King Kamsa dispatched many of his demoniac friends to find and kill his predicted future killer.
By Gauranga Darshana Dasa
One of Kamsa’s deputed demons thought he had come up with a clever way to kill Krishna.

Ghosts do not have gross bodies. But they do have subtle bodies. Gross bodies are made of the five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Subtle bodies are made of mind, intelligence, and ego. Both of these bodies are material, and everyone in this world is covered by them. Subtle bodies store all kinds of desires and past impressions that induce the actions of gross bodies.

People who have been too sinful may not get a gross body after death but may have to roam around invisibly in a subtle body with unfulfilled desires. Such bodyless beings are called ghosts. Sometimes ghosts try to fulfill their desires by possessing the bodies of others. Or they enter some physical objects to execute their evil plans. Here is the story of one such ghost inspired by the malicious thought to kill God, who was in the form of a baby.

Pride Made Him a Ghost

Utkaca was the son of a great demon named Hiranyaksha.* He had a huge body and was very powerful. And he was proud of his strength, as any material good quality can potentially induce false pride in a person to a small or great extent. 

Once Utkaca went to the hermitage of a sage named Lomasha, who had studied a hundred lessons in morality from Lord Brahma. For no reason, Utkaca started breaking trees there, being puffed up because of his strong body.

Seeing him creating an unnecessary disturbance, the sage Lomasha cursed him: “O evil-hearted one, become bodyless!”

Utkaca’s body at once fell away, as a snake’s old skin falls away. He became a ghostly being without a body (some say that he got an invisible body made of air). Such is the result of material pride and offense to saintly persons.

Utkaca realized his mistake, fell at Lomasha’s feet, and begged him, “O great sage, I did not know your power. Please forgive me and give me a body.”

 Lomasha became pacified quickly and said, “Lord Krishna’s foot will liberate you from this ghostly existence.”

Saintly devotees have the power both to curse and to bless. Even the anger of saintly persons is a blessing. Because of Lomasha’s curse, Utkaca would get an opportunity to be touched by the divine lotus foot of the Supreme God, Lord Krishna.

Fear Haunted Him Like a Ghost

Later Utkaca, wandering as a ghost, made friends with another demoniac person, named Kamsa. Kamsa was the cruel maternal uncle of Lord Krishna. He was madly in search of baby Krishna because he had once heard an omen that he would be killed by the eighth son of his sister Devaki. Lord Krishna Himself was to be that child.

Fear of death haunted Kamsa like a ghost. Always immersed in thoughts of Krishna, he became completely Krishna conscious, not with devotion, but with intense fear. Even fearful remembrance of Krishna, when it leads to complete absorption in Him, can liberate a person. That is Krishna’s special mercy on demons.

Kamsa dispatched many of his demoniac friends to find and kill the Lord, his future killer. Instigated by Kamsa, Utkaca arrived in Gokula to kill Krishna. In Nanda Maharaja’s courtyard, the demon entered a household cart loaded with many vessels made of gold, silver, and brass. In Sanskrit, a cart is called shakata, and a demon is called asura. Therefore Utkaca is also known as Sakatasura – the cart demon. No one noticed Sakatasura, as he was invisible. He waited for an opportunity to kill Krishna.

A Ceremony Led by Women

Some background: Krishna was just three months old when this incident took place. He had attempted to rise and turn around on His own for the first time. This stage of a child’s growth was celebrated as the utthana (“rising”) ceremony. In the Vedic culture, a child’s birth or maintenance was never a burden for the parents, who joyfully celebrated all the significant stages of the child’s growth. Certain purificatory rituals were performed even before conceiving the child and when the child was in the mother’s womb.

The birth ceremony was an event led by the father. The utthana ceremony was led by the mother. Krishna’s birth was celebrated by Nanda Maharaja as Nandotsava with the assistance of Mother Yashoda. The utthana ceremony was celebrated by Yashoda with the assistance of Nanda. In a cultured society, the mother and father have specific roles to play in raising the child with cooperation from each other. Such balanced care of parents nourishes the child and ensures the child’s physical and emotional development. 

Mother Yashoda led the utthana ceremony on the auspicious day when the moon was in the constellation of Rohini, which was also Krishna’s birth star. Being an expert in all ceremonies, Yashoda did abhisheka (holy bathing) of Krishna, assisted by other motherly gopis of Gokula. Then Krishna was rubbed dry and anointed with gorocana (an aromatic medicinal substance obtained from a cow) and dressed up nicely.

Carrying her blue boy dressed in red garments and decorated with golden ornaments, Yashoda received the brahmanas who arrived to bless the child. Krishna’s lotus eyes were decorated with black ointment, and He wore a glittering necklace made of a lion’s nail. Yashoda offered respects to the devatas. And she liberally distributed grains, wealth, clothes, flowers, and cows in charity to the brahmanas, who chanted mantras to invoke auspiciousness.

The Bodyless Ghost Attains a Spiritual Body

Little Krishna felt sleepy, so Yashoda carried Him to the courtyard. Being an affectionate mother, anxious for her child’s comfort, she carefully held Him motionlessly in her lap, fearing that He would wake up. She then laid Krishna down under the household cart that, unknown to her, the ghost Utkaca had entered. She also lay down along with the child until He was asleep. When she saw that Krishna was fast asleep, she got up very gently and went back to attend to the guests. Some small children who were playing nearby observed Krishna as He peacefully slept.

Because of Sakatasura, the wheels of the cart began to sink into the earth, and the cart’s height started decreasing. Sakatasura intended to fall on Krishna and kill Him. But baby Krishna awoke and, absorbed in the mood of an infant, began crying for His mother’s milk. Yashoda was busy exchanging pleasantries and giving ornaments, garlands, sandalwood pulp (candana), oil, and vermillion (sindhura) to the village women. Therefore, she couldn’t hear the child crying from hunger. As is natural for babies, Krishna angrily threw His little legs upward in the air. The red sole of Krishna’s soft foot touched the cart with the gesture of a kick.

Although Krishna’s foot was as tender as a newly grown leaf, His kick turned the cart upside down. His limbs were inconceivably potent, and the cart got dismantled completely – its wheels and axle were dislocated, its handle was broken, and all the utensils on it were scattered here and there. Thus the demon in the cart died.

Sakatasura had entered the cart invisibly and was destroyed invisibly. No one had noticed him. But the children saw that Krishna kicked the cart, which then overturned.

When the cart broke into pieces, Sakatasura left his subtle ghostly body and attained a pure spiritual body. He respectfully bowed down before Lord Krishna. In a chariot pulled by a hundred horses, he went to Krishna’s abode of Goloka Vrindavana in the spiritual world. Such is the mercy of the Supreme Lord Krishna, especially in earthly Vrindavan.

Sakatasura represents a load-carrying mentality arising out of old and new bad habits, from this life and previous lives. These habits include lethargy, dullness, and false pride. Krishna removes this contamination by kicking them aside when we take His shelter by performing bhakti.

Krishna’s Uncompromising Sweetness

Krishna didn’t manifest a gigantic form or use any weapons to kill Sakatasura. Just the kick of a baby was sufficient. This is the sweetness of Krishna’s childhood pastimes. To subdue King Bali, Lord Vamana manifested His Trivikrama form and extended His foot to the greatest height to penetrate the covering of the universe. To kill gigantic Hiranyakashipu, the Lord assumed the special body of Nrisimhadeva. In other incarnations, the Lord exerted some energy according to the time and circumstances. But as Krishna, He exhibited unlimited potency without compromising His form and mood as a child. Krishna’s loving dealings with His mother, father, and friends in Gokula were a priority for Him, and the death of demons happened as a byproduct. The dead demons were delivered from their degraded life and attained better destinations or even spiritual liberation.

Krishna wanted the attention of His mother when He woke up from His sleep. Because the sound of His crying didn’t catch Yashoda’s attention, He made a louder sound by kicking the cart and thus calling His mother there at once. As a result, Sakatasura died, as if incidentally. This rare display of Krishna’s power does not contradict the sweetness of His childhood pastimes but shows His completeness. Lord Rama showed only humanlike pastimes during His childhood. But Krishna, in His childhood, showed His powers in harmony with His sweet humanlike pastimes.

Love Covers Logic

Everyone saw the dismantled cart and wondered, “How did the cart turn over by itself?”

The children who were looking at Krishna, attracted by His sweetness, asserted, “Krishna kicked the cart and it fell.”

But the elders neglected the childish talk, thinking, “How could the kick of a three-month-old baby overturn such a heavily loaded cart!”

An ordinary child could have been injured in many ways, but Krishna enjoyed the dismantling of the cart and was safe. The gopas and gopis thought that the accident took place because of the bad influence of some planet or ghost.

The cowherd community was always accustomed to seeing Krishna as their beloved child and object of affection, and not as God with powers. This time the elders didn’t see Krishna’s powers. But in later pastimes they saw Krishna manifesting His opulence right in front of their eyes when He subdued Kaliya, swallowed a forest fire, lifted Govardhan Hill, and so on. Yet, overcome by the bliss of prema that covered everything else, they always thought of Krishna as their son. Every so-called calamity that came upon Krishna only increased their love and didn’t induce any reverence for Him.

Later, strong gopas easily restored the large, heavy cart. They worshiped the cart using kusha grass and sacred water along with rice mixed with yogurt, since the cart, loaded as it was with valuable vessels, was considered an abode of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

Nanda Maharaja had perfectly qualified brahmanas chant mantras for Krishna’s protection from bad elements and ghosts. Whenever there was some danger or inauspicious occurrence, it was customary to have brahmanas chant Vedic hymns to counteract it. Being unaware of Krishna’s powers, brahmanas blessed Him. Krishna then happily drank Yashoda’s milk, giving her the greatest happiness.

*This article is based on the seventh chapter of the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam and the commentaries of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, and Srila Jiva Goswami. Details of Sakatasura’s past life are based on Garga Samhita.

Gauranga Darshana Dasa (www.gaurangadarshan.com), a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is the dean of Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village, outside Mumbai, and a member of ISKCON Board of Examinations. He is a shastric teacher and is the author of over twenty books including the Subodhini series of study guides, and storybooks like Bhagavata Pravaha and Bhagavatam Tales.