Kunti : The Perfect Devoted Mother
In Mahabharata, Kunti was the daughter of Shurasena, and foster daughter of his cousin Kuntibhoja. She was married to King Pandu of Hastinapur and was the mother of Karna and the three of the Pandavas - Yudhishtira, Bhima, Arjuna. She was the paternal aunt of Krishna, Balarama, and Subhadra. She was a beautiful and intelligent lady. She is often regarded as one of the protagonists of the Mahabharata.
Kunti's story is also told within Srimad Bhagavatam, wherein she speaks on the philosophy of devotion of Krishna, known as Bhakti yoga. Kunti is thus held as a figure of great importance within many Hindu traditions and especially with worshippers of Krishna (Vaishnavas).
Her father was Surasena of the Yadu clan, and she was named Pritha (Pŗtha). She was thus the sister of Vasudeva, father of Krishna. She was given in adoption to the childless King Kuntibhoja, after which she came to be known as Kunti. After her arrival, King Kuntibhoja was blessed with children. He considered her his lucky charm and took care of her until her marriage.
When she was young, rishi Durvasa told her a mantra with which Kunti could summon any deva and have a child by him without a pregnancy. When Kunti asked why he gave her this mantra, he told her that it would be useful to her later in life.
Kunti could not believe the mantra, so she tried to use it. The God Surya, appeared. She asked him to go back, but Surya said he was compelled to fulfill the mantra before returning. Kunti then abandoned the child in a basket on a river. This child was later found and adopted by a chariot driver and his wife, and was named Karna. He went on to become an important character in the Mahabharata. The ambiguous emotions Karna felt about his birth mother play an important role in the Mahabharata.
Kuntibhoja organized Kunti's swayamvara. Kunti chose King Pandu of Hastinapur, and this made 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 Madri 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. 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.
She used it three times, first receiving a son, Yudishtira, from the god Yama, then Bhima from the god Vayu, and thirdly Arjuna, from the god Indra.
Kunti's character within the Mahabharata is accorded much respect within the Hindu tradition. Her activities were that of a very pious and loyal wife and of a person with a great deal of self-control. Kunti was given a special boon which enabled her to bear the sons of great celestial devas as many times as she wished. However Kunti did not misuse her boon, limiting herself to three sons only.
And when requested by Pandu, she shared this special mantra with Madri, Pandu's other wife. Madri bore twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva, from the twin Gods the Asvins. The five together are known as the Pandavas.
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 Kuntibhoja. But her attempt was stopped by Bhishma.
After the great battle and in her old age, she goes into exile to the forest, with her brothers-in-law Dhritarashtra and Vidura, and Dhritarashtra's wife Gandhari, where they die together in a forest fire.