Symbolism of Elephant-Crocodile Story

First off all, Gurdwaras or the Gurbani is not meant for elephants and crocodiles, or any other animals or birds for that matter!

It’s for the human mind for mends.

Hence, we need to understand the symbolism of the example (ਹਵਾਲਾ) of elephant and crocodile story used in the Gurbani.

The Gurmat (Wisdom, Giaan, Upadesh or Way of the SGGS…) teaches us a practical and logical Way of living. It’s the mirror for the mind – it addresses the human mind and Awakens it. As medicine is for the alive people not for dead, similarly the Wisdom of the Gurbani is for the minds of the living people, not for animals, stones, or dead people.

In order to impart the Truth (ਸਚ) to masses, as examples (ਹਵਾਲਾ), all the 35 contributors of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) have used terms in their Bani (ਬਾਣੀ) that were prevailing in common language spoken by the average citizens of their time. BUT, WITH DIFFERENT OR CHANGED MEANINGS! Case in point is the story of elephant and crocodile concocted by the Brahmin Pujaaree.

While imparting the Wisdom or Truth to Brahmins/Pandits, the Gurus and Bhagats have  used it in their Bani. So, let’s briefly find out:

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

Story of elephant and crocodile

To boost the importance of their religion and prophets, the Pujaaree groups and the Pujaaree sytem of all organized and institutionalized religions have manufactured all sorts of stories – some laughable, some ridiculous, some shear nonsense, etc.

This story of of elephant and crocodile is a part of the Hindu text called Shrimad Bhaagavad Purana.

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.

Symbolisms of this Story

(1). Jeeva (the individual being, embodied being, mortal, man…), the mind bloated with false ego-sense (Haumai) is the elephant, Gajendra (i.e., elephant-mind).

  • ਮਨੁ ਮੈ ਮਤੁ ਮੈਗਲ ਮਿਕਦਾਰਾ ॥: The mind is like an elephant, drunk with the wine (of false ego-sense – ਹਉਮੈ) (sggs 159).
  • ਮਨੁ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਕਾਇਆ ਉਦਿਆਨੈ ॥: The mind is an elephant in the forest of the body (sggs 221).
  • ਮਨ ਕੀ ਮਤਿ ਮਤਾਗਲੁ ਮਤਾ ॥: Mind’s intellect is like a drunk elephant. (sggs 351).

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

  • ਮਾਇਆ ਫਾਸ ਬੰਧ ਬਹੁ ਬੰਧੇ ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿਓ ਖੁਲ ਖੁਲਨੇ ॥ ਜਿਉ ਜਲ ਕੁੰਚਰੁ ਤਦੂਐ ਬਾਂਧਿਓ ਹਰਿ ਚੇਤਿਓ ਮੋਖ ਮੁਖਨੇ ॥੩॥: (Jeeva – individual beings, mortals…) are bound by many bonds of Maya’s noose. By understanding the Divine (-Naam: Wisdom, Bibek, Truth…) they are released Maya’s bonds; (as in the elephant-crocodile story) the elephant caught in the water by the crocodile was released (from the crocodile) by remembering the Divine. ||3|| (sggs 976).
  • ਮਾਇਆ ਮੋਹੁ ਜਗਤੁ ਸਬਾਇਆ ॥: The whole world is engrossed in love of Maya. (sggs 129).

(3). The elephant is known 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.

  • ਮੈਗਲਹਿ ਕਾਮੈ ਬੰਧੁ ॥: The elephant is trapped by its sexual urges.  (sggs 838).
  • ਜਿਉ ਮੈਗਲੁ ਇੰਦ੍ਰੀ ਰਸਿ ਪ੍ਰੇਰਿਓ ਤੂ ਲਾਗਿ ਪਰਿਓ ਕੁਟੰਬਾਇਲੇ ॥: (O mins!) Like the elephant, driven by the pleasure of sexual organ (becomes captive, similarly) you have become attached (entangled, captive…) to your family. (sggs 862).

(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 ॥: 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).

However, the Wisdom of the Gurbani time and again reminds us neither family members nor friends can free Jeeva from the fear of death. In the end, one will surely have to leave all behind.

  • 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॥: 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).

Hence, when caught in the fear of death, etc., 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 Divine Naam (Wisdom, Truth, Virtues, Shabad…).

  • ਸੁਖੁ ਨਾਹੀ ਬਿਨੁ ਨਾਮ ਧਿਆਏ ॥: There is no peace without remembering (i.e., living in daily life) the Naam (Wisdom, Virtues, Truth, Shabad…).(sggs 1145).

(5). 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 Divine Naam as its only Support (ਟੇਕ, ਓਟ, ਆਧਾਰ, ਆਸਰਾ, refuge…), the elephant sets itself free of all sorts of fears.

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

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