Tales from Srimad Bhagavatam: The Elephant and the Crocodile – XVIII

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Strange are the ways of the Divine. The elephant and the crocodile fought each other till slew the crocodile and saved the elephant. Both these creatures were cursed in their past lives. Though on opposite sides, both attained salvation, such is the grace of the Lord. Here’s an interesting tale from the Bhagavatam, recounted by Nilanjana, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

The stories from are narrated by Sukha (son of Ved Vyasa, the author) to (the descendant of the Pandavas, who was cursed with death) in his attempt to achieve moksha (liberation).

A beautiful lake in the garden named Rituman in the hill Trikuta is the setting for this story. The idyllic location was known for its natural beauty that mesmerized everyone into believing that that nature had blessed it with all its bounties. In that garden lived a huge elephant with his herd. The elephant had a wonderful time playing around with his wives and calves in the lake. On a fateful day in summer, the elephant and his companions walked down to the lake tired and thirsty. They quenched their and played along. The indulgence in sense pleasure so engrossed him that he got carried away without any sense of time. A crocodile, which dwelt in the lake, grabbed this opportunity and seized the leg of the elephant. The elephant tried his level best to free himself but to no avail. It is believed that the tussle went on for many years. Finally, the elephant found his strength failing. That is when he remembered the Divine.

The elephant gathered himself and set his on Narayana. He realised that Narayana is the ancient soul, the infinite, the everlasting; the light that has created and illumines the intellect of all. He is the purusha (soul) andprakriti (manifestation). The entire Universe is established in him. From him all forms are created and names and qualities ascribed to them. But, caught up in the form, people forget the formless. He is beyond the reach of the senses, the intellect, emotions and intellect and yet are comprehensible to his devotees, who become one with him. Though he is beyond the three gunas (qualities or attributes) – sattva1, rajas2 and tamas3 – he is extremely compassionate to those who are embroiled in the action of the gunas. He helps those stuck in Avidya (ignorance) and those who can establish the divine in their hearts is free of the results of karma (deeds/acts). Mortals often get caged in feelings of “I” and “mine”. With all the wisdom dawning on him, he surrendered himself to the Divine.

Touched by the plight of the elephant, Narayana assuming the form of Hari, appeared near the lake on his vahan(carrier) Garuda. With his Sudarshan Chakra (discuss), he killed the crocodile and pulled the elephant out of the lake. The elephant offered the lotus that he was holding in his trunk to his Divine rescuer.

Those who were a witness to this prolonged scuffle witnessed another divine being coming out of the carcass of the crocodile. The gandharva (divine being) by the name Hu Hu was cursed by Rishi (sage) Devala many years back. At that point of time, Hu Hu was making merry in the water with his companions. In a playful mood, he pulled the leg of Rishi Devala who was taking a dip in the lake. This infuriated the sage, who cursed him to be in the water for the rest of his life. Hu Hu begged for mercy. The was to grab the leg of the huge elephant and get killed by Narayana in return.

At this point, Parikshit asked how an elephant can be blessed with such wisdom.

This led to the story of King Indradyumna, another devotee of Narayana, who was so steeped in bhakti (devotion) that he was oblivious of the world around. This infuriated Rishi Agasthya, who had visited the king but had not received any appropriate courtesy. King Indradyumna was cursed to be an elephant. On his part, the king thought it was divine will at play and roamed around the forest happily. However, he remembered his past birth and could, therefore, think of the Divine in times of trouble.

Hence in one stroke, Narayana relieved two devotees of his from a cursed life. Indeed, strange are the ways of the Divine!


1) Sattvaguna or sattva – This is the highest of the three gunas (attributes). It indicates goodness and purity;

2)  Rajoguna or rajas – This is the second, indicating activity (when on a positive swing) and restlessness (when negative);

3)  Tamoguna or tamas – This is the lowest one indicating rest (when positive)and lethargy (when negative). All the three take turns to dominate the mind.

Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.

©Nilanjana Dey

Photos from the internet.

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Nilanjana Dey

Nilanjana Dey

A story-teller at heart, Nilanjana Dey is on a journey to experiment with fiction and poetry. Her first novel, largely aimed towards children, is titled ‘The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail’. Her poems have been published at various prestigious portals. An alumni of English Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata), she is a marketing and communication professional based in Mumbai. She volunteers with a Mumbai based NGO working with the marginalised sections of the society.
Nilanjana Dey