The first demon to attack Krishna represents pseudo gurus who destroy young spiritual lives.
By Gauranga Darshana Dasa
When we are sincere in seeking the shelter of Krishna, He will divert us from fake gurus and direct us toward authentic gurus of bhakti.

Lord Krishna displays His mercy to an unimaginable extent in Vrindavan, His divine abode, which accompanies Him when He enacts His pastimes on earth. For example, when He as present here five thousand years ago, He gave the position of a mother to a monster who came to kill Him. She was Putana, a rakshasi, a cannibal whose business was to search for infants, kill them, and suck their blood. She represents the fake guru or the fickle mind that distracts spiritual seekers from the goal of bhakti-yoga

Uninvited yet Unobstructed

As a witch accustomed to black arts, Putana the baby-snatcher flew in the sky and landed in Gokula (Vrindavan). She had been deputed by evil Kamsa to kill babies born in the previous ten days, as he had learned that the child destined to kill him had just been born.

Although ugly, Putana had the power to change her form into that of a beautiful woman, which she did before entering Gokula. Seeing her, the innocent women there thought that the goddess of fortune had come to see her husband, Narayana, who was being worshiped in the house of Nanda Maharaja. Everyone trusted her spontaneously, beyond doubt. Her heart was fierce and cruel, but she presented herself like a very affectionate mother. She was therefore like a sharp sword in a soft sheath.

Putana entered Nanda Maharaja’s house without anyone’s permission but also without obstruction. Overwhelmed by her beauty and her apparently motherly love, even Yashoda and Rohini didn’t stop her. She went into the inner chambers and saw baby Krishna sleeping in bed, His unlimited power covered like fire under ashes. As if afraid of her, He closed His eyes. Putana understood that the child wasn’t ordinary, but, bent upon fulfilling her purpose, she took on her lap the person who was to be her own end, just as a fool places a sleeping snake on his lap, thinking it to be a rope.

The fierce rakshasi had smeared a dangerous poison on her breast to kill Krishna, and she started feeding her breast milk to Him. The poison was so intense that even touching it could cause death. Krishna took hold of her breast, squeezed it hard with His tender yet thunderboltlike hands, and sucked out both the poison and her life.

Though Krishna presents Himself as an infant as a part of His pastimes, His powers remain the same. However powerful a demon may be, he or she cannot overpower God.

Krishna manifested anger toward Putana because she had planned to kill many children of Gokula. The power of His anger sucked out her impure and evil propensities along with her life, just as someone with an axe cuts down a tree. Krishna’s anger, however, was temporary, because it got transformed into the greatest mercy within no time. His anger is only to rectify and reform demoniac people, not to take revenge on them. As the supreme well-wisher of all, His ultimate disposition toward anyone is mercy.

Putana screamed out in severe pain, “Please leave me! Get away from me!”

Perspiring, her eyes wide open and her arms and legs flailing, she cried loudly again and again. As all directions vibrated, people fell down, fearing that thunderbolts were about to fall upon them. She could not maintain her disguise as a beautiful woman and reverted to her original form as a witch. Everyone realized that she was a rakshasi.

No one can perpetually control or cheat people. One’s power ultimately gets nullified by higher powers, and one’s real colors get revealed to the world.

Punished but Purified

Those who want to harm God or godly people are themselves ruined. Thus Putana lost her life. She fell down in the pasture and smashed all the trees within twelve miles. (These trees were part of a garden belonging to Kamsa.) It was remarkable that only the trees were crushed and not the village’s houses or cowsheds.

Adult gopis rushed to see what had happened to infant Krishna. They found Him fearlessly playing on Putana’s huge body and immediately picked Him up. The simple-hearted gopis then took precautions and performed rituals to invoke protection for the child Krishna. Mother Yashoda gave Krishna her milk and then laid Him in His bed.

By Krishna’s touch, Putana’s body was sanctified, and she was freed of all sinful reactions and material contamination. When her body was being burnt by the Vrajavasis, the smoke that emanated was fragrant like aguru incense. Krishna’s transcendental touch spiritualizes matter and purifies the bodies and hearts of even the most wicked demons.

Reward for an Imitation Offering

Putana always hankered for the blood of infants, and she desired to kill Krishna. Although Krishna disapproved of Putana’s attitude, He rewarded her for pretending to have the sentiments of a mother. She imitated the dress and emotions of a mother, but her intent was most malicious. Krishna’s sucking her breast and embracing her body, just as a child does with his mother, was also an imitation. But because of this imitation, Krishna elevated her to the position of a nurse and maidservant to assist mother Yashoda in Goloka Vrindavana.

How can one find a person more merciful than Krishna? In this connection, Uddhava, an exalted devotee and cousin of Lord Krishna, praises Him as follows:

aho baki yam stana-kala-kutam
jighamsayapayayad apy asadhvi
lebhe gatim dhatry-uchitam tato ’nyam
kam va dayalum sharanam vrajema

“Alas, how shall I take shelter of one more merciful than Him [Lord Krishna], who granted the position of mother to a she-demon [Putana] although she was unfaithful and she prepared deadly poison to be sucked from her breast?” (Bhagavatam 3.2.23)

Krishna’s nature is to find some opportunity to show His mercy even on demoniac people. If anyone contacts Krishna somehow or other, even with a negative attitude, Krishna purifies that person and bestows His causeless mercy. If Putana could attain such a result by neglectfully and enviously making an offering to Krishna, what is to be said of mother Yashoda, the gopis, and the cows, who for His satisfaction offered their milk to Krishna with sincerity, affection, love, and joy? Shukadeva Goswami, the great speaker of Srimad-Bhagavatam, glorifies Lord Krishna’s unparalleled mercy in this way:

padbhyam bhakta-hridi-sthabhyam
vandyabhyam loka-vanditaih
angam yasyah samakramya
bhagavan api tat-stanam

yatudhany api sa svargam
avapa janani-gatim
krishna-bhukta-stana-kshirah
kim u gavo ’numatarah

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is always situated within the core of the heart of the pure devotee, and He is always offered prayers by such worshipable personalities as Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. Because Krishna embraced Putana’s body with great pleasure and sucked her breast, although she was a great witch she attained the position of a mother in the transcendental world and thus achieved the highest perfection. What then is to be said of the cows whose nipples Krishna sucked with great pleasure and who offered their milk very jubilantly with affection exactly like that of a mother?” (Bhagavatam 10.6.37–38)

Service rendered to Lord Krishna, whether directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, becomes successful. The Lord’s mercy is unparalleled, unimaginable, inconceivable, and beyond human logic.

Putana’s Previous Life

According to the Garga-samhita, in her previous life Putana was Ratnamala, the daughter of Bali Maharaja (Brahma-vaivarta Purana mentions that she was Bali’s sister). Seeing the charming form of Lord Vamana as a dwarf brahmana boy in Bali’s sacrifice, Ratnamala felt for the Lord a mother’s love for her son. She thought, “What a wonderful boy? If I had a beautiful son like Him, then I would offer Him my milk.” The Lord sanctioned her spontaneous desire. However, when Vamanadeva took away the entire kingdom of Bali, Ratnamala’s loving mood changed into one of hatred. “If I have him as my son,” she thought, “I shall kill him by feeding him poison!” Thus at the end of Dvapara-yuga she became Putana, and the Lord allowed her to fulfill her desire to feed Him poison But she couldn’t kill him even though she tried, and by Lord Krishna’s touch she attained liberation. Putana had two brothers, named Bakasura and Aghasura, who later also attacked Krishna in Vrindavan. Krishna kindly liberated them too.

What Does Putana Represent?

Srila Prabhupada quoted the following verse from the Puranas to describe the rarity of a bona fide guru.

guravo bahavah santi
shishya-vittapaharakah
durlabhah sad-gurur devi
shishya-santapa-harakah

“O Devi, there are many gurus who are expert in plundering the wealth of their disciples. But it is very difficult to find a bona fide guru who can remove the miseries of the disciple.”

Putana appeared as a loving mother externally but was a dangerous demon internally. Thus she represents a pseudo guru, or a so-called teacher who seems to be genuine but is actually inauthentic and deviant. Pseudo gurus may appear in multiple forms. Instead of teaching their students pure bhakti, they teach them about sense gratification or impersonal liberation. They even misinterpret the scriptures to suit their own concocted ideologies, which they teach to common people in the name of spirituality. Those who wish to be cheated will come in contact with such pseudo gurus because they do not aspire to follow a true spiritual path but just want to make a show of spirituality to pursue their material goals. Pseudo gurus and their followers both miss the opportunity to uplift and purify themselves in the human form of life.

Let’s consider three types of pseudo gurus.

  1. Teachers who favor sense gratification (bhukti). Some money and basic enjoyment are the common needs of people in this world. We should responsibly earn our livelihood by honest means and live happily, abiding by the laws of nature. But being greedy, foolish people desire excessive material wealth and undue enjoyment, and to attain money and pleasure, they seek gurus who suggest shortcuts that only seem religious or spiritual. These fake gurus often seek wealth and enjoyment for themselves by way of the ignorant masses who approach them for the same. They misdirect such people with mantras or rituals for attaining material wealth, fame, influence, and so on. However, ultimately all material prosperity is temporary and can be lost at any moment.
  2. Teachers who favor liberation (mukti). Some people are frustrated with sense gratification and thus develop spiritual inclinations. Unfortunately they sometimes approach gurus who direct them toward impersonal liberation. These gurus teach detachment from material enjoyment and emphasize liberation (moksha), i.e., merging into the effulgence of God (Brahman), as all in all. However, detachment from material enjoyment has to be accompanied by attachment to spiritual enjoyment. And the ultimate spiritual enjoyment of the soul is in the eternal activity of loving service (bhakti) to Krishna, and not just merging into His effulgence to be inactive. Thus gurus who direct people toward impersonal liberation cheat them and deprive them of their real fortune of the loving company of God in His eternal abode.
  3. The distracted mind. Sometimes one’s materially contaminated mind also acts as a pseudo guru. The mind carries millions of material impressions from past lives and is the storehouse of unlimited material desires for selfish enjoyment. The mind presents mundane reasoning and manifests as a so-called spiritual guide within. Trusting the deviant and distracted mind, a spiritual seeker gives in to its desires and obsessions. The right course of action recommended for a devotee, however, is to sharpen one’s intelligence with spiritual knowledge presented in the scriptures. With deliberate spiritual intelligence one must control the fickle mind, focus it on one’s spiritual practices, and thus come closer to God.

Sincere spiritual seekers must diligently protect themselves from falling into the clutches of pseudo gurus who manifest outwardly and inwardly. And one must seek shelter of the real gurus, who appear inwardly as the Supersoul (Krishna as Paramatma in our hearts) and outwardly as pure devotees. One must learn the science of bhakti from pure devotees who are bona fide teachers, or acharyas. If we are sincere in seeking shelter of Krishna, He will divert us from fake gurus and direct us toward authentic gurus of bhakti. Under the guidance of such gurus, we can easily attain the lotus feet of Krishna in His eternal abode. 

*This article is based on Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 10, chapter 6, and the commentaries on that chapter by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti. It is also inspired by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Sri Chaitanya-shikshamrita and an article by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati published in the Harmonist (January 1932).

Gauranga Darshana Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He is the author of twenty-seven books, including the Subodhini series of study guides, children’s books such as Bhagavatam Tales, and other self-enrichment books. He conducts online and residential scriptural courses for both children and adults. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.