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: How did Kunti die?
Kunti dies around two years after the end of the Kurukshetra war. She accompanies Dhritarashtra and Gandhari into the forest when the old couple decide to relinquish their material possessions. She then follows Gandhari and allows herself to me immolated in a forest fire that consumes Dhritarashtra.
Read on to discover more about how Kunti died.
(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
After Yudhishthir and his brothers become the overlords of Hastinapur, in about a year Dhritarashtra decides that the time has come for him to repair into the forest, and to embrace an ascetic mode of life.
This decision is triggered by Bhimasena’s outburst in the middle of Hastinapur’s royal assembly.
Bhima is the one Pandava brother who finds it impossible to forgive Dhritarashtra for what has happened. On this day, he brags to a bunch of surrounding courtiers about how he killed the Kauravas.
He makes sure that Dhritarashtra and Gandhari are within earshot, and then he says:
‘With these two arms of mine did I send the sons of Dhritarashtra to the abode of Yama. That vile king did everything in his power to deny us our kingdom, and now he serves under the rule of Yudhishthir!’
This has the effect Bhima intends – of saddening Dhritarashtra – but Gandhari gives him succour. Together, they make a decision that perhaps the time has come to move away from a kingly life to the forest.
On the day of the full moon in the month of Kartika, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari set out of the palace complex dressed as commoners, their ornaments removed.
Gandhari is leading Dhritarashtra, who has his hand on her shoulder. But holding Gandhari’s hand and leading her is Kunti, dressed in the same simple manner. Soon they are joined by Vidura and Sanjaya as well.
With the whole royal family emerging from their chambers to bid farewell to the old king, Kunti catches Yudhishthir’s eye, and her face is a picture of calm. It takes him a few moments to realize that she is leaving too. When he looks askance at her, she says the following words.
‘Never show any disregard for Sahadeva, O King,’ she says, and her voice is surprisingly distant. ‘He is very much attached to me, and he is devoted to you. Always, in every waking moment, spare a thought for Karna, who has been slain in the field of battle.
‘My heart has broken a hundred pieces every single day after I left him in the Yamuna, Yudhishthir, and at the very end, I had to see him killed by one of my other sons. What pleasure is there in victory of this sort?’
Yudhishthir is puzzled by Kunti’s choice.
‘This is strange indeed,’ he says. ‘When we were dithering about whether to fight or not, it was you who goaded us all into exertion. Having won the sovereignty of the world for your sake, I have placed it at your feet. And now you choose to walk away from it all?
Kunti’s Reply to Yudhishthir
Kunti replies: ‘It was not for my own sake that I instigated you to pick up your weapons, Yudhishthir. It is for your sake. I do not desire the fruits of any sovereignty which has been won by my children.
‘My wish, then and now, has always been to perform those penances that will take me to the regions of felicity occupied by my husband.
‘By rendering obedient service to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, I hope to gain enough merit to join Pandu and Madri in Heaven, where they have been resting all these years.
‘As for your lament that my body will be wasted, of course it will. Wasting of one’s body is a necessary phase of life, my son, one that will come to you as well.
‘Now stop following me! Take your brothers and wives and Draupadi back to the palace. May your understanding always be devoted to virtue. May your soul be as pure as it has always been. Farewell!’
With some final words exhorting Yudhishthir to take good care of Sahadeva, Nakula and Draupadi, Kunti leaves for the woods.
Mode of Life
Thus, the five of them – Vidura, Sanjaya, Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and Kunti – make their way from the royal palace to the adjoining forest in the direction of the river Ganga.
As they leave, the city folk come to the edge of the woods, wailing and crying. The Pandavas are stricken by shock, because all of a sudden they feel as if they have been orphaned.
The five people eventually reach the bank of the river Bhagirathi, where a hermitage is located. A few Brahmins light a sacred fire at the advent of dark, and when they see Dhritarashtra and his companions, they invite him and give him a place to stay.
Vidura and Sanjaya make a bed out of kusa grass for their king. Gandhari and Kunti lie down on the floor with smiles on their faces.
Many sacred hymns are chanted that night in homage to the holy fire, and the five of them sleep as well as they ever have in the last twenty years, though far removed from all physical comforts of the palace.
Death of Kunti
After the five elders of the court are settled in their hermitage, the Pandavas visit them once. During this visit, Vidura passes away in the company of Yudhishthir.
Dhritarashtra gets a boon from Vyasa that he will be able to see all of his departed sons and relatives. For one magical evening, Vyasa brings all the people who died in the war back to life – on the banks of the Ganga.
The Pandavas then return home, and after two years, Narada pays them a visit.
He tells Yudhishthir the story of Kunti’s last days. ‘After your return to Kurukshetra, O King,’ he says, ‘Dhritarashtra proceeded toward Gangadwara. He took with him his sacred fire, his queen Gandhari, his sister-in-law Kunti, and his minister Sanjaya.
‘During this time the four of them lived like ascetics, the two women keeping house and the two men wandering over the forest.
‘One day, as the king finished his ablutions in the Ganga and was preparing himself to take a long walk into the woods, a fierce summer wind whipped up a forest fire, which began to burn and twitch in no time.
‘Seeing this conflagration swell toward him, O King, Dhritarashtra was not afraid in the least. He addressed Sanjaya and told him that his time had come, and in a short while, as if by magic, the women joined him as well.
‘They asked Sanjaya to escape to a place where the fire cannot reach, and the minister, with great reluctance, went back to join the ascetics on the riverbank.
‘The three of them sat in a meditative pose at the edge of the woods, waiting for the fire to consume them. They met their death in that fashion after having given up their bodies willingly to the scorching flames.’
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Bhima: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered