yourself as the Absolute Being and the Absolute Will.
आत्मात्मजाप्तगृहवित्तजनेषु सक्तैर्दुष्प्रापणाय गुणसङ्गविवर्जिताय
मुक्तात्मभिः स्वहृदये परिभाविताय ज्ञानात्मने भगवते नम ईश्वराय ||
muktatmabhih sva-hridaya paribhavitaya jnanatmane bhagavate nama ishvaraya -18
I bow down to you who are the embodiment of Pure consciousness and the Lord of all who,
though indweller of all, are difficult to approach by those who are attached to their own body,
to relations like wife, children, kith and kin, and to possessions like property wealth etc.
You are beyond the gunas of prakriti though functioning through them and
who are immediately perceived in the cavity of their hearts by those who are free from ignorance.
यं धर्मकामार्थविमुक्तिकामा भजन्त इष्टां गतिमाप्नुवन्ति
किं चाशिषो रात्यपि देहमव्ययं करोतु मेऽदभ्रदयो विमोक्षणम ||
yam dharma-kamartha-vimukti-kama bhajanta ishtam gatim apnuvanti
kim chashisho raty api deham avyayam karotu me‘dabhra-dayo vimokshanam – 19
O Lord! You gave Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha to those who seek them from you and even bestow them with final Bliss.
You, who are so merciful, may be pleased to liberate me from the grip of the crocodile and also from the cycle of births and deaths.
एकान्तिनो यस्य न कञ्चनार्थं वाञ्छन्ति ये वै भगवत्प्रपन्नाः
अत्यद्भुतं तच्चरितं सुमङ्गलं गायन्त आनन्दसमुद्रमग्नाः ||
ekantino yasya na kanchanartham vanchanti ye vai bhagavat-prapannaha
aty-adbhutam tach-charitam sumangalam gayanta ananda-samudra-magnaha – 20
Your devotees who take refuge in you do not ask for anything except you.
They are immersed in the ocean of bliss by singing your glories and wonderful stories.
तमक्षरं ब्रह्म परं परेशमव्यक्तमाध्यात्मिकयोगगम्यम
अतीन्द्रियं सूक्ष्ममिवातिदूरमनन्तमाद्यं परिपूर्णमीडे ||
tam aksharam brahma param paresham avyaktam adhyatmika-yoga-gamyam
atindriyam sukshmam ivatiduram anantam adyam paripurnam ide – 21
I glorify that Imperishable Being, the Brahman, the overlord of Brahma and others,
the one who is not perceivable by the senses and the mind,
the Being who is attainable only by meditation, the Being who is subtle and infinite,
the one though closest to all but appears to be far to the ignorant,
the one who is ancient, without beginning or end and who is fully perfect.
यस्य ब्रह्मादयो देवा वेदा लोकाश्चराचराः
नामरूपविभेदेन फल्ग्व्या च कलया कृताः ||
yasya bramadayo deva veda lokash characharaha
nama-rupa-vibhedena phalgvya cha kalaya kritaha – 22
Brahma and the other gods, the Vedas, living and non-living beings
with varied names and forms are all made out of a small part of the Supreme Being.
यथार्चिषोऽग्नेः सवितुर्गभस्तयो निर्यान्ति संयान्त्यसकृत्स्वरोचिषः
तथा यतोऽयं गुणसम्प्रवाहो बुद्धिर्मनः खानि शरीरसर्गाः ||
yatharchisho‘gneh savitur gabhastayo niryanti samyanty asakrit sva-rochishaha
tatha yato‘yam guna-sampravaho buddhir manah khani sharira-sargaha – 23
As the sparks of a fire or the shining rays of the sun emanate from their source
and merge into it again and again, the mind, the intelligence, the senses,
the gross and subtle material bodies, and the continuous transformations
of the different modes of nature all emanate from the Lord and again merge into Him.
स वै न देवासुरमर्त्यतिर्यङ्न स्त्री न षण्ढो न पुमान्न जन्तुः
नायं गुणः कर्म न सन्न चासन्निषेधशेषो जयतादशेषः ||
sa vai na devasura-martya-tiryan na stri na sandho na puman na jantuhu
nayam gunah karma na san na casan nishedha-shesho jayatad ashesaha – 24
That Lord is certainly not a Deva or Asura or a human being or a beast or a male or a female or of neuter gender.
He is neither an attribute nor an action, neither cause nor effect, neither a being (sat) nor a non-being (asat)
He is what remains after everything has been negated (neti, neti) and constitutes all.
May all glories go to Him!
जिजीविषे नाहमिहामुया किमन्तर्बहिश्चावृतयेभयोन्या
इच्छामि कालेन न यस्य विप्लवस्तस्यात्मलोकावरणस्य मोक्षम ||
jijivishe naham ihamuya kim antar bahish chavritayebha-yonya
icchami kalena na yasya viplavas tasyatma-lokavaranasya moksha – 25
I have no desire to live on in this world.
Of what use is life in this elephant body wherein veils of ignorance hide the spiritual vision both from within and without?
It is not from the crocodile threatening my life that I pray for release, but from this obstructive screen of ignorance hiding the awareness of my spiritual self
– an unhelpful veil that Time cannot undo but only illumination can.
For, Time will put an end to the physical body but not to ignorance which persists till your grace removes it.
सोऽहं विश्वसृजं विश्वमविश्वं विश्ववेदसम
विश्वात्मानमजं ब्रह्म प्रणतोऽस्मि परं पदम ||
so‘ham vishva-srijam vishvam avishvan vishva-vedasam
vishvatmanam ajam brahma pranato‘smi param padam – 26
Now, fully desiring release from material life, I bow down to Him, who is the creator of the universe,
who is Himself the form of the universe and who is nonetheless transcendental to this cosmic manifestation for whom the world is a toy,
an object of sport, who is the soul of the universe, who is unborn, all pervading and the Supreme Being, Brahman.
योगरन्धितकर्माणो हृदि योगविभाविते
योगिनो यं प्रपश्यन्ति योगेशं तं नतोऽस्म्यहम ||
yoga-randhita-karmano hridi yoga-vibhavite
yogino yam prapashyanti yogesham tam nato‘smy aham – 27
I bow down to that Lord of Yoga,
who is seen in the core of the heart by the yogis who have purified and freed themselves
from the agitations of past karma by practicing bhakti.
नमो नमस्तुभ्यमसह्यवेग शक्तित्रयायाखिलधीगुणाय
प्रपन्नपालाय दुरन्तशक्तये कदिन्द्रियाणामनवाप्यवर्त्मने ||
namo namas tubhyam asahya-vega- shakti-trayayakhila-dhi-gunaya
prapanna-palaya duranta-shaktaye kad-indriyanam anavapya-vartmane – 28
You have formidable strength. The force of your three kinds of energy – sattva, rajas and tamas, is irresistible.
You are the protector of those who take refuge in you.
You manifest yourself as the objects of the senses. You are unapproachable by those who are unable to control their senses.
I bow down to you again and again.
नायं वेद स्वमात्मानं यच्छक्त्याहंधिया हतम
तं दुरत्ययमाहात्म्यं भगवन्तमितोऽस्म्यहम ||
nayam veda svam atmanam yach-chaktyaham-dhiya hatam
tam duratyaya-mahatmyam bhagavantam ito‘smy aham – 29
I offer my respectful obeisance to that Supreme Being,
whose Yoga Maya creates the ego-sense which hides the real Self
from all in the world and whose glory and power are endless.
श्रीशुक उवाच ||
Salvation of Gajendra:
When the King Elephant, Gajendra, thus invoked the DIVINE, it was Sri Hari who came to the scene. Seeing Sri Hari on His vehicle Garuda, with discus in hand, the elephant plucked a lotus flower with his trunk, lifted it up and said “Narayana, Preceptor of all, Bhagavan, You, endowed with all powers and excellence, I bow down to you.”.
Alighting from Garuda, Bhagavan dragged the elephant out of water and killed the crocodile with the discus. (8.3.30-33)
Gajendra, in his previous life was a great devotee of Sri Hari called Indradyumna who was also a great king. One day, when Indradyumna was busy with his austerities, the great Sage Agastya, came to visit the king. Indradyumna did not notice the sage. This enraged Agastya who cursed the king to become an elephant in his next birth. Indradyumna was soon born as an elephant. But as a result of his worship of Sri Hari, he had his memory restored at the last moment of his current life which enabled him to pray Sri Hari to get himself released from the clutches of the crocodile.
The crocodile, who was none but a leading Gandharva by name HuHu, turned into that form under the curse of a sage, now attained freedom from the curse by the Lord’s touch and became a beautiful Gandharva. He sang in praise of the Lord, who freed him from all the sins.
Thus was the King Elephant released and given a place among the Lord’s attendants. Sri Hari told the King: “Whoever glorifies me early in the morning everyday, with this Stotra which you sang, will be freed from all sins and I will grant them a pure understanding before the end of their lives.” With these words Mahavishnu, the Prime Mover of all the senses, sounded His divine conch and ascended His Garuda vehicle to depart. The salient point to note in the whole hymn is the following appeal of Gajendra to The Lord. “I am not asking you to save me from the clutches of the crocodile, or that I should survive this attack! I am aware that I not only have a body of an elephant but also a fat mind of an elephant! What is the use of keeping this life? I want to be liberated from my Ignorant Mind which hides the resplendent soul! I can only be saved by Your Grace!”
aum! asato maa sadgamaya! tamaso maa jyotirgamaya!!
~ by T.N.Sethumadhavan
1. Srimad Bhagavata (2nd Volume) – Swami Tapasyananda
2. Srimad Bhagavatam – Swamy Srikrishna Das