As the legend goes, once when sporting in the lotus lake, Gajendra, the king of elephants, irritated a mighty crocodile that inhabited the lake and wielded its authority over the lake’s water. The enraged crocodile caught hold of Gajendra by grabbing one of its legs and began dragging it under the lake’s waters. Trapped in the dreadful jaws of the crocodile Gajendra wrestled to free its leg but despite all its strength applied it did not succeed in freeing itself from the crocodile’s grip; rather the pressure of the crocodile’s piercing sharp teeth had increased rendering the pain unbearable. After it was completely helpless with none of its efforts bearing any fruit, the elephant king cried for help but fearing the displeasure of the crocodile none from its herd came forward to help their king.
When almost to drown and die, Gajendra recalled the services that its clan had always rendered to Lord Vishnu, especially his consort Lakshmi who was their patron-deity too. As it struck to its mind, the elephant king plucked a lotus from the lake and raising it towards the sky in the mode of making an offering to him the elephant king commemorated his Master Lord Vishnu and prayed him for its release. Lord Vishnu was resting in Vaikuntha with his consort Lakshmi in attendance. He no sooner heard the prayer of Gajendra than riding his mount Garuda along his consort Lakshmi he rushed to the rescue of Gajendra. With no other option in view to protect his devotee he released his ‘Sudarshana-chakra’ and severed the crocodile’s head and liberated the elephant king.
As a statue, more so one carved from wood, is not the medium of serializing a theme, as does a relief-panel, this masterpiece focuses on the climax part of the legend. The elephant’s leg is still in the crocodile’s jaws and its head is skywards turned in prayer, riding his mount Garuda Vishnu along with Lakshmi is descending on the venue and he is yet to release his ‘Sudarshana-chakra’ which is still in his hand. In the statue the agony of the awe-stricken elephant has been wondrously portrayed. Whatever the urgency and his anxiety to protect his devotee, an absolute divine quiescence enshrines the faces of the divine couple. If any anxiety or urgency, it is on the face of Vishnu’s mount Garuda conceived with human anatomy. Besides its concern for Gajendra Garuda’s primary concern is the success of its Master’s mission. The dread of losing its life and the resultant piteousness has been wondrously arrested in the figure of Gajendra that in agony turns its trunk and head almost diagonally. Subordinate divinities, one supporting Vishnu’s figure, and other, elephant’s, and those of the female devotees holding the podium have been as vigorously carved as the main divinities.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.