Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘My Gita’ is just that. It is a childish, error-riddled version of The Gita and can never serve as anyone else’s guide to the actual sacred book, but remains solely his own invention.
To start, a disclaimer: I did not read the whole book. I have however, read quite a few parts of it, and I can assure you, every page I read was positively awash with mistakes, many that even a lay person can point out. I categorically refuse to read any more, and give this lunatic anymore of my time. That being said, Devdutt’s erroneous Sanskrit translations and blasphemous word-splitting has been detailed by Nityanad Misra, who called out his factual, translation, and language errors in three detailed facebook posts, and a youtube video with Rajiv Malhotra, which I will link below. Rajiv Malhotra ji “demolished” Devdutt, and openly invited him for a debate on any platform, but of course, the offer is yet to be accepted by the coward. Devdutt also regularly engages in Brahmin-bashing, hatred, and insulting people’s mothers on twitter, when his factually inaccurate, fantastical tweets that he passes off as fact, are questioned or corrected. A quick google search and you can find plenty of proof of this.
I also want to mention that Hindu texts are extremely sacred, and only the greatest of learned men, Sanskrit scholars and philosophers, after years of reading Upanishads, sastras, etc. even have the audacity to attempt to write commentary. They are not simply literary works like Shakespeare, for example, which are completely free for interpretation by the public, qualified or otherwise. Interpreting a literary work is relatively harmless, and a lot of freedom can be afforded. Granted, actual experts in the field might not take them seriously, but free nevertheless. The issue is with religious texts like the sacred Srimad Bhagavatam, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana etc, all of which this so-called “mythologist” has written of. Although they are great works of Sanskrit literature, they are primarily of immense religious and cultural significance, abound with all-encompassing, vast concepts of Hinduism that are difficult to comprehend, let alone master.
They must be handled with utmost care and caution, and approached with prior detailed knowledge. Misinterpretation and assumptions, nurtured by the wild and wanton freedom that Devdutt exercises, is a dangerous thing, especially since he has a sizable young and impressionable audience. The joy of having made these great epics largely circulated amongst the youth is quickly doused by schizophrenic manner in which they are written.
The Gajendra Moksha katha is perhaps one of the greatest purana told in the Srimad Bhavagatham, spanning the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chapters of Canto 8. It also appears in the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of Sikhs. When I came across Devdutt’s version, I was more than appalled. I was horrified and disgusted. A true ‘sishya’ to his guru, the mistress of Hindu sexualization, Wendy Doniger, Devdutt spun an entirely sexualized angle on the preface to the Gajendra Moksha shuth/stotra. He’s also misinterpreted much of the takeaway, and while this story is a profound philosophical nugget, he cheapens its purpose and meaning. He has a blog post written along similar lines, called “Expressing Devotion Sensually”, which takes this trope even further and into more detail: I’ll link below (read at your own risk) but here’s the relevant page from My Gita. I’ve underlined the sentences that I address further on.
Gajendra the king of elephants doesn’t enter the pond in a frenzied “state of musth”. In the original text, the scene is described as: The king of elephants, and leader of the herd, Gajendra is wandering through forests on the magnificent mountain named Trikuta*, along with his herd of females (cow-elephants) and young ones, breaking through the thicket and the trees. Oppressed by the heat of summer, perspiring, and dripping ichor(mada–cyut), He catches the scent of a lotus pollen-filled breeze from the lake nearby. Gajendra and his accompanying herd are tormented by thirst, and thus find their way to the bank of the lake. There, the king of elephants enters the lake and drinks the clear, sweet water which is mixed with the pollen of lotuses and water lilies to his heart’s content. He also bathes himself and sprays water onto the accompanying females and calves, and relieves himself of his fatigue, oblivious to the impending danger.
Here, Devdutt takes the description of ichor, and fabricates a tangent of passion and sexual frenzy that does not exist in the original text. See: the use of the word ‘harem’, that has sexual connotations. In Sanskrit literature, references to this secretion, also called temporin, from the temples of elephants are made often (for example, in Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa) and is a symbol of vigour and potency, and in this case, befitting of the great strength of the elephant king. It is not referred to at any later point in the original text – it appears only once and is not elaborated upon. Nor is there any implication anywhere that he is consumed by lust.
More about Temporin: Elephants of of both sexes secrete this fluid from their temporal glands starting in the sub-adult stages, intermittently. Adult Males (bulls) cyclically enter a period of “musth” (hindi for intoxicated), characterized by high testosterone levels and erratic/aggressive behavior, and the temporin secreted during musth is more viscous, and contains sex pheromones, and androgens. The glands swell and create acute pain similar to that of a toothache, and due to this, they have been known to dig their tusks into the ground. This period is also characterized by decreased appetite and thirst, and in fact, male elephants have been known to lose 1/3rd of their body weight by the end of the musth period. All male elephants are not aggressive during musth, and older elephants, although reproductively active, are safely handled, as seen in domesticated Asian elephants.
Now. Ichor may have been mentioned, but are there any indications that Gajendra is in a state of musth, as Devdutt claims? In what way is this episode a ‘metaphor for a mind consumed with passion, seeking gratification’? Being intensely thirsty is “a mind consumed with passion”, and seeking water is a “material world gratification”? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m inclined to think it’s just normal animal (and human) behavior.
Next: a crocodile lurking in the lake grabs Gajendra’s leg, and after struggling with all his might, trumpeting in sorrow and taking help from other elephants, he is unable to free himself. The female elephants are distressed by their inability to rescue him by grasping him from behind. Gajendra fights with the crocodile, and devatas are astonished that even after a 1000 years, both animals are still in a state of struggle with each other, constantly pulling one another in and out of the water . Gajendra, although an extremely strong elephant, grows weak and exhausted, his senses less powerful, his mental and physical strength greatly diminished due to the years of fighting without sustenance, and the crocodile, being aquatic and having the upper hand, is winning.
In his acceptance of his inability to free himself, his circumstantial state of helplessness, and realizing his death is near, Gajendra begins to think seriously and decides to surrender himself to the Supreme Being.
“I seek refuge in the Lord that protects the fearful, seeking his refuge, requesting refuge from the powerful serpent of death/time that pursues ever so swiftly, but yet itself runs away in utter fear of the Lord.”
8.2, verse 33
Gajendra recalls that in his previous birth he was a Vishnu devotee named Indradyumna and prays to lord Vishnu with the noble prayers he had learnt earlier. The rest of the verses in the third chapter of the eighth canto of the Bhagavatha purana detail the praise of lord Vasudeva/Vishnu as Supreme, and seeking refuge in his lotus feet, while in the clutches of death; as death and the fear of death are inevitable to all that take birth, but surrendering to the Supreme can alleviate one from the cycle of birth and death. The aim is to be freed of one’s material body and avoid being repeatedly subjected to death.
At the end, Lord Vishnu, upon seeing the condition of Gajendra alights from Garuḍa and mercifully pulls the King of the elephants along with the crocodile, out of the water. Then, in the presence of all the demigods, he severs the crocodile’s mouth from its body with Sudarshana Chakra, freeing Gajendra.
The crocodile was actually a Gandharva King named Huhu who was cursed by sage Devala, and reverted back to his true form upon deliverance by Lord Vishnu. He pays his respects to the Lord and returns to the Gandharva loka, freed of his sins.
At the end, according to Pattanaik “Vishnu strikes the crocodile away” and “the solution is to stop fighting and have faith that another force will intervene.” Gajendra never stopped fighting. He exhausted himself physically until he could not fight any longer, and even after that, never expected “another force to intervene” but merely sought redemption and refuge in the Supreme.
Also, Devdutt writes that Gajendra sees himself as a victim and the victim mentality causes him to see the crocodile’s actions as a “violation”
Gajendra has victim mentality? Really? He fought for himself with all his strength, for a thousand years before surrendered to the Supreme being in his final state of helplessness and sensing that death was near. Does that sound like a victim to you? How is that even an acceptable interpretation? It is NOT even remotely a “victimization”.
“If he wins he will be hailed as a hero and if he loses, he will still be hailed as a martyr who died trying” – How does he come up with hogwash? Gajendra is fighting for his own life, not for some imaginary title of heroism or martyrdom.
“The crocodiles violence is not violation” – more gibberish. The last few sentences – I’m not even going to touch upon, as they are absolutely senseless. Please read them for yourself, and draw your own conclusions.
Gajendra moksha is one of the greatest ever writings dedicated to the Lord Vishnu. Reciting it early in the morning is said to have great immortal powers like the recitation of the sacred hymn Sri Vishnu Sahasranama. Devdutt has effectively desecrated this ancient and profound text with his degrading, loose, and downright blasphemous interpretation.
*Trikuta mountain: “three peaked” Mountain, said to have a height of 10,000 yojanas (where one yojana = 8 miles, according to Swamy Prabhupada’s translation of the Bhagavata Purana); beautifully situated and surrounded by an ocean of milk that produces emeralds; the valleys beneath mount Trikūṭa have jungles rich with animals and trees, gardens that are maintained by the demigods, In such a valley of Trikūṭa Mountain there was a garden called Ṛtumat that belonged to the Varuṇa and was a sporting place for the damsels of the demigods. Flowers and fruits grew there in all seasons.
Story of Indradyumna: Gajendra had formerly been a Vaiṣṇava and the king of the country known as Pāṇḍya, which is in the province of Draviḍa [South India]. In his previous life, he was known as Indradyumna Mahārāja. Following Vedic principles, this devout Vishnu devotee King retired into a small cottage or ashrama in the Malayācala Hills, where he spent his days in worship of the Supreme Lord. Once, while observing an oath of silence, Sage Agastya, along with his disciples, approached King Indradyumna’s āśrama, but because the King was meditating on the Supreme, he sat in silence and did not follow the etiquette of receiving Sage properly. Thus the rishi became very angry and cursed the King to become a dull elephant in his next life. Accordingly, he took birth as the elephant king Gajendra, but due to the grace of the Supreme Lord, he remembered a prayer from his past life while in the clutches of death and once again received the mercy of the Lord. Thus, he immediately attains moksha and accompanies the Lord to his abode, Vaikuntam.
Story of the Gandharva King: Once King Hūhū was frolicking with women in water, and accidentally pulled the leg of Devala Ṛṣi, who was also bathing there. The sage became very angry and immediately cursed him to become a crocodile. King Hūhū extremely apologetic, and begged for the sage to pardon him, who in compassion, gave him the benediction that he would be freed when Gajendra is saved by Lord Vishnu. In this way, he was delivered when killed by Nārāyaṇa, and regains his true form.
By Sai Priya Chodavarapu
@priya_27_ on twitter!
@saipriya.c on instagram
Sri Swamy Prabhupada’s Bhagavatham
Paper with information about Musth in Asian and African Elephants
Devdutt’s blog post : https://devdutt.com/articles/expressing-devotion-sensually/
Nityanand Misra’s Facebook post (1/3)