Did Kunti sleep with gods?

Did Kunti sleep with gods - Featured Image - Picture of twin babies in the womb

Kunti is the mother of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. She is the biological daughter of King Shurasena but is fostered in the court of Kuntibhoja. Her maiden name is Pritha.

As a young girl, Kunti gets a boon from Sage Durvasa that she can summon any god of her choice and have son with him. She can repeat the chant any number of times, and she can even share it with other people.

After the death of Pandu and Madri, Kunti becomes the primary binding force between the five brothers. She later passes on that mantle to Draupadi.

In this post, we will answer the question: Did Kunti sleep with gods?

The nature of Kunti’s union with the gods is a matter of debate. Some readers claim that Kunti united physically with each god in order to receive his seed in her womb. Others insist that the union is spiritual, and that the gods merely gifted Kunti their ‘essence’. However, the hints in the text point to the former being more likely.

Read on to discover whether or not Kunti slept with gods.

(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)

Magical Pregnancies

The Mahabharata universe allows for magical pregnancies and births. For instance, in the case of Satyavati, she unites with Parashara on an island in the Yamuna. She gets pregnant, gives birth, and sees her son grow into a young man – all on the same day.

Another example of a magical birth is when Drona (and Kripi and Kripa before him) takes birth from the unfertilized seed of Sage Bharadwaja from a vessel. In this case, an apsara called Ghritachi is involved.

If we strip the story of all its magic, and view it with a rationalist lens, we must conclude that in both Satyavai and Ghritachi’s cases, the women carried their foetuses to term.

The stories about their magical pregnancies were cooked up later.

If we take a similar approach with Kunti’s four sons, it is impossible not to answer the question in the affirmative.

In fact, some people may even go further and suggest that there are simply no gods involved anywhere. Kunti bore Karna to Durvasa, and the fathers of the first three Pandavas are unknown sages at the Gandhamadana.

But for a moment, let us adopt the premise that this universe allows for magical pregnancies. Did Kunti, then, unite physically with each god she summoned?

Spiritual Unions

In the case of Satyavati and Parashara, though her pregnancy is fast-forwarded, the actual union between the two is physical. Parashara propositions Satyavati, takes her to fog-covered island, and impregnates her.

With Ghritachi and Bharadwaja, we see an example of what we might call a ‘spiritual’ union.

Bharadwaja sees Ghritachi bathing by a river. He loses control over his sexual impulses. He releases his seminal fluid. And then he preserves it in a vessel. This gives birth to Drona after ten months or so.

Here, we’re asked to assume that since Bharadwaja is thinking of Ghritachi while touching himself, he has united with her in the spiritual realm. Presumably, Bharadwaja is a great enough sage to bring about new life in this way.

What is available to Bharadwaja, we must remember, should be available to the gods as well. Surya, Yama, Indra and Vayu are powerful beings. There is a possibility that if they wish, they can impregnate Kunti without touching her.

In case of a spiritual union like this, we will assume that Kunti, despite giving birth, will retain her ‘virginity’ throughout.

What does the text say?

Unfortunately, the text is not explicit on this point. But there are hints.

What is described for certain is that each god, as he descends in answer to Kunti’s call, is enamoured by her beauty and approaches her in the manner of a man seeking a woman.

This suggests that there is some carnal desire involved in Durvasa’s magic.

Another clue reveals itself when Pandu asks Kunti – after the birth of Arjuna – to use the mantra again. This time, Kunti desists, saying: ‘I have already used the mantra three times, O Lord, and have taken three gods as paramours.

‘Including you, therefore, the number of men I have known has come to four. You know that our scriptures shun any woman who has taken five or more lovers in her life.’

Giving this reason, Kunti vows that she will not use the chant again.

This exchange between husband and wife implies that all the gods that Kunti has summoned have in fact been her lovers.

Reality versus Public Perception

A quick note on this: Though Kunti argues that she has taken four lovers, she knows in her mind that she has taken five.

And if she believes the scriptures, she must believe that she is a woman of low character. So she is only concerned at this moment about society’s perception of her.

This of course reopens the possibility that the unions were spiritual – because Kunti’s point here may be that the world thinks of her as having taken four lovers, even though she and the gods know that the unions were strictly platonic.

(In other words, Kunti may have been lamenting the difficulty of convincing the world of this fact, and therefore resigning herself to the reputation that she is likely to have going forward.)

Interestingly, there is something to this scriptural rule that a woman who has taken five lovers is a prostitute. Karna uses logic to demean Draupadi during the dice game.

In Draupadi’s case, however, there is no ambiguity about the nature of her union with the Pandava brothers.

What about Madri?

The case of Madri giving birth to twin sons, each of whom is fathered by one of the Ashwin twins, gives us yet another clue to the way in which Durvasa’s curse operates.

If we accept the ‘physical’ hypothesis, it is tough to believe that union with twin brothers during the same encounter (and we know that Madri uses the chant just once) will give rise to twins.

That is not how human procreation works – regardless of what they believed at the time.

Though Madri gives birth to twin boys and thinks that they have been fathered by one each of the Ashwin twins, in reality, they have both been fathered by just one of the twins.

Now, if we turn the other cheek and accept the ‘spiritual union’ theory, the fact that Nakula and Sahadeva are fathered by a different man becomes more believable.

If we imagine the scene, the two twin gods transport their individual essences magically to Madri’s womb. Ten months later, Madri gives birth to twins.

Conclusion

Whether you favour the thesis that Kunti had physical encounters with the gods she summoned or not depends on the following factors:

  • If you like reading the Mahabharata as an embellished account of a natural story, then it makes sense to say that Kunti did sleep with the gods.
  • If we accept the Mahabharata’s premise of fantasy, then the possibilities open up. The manner in which the gods approach Kunti suggests carnal desire.
  • But the story of how Madri used her chant just once and managed to procure twins flips the ‘physical’ theory on its head and favours the notion that the union was spiritual.

All in all, we must conclude that it is very likely that Kunti did have all her sons with the gods the natural way.

Further Reading

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Enjoy!