Mythology’s Foster Mothers

- September 7, 2020


Motherhood is one of the most influential rites of passage a woman can experience in her life. The bond between a mother and her own flesh and blood is something that is near divine. Having said that, for a woman to be able to feel the same way about a child that is not biologically hers is truly a blessing, especially when she has offspring of her own. There are numerous instances in the epics where we see mother figures who adopt other children as their own, and raise them alongside their own kids, seeing no difference between them. Here are some examples. 

Illustration: Dilip Kadam

Kunti is one of the most resilient characters in the Mahabharata, who faces numerous setbacks in her life. She is forced to face the bitter truth that her husband loves his second wife more than her. She then is forced to endure the loss of her husband, the treachery of her in-laws, the abandonment of her eldest son Karna, and much more. When Madri sacrifices herself following the death of Pandu, Kunti is left to care for Madri’s sons, Nakula and Sahadeva. Yet Kunti raises them alongside her three sons, Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna with no discrimination, raising them to be just, mighty, and brave warriors. 

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

When Kunti left Karna in the river, Adhiratha, the chief charioteer of King Pandu, brought him home. Radha (not to be confused with Krishna’s consort, Radha) lovingly embraces Karna as her own. She raises Karna to be just and loyal. Karna’s love for his mother grows even stronger when Krishna reveals to him the harsh truth of his birth. Karna is also known as Radheya, meaning Radha’s son.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

Afraid of his brother-in-law Kamsa’s intentions to kill his son, Vasudeva swaps the baby Krishna with his cousin Nanda’s daughter, Yogmaya. Nanda was the head of the Gopas tribe of Yadava cowherds in Gokul. Nanda’s wife, Yashoda, who wasn’t aware of the swap, lovingly raises Krishna as her own son. His mischievous antics always kept Yashoda on her toes. Believing the little one to be innocent, she protected him from all the girls who blamed him for troubling them every day. But Yashoda was a strict mother too. She would punish Krishna whenever she would catch him red-handed. Despite later realizing that Devaki was Krishna’s biological mother, she continued to love him immensely, with Krishna reciprocating that love in full measure.

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A hundred sons, the sages say, are a hundred blessings. Gandhari's hundred Kaurava sons, however, were more of a curse. Did they become evil by some divine plan or was it because she was proudly blind to their faults? Helpless as they heaped dishonour on the family, she was furious with Lord Krishna for abetting in her son's eventual slaughter. Unfortunately, her grief was overpowering, and threatened to wreak further havoc.

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