Kunti (Sanskrit: कुन्ती, IAST: Kuntī), born Pritha (Sanskrit: पृथा, IAST: Pṛthā), was the queen of Kuru in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Kunti was married to Pandu and is the mother of Karna, Eklavya, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. She is depicted to possess beauty, intelligence and shrewdness.

Kunti
Member of Panchakanya
A late 17th-century painting of Pandu and Kunti from Kashmir
Other namesPritha
Devanagariकुन्ती
Affiliation
GenderFemale
Genealogy
ParentsShurasena (father)
Kuntibhoja (adoptive father)
Marisha (mother)
Siblings14 siblings including Vasudeva and Shrutashrava
SpousePandu
ChildrenSons
DynastyYaduvamsha-Chandravamsha (by birth)
Kuruvamsha-Chandravamsha (by marriage)

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 favour 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 honour.

Upon attaining marriageable age, Kunti chose Pandu, the king of Kuru, as her husband. Pandu, cursed to perish instantly upon attempting intimacy with his wife, retired to the forest with Kunti. Responding to her husband's entreaty, Kunti employed her mantra, resulting in the birth of Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva. Following Pandu's demise, Kunti assumed responsibility for her five sons 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

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Kunti was the biological daughter of Shurasena, a Yadava ruler.[1] Her birth name was Pritha. She is said to be the reincarnation of the goddess Siddhi. She was the sister of Vasudeva, Krishna's father. She shared a close relationship with Krishna. Her father gave Kunti to his childless cousin Kuntibhoja.[2]

 
Kunti invokes Surya out of curiosity.

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.[3]

Marriage and children

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Kuntibhoja organised Kunti's swayamvara. Kunti chose King Pandu of Hastinapur, making her the Queen of Hastinapur.[4][1]

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.[5]

Pandu could not sire children with his wives due to the curse by sage Kindama. A remorseful Pandu met some sages and asked them a way 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 to bear three sons—Yudhishthira by Dharmarajagod of Justice; Bhima by Vayu – god of wind, and Arjuna by Indra – the king of Svarga (Heaven). She also invoked Ashvins and gave birth to twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.[6][7]

Kunti gave special care to Sahadeva, the youngest one.

Widowhood

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One day, Pandu, forgetting his curse, attempted to embrace his wife Kunti's maid. But, as a result of Kindama's curse, he died. Kunti was left helpless in the forest with her children.[8]

After the death of Pandu, 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 to train under Drona.[9]

Hiding

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The Pandavas travelling with their mother

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.[10]

After surviving from the Lakshagriha Kunti and five Pandavas lived in Ekachakra village.[11] 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.[12] 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.[citation needed]

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.[13]

Role in the events of Hastinapura

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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.[14]

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.[15]

Reconciliation with Karna

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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.[3]

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.[16]

Later life and death

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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 those remaining perished in a forest fire.[4][17]

Portrayal in the Mahabharata

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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.[18]

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Various actresses portrayed the role in various films and TV serials.

References

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  1. ^ a b "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section CXII". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  2. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section CXI". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  3. ^ a b McGrath, Kevin (2004). The Sanskrit Hero: Karna in Epic Mahābhārata. Brill Academic. ISBN 90-04-13729-7. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Kunti" (PDF). Manushi India Organization. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  5. ^ Ramankutty, P.V. (1999). Curse as a motif in the Mahābhārata (1. ed.). Delhi: Nag Publishers. ISBN 9788170814320.
  6. ^ Perry, Edward Delavan (1885). "Indra in the Rig-Veda". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 11. Journal of the American Oriental Society vol. 11.1885: 121. doi:10.2307/592191. JSTOR 592191.
  7. ^ Bhattacharya, Pratip (2004). "She Who Must Be Obeyed, Draupadi: The ill fated one" (PDF). Manushi. Panchakanya 19–30.
  8. ^ "Chapter 60-Death of King Pandu and Madri at the same time". The Tales of India. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ "Lakshagraha of Mahabharat". Nerd's Travel. 7 August 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
  11. ^ "ASI grants permission to excavate palace Kauravas commissioned to kill Pandavas". India Today. 2 November 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  12. ^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam (ed.). India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 75.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Narlikar, Amrita; Narlikar, Aruna (20 March 2014). Bargaining with a Rising India: Lessons from the Mahabharata. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-161205-3.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 12: Santi Parva: Rajadharmanusasana Parva: Section VI".
  17. ^ Mani pp.442–3
  18. ^ Kumar, Manisha (15 October 2014). "Kunti And Gandhari – The Two Matriarchs Of Mahabharata". Dolls of India. Retrieved 20 August 2020.
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