In Mahabharata, Kunti (Sanskrit: कुन्ती, IAST: Kuntī) or Pritha (Sanskrit: पृथा, IAST: Pṛithā) was the daughter of Shurasena, and the foster daughter of his cousin Kuntibhoja. She is the aunt of Krishna. She was married to King Pandu of Hastinapur and was the mother of Karna and the Pandavas Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakul and Sahadeva. She was the paternal aunt of Krishna, Balarama, and Subhadra. She was the step mother or foster mother of Nakula and Sahadeva. She was very beautiful and intelligent. She is often regarded as one of the protagonists of the Mahabharata.
Kunti along with her husband Pandu
|Relatives||Gandhari, Bhishma, Krishna, Kauravas, Pandavas, Vidura, Satyavati, Madri|
Birth and early life
Kunti was the biological daughter of Shurasena, a Yadava chief. Her birth name was Pritha. Kunti was the sister of Vasudeva, the father of Krishna and shared a close relationship with Krishna. Her father gave Kunti to his childless cousin Kuntibhoja.
Once Sage 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 begot a child on her, and restored her virginity. To her surprise, the child was born with his sacred armor on. Out of fear of the public, Kunti abandoned the child, who later became famous as Karna.
Marriage to Pandu
Soon after, during his mission to expand his empire, Pandu married Madri, a princess of Madra in order to secure the vassalage of Madra. Madri was of the view that Kunti was inferior by birth to her because Yadavas were cattle herders while she was a princess. Kunti was disturbed by her husband's act, but eventually reconciled with him.
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 placed a curse on Pandu since he had not only killed them in the midst of lovemaking but was not remorseful for his action. King Pandu argued with sage Kindama by misquoting sage Agastya's ruling on the right of Kshatriyas on hunting. Sage Kindama then decided to curse him to die if he ever should become intimate with his wife. Pandu renounced the kingdom and went into exile with Kunti and Madri.
Pandu could not make love with his wives due to the curse by sage Kindama. A remorseful Pandu renounced the kingdom and went into exile with Kunti and Madri. He met some sages and asked them a way for the 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 advised her to beget children by suitable, illustrious men. Thus, Kunti used the boon granted to her by Sage Durvasa (which she had used to bear Karna) to bear three sons—Yudhishthira by Yama - god of death; Bhima by Vayu - god of wind, and Arjuna by Indra - the king of Svarga (Heaven). She also invoked Ashvins for Madri on her behest and Madri gave birth to twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.
One day, Pandu, forgetting his curse, attempted to make love with his wife Madri. But, as a result of Kindama's curse, he died. Madri committed sati as she was the cause of his death. Kunti was left helpless in the forest with her children.
After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti took care of all five Pandava children taking them back to Hastinapur. As the rivalry culminated between Pandavas and Kauravas, she decided to go back to Kunti Bhoja. But her attempt was stopped by Bhishma.
When the Pandavas returned to Hastinapur, there was a succession crisis. Duryodhana claimed to be the next heir for the kingdom. Dhritarashtra named Yudhishthira as his heir, enraging Duryodhana. With the help of Shakuni, Duryodhana planned to burn the Pandavas and Kunti in a Lakshagraha while they were on a festival at Varnavat. But with early warning and aid from Vidura, the Pandavas and Kunti fake their death and escape the burning house. They travel the countryside, disguised as brahmins.
During their stay at Ekachakra, Kunti and the Pandavas came to know 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 sons 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. Later, Bhima slays the rakshasa Hidimba and he is beseeched by Hidimbaa, Hidimba's sister, to wed her. Bhima is reluctant, but Kunti ordered Bhima to marry Hidimba seeing merit in the woman. Hidimba would go on to birth Ghatotkacha, who later takes part in the Kurukshetra War.
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, and scolds her children for treating a woman like alms. However, Draupadi forgives Kunti as it was her (Draupadi's) very own karma that made Kunti give such orders and she accepts this as her fate.
Return and game of dice
The Pandavas and Kunti are invited back to the kingdom and the kingdom is shared with Kauravas. 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 thereby separating the sons from the mother (Act of vengeance by Dhritarashtra). She chose to stay in Vidura's house rather than the royal palace.
Portrayal in the Mahabharata
In most tellings of 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 brother-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.
However, several versions of the Mahabharata depict her to be shrewd and calculative. Early in her life she rejects her son born out of wedlock (Karna) in societal fear, only to confess to him several years later, in solitude, that she birthed him. She tries to have him shift parties out of fear of losing her five sons. In exile with her husband Pandu, she shares her boon with his second wife Madri reluctantly and is always in fear of being out-shadowed. It is said that Kunti did not share the boon for a second time with Madri, in the fear that Madri's children would outnumber her own.
Several other instances suggest that Kunti did not share a good relationship with her sons' common wife Panchali. In a common folklore it is said that while Arjuna arrived with Draupadi as his bride, a deity (in some versions Krishna himself) appeared before Kunti and foretold her to have Draupadi wed all the five brothers in order to avoid jealously among them.
As war approached, Kunti met Karna and in desperation to keep her children alive, asked Karna to 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. Kunti also asked Karna further promises, such as he should not use the same weapon twice against Arjuna, which were granted by Karna. In return, Karna requested his mother to keep their relationship a secret until the end of the war. 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. Despite supporting her children, Kunti stayed in the Kaurava camp along with her sister-in-law Gandhari.
After the Kurukshetra war, Kunti moved to a forest near the Himalayas with her brothers-in-law Vidura and Dhritarashtra and sister-in-law Gandhari, where all four of them later perished in a forest fire, attaining heaven.
Various actresses portrayed the role in various films and TV serials.
- Durga Khote in Maharathi Karna (1944 film)
- G Varalakshmi in Bhishma (1965 film)
- M V Rajamma in Karnan (1964 film, Tamil)
- Achala Sachdev in Mahabharat (1965 film)
- Rushyendramani in Sri Krishnavataram (1967 film)
- S. Varalakshmi in Daana Veera Soora Karna (1977 film)
- Nazneen in Mahabharat series (1988)
- Miriam Goldschmidt in The Mahabharata (1989 film)
- Lata Haya in Krishna (series)
- Neena Gupta in Ek Aur Mahabharat (1997 series)
- Shalini Kapoor in Maharathi Karna (2001 series)
- Jaya Bhattacharya in Kahaani Hamaaray Mahaabhaarat Ki (2008 series)
- Shafaq Naaz in Mahabharat (2013 series)
- Priya Bathija in Suryaputra Karn (2015 series)
- Sayantani Ghosh in Karn Sangini (2018 series)
- Studies of Mahabharata
- KUNTI (also called Pritha and Parshni)
- A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature by Dowson, John (1820-1881)
- Edward Delavan Perry, Indra in the Rig-Veda. Journal of the American Oriental Society vol. 11.1885. p. 121. JSTOR 592191.
- "Kunti" (pdf). Manushi India Organization. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- Mani pp.442-3