“There are no material impediments to Bhakti Yoga”—Radhanath Swami
The Vedic scriptures explain that anyone can render devotional service; even one in an animal’s body can render services pleasing to Krishna.
While many human beings are reluctant to accept the path of devotional service, and surrender to God, it was heartening to see at Guruvayoor, more than seventy elephants are sincerely serving Lord Krishna.
Besides the deity of Lord Krishna, the temple is also famous for maintaining an elephant sanctuary where over seventy elephants are maintained and trained to serve Lord Krishna. For their whole lifetime of eighty- hundred years, they are busy serving the Lord by carrying Him during the royal procession. Each elephant is trained to take part in festivals where the Lord’s deity is carried in a royal and graceful procession over the head of one of the elephants. As this festival is held daily in the evening in the temple courtyard, visitors and pilgrims are treated to a spellbinding performance by the elephants and the four men atop it whisking fans and rendering different services for the Lord. The deity is carried in a procession for over an hour, and the elephants, over many centuries now, have never let down the devotees or the Lord.
Keshavan, a legendary elephant at Guruvayoor, served the Lord for over seventy years. He was very keen on being the only elephant to carry the Lord during the night shivelli, the procession of the Lord. He would roar in disapproval if he was not given the service. Even when he was sick, he would report for service and lovingly carry the Lord. Keshavan would get temperamental and angry when denied the service. However he was sensitive and never harmed either the mahouts or other human beings during his entire life time. Once as he angrily ran, and all passers-by and shopkeepers became afraid, one leper unable to run panicked as Keshavan charged in his direction. All the town residents who were watching this incident from a safe distance were astounded to see Keshavan come in front of this man, lift him on his tusks, and safely place him on the side of the road, before continuing to run in anger at not getting service for Krishna.
On December 2, 1976, the day of Mokshada ekdashi, the most auspicious day according to the local Guruvayoor tradition, Keshavan circumambulated the Lord’s temple and after offering obeisances to Lord Krishna, left his body. Everyone who already knew about his deep devotion to the Lord now witnessed an extraordinary event; Keshavan had left his mortal body in the most glorious way, one that is desired by great devotees of Krishna. To leave one’s body on such a day, in the temple complex, offering obeisances to the Lord is considered most rare and only the most blessed could leave their bodies in this fashion.
The Lord showed to all that Keshavan was indeed the chosen one; he had pleased the Lord immensely by his sincere services and proved to all by his devotion that one’s external circumstances do not matter while rendering devotional service. One could even be in an animal’s body, and yet be most dear to Krishna.