Gajendra was elephant king of a huge herd. He was powerful and mighty; all the forest animals feared him and offered him respect.
One day the herd roamed near the Trikuta Hill and came across a beautiful lake. It was filled with sweet water, lilies and lotus flowers. The elephants quenched their thirst and frolicked about, splashing each other.
Their play was abruptly cut short by an enormous crocodile that surfaced and seized Gajendra’s foot between its jaws, dragging the king deep into the lake. Taken by surprise, Gajendra roared in anger but could not shake off the crocodile. His surrounding relatives rushed to help but retreated in defeat. The crocodile’s incredible strength was unmatchable and the lake soon coloured with Gajendra’s blood.
But the king did not give up. He fought the reptile with all his might for one thousand years until the moment when he stopped – utterly exhausted. Deserted by his family, he felt alone. Still in the crocodile’s vicious grasp, he was also in great pain.
In his heart Gajendra saw the truth that he was absolutely helpless in his distress. His family, his prestige and his incomparable physical power had not saved him. There was no one to help; he was lost.
In this introspective mood, memories of Gajendra’s previous life suddenly flooded back to him. He had been King Indradyumna of the noble Pandya dynasty, and a devotee of Lord Hari. Inadvertently, he had once upset the great sage Agasthya who had cursed him to become an elephant. Gajendra also remembered a prayer that he used to make. Now, in his moment of desperate need he recited it once again.
To the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I beg to offer my respectful obeisance unto you.
You are the Supreme Person, worshipped by the exalted demigods Brahma and Siva. You are the master of all mystic yoga, unlimited in power and strength and celebrated as the knower of everything. You live in heart of every living being as the Supersoul and witness all that occurs. You are the reservoir of all pleasure and protector of surrendered souls. Please give me protection.
Pure devotees only wish to serve you. They worship you in full surrender, always hearing about your wondrous activities. Thus they submerge in an ocean of transcendental bliss. Such devotees never ask for any benedictions.
I, however, am in danger. The material world is just like a dark shadow and has put me in a dangerous predicament. Without your mercy, there is no solution. But since I am surrendering unto you, surely you will save me. Indeed, being so kind and merciful, I realise you have always been trying to deliver me by speaking to me in the heart. Dear Lord of the universe, let me meditate upon you.
Gajendra’s absolute sincerity attracted Lord Hari who came on his majestic bird-carrier, Garuda. Carrying his invincible weapons, the Lord was the perfect image of strength and valour. As soon as Gajendra saw him, he plucked a lotus flower and held it up in respect and reverence. It symbolised his feeling of deep surrender and affection for Lord Hari who promptly rescued him by severing the crocodile’s* head.
*Lord Hari also liberated the crocodile who was actually a Gandharva (celestial being) named Huhu, who had been cursed by Sage Devala for misbehaving.
**A picture of the classic scene of Gajendra holding up the lotus might be a good accompaniment.