An individual is not an island and has to interact with people and this world. This association grows on him to such an extent that he begins to believe only in these and does not pause to think of his fundamental nature. This involvement with the world around is described as the effect of Maya that envelops mankind and the challenge is to tear this veil and realise the truth.
The predicament of Gajendra in the episode narrated in the eighth canto of the Bhagavata Purana typifies this truth in all its aspects, said Sri P. M. Vijayaraghava Sastrigal in a lecture.
This elephant king who is endowed with tremendous strength is seen living in the midst of a loving family in the celestial regions of the verdant Trikuta hills. Life runs smoothly and without any difficulty.
This phase of the elephant’s life is like that of a happy householder observing his ordained duties. There exists mutual love and care with the other family members and society and the hope that each one will be of help to one another in times of need overrules any further desires or aims.
One day, while sporting in a pond with other elephants, a crocodile catches his leg and holds on to it resolutely.
To an elephant of his stature this appears to be a simple hurdle to be tackled easily, but Gajendra finds he cannot free himself from the crocodile’s jaws. Much effort from the other elephants to pull him ashore proved futile. Disappointed, they shed tears and went away, leaving the elephant to fight his battle alone.
The crocodile merely held on to Gajendra’s leg and did not harm it in any other way. The elephant could not understand the mystery behind it. After much vain struggle, he tells himself: “Let me approach the highest power, the sole ally — the Supreme Lord responsible for all creation. I did not think of Him so far because I thought I could save myself.”
Realising the pointlessness of human relationships, one develops the spirit of vairagya (detachment) and seeks salvation. One’s own helplessness as well as that of one’s kith and kin leads to an earnest appeal to God for relief, which he grants through compassion.