Kunti – The Mother of the Pandavas and Karna

- August 12, 2022


Kunti was the first-born child of Shurasena, a Yadava ruler. She was the sister of Vasudeva, Krishna’s father, the wife of Pandu and the mother of Karna and the Pandavas. Here are some lesser-known stories from the life of Kunti.   

Birth and childhood of Kunti

Born as the daughter of Shurasena, a Yadava ruler, Kunti was named Pritha at birth. Shurasena gave his first-born child to his childless cousin, Kuntibhoja, due to a promise he’d made earlier. In her new home, Pritha came to be known as Kunti. Later, Arjuna also came to be known as Parth since he was the son of Pritha. As a maiden, Kunti served Sage Durvasa with reverence. Pleased with her hospitality, he gave her a special boon, due to which she could summon any celestial being of her choice in order to beget children from them.  

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: Subba Rao and TNP Nedungadi
Penance for Arjuna

After the birth of Yudhishthira and Bheema, Pandu wanted a son who would win the admiration of the world. Pandu wanted to invoke Indra, to obtain a son from him. Hence to gratify Indra, Pandu suggested a year-long observance for Kunti. He also observed dire penances and mediation, standing on one leg from sunrise to sunset. Pleased with their penance, Indra came to Pandu and said he would give him a son who would be famous in all three worlds. As soon as Arjuna was born, Kunti heard voices from realms that addressed her. The voices said that this invincible child of hers would make her famous. The voices added that her son would win the admiration of Shiva in combat. Hence, he would obtain the Pashupatastra from him. 

Madri’s wish

Following the death of Pandu, Kunti told Madri, Pandu’s second wife, that she would follow Pandu in death as she was his first wife and asked Madri to take care of her children. However, Madri, full of grief, told her that if she survived, she would not be able to rear Kunti’s children as her own. Madri was convinced that Kunti would raise all the children with equal affection. Madri also added that since she was the cause of Pandu’s death, it was her wish to leave the world with her husband. With these words, Madri ascended the funeral pyre of her husband. 

Role in Bakasura’s death

After their escape from the forest of Varnavrata, the Pandavas went into hiding and lived in disguise in the house of a Brahmana family in a village named Ekachakra. One day, Kunti noticed that the family was distressed and weeping due to the misfortune that had befallen them. When asked the reason, they explained that a rakshasa named Baka was protecting their land and in return, demanded a meal of a cartload of rice, two buffaloes, and also the man, who took them to him, as his food. Kunti consoled the family and ordered Bheema to take the food to Baka, instead of one of the members of the family. When Yudhishthira questioned his mother about sending Bheema to the rakshasa, Kunti said that she assigned this task to Bheema as she was aware of his strength. She also added that it is the duty of a Kshatriya to protect those in distress. As expected, Bheema killed Bakasura, thus ending his tyranny.  

Script: Kamala Chandrakant, Illustration: TMP Nedungadi
Kunti’s message before the war

When Krishna visited Hastinapura as an envoy to make a peace offering on behalf of the Pandavas, he was given a warm welcome at the court. After exchanging some pleasantries with the Kauravas, Krishna went to visit Kunti, his paternal aunt. Kunti asked about the well-being of her sons and daughter-in-law. She told Krishna to convey her message to her sons. Kunti declared that the time had come for them to show themselves as true Kshatriyas. She added that if they failed to uphold Dharma now, she would forsake them forever. 

Retirement

After the coronation of Yudhishthira, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra decided to retire to the forest. But when the couple emerged from the palace, the Pandavas were surprised to see Kunti leading their way. Surprised Yudhishthira asked Kunti how could she leave them now when she was the one who encouraged them to fight for the throne. Kunti calmly replied that whatever she did so far was for the welfare and safety of her sons. Now that they were secure, she decided to follow Gandhari and Dhritarashtra on their last journey. Accompanied by Vidura, Sanjaya, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Kunti left Hastinapura to spend the rest of her days in the forest. 

The last days 

Kunti and Gandhari, with Dhritarashtra, spent their days in the forest in prayers and fasting. One day, a storm broke and with it, a forest fire. Vidura had already passed, but the trio persuaded Sanjaya to escape as they had become too weak and helpless to run away from the fire. Sanjaya reached the Himalayas. Unfortunately, Gandhari, Dhritarashtra, and Kunti were consumed by the forest fire. 

Read the Mahabharata collection by Amar Chitra Katha, now available on the ACK Comics App, Kindle, Flipkart and with other major e-tailers. 

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