“As Yashoda was given liberation from the material world, so Putana was also given liberation. When the baby Krishna closed His eyes, Putana took Him on her lap. She did not know that she was holding death personified. If a person mistakes a snake for a rope, he dies. Similarly, Putana killed so many babies before meeting Krishna, but now she was accepting the snake that would kill her immediately.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality Of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)Download this episode (right click and save)
The people of the community were innocent to a level unimaginable in today’s world. In industrialized nations, if the doorbell rings during the day it is common to immediately be suspicious.
“It must be someone selling something. I don’t want to talk to them. What if it is a potential intruder, looking to take advantage of our kindness? It is better not to answer. After a while they will go away.”
In Vrindavana five thousand years ago the people were so open and loving with one another that when a beautiful lady walked into the home and picked up baby Krishna, no one said a thing. In truth, we know this was the work of yogamaya, the energy directly supervised by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The illusion that causes us to misidentify with the temporary body and choose sense gratification that is nothing more than chewing the chewed is known as mahamaya. This also comes from God, but it is not something He wishes to impose on anyone. Everything is the kripa, or mercy of the Lord, but yogamaya is that energy under which the connection to the Divine is maintained.
This beautiful woman was actually a witch. She was sent to Vraja by the king of the neighboring town of Mathura. Known as Kamsa, he wanted baby Krishna killed, as a prophecy had warned him that the eighth child of his sister Devaki would be the person to end his life. Named Putana, the witch had the ability to change her appearance whenever she desired. Dressed as a beautiful lady coming to nurse the darling of the town, she was able to pick up Krishna without anyone objecting.
Not surprisingly, she had smeared poison on her breast beforehand. She was ready to deliver instant death to the son of Yashoda. Instead, Putana would lose her life. Poison cannot affect the one person who is always immune to the effects of the material nature. Even in the form of an innocent child, He retains full potency. Krishna quickly began to suck the very life out of Putana. Eventually, she gave up the false guise and revealed her hideous, gigantic form. That body tumbled to the ground, devoid of life due to the work of the origin of all life. Baby Krishna then playfully crawled on her body, as the well-wishers and family members looked on in horror. Eventually they were relieved, though, amazed at how Krishna could survive.
Putana attempted something quite vicious. If brought to a court of law she would have been tried for attempted murder. Krishna was able to protect Himself, but what kind of punishment awaited that witch sent on a mission by Kamsa? There were many options available to the person who is time itself, which is the great subduing agent in a world full of temporary objects and experiences.
1. Made her take birth in a lower species
Putana was demoniac. The word for demon in Sanskrit is asura. This is a simple negation of another word: sura, which means “devotee” or “good person.” The basic understanding is that the sura believes in God to some degree. They may not always be pure in their desires, but they are not foolish enough to think that everything in this world happens by chance.
tān ahaṁ dviṣataḥ krūrān
kṣipāmy ajasram aśubhān
āsurīṣv eva yoniṣu
“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
The asura is the opposite in qualities. Since they believe that everything is simply a collection of chemicals, they have no morals. They pursue sense gratification to no end, and they are always miserable as a result. Since they interfere with the progress of the suras, they get cast into lower species as punishment. Krishna Himself confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita. Yet being tossed to a lower species was not the future awaiting Putana.
2. Sent her to a horrible place
In material life, the criminals get sent to prison. If the crime for which they are convicted is severe, so is the punishment. In prison they might be forced to do hard labor. They may be put into solitary confinement, where they have little contact with other people. In the cream of Vedic literature known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we find descriptions of different hellish planets and their accompanying situations. Needless to say, life in these planets is not pleasant; there is constant pain and suffering. Yet Putana was not sent to any such place.
3. Put her on the other side
The Sanskrit word for meat is mamsa. The root meaning is “me and he.” The idea is that if I kill an animal for the purpose of eating it, the living being inside has the right to come back in its next life and kill me. In the common vernacular this chain of events is known as karma. Whatever you do comes back to you. If you are good, you have positive consequences in the future. Bad deeds get returned to you at some point in time.
Krishna could have put Putana in a situation where she would suck the breast of someone who had applied poison. This could have happened through the laws of karma, without Krishna needing to directly intervene. Yet this too was not the punishment given to the deceitful witch.
4. Damned her for eternity
“Believe in so and so or face eternal damnation. Do you want to suffer in hell? Who would? Then quickly accept the savior.” These threats are a great way to get the less intelligent to subscribe to a certain religion. Of course they neglect the eternality of the soul and how there is always an available link to the Supreme Soul, no matter the situation, no matter the place.
Still, Krishna could have judged that Putana’s act was unforgiveable. He could have damned her forever, denying her from ever getting salvation. We can think of it like the death penalty, even though in reality the soul is never killed. Putana could have been guaranteed repeated births in a lower species for time immemorial. Yet this was not the punishment she was to receive.
5. Given her liberation
The reward for having a spiritual consciousness at the time of death is release from the cycle of birth and death. Basically, if we are not set on illusion, mahamaya, when quitting the body, we won’t associate with illusion in the future. Indeed, there is a key verse in the Bhagavad-gita to help explain Putana’s fate. It says that whatever state of being a person has at the time of death, that state they attain without fail in the next life.
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
What was Putana thinking of at the time of death? Krishna was sucking the life out of her breast. She was only thinking of Him. Granted, the attitude was inimical. Her consciousness was not like that of a renounced ascetic who constantly chants the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Yet liberation is what she received. This is the reward for having consciousness of Krishna at the time of death. The incident with the witch also shows the unmatched mercy of God the person. He is not mean and vindictive, as the mental speculators would have you believe. He is not a bitter old man, just waiting to punish the sinners. Rather, He is compassion personified. If such a reward is granted to someone like Putana, imagine what awaits the person who thinks of Krishna in a mood of love. They get the highest form of liberation, constant association with the all-attractive one in that very same mood, going forward into eternity.
From poison on breasts smearing,
Path for Krishna’s death clearing.
Yet Putana falling, lifeless body a hideous sight,
Hopefully then to receive punishment right.
Eternally damned or into lower species thrown?
Actually by Supreme Lord greatest mercy shown.
Liberation since thinking of Him,
Cleared instantly of most grievous sin.