Soundara Rajam Ashraye

I seek refuge in the beautiful Lord, the Lord who blessed the elephant in the forest of elephants. He is the dear son of Nanda, He is the ruler of Nagapattanam. He is the Lord of beautiful Rama. He is the great Lord praised by the divinities. He has a gently smiling lotus-like face, in his lotus-like hands he holds the Mandara mountain, his lotus-like eyes give delight, and he has even more beautiful lotus-like feet.

Gajendra MokshamA Very Happy New Year to all my readers! I wish 2013 brings out the best for us and the best in all of us.

Today I have a story for you, a very well-known story from the Hindu scriptures. Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there lived an elephant called Gajendra. His name means ‘King of Elephants’ and he was indeed the king of his group of elephants. He lived happily in a wonderful garden called Rumak on the beautiful mountains of Trikuta (considered by some to to be in current day Sri Lanka and at Kapisthalam, Tamil Nadu by others). He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Everyday he would pick a lotus from a pond and lay it at the feet of Lord Vishnu at the temple. One such day, when he went to the pond as always, his foot was caught by a crocodile. Much as he struggled, he could not free himself. He struggled long and hard; some say that he struggled for a thousand years. Finally, he could struggle no more and surrendered himself to Lord Vishnu. When Lord Vishnu heard his pleas, he hurried to help and killed the crocodile with his Sudarshana Chakra. In his previous life, Gajendra had been King Indradymna of the Pandya dynasty, a great devotee of Vishnu. He had been cursed by Sage Agastya for some disrespect to him. Lord Vishnu freed Gajendra and blessed him with Moksha, a release from the cycle of birth and death, as he had finally given up his pride and surrendered himself to God.

What are the metaphoric lessons that we may take from this story? An elephant represents majesty, strength and wisdom; he is a gentle giant who is not drawn to violence. Gajendra in particular was a devout elephant. Yet he finds himself caught in a way where all his strength and abilities cannot rescue him. The crocodile  is a creature of our nightmares, waiting in hiding to attack and maim. A creature from the underworld representing our base nature as well as the evil around us. Our lesson is that even the best amongst us may find ourselves caught in traps from which we cannot release ourselves unless we surrender ourselves to God. It is interesting that the crocodile-catching-a-leg story occurs in one other very inspiring story, that of Adi Shankaracharya. It was by adopting sanyasa (monkhood) that he could get the crocodile, who represents worldly desires which tie us to this earth, to release him.

My recounting of the story of Gajendra was inspired by the song Soundara Rajam Ashraye which I have been addicted to all this week. Written and composed by Muthuswami Dikshithar, it is set to the Raga Brindavani, also called Brindavana Saranga (The forest of elephants) by some (see footnote). There is a reference to Gajendra Moksham in the first line of the song and even the name of the raga evokes the thought of green and  cool forests with dappled sunlight and rippling pools of water, humming with the presence of elephants all around. Like many other Carnatic Kritis, the song is a just a list of identifiers for Vishnu to whom this prayer is addressed (see footnote for lyrics and translation). The beauty of the song is in the raga and the melody. If you allow yourself the leisure of listening to a slow and elaborate rendition, divorcing your mind from your everyday concerns, it is as close to meditation as listening to music can be. After listening to at least ten different renditions, I go back to the one that I have always loved best, a 21 minute rendition by T.N.Seshagopalan. Ah the soothing pleasure of Brindavana Saranga weaving its magic into my soul!! If you would like to read more about this raga, click here.

Alapana :

Kriti :

Alternate Link


Footnote (Lyrics)

Language : Sanskrit

सौन्दरराजं आश्रये गज बृन्दावन सारङ्ग वरद राजम्  (श्री )

नन्द नन्दन राजम्  नागपत्तन राजम्
सुन्दरी रमा राजम् सुर विनुत महिराजम्
(मध्यमकाल साहित्यम्)
मन्दस्मित मुखाम्बुजं मन्दर धर कराम्बुजम्
नन्दकर नयनाम्बुजं सुन्दर तर पदाम्बुजम्

शंभर वैरी जनकं सन्नुत शुक शौनकम्
अम्बरीषादि विदितं अनादि गुरुगुह मुदितम्
अम्बुजासनादि नुतं अमरेशादि सन्नुतम्
अम्बुधि गर्व निग्रहं अनृत जड दुःखापहम्
(मध्यमकाल साहित्यम्)
कम्बु विडम्बन कण्ठं खण्डी कृत दश कण्ठं
तुम्बुरुनुत श्री कण्ठं दुरितापह वैकुण्ठं


saundara rAja mAshrayE gaja bRndAvana sAraHNga varada rAjam

nanda nandana rAjam nAga pattana rAjam
sundari ramA rAjam sura vinuta mahirAjam
mandasmita mukhAmbujam mandaradhara karAmbujam
nandakara nayanAmbujam sundaratara padAmbujam

shambara vairi janakam sannuta shuka shaunakam
ambarISAdi viditam anAdi guruguha muditam
ambujAsanAdi nutam amarEshAdi sannutam
ambudhi garva nigraham anRta jaDa duhkhApaham
kambu viDambana kaNTham khaNDIkRta dasha kaNTham
tumburu nuta shrIkaNTham duritApaha vaikuNTham


I seek refuge (AshrayE) in the beautiful Lord (sowndara rAjam), the Lord (rAjam) who blessed (gave a boon to) the elephant (gaja) in the forest of elephants (brindAvana sAranga).

He is the dear son (nandana) of Nanda, He is the ruler (rAjam) of Nagapattanam. He is the Lord (rAjam) of the beautiful Rama (name of Lakshmi). He is the great (mahi) Lord (rAjam) praised (vinuta) by the divinities (sura).

He has a gently smiling (mandasmita) lotus-like (ambujam) face (mukha), in his lotus-like (ambujam) hands (kara) he holds (dhara) the Mandara mountain, his lotus-like (ambujam) eyes (nayana) give delight (nandana kara), and he has even more beautiful (sundaratara) lotus-like (ambujam) feet (pada).

He is the father (janakam) of the enemy (vairI) of Shiva (shambhara) [alludes to Madana]. He is worshipped (sannuta) by Shuka and Shaunaka. He is understood (viditam) by sages such as Ambarishi. He is the eternet (anAdi) joy (muditam) of Guruguha (signature of Dikshithar).

He is worshipped (nutam) by the Lotus-seated one (ambujAsanA) [refers to Lakshmi? or Brahma?) etc (Adi). He is praised (sannutam) by Indra (amarEsha) etc (Adi). He subjugated (nigraham) the pride (garva) of the ocean (ambudhi). He removes (apaham) the sorrow (dukha) arising from falsehood (anrta) and stupidity (jada).

His neck (kanTam) is like (vidambana) a conch (kambu). He tore into pieces (khandIkrta) the ten-necked one (dasha kanTam) [alludes to Ravana]. He is worshipped (nutam) by Tumburu (a greet seer and singer). He is the destroyer (apaha) of sins (durita). He resides (implied) in VaikunTam (Vishnu’s heaven).



Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Sanskrit, Muthuswami Dikshithar, T.N.Seshagopalan

7 responses to “Soundara Rajam Ashraye

  1. Jay

    This is one of my favorite stories from the Bhagavatam. What a wonderful start to the New Year!

    It is the version that MS Amma’s exposition of this story as narrated by Surdas in “he govind, he gopal” that is indelibly etched in my mind. KS Chitra has a different rendition in Raag Desh. Incidentally, last year I saw a graceful and touching performance by teenager born with handicaps enacting Gajendra Moksham in her Bharathanatyam performance titled “hari tum haro”. Surely, Hari has blessed this talented girl!

  2. Hi Jay, Thank you for reminding me of Hey Govind, Hey Gopal which in fact is a better match to my story than Soundara Rajam! Yet it is Soundara Rajam I remember when I think of this story, I suppose because of the name of the raga.. I will feature this Bhajan one of these days 🙂 I love the MS version; no surprise there, she is so linked in my mind with certain songs that I can think of no other! And thanks for the youtube link, some people have so much courage!
    Cheers. Suja

  3. Ramesh

    Beautiful comment from Jay. Thanks Jay for the YouTube link.

    After “allowing myself the leisure of listening to a slow and elaborate rendition, divorcing your mind from your everyday concerns”, as advised, you can’t expect me to write a cogent comment, so I will only make some arbitrary pedantic points (mind still lilting from the song)

    – That story is rather unfair to the crocodile. Symbolism is all all right, but methinks the crocodile should protest 🙂
    – Everybody and anybody claims a different location forTrikuta including the lost city of Atlantis ! I can’t believe Kapisthalam is the place at all – it seems a million miles awy from the ideal of Trikuta
    – Your translation and the comments of the ragam are those for an expert. You should send this to Neyveli Santhanagopalan, the self appointed expert on all things technical with Carmatic music. Just kidding. I learnt so much from this post, all of which is currently over my head.

    Now, I’ll shut up and go back to listening to the music 🙂

    • Hi Ramesh, I am glad your mind is ‘still lilting from the song’ 🙂 Seems that you succeeded in reaching a meditative state, hope you feel very relaxed…

      As to your points, pedantic or not,
      – do NOT ask me to feel sorry for being less than fair to the crocodile! I have an version towards most reptiles..cant find the crocodile appealing at all! I am totally in accord with the song ‘Never smile at a crocodile, no you cant get friendly with a crocodile, don’t be taken in by his welcome grin, he’s imagining how you’d fit within his skin’ 🙂 I quite love this song, always manages to get a smile out of me however many times I have heard it!
      – I too am sus about the various claims about Trikuta…but it doesn’t really matter, I know in my mind’s eye how it should look, this garden of elephants, don’t you?
      – Hey, the translation is quite straightforward, no expertise needed here! And as to the Raga, it is confusing and even experts don’t seem to agree so I just give in and accept whatever anyone says 🙂

      Enjoy the music, Cheers. Suja

  4. Oruaaann

    I enjoyed the discussion on Soundara Rajam. Here is a link from youtube. Please watch the Utsavar Soundara Rajam –

    • Thank you for the link, a rendition by Aruna Sairam that I have in my collection. She is one of the artists I admire tremendously; this is a beautiful rendition.
      Cheers. Suja

  5. Gopakumar Gopinath

    Good day, Thanks for the song,lyrics and explanation. I feel 2 things to be corrected.
    Sambara vairi janakam. Sambaran is not shiva but an Asura whom Krishna’s son Pradyumna killed.

    Ambarisadi…Ambarish etc.. Ambarish is the great King whose story glorifies the importance of Ekadasi ( Durvasa, kritya and Sudarshana). Of course All true devotees are sages..

    Gopakumar Gopinath

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