Trumpet Calls by Nalini Ramachandran is a collection of stories from contemporary accounts, history and mythologies that explores the relationship between elephants and humans. An excerpt:
King Indradyumna was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. He was a great leader, but he spent much of his time in meditation, chanting the god’s name. Everyone in the kingdom knew that when the king sat for his prayers, nothing could break his concentration.
One day, Sage Agastya, who was passing through Indradyumna’s kingdom, decided to pay the king a visit.
Th e palace guards requested the sage to wait in the royal guests’ chamber as the king was meditating in the prayer room.
Hours passed. Th e guards tried telling the king about the sage’s visit, but Indradyumna could only hear Vishnu’s name as he continued to chant it.
A few more hours passed. The ministers came to meet the sage, hoping to remedy the situation.
Finally, when it was almost the end of the day, Agastya strode into the king’s prayer room in fury and said, ‘You have insulted me today, Indradyumna! And you shall pay for it.’
Jolted out of his meditative state, the king rushed to the sage to pacify him. ‘I didn’t mean to ignore or upset you, Sage Agastya. Please forgive me.’
But before Indradyumna could speak again, Agastya cursed him. ‘May you roam the forests as a wild elephant in your next birth!’ The sage walked away, leaving everyone shocked.
The king was dejected, but there was nothing he could do. He turned to the idol of Vishnu, which stood in the centre of the room, and said, ‘At least let me be your devotee even in my next life.’
And so Indradyumna was reborn as Gajendra, a white elephant. He was the king of the elephants who lived in the forests of Trikuta, a hill range near Mount Meru. As he had wished, he was still devoted to Vishnu and offered prayers and fragrant flowers to him every day.
Incidentally, Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, also presented flowers to the god every day, at the same time as Gajendra.
Round up 2021: 26 Remarkable Non fiction Books by Women Authors
One day, as Gajendra was on his way to Vishnu’s abode to offer his morning prayers, he overheard a few gods talking. ‘Even if the world turns topsy-turvy, Goddess Lakshmi will be the first to offer prayers to Vishnu before sunrise,’ one of them said.
‘Yes, she is most certainly his greatest devotee,’ another agreed.
This upset Gajendra, for he wanted to be known as Vishnu’s greatest devotee. He wanted to be the first one to circle the god and pray to him every day. But since he was an elephant, his gait was slower than Lakshmi’s. By the time he went around Vishnu once, Lakshmi would have completed all three rounds and offered the flowers too.
Over the next few days, while going around the god, Gajendra trotted faster. When that didn’t work, he tried to run to keep up with the goddess’s speed, but in vain.
One morning, before the elephant arrived, Vishnu told Lakshmi, ‘Devi, have you noticed that Gajendra has been looking a little sad since a few days?’
‘I did. I wonder what’s bothering him,’ she replied. ‘Well…it’s you,’ the god said, sighing.
‘Me? What have I done?’ she asked in surprise. Vishnu told her the whole story.
‘Oh, all right. I’ll try and walk very, very slowly from now on. Will that help?’ she asked.
‘I have a better idea! If you sit beside me, he can pray to both of us together. That way, neither of you has to worry about who is first,’ Vishnu said.
Lakshmi smiled. ‘Sure – if that will make him happy.’ And so, she quietly sat next to Vishnu.
When Gajendra arrived, he waited for a while, not wanting to upset the goddess. But when he saw that she had no intention of getting up, he looked at Vishnu questioningly. The god nodded.
Gajendra understood what the divine couple had done. He went around them happily and in the end, he presented flowers to both of them. He then filled his trunk with water from a nearby river and came back to shower it upon the goddess.
Thrilled by this special attention, Lakshmi laughed and blessed Gajendra, ‘May you and all animals – especially elephants – always have good health!’
Th e other gods who witnessed this amusing scene bowed their heads before the goddess and gave her a new name. ‘Praise Gajalakshmi, the one who is worshipped by the elephant! And praise Gajendra, Vishnu’s greatest devotee!’
Quadrupeds (animals with four limbs) use different kinds of footwork for walking, trotting, galloping and running. But scientists who have spent years studying the gait of elephants have found that while running, these animals use their limbs in pretty much the same way as they do when walking. This is why it is confusing to tell whether an elephant is trotting fast or actually running. They tend to bend their knees (especially the forelegs) when they run or trot quickly. This movement of theirs is called ‘Groucho running’ after the famous American comedian Groucho Marx, who bent his knees in a unique way while walking and running in his comic acts.
Excerpted with permission from Trumpet Calls by Nalini Ramachandran by Hachette India.
You can also join SheThePeople’s Book club on Facebook, LinkedIn and Inst