The Bhagavata is the story of Krishna, known as Shyam to those who find beauty, wisdom and love in his dark complexion. It is the third great Hindu epic after the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. However, this narration was composed in fragments over thousands of years.
Devdutt Pattanaik’s book, Shyam seamlessly weaves the story from Krishna’s birth to his death, or rather from his descent to the butter-smeared world of happy women to his ascent from the blood-soaked world of angry men.
While talking of Shyam, Vyasa told Shuka, ‘Some tried to hurt him, he who cannot be hurt. Some tried to protect him, he who needs no protection. Let these tales make you sing lullabies for Shyam who sleeps in the cradle.’
Here is an excerpt of two of the stories from the book that talk about Shyam destroying Putana and Trinavarta, as an infant.
In keeping with tradition, nursing mothers in the village and in the surrounding countryside gathered in Yashoda’s house to offer their milk to her son. Among them was the wet nurse Putana.
Putana had been ordered by Kamsa to fill her breasts with poison and kill every newborn in Vraja. ‘Hopefully, one of them will be the child who escaped, the one destined to kill me.’ Putana let her love for Kamsa eclipse the morality of her action.
After nursing hundreds of infants to death, she arrived at Nanda’s house. ‘Let me feed your little boy,’ she said, a smile on her face and murder in her heart. Shyam leapt into her arms in glee. ‘See, he already likes me!’ Turning to Rohini she said, ‘You carry on with your chores. The child is safe with me.’
With everyone gone, Putana settled Shyam at her breast and let him suckle. She waited patiently for his cherubic limbs to go limp. She waited and waited, but the child showed no signs of slowing down. If anything, he sucked with greater vigour. Feeling uncomfortable, she tried pulling him away, but the dark child clung to her white breast like a baby monkey, suckling furiously. Putana grew weak. She could neither stand nor sit. The child, she realized, was drinking not her milk but her life. She opened her mouth to let out a bloodcurdling scream but the sound caught in her throat. Her vision blurred. And then she breathed no more.
Then Kamsa invoked Trinavarta to sweep into Gokul like the wind, scoop up the child who killed his beloved Putana and dash him to the ground before his mother’s eyes.
Trinavarta transformed into a whirlwind, flew across the Yamuna to Gokul where he found Shyam in the courtyard of Nanda’s house. Yashoda was churning butter while Nanda was busy cleaning the cowsheds. The wind demon swooped down like a hawk and carried the child away. He rose high in the sky, intent on hurling Shyam down from a great height.
But the higher Trinavarta rose, the heavier Shyam became. Though he still looked like an infant, barely three months old, sleeping soundly, unaware of the wind demon’s foul intentions, he weighed as much as a mountain.
When Shyam awoke and found that he was high above the earth, he did not cry. Nor was he afraid. He firmly clung to Trinavarta’s neck as if to steady himself. Trinavarta felt himself choking. Breathless, he could no longer whirl. Reduced to a harmless draught, he slunk back to earth.
It was only when Trinavarta placed Shyam back in his cradle that the child eased his grip. Trinavarta then collapsed and died. That day, the air over Gokul stood still as if in awe of Shyam’s strength.