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Pink elephants on parade

Once upon a time, Saurashtra was ruled by King Khadgabahu who lived like Indra, king of the celestials. In his stables lived a male elephant, very hot-tempered: Arimardana. Renuka Narayanan writes.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2008 04:16 IST
Renuka Narayanan

How interesting that Americans now write theses on Walt Disney's cartoons and Disney's worldview of harmony with Nature is held to have spawned today's western eco-activism. The most emotional Disney cartoon is surely Dumbo (1941)? The stoniest heart must be moved when Mrs Jumbo, locked up for spanking the cruel boys who tease her baby for his over-large ears, croons to him through the bars.

Reading Chapter Sixteen of the Bhagavad Gita the other day; it struck me that Dumbo, is a lovely modern illustration of the Gita's views of the Divine and the Demonic natures. The mean characters who mock and the kind ones who help Dumbo are etched like in moral science class (must tell children though about the pre-Civil Rights Movement bits: black labour- ers, black accents).

But before we look at the Gita, here's a story from the Padma Purana, in which Shiva says, "Beloved Parvati, I will now tell you the glories of the sixteenth chapter of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita... Once upon a time, Saurashtra in Gujarat was ruled by King Khadgabahu who lived just like another Indra, king of the celestials. In his stables lived a very hot-tempered male elephant named Arimardana. One day Arimardana, in a fit of anger, broke loose from his chains and began to destroy the elephant shed, after which he ran amok, wildly chasing the citizens. Everyone fled as fast as he could.

The mahouts immediately reported the news to the king. Khadgabahu went there at once with his son, for he knew the art of controlling wild elephants. There was pandemonium in the marketplace, with the elephant butting at walls, people running helter-skelter and trampled corpses strewn about. Just then, the king noticed a priest peacefully returning from his bath in the lake. His lips moved in silent recitation of shlokas. When the people saw the priest walking towards the elephant, they cried aloud in warning, but the priest took no notice. He walked straight up to the mad elephant and began to stroke him gently.

Instead of goring or trampling the bold intruder, the elephant suddenly turned peaceful himself and lay down docilely The priest patted the elephant a few more times and walked away The king and his people meanwhile had held their breath in amazement. Now Khadgabahu went and fell at the feet of that priest and asked: "What austerities and worship have you performed to attain such calm and such incredible powers?" The priest replied: "Every day I recite some shlokas from the sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita."

The king requested the priest to instruct him in those verses. After some months, Khadgabahu went with his guards to where Arimardana was kept and ordered the elephant keepers to release him. At that, the citizens grew upset with the king, thinking that the elephant would begin to run amok again. But the king went up himself to Arimardana, who lay down at once. The king then installed his son on the throne and left for the forest, where he worshipped Sri Krishna by chanting those shlokas and soon he attained the Lotus Feet of the Lord." Here endeth the pauranik lesson. In Chapter Sixteen of the Gita, Sri Krishna very clearly lists twenty six ouali- ties that he describes as righteous and conducive to divinity (the first is abhayam, fearlessness).

Then, he details six things that constitute ill conduct, that are unrighteous and antagonistic to our own peace, to the world around us and to the divine principle. Verses 1 to 3 go: "sri bhagavan uvahca/abhayam sattvasamsuddhir/jnana-yogacyavasthitih /danam damas cha yajnas cha/suadhyayas tapa arjavam/ahimsa satyam akrodhas/tyaga shantir apaisunam/daya bhutesu aloluptuam/mardavam Arir achapalam/teja kshama dhrti saucham /adroho nati-manita/bhavanti sampadam daivim/abbijatasya bharata The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purifying one's existence, developing spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performing sacrifice, studying scripture, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steadfast determination; energy, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and passion for honourable conduct: these uplifting qualities, O child of Bharata, belong to those whose natures are divine."

Just so, "dambho darpo-bhimanas cha/krodhah parushyam eva cha/ajnanam chabbijatasya/partha sampadam asurim: Arrogance, pride, angel: conceit, cruelty and ignorance: these qualities belong to those of demonic nature, O son of Prtha." Time we brought back Moral Science and Civics into our school syllabi, don't you think, with cartoons and scripture both doing their bit?