The word Putana means 'devoid of virtue'. The story of the Putana is narrated in many manuscripts like the Bhagavata Purana, the epic Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana and Brahma Vaivarta Purana.
Putana's mythical story is portrayed as the 'killer of infants'. She was send by Krishna's maternal uncle Kansa to kill Krishna. Kansa was ruler of the Vrishni kingdom with its capital at Mathura.
Putana in the disguise of a young, beautiful woman came to Gokul, Lord Krishna's home-town. The cowherds of Gokul were awestruck by her beauty and attractiveness. They were mistaken and thought Putana to be the manifestation of goddess Lakshmi.
Krishna's foster-mother Yashoda was also captivated by Putana's beauty and virtuousness. She allowed Putana to take the infant Krishna in her lap and suckle or feed him.
Putana had tarnished her breast with an intoxicant or mandana, to kill infant Krishna. Krishna grabbed her breasts and sucked her milk and hurt her. Putana in pain shouted and ran out of the town but Krishna still clang to her and she at last collapsed dead. When she fell down dead she crashed the trees to the distance of three gavyuti or a unit of distance to dust.
The people of Mathura cut Putana's body into pieces. They buried her bones and feet and destroyed the flesh and skin by burning them in fire. The odorous smoke rose out of the flames and Putana's spirit was cleansed of all sin by breast-feeding Krishna and she was sent to heaven.
In later versions of the myth, the intoxicant smearing on Putana's breast was replaced with poison smearing or the milk is said to be poisoned.
Putana was the first enemy of Krishna. Later many other demons were sent by Kansa to kill Krishna. In the Vishnu Purana, it is elaborately stated that Putana worked in the dark, symbolizing the lack of illumination of knowledge. Her earrings are described not as radiant, but quivering signifying her unstable nature. Putana along with Varuna who was the Vedic god of darkness use to work together. Varuna used to chaos in the water, as he polluted the life-giving water, Putana mixed her breast milk with poison. Putana is thus symbolized for death and darkness.
Another story related to Putana is stated in the Puranas. Putana in her earlier birth was born as Ratnamala, the daughter of demon king Mahabali. When she saw Vamana, the previous incarnation of Krishna as a dwarf, she felt a desire to have him as her son and suckle him. Putana or Ratnamala changed her mind and decided to kill Vamana, after he acquired all possessions of Bali. Krishna knew her desires and allowed her to fulfill both of them - to suckle him and attempt on his life.
Putana is also referred as an infantile disease or bird, symbolizing danger to an infant or aspiration respectively.
Putana is also included in a group of malevolent mother goddesses called the Matrikas and also in the group of Yoginis and Grahinis.
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