Mahabharat: Unknown stories of Mahabharat’s characters (Part 14)

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Kunti

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 Rishi 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.

Kuntibhoja organized Kunti’s swayamvara. Kunti chose King Pandu of Hastinapur, making her the Queen of Hastinapur.

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 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 Dharma – god of Justice; 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.

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.

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 war, Kunti disclosed the secret of Karna’s birth to Pandavas and others.All were shocked to learn the fact they committed fratricide. The Pandavas were furious with Kunti, especially Yudhisthira, who cursed Kunti and women of the world that they shall be unable to keep any secret anymore. If Kunti hadn’t kept it a secret, there were chances that the war would’ve been averted and millions of lives would’ve been spared.

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.

 

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