By Gauranga Darshan Das
Ghosts do not have gross bodies. But they do have subtle bodies. Gross bodies are made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Subtle bodies are made of mind, intelligence, and ego. Both of these bodies are material and all individuals in this world are covered by these two types of bodies. Subtle bodies store all kinds of desires and past impressions that induce the actions of gross bodies.
People who are too sinful cannot get a gross body but roam around invisibly in subtle bodies with unfulfilled desires. Such body-less beings are called ghosts. Sometimes ghosts try to fulfill their desires by possessing the bodies of common people. Or they enter some gross objects to execute their evil plans. Here is the story of one such ghost inspired by a 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 Hiraṇyākṣa. He had a huge body and was very powerful. Any material good quality could potentially induce false pride in a person to a small or great extent. So Utkaca was also proud of his strength.
Once Utkaca went to the hermitage of a sage named Lomaśa, who had studied a hundred lessons in morality from Lord Brahma. For no reason, Utkaca started breaking trees there, being puffed up of his strong body. Seeing him creating an unnecessary disturbance, sage Lomaśa cursed him, “O evil-hearted one, become bodyless!” Utkaca’s body at once fell away like 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 Lomaśa’s feet, and begged him, “O great sage, I did not know your power. Please forgive me and give me a body.” Lomaśa became pacified quickly and said, “Lord Kṛṣṇa’s foot will liberate you from this ghostly existence.” Saintly devotees have the power both to curse and bless. Even the anger of saintly persons is a blessing. Because of Lomaśa’s curse, Utkaca would be getting an opportunity to be touched by the divine lotus foot of the Supreme God Kṛṣṇa.
Fear Haunted Him Like A Ghost
Later Utkaca, wandering as a ghost, made friends with another demoniac person named Kaṁsa. Kaṁsa was the cruel maternal uncle of Lord Kṛṣṇa. He was madly in search of baby Kṛṣṇa because he had once heard an omen that he would be killed by the eighth son of his sister Devaki, who was Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Fear of death, haunting him like a ghost, Kaṁsa was always immersed in the thoughts of Kṛṣṇa and tried to search for Kṛṣṇa. He became completely Kṛṣṇa conscious, not with devotion, but with intense fear. Interestingly, even such fearful remembrance of Kṛṣṇa, when it leads to complete absorption in Kṛṣṇa, can liberate a person. That is Kṛṣṇa’s special mercy on demons.
Kaṁsa dispatched many of his demoniac friends to find and kill the Lord, his future killer! Instigated by Kaṁsa, Utkaca also came to Gokula to kill Kṛṣṇa, who then was a three months old baby. The demon (asura) entered a household cart (Śakaṭa) in Nanda Mahārāja’s courtyard. The cart was loaded with many vessels made of gold, silver, and brass. In Sanskrit, a cart is called Śakaṭa and a demon is called asura. Therefore, Utkaca was also called Śakaṭasura – the cart demon. No one noticed Śakaṭasura as he was invisible. He waited for an opportunity to kill Kṛṣṇa.
A Ceremony Led By Women
When Kṛṣṇa was just three months old, He attempted to rise and turn around on His own for the first time. This stage of a child’s growth was celebrated as the Utthāna 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 a 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. Utthāna ceremony was an event led by mothers. Kṛṣṇa’s birth was celebrated by Nanda Mahārāja as Nandotsava with the assistance of Mother Yaśodā. Utthāna ceremony was celebrated by Yaśodā with the assistance of Nanda. In a cultured society, mother and father have specific roles to play in raising the child with cooperation from each other. Such balanced care of parents nourishes and ensures the child’s physical and emotional development.
Mother Yaśodā led the Utthāna ceremony on the auspicious day when the moon was in Rohini constellation which was also Kṛṣṇa’s birth star. Being an expert in all ceremonies, Yaśodā did abhiṣeka(holy bathing) of Kṛṣṇa assisted by other motherly gopés of Gokula. After completing the bathing ceremony, Kṛṣṇa was rubbed dry by Yaśodā and the gopīs and He was anointed with gorocana (an aromatic medicinal substance obtained from a cow) and dressed up nicely.
Yaśodā received the brāhmaṇas carrying her blue boy dressed in red garments and decorated with golden ornaments. Kṛṣṇa’s lotus eyes were decorated with black ointment and He wore a glittering moon necklace made of lion nail. Yaśodā offered respects to the devatas. She liberally distributed grains, wealth, clothes, flowers, and cows in charity to the brāhmaṇas, who chanted mantras to invoke auspiciousness.
Body-less Ghost Attains a Spiritual Body
At that time, little Kṛṣṇa felt sleepy. So, Yaśodā 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 made Kṛṣṇa lay down under the household cart (Śakaṭa) in which ghost Utkaca had entered. She also lay down along with the child until He was asleep. When she saw that Kṛṣṇa was fast asleep, she got up very gently and went back to attend the guests. Some small children who were playing around saw Kṛṣṇa peacefully sleeping.
Because of Śakaṭasura, the wheels of the cart began to sink into the earth and the cart’s height started decreasing. Śakaṭasura intended to fall on Kṛṣṇa and kill Him. But baby Kṛṣṇa got up from His sleep. Absorbed in the mood of an infant, He began crying for mother’s milk. Yaśodā was busy exchanging pleasantries and giving ornaments, garlands, sandalwood pulp (candana), oil and sindhura to the village women. Therefore, she couldn’t hear the child crying from hunger. As it is natural for babies, Kṛṣṇa angrily threw His little legs upward in the air. The red sole of Kṛṣṇa’s soft foot touched the cart with the gesture of a kick.
Although Kṛṣṇa’s foot was as tender as a newly grown leaf, His kick turned the cart upside down. His limbs were inconceivably potent, 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. Śakaṭasura had entered the cart invisibly and was destroyed invisibly. No one had noticed him. But the children saw that Kṛṣṇa kicked the cart which then overturned.
When the cart broke into pieces, Śakaṭasura left his subtle ghostly body and attained a pure spiritual body. He respectfully bowed down before Lord Kṛṣṇa. In a chariot pulled by a hundred horses, he went to Kṛṣṇa’s abode of Goloka Vṛndāvana in the spiritual world. Such is the mercy of the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa, especially in Vṛndāvana.
Śakaṭasura 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. Kṛṣṇa removes this contamination by kicking them aside when we take His shelter by performing bhakti.
Kṛṣṇa’s Uncompromising Sweetness
Kṛṣṇa didn’t manifest a gigantic form or use any weapons to kill Śakaṭasura. Just the kick of an infant baby was sufficient. This is the sweetness of Kṛṣṇa’s childhood pastimes. To subdue King Bali, Lord Vāmana manifested His TrivikRāma form and extended His foot to the greatest height to penetrate the covering of the universe. To kill gigantic Hiraëyakaçipu, the Lord assumed the special body of Nṛsiṁhadeva. In other incarnations, the Lord had to exert some energy according to the time and circumstances. But as Kṛṣṇa, He exhibited unlimited potency without compromising His form and mood as a child. Kṛṣṇa’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.
Kṛṣṇa wanted the attention of His mother when He woke up from His sleep. Because the sound of His crying didn’t catch Yaśodā’s attention, He seemed to make a louder sound by kicking the cart and thus calling His mother there at once. As a result, Śakaṭasura also died! This rare display of the power of Kṛṣṇa which does not contradict the sweetness of His childhood pastimes shows the completeness of Kṛṣṇa. Lord Räma showed only human-like pastimes during His childhood. Kṛṣṇa, however, showed his powers in harmony with his sweet human-like pastimes.
Love Covers Logic
Everyone saw the dismantled cart and wondered, “How did the cart turn over by itself?” But the children who were looking at Kṛṣṇa attracted by His sweetness, asserted, “Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa enjoyed the dismantling of the cart and was safe. The gopas and gopés thought that the accident took place because of the bad influence of some planet or some ghost.
The cowherd community was always accustomed to seeing Kṛṣṇa as their beloved child and object of their affection, and not as God with powers. This time the elders didn’t see Kṛṣṇa’s powers. But in the later pastimes, they saw Kṛṣṇa manifesting His opulence right in front of their eyes when He subdued Kāliya, swallowed forest fire, lifted Govardhan Hill, and so on. Yet, overcome by the bliss of prema that covered everything else, they always thought Kṛṣṇa as their son. Every so-called calamity that came upon Kṛṣṇa only increased their love and didn’t induce any reverence in them for Him.
Later strong gopas easily restored the large and heavy cart. They worshipped the cart using kuśa grass and sacred water along with rice mixed with yogurt since the cart represented the main shelter of cowherds, abode of Lakṣmī, and storehouse of accumulated wealth.
Nanda Mahārāja had perfectly qualified brāhmaṇas chant mantras for Kṛṣṇa’s protection from bad elements and ghosts. Whenever there was some danger or some inauspicious occurrence, it was the custom to have brāhmaṇas chant Vedic hymns to counteract it. Being unaware of Kṛṣṇa’s powers, brāhmaṇas gave Him blessings. Kṛṣṇa then drank the milk of Yaśodā happily, giving happiness to her.
Note: This article is based on the seventh chapter of the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam and the commentaries of Srila Prabhupada, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur, and Srila Jiva Goswami. Details of Śakaṭasura’s past life are based on Garga Samhita.
Gauranga Darshan Das, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatah Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV). He is a member of ISKCON Board of Examinations (BoEx) and GEV Administrative Council. He is the author of books including Gita Subodhini, Bhagavata Subodhini, Caitanya Subodhini, Disapproved but not Disowned and Bhagavata Pravaha. He teaches scriptural courses at several places in India.