14 siblings including Vasudeva and Shrutashrava
Kunti (Sanskrit: कुन्ती, IAST: Kuntī), born Pritha (Sanskrit: पृथा, IAST: Pṛthā), is a prominent figure in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Recognized for her pivotal role as the mother of Karna and the Pandavas, the central protagonists of the narrative, she is depicted as possessing notable beauty, intelligence, and shrewdness.
Originally born to the Yadava chief Shurasena, Pritha was adopted by her childless uncle, Kuntibhoja, and subsequently bestowed with the name Kunti. During her adolescence, she garnered the favor of the sage Durvasa, receiving a divine mantra. Intrigued, she employed this mantra to invoke the sun god Surya, resulting in the birth of her son, Karna. Faced with the societal stigma associated with bearing a child out of wedlock, Kunti found herself compelled to relinquish her son to safeguard her honor.
Upon attaining adulthood, Kunti chose Pandu, the king of Kuru, as her husband. However, her marital harmony was disrupted by the inclusion of Madri, the princess of Madra, as Pandu's second wife. Pandu, cursed to perish instantly upon attempting intimacy with his wives, retired to the forest with Kunti and Madri. Responding to her husband's entreaty, Kunti employed her mantra, resulting in the birth of Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna. Later, she shared this mantra with Madri, who bore Nakula and Sahadeva. Following Pandu's demise and Madri's self-immolation, Kunti assumed responsibility for her stepsons and relocated with her children to Hastinapura, the capital of Kuru.
Surviving the perilous events at the Lakshagriha, Kunti, during their concealment, instructed Bhima to marry Hidimbi, a Rakshasi. A misunderstanding on Kunti's part led to the polyandrous union of Draupadi, the princess of Panchala, with the five Pandavas. Following the establishment of Indraprastha, Kunti continued to reside in Hastinapura, cultivating a harmonious relationship with her sister-in-law, Gandhari. Preceding the Kurukshetra War, Kunti encountered Karna, urging him to align with the Pandava faction upon discovering his true lineage. Despite Karna's refusal, she implored him to spare all her sons except Arjuna. Subsequent to Yudhishthira's ascension to the throne of the Kurus, Kunti retired to the forest, eventually passing away.
Within Hindu tradition, Kunti is venerated as one of the panchakanya ("five maidens"), embodying ideals of female chastity. Her name is believed to possess purifying qualities, capable of dispelling sin when recited. Kunti is lauded as the epitome of maturity, foresight, and dutiful womanhood.
Birth of Karna and early life
Kunti was the biological daughter of Shurasena, a Yadava ruler. Her birth name was Pritha. She is also said as the reincarnation of the goddess Siddhi. She was the sister of Vasudeva, the father of Krishna and shared a close relationship with Krishna. Her father gave Kunti to his childless cousin Kuntibhoja.
Once Rishi Durvasa visited Kuntibhoja. Being extremely pleased by the all comforts, patience, and devotion offered by Kunti, he offered her a mantra that would invoke any god of her choice and he would bless her with children.
Out of impetuous curiosity, Kunti invoked the god Surya. Bound by the power of the mantra, Surya blessed her with a child. To her surprise, the child was born with his sacred armour on. Out of fear of the public and with no choice, Kunti put the child in a basket and set him afloat the Ganga river. He later became famous as Karna.
Marriage and children
Kuntibhoja organized Kunti's swayamvara. Kunti chose King Pandu of Hastinapur, making her the Queen of Hastinapur. Soon after, during his mission to expand his empire, Pandu, on Bhishma's proposal, married Madri, a princess of Madra in order to secure the vassalage of Madra. Kunti was disturbed by her husband's actions, but eventually reconciled with him and treated Madri as sister.
Pandu,while hunting in a forest, mistakenly shot and killed Rishi Kindama and his wife as they had taken the form of deer to mate. The dying sage then cursed him to die if he tries to embrace or touch his wives. Pandu renounced the kingdom and went into exile with Kunti and Madri.
Pandu could not have children from his wives as he was supposed to treat them as relatives due to the curse by sage Kindama. A remorseful Pandu renounced the kingdom and went into exile with Kunti and Madri. He met some sages and asked them away for heaven and salvation. They said, without children, one can never aspire for heaven. When Pandu expressed to Kunti his despair at the prospect of dying childless, she mentioned the boon granted to her. He happily advised her to beget children by suitable, illustrious men. Thus, Kunti used the boon granted to her by Sage Durvasa (which she had used to bear Karna) to bear three sons—Yudhishthira by Dharmaraja – god of Justice; Bhima by Vayu – god of wind, and Arjuna by Indra – the king of Svarga (Heaven). She also invoked Ashvins for Madri on her behest and Madri gave birth to twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.
Kunti gave special care to Madreyas (sons of Madri) especially Sahadeva the youngest one. Madri gave tribute to Kunti by saying
"You are blessed. There is none like you you are my light, my guide, most respect-worthy, reater in status, purer in virtue." I.125.66–68
One day, Pandu, forgetting his curse, attempted to embrace his wife Madri. But, as a result of Kindama's curse, he died. Madri committed suicide out of remorse that caused her husband's death. Kunti was left helpless in the forest with her children.
After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti took care of all five Pandava children taking them back to Hastinapur. Dhritrashtra's sons never liked them. During their childhood, Duryodhana poisoned and tried to kill Bhima but he was saved. Kunti was hurt by this but was consoled by Vidura. Later the Kuru Princes were sent for training to Drona.
After the princes finished their training, they returned to Hastinapura. After some time Duryodhana and his maternal uncle Shakuni tried to burn Pandavas alive along with Kunti for which they built the palace out of lac (Lakshagriha) in a village named Varanāvata. The Pandavas, though, managed to escape the house of lac with the help of Vidura through a secret tunnel.
After surviving from the Lakshagriha Kunti and five Pandavas lived in Ekachakra village. During their stay, Kunti and the Pandavas become aware of a demon, Bakasura, who ate people. Villagers had to send one member of their family and food to Bakasura, who devour both. When Kunti heard the cries of a Brahmin – who had provided her and her son's shelter in Ekachakra, Kunti consoled him and suggested that instead of a Brahmin's family, her son Bhima would face the demon. Kunti engineered a plot where Bhima would be able to face and kill the demon. The powerful Bhima brought his might to the fore and defeated Bakasura. Later, Bhima slays the rakshasa Hidimba and he is beseeched by Hidimbi, Hidimba's sister, to wed her. Bhima is reluctant, but Kunti ordered Bhima to marry Hidimbi seeing merit in the woman. Hidimbi would go on to birth Ghatotkacha, who later takes part in the Kurukshetra War.
The Pandavas attended the swayamvara of Draupadi in Panchala. Arjuna was able to win Draupadi's hand. The Pandavas returned to their hut and said that they have bought alms (signifying Kanyadan). Kunti misunderstood them and asked the Pandavas to share whatever they had brought. Kunti was shocked after realizing the implications of her words, that is, all of the Pandavas married Draupadi thinking that they are obeying their mother's orders. Therefore, she scolded her children for treating a woman like alms. However, Draupadi accepted this as her fate.
Role in the events of Hastinapura
When Kunti, along with the Pandavas and Draupadi, returned to Hastinapura, they faced many problems including Draupadi's polyandry and succession dispute between Yudhishthira and Duryodhana. On the advice of Bhishma, Pandavas were given a barren land to rule which was developed into Indraprastha.
When the Pandavas lose the kingdom in a dice game and are forced to go into exile for thirteen years, Kunti is forced by King Dhritarashtra to remain in the capital. She chose to stay in Vidura's house rather than the royal palace.
Reconciliation with Karna
As war approached, Kunti met Karna and in desperation to keep her all children alive, asked Karna to leave the side of Duryodhana and join the Pandavas. Karna denied the offer, as he could not betray his friend. However, he promised Kunti that he would not kill any of his brothers except Arjuna, thus following both Mitra dharma and Putra dharma. He also promised that at the end of the war she would still have five sons, the fifth one be either Arjuna or Karna himself.
Despite supporting her children, Kunti stayed in the Kaurava camp along with her sister-in-law Gandhari. After the death of Karna, Kunti disclosed the secret of Karna's birth to the Pandavas. A grief-stricken Yudhisthira would curse the women of the world that they shall be unable to keep any secret anymore.
Later life and death
After the Kurukshetra war, Kunti lived with her sons for many years. After she felt that her job in the world was over, she moved to a forest near the Himalayas with her brothers-in-law Vidura and Dhritarashtra, Sanjaya and Dhritarashtra's wife Gandhari. Vidura died two years after they left. Later Sanjaya left for the Himalayas and the left ones perished in a forest fire.
Portrayal in the Mahabharata
In the Mahabharata, Kunti is depicted as a mild-mannered woman with high moral and social values. She constantly guides her sons on their actions and keeps the family bound as one, never to have them fight among each other. She is said to have a great amount of respect for her brothers-in-law Dhritarashtra and Vidura and for Dhritarashtra's wife Gandhari. She is also said to have an affectionate relationship with her daughter-in-law Draupadi.
Other versions of the Mahabharata depict her to be shrewd and calculative. Early in her life, she rejects her son born out of wedlock (Karna) in societal fear, only to confess to him several years later, in solitude, that she birthed him. She tries to have him shift parties out of fear of losing her five sons. In exile with her husband Pandu, she shares her boon with his second wife Madri reluctantly and fears being overshadowed. It is said that Kunti did not share the boon for a second time with Madri, in the fear that Madri's children would outnumber her own.
In popular culture
Various actresses portrayed the role in various films and TV serials.
- Durga Khote in Maharathi Karna (1944 film)
- G Varalakshmi in Bhishma (1965 film)
- M V Rajamma in Karnan (1964 film, Tamil)
- Achala Sachdev in Mahabharat (1965 film)
- Rushyendramani in Sri Krishnavataram (1967 film)
- S. Varalakshmi in Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977 film)
- Nazneen in Mahabharat (1988 TV series)
- Miriam Goldschmidt in The Mahabharata (1989 film)
- Lata Haya in Krishna (1993–1997 TV series)
- Neena Gupta in Ek Aur Mahabharat (1997 TV series)
- Shalini Kapoor in Maharathi Karna (2001 TV series)
- Sudha Chandran in Vishnu Puran(2003 TV series)
- Jaya Bhattacharya in Kahaani Hamaaray Mahaabhaarat Ki (2008 TV series)
- Shafaq Naaz in Star Plus's Mahabharat (2013 TV series)
- Deepti Naval voiced the character in the animated movie Mahabharat (2013 film).
- Priya Bathija in Suryaputra Karn (2015 TV series)
- Sayantani Ghosh in Karn Sangini (2018 TV series)
- Reshma Konkar in Radhakrishn (2018 TV series)
- "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section CXII". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
- "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section CXI". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
- McGrath, Kevin (2004). The Sanskrit Hero: Karna in Epic Mahābhārata. Brill Academic. ISBN 90-04-13729-7. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
- "Kunti" (PDF). Manushi India Organization. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- Ramankutty, P.V. (1999). Curse as a motif in the Mahābhārata (1. ed.). Delhi: Nag Publishers. ISBN 9788170814320.
- Perry, Edward Delavan (1885). "Indra in the Rig-Veda". Journal of the American Oriental Society. Journal of the American Oriental Society vol. 11.1885. 11: 121. doi:10.2307/592191. JSTOR 592191.
- Bhattacharya, Pratip (2004). "She Who Must Be Obeyed, Draupadi: The ill fated one" (PDF). Manushi. Panchakanya 19–30.
- "Chapter 60-Death of King Pandu and Madri at the same time". The Tales of India. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20110713024835/http://www.india-intro.com/religion/mahabharat/210-mahabharat-the-story-of-drona-teacher-of-kauravas-and-pandavas.html The Story of Drona – the Teacher of Kauravas and Pandavas
- "Lakshagraha of Mahabharat". Nerd's Travel. 7 August 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
- "ASI grants permission to excavate palace Kauravas commissioned to kill Pandavas". India Today. 2 November 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
- Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam (ed.). India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 75.
- Johnson, W. J. (2009). "Arjuna". A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780198610250.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19861-025-0.
- Narlikar, Amrita; Narlikar, Aruna (20 March 2014). Bargaining with a Rising India: Lessons from the Mahabharata. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-161205-3.
- Mani, Vettam (1 January 2015). Puranic Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Work with Special Reference to the Epic and Puranic Literature. Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 978-81-208-0597-2.
- Mani pp.442–3
- Kumar, Manisha (15 October 2014). "Kunti And Gandhari – The Two Matriarchs Of Mahabharata". Dolls of India. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
- admin (20 April 2020). "Kunti Devi From Mahabharata: A Character Sketch". Meghnaunni.com. Retrieved 20 August 2020.