SYMBOLISM OF ELEPHANT-CROCODILE STORY

ਜਬ ਹੀ ਸਰਨਿ ਗਹੀ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਨਿਧਿ ਗਜ ਗਰਾਹ ਤੇ ਛੂਟਾ ॥: Jab hee saran gahee kirapaa nidhi gaj garaah te chhootaa:
As soon as the elephant took to the protective Sanctuary (ਆਸਰਾ) of the Lord, the Ocean of Mercy,
he escaped from the crocodile (sggs 632).
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First of all - this is a symbolic story.

To impart us the Spiritual Wisdom (Aatam Giaan, Divine Knowledge...), this story of the elephant and crocodile is mentioned several times in the Gurbani. There must be a significant Message, Teaching, or Upadesh in it. Otherwise it would not have made its entry into the Gurbani. What is it?

In this context, this Gurbani Reflection will attempt to reflect on the followings.

  • What is the story of elephant and crocodile?
  • And, more importantly, what is symbolism of this story?

Story

This story is a part of the Hindu text called Shrimad Bhaagavad Purana, which shows the importance of Bhagti, true prayer and true devotion.

Very briefly, the story goes like this:

A elephant named Gajendra, was the king of a herd of elephants, including many queen elephants with whom he used to bathe and play in a lake. Gajendra was proud to be the king elephant. One hot day while he was arrogantly bathing in the lake with its heard, suddenly a crocodile from below caught him by the foot, tried to pull the elephant to the bottom of the lake, and would not let go of it.

Gajendra fought hard to free himself from the crocodile. But it was unable get rid of the crocodile. When other members of its herd (friends, queen elephants, the family members, and relatives) saw Gajendra fighting futilely to release himself from the jaws of death, fled. In other words, realizing that death was coming close, they all ran away and left Gajendra alone.

At that stage of utter helplessness, realizing the futility of its efforts, Gajendra called out to the Lord. Gajendra was instantly released from the grip of the crocodile.

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਫਾਸ ਬੰਧ ਬਹੁ ਬੰਧੇ ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿਓ ਖੁਲ ਖੁਲਨੇ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਜਲ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਤਦੂਐ ਬਾਂਧਿਓ ਹਰਿ ਚੇਤਿਓ ਮੋਖ ਮੁਖਨੇ ॥੩॥: Maya phaas bandh bahu bandhe har japio khul khulanae. Jiou jal kunchar tadiiai bandhio har chetio mokh mukhane ||3||: (Jeeva - individual beings, mortals...) are bound by many bonds of Maya's noose (ਮਾਇਆ ਦੇ ਮੋਹ ਦੀਆਂ ਫਾਹੀਆਂ, ਮਾਇਆ ਦੇ ਮੋਹ ਦੇ ਬੰਧਨ). Meditating on the Lord (the name of the Lord, they are), released (from Maya's bounds); like the elephant, which was caught in the water by the crocodile; it remembered the Lord, and was released (from the crocodile). ||3|| (sggs 976).
  • ਰਾਮ ਗੁਰ ਸਰਨਿ ਪ੍ਰਭੂ ਰਖਵਾਰੇ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਤਦੂਐ ਪਕਰਿ ਚਲਾਇਓ ਕਰਿ ਊਪਰੁ ਕਢਿ ਨਿਸਤਾਰੇ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Raam Gur sarani prabhoo rakhavaare. Jiou kunchar tadooai pakari chalaaio kari
    oopar kadhi nistaare ||1|| Rahaaou||: In the Sanctuary of the Guru, the Lord protects us, as He protected the elephant, when the crocodile seized it and pulled it into the water; He lifted him up and pulled him out. ||1||Pause|| (sggs 982).
  • ਗਜ ਕੀ ਤ੍ਰਾਸ ਮਿਟੀ ਛਿਨਹੂ ਮਹਿ ਜਬ ਹੀ ਰਾਮੁ ਬਖਾਨੋ ॥: Gaj kee traas mitee chhinahoo mahi jab hee Raam bakhaano: The elephant's fear (ਬਿਪਤਾ, panic, dread, trouble, horror...) was taken away in an instant, as soon as he uttered the Lord's Name (sggs 830).
  • ਅਜਾਮਲ ਗਜ ਗਨਿਕਾ ਪਤਿਤ ਕਰਮ ਕੀਨੇ ॥ ਤੇਊ ਉਤਰਿ ਪਾਰਿ ਪਰੇ ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਲੀਨੇ ॥੨॥: Ajaamal Gaj Ganikaa patit karam keene. Teou utari paar pare Raam naam leene ||2||: Ajaamal, the elephant, and Ganikaa committed many sins (Bikaars). They crossed the world ocean (of Bikaars..) by uttering the Lord's Name ||2|| (sggs 692).
  • ਜਬ ਹੀ ਸਰਨਿ ਗਹੀ ਕਿਰਪਾ ਨਿਧਿ ਗਜ ਗਰਾਹ ਤੇ ਛੂਟਾ ॥: Jab hee saran gahee kirapaa nidhi gaj garaah te chhootaa: As soon as the elephant took to the protective Sanctuary (ਆਸਰਾ) of the Lord, the Ocean of Mercy, he escaped from the crocodile (sggs 632).
  • ਗਜ ਕੋ ਤ੍ਰਾਸੁ ਮਿਟਿਓ ਜਿਹ ਸਿਮਰਤ ਤੁਮ ਕਾਹੇ ਬਿਸਰਾਵਉ ॥੧॥: Gaj ko traas mitio jih simarat tum kaahe bisaraavaou ||1||: Remembering Him, the elephant's fear was removed; so why do you forget Him? ||1|| (sggs 219).
  • ਕਰ ਧਰੇ ਚਕ੍ਰ ਬੈਕੁੰਠ ਤੇ ਆਏ ਗਜ ਹਸਤੀ ਕੇ ਪ੍ਰਾਨ ਉਧਾਰੀਅਲੇ ॥: (O Lord!) holding the steel chakra in hand; (You) came down from Baikunth, and saved the elephant's life (from the crocodile) (sggs 988).
  • ਦੋਹਰਾ ॥ ਬਲੁ ਛੁਟਕਿਓ ਬੰਧਨ ਪਰੇ ਕਛੂ ਨ ਹੋਤ ਉਪਾਇ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਬ ਓਟ ਹਰਿ ਗਜ ਜਿਉ ਹੋਹੁ ਸਹਾਇ ॥੫੩॥:Dohraa || Balu chhutakio bandhan pare kachhoo n hot upaai. Kahu Nanak ab ot hari gaj jiou hohu sahaai ||53||: Dohraa: (Forsaking the Name of the Lord, the embodied being) becomes bonded (ਮਾਇਆ ਦੇ ਮੋਹ ਦੀਆਂ ਫਾਹੀਆਂ); (consequently, his) strength (spiritual strength - ਆਤਮਕ ਤਾਕਤ) gets exhausted (to cut asunder Maya's bondage), cannot do anything at all. Says Nanak ! O Lord! In time like this (now You), are my Support; help me (to escape Maya - ਮਾਇਆ ਦੇ ਮੋਹ ਦੇ ਬੰਧਨਾਂ ਤੋਂ ਖਲਾਸੀ), as (You) helped the elephant (to escape the crocodile). ||53|| (sggs 1429).

Like other spiritual stories, this is a story with symbolisms.

Symbolisms of this Story

(1). Jeeva (the individual being, embodied being, mortal, man...), the egoistic mind is the elephant, Gajendra.

  • ਮਨੁ ਮੈ ਮਤੁ ਮੈਗਲ ਮਿਕਦਾਰਾ ॥: Manu mai matu maigal mikadaaraa: The mind is like an elephant, drunk with the wine (of false ego-sense - ਹਉਮੈ) (sggs 159).
  • ਮਨੁ ਮੈਗਲੁ ਸਾਕਤੁ ਦੇਵਾਨਾ ॥: Manu maigal saakat devaanaa: The mind of the faithless cynic is like a crazy elephant (sggs 415).
  • ਮਨੁ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਕਾਇਆ ਉਦਿਆਨੈ ॥: Mann kunchar kaaiaa oudiaanai: The mind is an elephant in the forest of the body (sggs 221).
  • ਮਨ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ ਮਤਾਗਲੁ ਮਤਾ ॥: mann kee matu mataagal mataa: The intellect of the mind is like a drunken elephant (sggs 351).
  • ਮਨੁ ਘਨੈ ਭ੍ਰਮੈ ਬਨੈ ॥: Man ghanai bhramai banai: The mind wanders through the dense forest (of the material world) (sggs 1272).

(2). The Mayaic world (Jagat, Sansaar...) is the lake (or the ocean). In this lake Jeeva plays his life's game with his spouse, children, other family members, relatives, friends, and so on.

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਜਗਤੁ ਸਬਾਇਆ ॥ ਤ੍ਰੈ ਗੁਣ ਦੀਸਹਿ ਮੋਹੇ ਮਾਇਆ: Maya moh jagat sabaaiaa. Trai gun deesahi mohe maya: The whole world is engrossed in love of Maya. All Jeeva (individual beings) are controlled (bewitched) by the three qualities of Maya (sggs 129).
  • ਮਹਾ ਤਪਤਿ ਸਾਗਰ ਸੰਸਾਰ ॥ ਪ੍ਰਭ ਖਿਨ ਮਹਿ ਪਾਰਿ ਉਤਾਰਣਹਾਰ ॥੨॥: Mahaa tapati saagar sansaar. Prabh khin mahi paari Utaaranhaar ||2||: The world-ocean (ਸੰਸਾਰ-ਸਮੁੰਦਰ) is burning hot (with negative tendencies, passions, or Bikaars - ਕਾਮਾਦਿਕ ਬਿਕਾਰ)! In an instant, God (is capable of) saving us (from this burning hot world-ocean), and carrying us across. ||2|| (sggs 196).

(3). The elephant is know for its lustful nature. This can be better understood by knowing as to how elephants are captured in India. Several methods are used to this end. One of these methods include using decoys of straw or trained female elephants to sexually attract or lure the wild beast for capture. Large pits are dug in/near pathways just behind the decoys. Once lured by lust, the elephant rushes towards the decoys and fall into the pit. Thus, it gets trapped in the pit and captured. In this way, attracted by the lure of lust, the elephant loses its world and freedom. Similarly, the deluded ego-mind is enticed by the enchanting and mirage-like world appearance and its gross objects (Maya). The material world is a snare, like the pit if the senses are defiled.

  • ਜਿਉ ਮੈਗਲੁ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਰਸਿ ਪ੍ਰੇਰਿਓ ਤੂ ਲਾਗਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਕੁਟੰਬਾਇਲੇ ॥: Jiou maigal indree rasi prerio too laagi kutubaaile: Like the elephant, driven by Kaam (lust, ਕਾਮ-ਵਾਸਨਾ ... becomes captive, similarly) you have become attached (entangled, captive...) to your family (sggs 862).
  • ਮੈਗਲਹਿ ਕਾਮੈ ਬੰਧੁ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਗ੍ਰਸਤ ਬਿਖਈ ਧੰਧੁ ॥: Maigalshi kaamai bandh. Jio grasat bikhayee dhandh: The elephant is trapped by its sexual urges. As the sinner (Bikaaree Jeev) is caught in his sins (ਬਿਕਾਰਾਂ ਦਾ ਧੰਧਾ, evil passions...) (sggs 838).

(4). The crocodile symbolically represents death that constantly hovers over our head. We fear death, which ends everything unexpectedly. In addition, the crocodile also symbolizes many sufferings and difficulties Jeeva faces in life.

  • ਭਾਈ ਰੇ ਇਉ ਸਿਰਿ ਜਾਣਹੁ ਕਾਲੁ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਮਛੀ ਤਿਉ ਮਾਣਸਾ ਪਵੈ ਅਚਿੰਤਾ ਜਾਲੁ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Bhaaee re iou siri jaanahu kaal. Jiou macchee tiou maanasaa pavai achintaa jaal ||1||Rahaaou||: O Brother! Just like this, see death hovering over your own heads. People are just like this fish; unaware, the noose of death descends upon them. ||1||Pause|| (sggs 55).

(5). Neither family members nor friends can free Jeeva from the clutches of death.

  • ਕਾਮ ਹੇਤਿ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਲੈ ਫਾਂਕਿਓ ਓਹੁ ਪਰ ਵਸਿ ਭਇਓ ਬਿਚਾਰਾ ॥ ਨਾਦ ਹੇਤਿ ਸਿਰੁ ਡਾਰਿਓ ਕੁਰੰਕਾ ਉਸ ਹੀ ਹੇਤ ਬਿਦਾਰਾ ॥੨॥ ਦੇਖਿ ਕੁਟੰਬੁ ਲੋਭਿ ਮੋਹਿਓ ਪ੍ਰਾਨੀ ਮਾਇਆ ਕਉ ਲਪਟਾਨਾ ॥ ਅਤਿ ਰਚਿਓ ਕਰਿ ਲੀਨੋ ਅਪੁਨਾ ਉਨਿ ਛੋਡਿ ਸਰਾਪਰ ਜਾਨਾ ॥੩॥ : Kaam het kunchar lai faankiou ouhu par vas bhaio bichaaraa...: Lured by sexual desire, the elephant is trapped; the poor beast falls into the power of another. Lured by the sound of the hunter's bell, the deer offers its head; because of this enticement, it is killed. ||2|| Gazing upon his family, the mortal is enticed by greed; he clings in attachment to Maya. Totally engrossed in worldly things, he considers them to be his own; but in the end, he will surely have to leave them behind ||3|| (sggs 671).

(6). As long as we are young, healthy and wealthy, we feel many people love us and we become egoistic. But the moment we lose everything or run into difficulties, everybody will forsake us. No one in this world loves anybody selflessly. Everybody looks after his/her own happiness and is not at all interested in others. When we slip and fall in this slippery-rocky-world, or make one mistake, people will leave or desert us.

  • ਸੋਰਠਿ ਮਹਲਾ ੯ ॥ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਮ ਜਾਨਿ ਲੇਹੁ ਮਨ ਮਾਹੀ ॥ ਅਪਨੇ ਸੁਖ ਸਿਉ ਹੀ ਜਗੁ ਫਾਂਧਿਓ ਕੋ ਕਾਹੂ ਕੋ ਨਾਹੀ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਸੁਖ ਮੈ ਆਨਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਮਿਲਿ ਬੈਠਤ ਰਹਤ ਚਹੂ ਦਿਸਿ ਘੇਰੈ ॥ ਬਿਪਤਿ ਪਰੀ ਸਭ ਹੀ ਸੰਗੁ ਛਾਡਿਤ ਕੋਊ ਨ ਆਵਤ ਨੇਰੈ ॥੧॥ ਘਰ ਕੀ ਨਾਰਿ ਬਹੁਤੁ ਹਿਤੁ ਜਾ ਸਿਉ ਸਦਾ ਰਹਤ ਸੰਗ ਲਾਗੀ ॥ ਜਬ ਹੀ ਹੰਸ ਤਜੀ ਇਹ ਕਾਂਇਆ ਪ੍ਰੇਤ ਪ੍ਰੇਤ ਕਰਿ ਭਾਗੀ ॥੨॥ ਇਹ ਬਿਧਿ ਕੋ ਬਿਉਹਾਰੁ ਬਨਿਓ ਹੈ ਜਾ ਸਿਉ ਨੇਹੁ ਲਗਾਇਓ ॥ ਅੰਤ ਬਾਰ ਨਾਨਕ ਬਿਨੁ ਹਰਿ ਜੀ ਕੋਊ ਕਾਮਿ ਨ ਆਇਓ ॥੩॥੧੨॥੧੩੯॥: Sorath Mahalla 9 || Pritam jaan lehu mann maahee ...: Sorath Mahalla 9. O dear friend, know this in your mind. The world is entangled in its own pleasures; no one is for anyone else. ||1||Pause|| In good times, many come and sit together, surrounding you on all four sides. But when hard times come, they all leave, and no one comes near you. ||1|| Your wife, whom you love so much, and who has remained ever attached to you, runs away crying, "Ghost! Ghost!", as soon as the swan-soul leaves this body. This is the way they act - those whom we love so much. At the very last moment, O Nanak, no one is any use at all, except the Dear Lord ||3||12||139|| (sggs 634).

(7). When we are caught in the clutches of death, there is no one who can protect us - friends disappear, relatives flee, and even our own body fails us. Like the elephant in the story, the only solution from our troubles is to turn to the Lord. In the moment of utter surrender, God rushes to our aid, saves us and releases us from the torture of death – this is liberation or Mukti (Mokh or Moksha) that comes by the Grace of the Supreme.

  • ਜਉ ਸੁਖ ਕਉ ਚਾਹੈ ਸਦਾ ਸਰਨਿ ਰਾਮ ਕੀ ਲੇਹ ॥: Jo sukh kayu chaahai sadaa saran Raam kee leh: If we desire Eternal Happiness, then seek God's refuge (sggs 1427).

(8). Last but not least, as goes in the story, so long the elephant tried himself to free itself from the crocodile, it was not freed from the jaws of the corocodile. The moment it put the onus of saving it on the Lord, or the moment it thought of the Lord (Naam, Shabad, Hukam...) as its only Support (ਟੇਕ, ਓਟ, ਆਧਾਰ, ਆਸਰਾ, refuge...), He rescued it.

  • ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਮੈ ਮੁਕਤਿ ਕਿਨੈ ਨ ਪਾਈ ॥: Without the Naam, no one obtains liberation (sggs 1175).

— T. Singh
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