Kunti – The Mother of Pandavas and Karna

Kunti, originally named Pritha, is the daughter of the Yadava Prince Sura, King of the Surasena. She is the consort of King Pandu of Hastinapur and the sister of Vasudeva. She is the mother of Karna and the first three Pandavas –  Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna.

The twins Nakula and Sahadeva were born to Mardi. She also appears as one of the central characters of the great epic Mahabharata. (Female characters of Mahabharata)

Bhoja and Birth of Karna

Kunti-Bhoja (or Kuntibhoja) was the adoptive father and cousin of Queen Kunti. He was the ruler of the Kunti Kingdom. Kunti was the daughter of King Shurasena but was later given to Kuntibhoja since he was devoid of children. Kunti-Bhoja renamed Pritha Kunti and loved and cared for her like his own daughter.

Once, Sage Durvasa made a visit to Kunti-Bhoja. He liked the services and comforts that Kunti offered during his visit and blessed her with a powerful mantra so that she could get a son from anyone she wished. Innocent Kunti looked at the sun and started chanting the mantra. It was then Lord Surya blessed her with Karna.

ततो मां तेजसाविश्य मोहयित्वा च भानुमान् ।
उवाच भविता पुत्रस्तवेत्यभ्यगमद्दिवम् ॥

The Brahmana who had done no evil—I wished to protect from Surya’s curse. Let me have a son like you, O god.

Asramabasika Parva 38.13, Mahabharata
Kunti puts her baby in a basket and floats him down a river.

Afraid of being a single mother, she kept Karna in a basket and set him to float in the river. Adhiratha, later on, found the child. As Karna grew up, he became the chief advisor of Duryodhana, Prince of Hastinapur.

The Consort of Pandu

Kunti-Bhoja organized the Swyamvara ceremony of Kunti, and she chose King Pandu of Hastinapur as her companion.

In the course of expanding the empire, Pandu married a princess of Madra, Mardi, to secure the mutual bondage of Madra. Pandu preferred Mardi more than Kunti because Yadavas were cattle herders, and Mardi was a princess.

One fine day, Pandu was hunting in the forest. He mistakenly killed Rishi Kindama and his wife, who were in the form of deer to mate. Kindama then cursed him, saying, “If you ever try to intimate with your wife, you will die.” Pandu rejected the Kingdom and went into exile with his consorts, Kunti and Madri.

Pandu was not able to make love with his consorts. He then expresses his grief to Kunti about how Sage Kindama cursed him. In the meantime, Kunti used her boon given by Sage Durvasa and gave birth to Yudhishthira (by Yama), Bhima (by Vayu), and Arjuna (by Indra.) Kunti had shared her boon with Mardi on the condition that she could only use it one time. The clever Mardi chants the mantras and calls Ashvins, and gives birth to two twins- Nakula and Sahadeva.

Kunti and Pandu

Pandu forgets about his curse and is intimated with Mardi. As a result of Kindama’s curse, he died. Mardi also went to Sati as she thought she was the cause of his death.

After this incident, Kunti took good care of all five Pandavas, returning to Hastinapur.

From Hastinapur to Ekachakra to Hastinapur Again

After Pandavas returned to Hastinapur, there was a big issue in selecting the King of their Kingdom. Duryodhana was on one side, claiming to owe the Hastinapur, and Yudhishthira on another. Dhritarashtra called Yudhishthira his possession. With the support of his uncle, the angry Duryodhana, Shakuni planned to burn Pandavas and Kunti in Lakshagraha while celebrating a festival at Varnavat. But thanks to Vidura, he helped them to fake their death and escape from the fire.

After this incident, Kunti and Pandavas moved to a village named Ekachakra. While their stay at Ekachakra, they discovered a demon, Bakasura, who was repeatedly bothering the people. Kunti made a conspiracy where Bhima would be able to face Bakasura and eventually kill him. Later on, the great demon, Hidimba, sends his sister Hidimbi to kill Pandavas after sensing them in the forest. During the night, all other Pandavas were asleep except Bhima. As soon as Hidimbi sees Bhima, she forgets about her mission, falls in love with him, and expresses her desire to marry him.

Hidimbi didn’t return for a long time. The asura Hidimba searched for his sister and saw her talking with Bhima. He scolded her, saying, “I sent you to kill this human, and you are talking with him. Let me kill him myself.” But then Hidimbi refused to kill Bhima. Then he started attacking Bhima. After a fierce fight between Bhima and Hidimba, the fight ended with Bhima killing Hidimba.

After Bhima killed her brother, Hidimba still wanted to marry Bhima. But Bhima wanted to kill her. But Kunti somehow managed the marriage between Hidimba and Bhima on one condition: that Hidimba should participate in the war of Kurukshetra after having one child with Bhima.

The Pandavas and Kunti were invited back to the Hastinapur, and Kingdom was divided between Kauravas and Pandavas. Duryodhana became the King of Hastinapur, and Yudhistara became the King of Khandavprastha. After Pandavas lost the game of dice and were forced back into exile for thirteen more years, Dhritarashtra compelled Kunti to remain in the Kingdom. But she chose to stay in Vidura’s house instead of the Royal Palace.

Kunti meets Karna in Kurukshetra

Kunti met her abandoned child Karna in the war of Kurukshetra. Karna was on the opposite side of his biological mother. He felt happy to know his true mother but was still heartbroken. Kunti asked Karna to switch sides in the war, but he wanted to fight for the people who raised him.

He told her clearly that they did not abandon me as you did to me. He assured her that he would not fight against all of the Pandavas. He would only fight with Arjuna and promised her that at the war’s end, she would see five sons, either Arjuna or Karna and one of us would die.

Amid the battle, Karna lost his life. Poor Arjuna didn’t even know that he killed his own brother in the war.

Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the Mahabharata

Final days of Kunti

After the tragic war of Kurukshetra, Kunti was filled with sadness. She mourned many losses, including her firstborn son Karna, whose true identity she revealed in grief. Kunti comforted others around her, like Subhadra and Uttara, who were also mourning.

When Dhritarashtra and Gandhari decided to leave for the forest, Kunti joined them despite her sons’ protests. Before she left, she asked her eldest son, Yudhishthira, to care for his brothers and not forget Karna.

Living by the river Ganga in the forest, Kunti, Dhritarashtra, and Gandhari led a simple, ascetic life, visiting the Pandavas from time to time. However, their forest life ended when they were caught in a wildfire.

After their death, their bones were immersed in the Ganga as part of their last rites. Despite their victory, the Pandavas missed their mother Kunti dearly, her absence a constant reminder of the cost of the war.

Facts about Kunti

  • The cleverness of Kunti can be seen in how she made Bhima marry Hidimba so that she could make her participate in the Mahabharata War.
  • Kunti was very close to her brother Vasudeva’s son Lord Krishna.