Kunti was the daughter of Sura, who was also the father of Vasudeva. Kunti at birth was named Prtha. She was described as very beautiful, religious, kind-hearted and a responsible young lady (Bhawalkar 158). Kunti is better known as the mother of the five Pandavas from the Mahabharata, and the wife of king Pandu. She was also addressed as Lord Krsna’s paternal aunt; Sura had made a promise to his childless cousin that he would give him his first-born child (Bhawalkar 158). Therefore, at a very young age, Prtha was given away to Kuntibhoja. Prtha was then known as Kunti, the daughter of Kuntibhoja from then on (Bhawalkar 158). This is regarded as Kunti’s first sacrifice, as a young child, at the age of playing with toys and dolls. She was given away without being acknowledged but rather against her own will to keep the word her father had made with his cousin.
The duties Kunti fulfilled as a daughter lead her father to trust her with the hospitality when the Brahmana named Durvasa came to visit Kuntibhoja’s palace. Durvasa gave the family an advisory that he should not be mistreated otherwise he would not stay in the palace. Kuntibhoja agreed to his terms and his daughter, Kunti, also agreed to be at the service of the great sage with her righteous behaviour (Bhawalkar 159). Upon the service Kunti gave to Durvasa, he granted her a boon which was not available to any other human being. Kunti denied that boon he was granting her, and instead he then granted her the Atharva incantation. Upon reciting the mantra Durvasa gave her, whichever god she calls will be brought to her and grant her a son. After Kunti was given the mantra, she continuedly kept thinking about it. During these thoughts Kunti began to menstruate and felt ashamed of this. The sun started rising and as she looked at the sun, she decided she wanted to try the Atharva incantation. Instead of seeing the Sun, Kunti saw the sun as a lord, in his human form (Bhawalkar 162). Once he started speaking to Kunti, she was frightened as she was only testing out the incantation. She immediately told him to go away although the Sun said it would although, once she has been given a son. She knew that having a child before marriage would have people questioning her, about her virginity and how she went against Dharma. She asked the sun to forgive her as she was just a child, and this was a silly mistake. However, the noble Kunti was not able to persuade the Sun. The Sun told her that after her union with him she would become a virgin again; and her son would be a great and powerful hero (Bhawalkar 164). Kunti then fell onto the bed and became unconscious, she was made unconscious by the Sun’s yogic powers.
Once she gained her consciousness, she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was kept a secret in the palace between Kunti and her nurse. Her son looked just like his father, the Sun, armour on his body and gold earrings (Bhawalkar 165). Immediately after she had given birth to her son, she placed him in a basket lined with cloth to keep him warm and comfortable as she left for the river. She placed the basket with the child in it and told the baby that he was protected from the beings of the sky, earth, and heavenly beings. She trusted that the King of waters, Varuna would protect her child. She wept as she lowered the basket with her baby into the water and left from there in sorrow of leaving her child. She knew she could not go against dharma, and this was one of Kunti’s greatest sacrifices as a mother (Bhawalkar 165).
After Kunti arrived back to the palace, her father had arranged a Svayamvara for her. A Svayamvara which is the process of selecting a groom and that it did not lay restrictions on the wealth and social status of the contestant (Ganeshiah 36). Out of the thousands of kings who were at the palace for this event she chose Pandu of the Kuru family. He possessed manly attributes and came from a powerful family. While Kunti was married to Pandu, she was also a co-wife to Madri who was known worldwide for her beauty (Bhawalkar 166). Madri was jealous of Kunti as she knew that Kunti was the chief queen although Madri thought of herself as more superior and more deserving; Kunti always felt like Madri was closer to the king because of her beauty. King Pandu was given a curse as one day while hunting he shot a deer while it was copulating (Rodrigues 178). Since Pandu killed the deer while it was engaged in an act of pleasure, a shape shifting rsi cursed Pandu that he would die the next time he made love to either one of his wives (Rodrigues 178). After this curse, Pandu renounced his throne and took his wives to live in the forest leaving behind their luxurious lives. There was a voice from heaven that said Pandu’s first son would be Yudhishthira, the greatest amongst the followers of Dharma. Kunti then used the incantation given to her from Durvasa and called for the wind god, Vayu. Bhima, the child with terrific strength was born, the voices from heaven said this child would be the greatest among all powerful heroes. As a baby, there was an incident that occurred with Bhima that had astonished his parents. Kunti was startled by a tiger, which she had Bhima in her lap. She quickly got up and the child fell out of her lap, but he crushed the stones and rocks beneath him. He was a child of such force and strength. Pandu next told Kunti he wanted a very powerful son and by pleasing Lord Indra our child will hold magnificent powers. Thus, was born the undefeatable child who will destroy all enemies, Arjun (Bhawalkar 175).
With Kunti having her sons, Madri spoke to Pandu and told him that as a co-wife she could not ask Kunti but wondered if he could ask if Kunti could share progeny with Madri. With use of Kunti’s mantra, Madri invoked the twin gods Aswins and then had twin sons. After the birth of Nakula and Sahadeva, voices from the heavens spoke that these two boys could excel in prosperity and power. There was a naming ceremony for all of the sons of Pandu, the five Pandavas. The five children were granted great powers by the gods, as they would bring grace to their race, the Kurus (Bhawalkar 177).
During the spring month, Madri was wearing a beautiful dress, as Pandu saw her he lost control of himself. With the attempt to get intimate, as per his curse he died immediately. Madri took responsibility for being the reason of Pandus’ death and committed sati (Bhawalkar 178). Madri was the favoured wife of Pandu as he met death to douse his desire, while Madri was unable to bear children while Kunti helped her and gave the mantra Durvasa gave her to help out with childbearing. This is an example of how humble and modest Kunti was. Kunti had to bear widowhood and raise all the five sons on her own as Madri had committed sati (Bhadra 65). Kunti did not display any preferential affection towards any child but instead loved each equally.
Kunti returned to Hastinapur with her children after Pandus death. Upon arrival in Hastinapur, people began to wonder about the father of her children, many raised suspicions. Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kauravas, made a plan to burn Kunti, and her five sons alive in a palace. Duryodhana had an entire palace made of wax so every single item in the palace would burn into ashes including Kunti and her five sons. She advised her sons that this plan has been made and they conducted a secret evacuation plan. This is an example of how Kunti was a very powerful mother despite being a widow and struggling. Kunti had to live among her enemies and protect her family (Bhadra 65). Bhima had carried his mother on his shoulders out of the tunnel where they evacuated from the burning palace. After escaping they took shelter under a tree for the time being. As far as arranging brides for the Pandavas, Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas was mostly attracted to Arjuna. At the svayamvara, Draupadi’s family had heard of how the Pandavas escaped the wax palace. Kunti showered her blessings on Draupadi and all her sons.
Kunti raised many questions inside her mind in regards to her motherhood and her relation to her first born son, Karna. Karna had rejected his mother since he knew she had given him away as a baby. Kunti had to live with the guilt in her heart for many years knowing she had given away her son although, it was against her will as she did not want to go against Dharma and have a child as an unmarried woman. Kunti is a symbol of continuous suffering as a mother and a widow. Losing her child as soon as giving birth based on the fact that Dharma will not allow her to keep the child and live without questions. Kunti displayed Pativrata Dharma to the best of her abilities as Pandu’s wife. Kunti’s sacrifices from a child and into her motherhood makes her a very special individual that everyone can look up too. Some can look up to her in terms of her Pativrata Dharma, or her strength as being a widowed mother and raising five sons without discrimination of love; Kunti loved each and every son very much (Bhadra 65). She remains much of an inspiration despite all the ill luck that was thrown at her through her life.
Bhadra, Suranjana (2016) Retelling the Myth of Kunti:Saoli Mitra’s Timeless Tale. Burdwan: An interdisciplinary Journal of Literary Studies
Bhawalkar, V (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House
Ganeshaiah, K N (1998) Love Games that Insects Play. The evolution of Sexual Behaviours in Insects: Department of Genetics & Plant Breeding
Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism- The Ebook: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.
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Article written by: Amisha Kumar (March 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.