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 recognize Karna?
Kunti recognizes Karna when he reveals himself for the first time at the Kuru princes’ graduation ceremony. If Karna has the kavacha-kundalas on, Kunti recognizes him through them. If Karna had already had given up his gifts, he would still have borne scars. Kunti may have recognized him through them. She may have also recognized him through pure maternal intuition.
Read on to discover more about how Kunti recognized Karna.
(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
With his Kavacha-kundalas
There is some uncertainty about when exactly Karna peels his divine armour and earrings, his kavacha-kundalas.
Common wisdom places the visit of Indra to Karna’s place immediately before the Kurukshetra war. But strong arguments can be made that Karna had already given up his kavacha-kundalas by the time he appears at the graduation ceremony.
(One possible clue is that at the time of his appearance at the ceremony, he is already known as Karna – ‘he who has peeled himself’ – which suggests that he has already removed his armour.)
If Karna is wearing his armour and earrings, then the question of how Kunti recognized him is an easy one. She remembers that her son – the boy she abandoned – was born with Surya’s ornaments. She now recognizes him through them.
With his Scars
If Karna has already given away his kavacha-kundalas and is now shorn of them, it is possible that he is bearing scars from the act of peeling them off for Indra.
In fact, Duryodhana refers to these scars while arguing Karna’s case in front of the Kuru elders. He says, ‘Look at all the scars he bears on his person, the result of an act so noble that he cannot just be a charioteer’s son.’
Kunti, therefore, may have seen the scars and made the connection between them and the armour that had been removed to cause them.
With her ‘Intuition’
Finally, it is possible that Kunti just relied on maternal instinct and intuition to recognize her long-lost son.
Something about Karna – the way he held himself, the way he spoke, the way he matched Arjuna’s efforts – would have signalled to Kunti that this is the boy she had left on the Yamuna all those years ago.
It is also possible that Karna resembles herself and the god Surya in appearance. Kunti would have been attuned to notice various physical attributes of her one-time lover, so even without the kavacha-kundalas, she would have noticed things about him that others would not.
After having recognized Karna as her son, Kunti immediately faints, unable to bear the shock of seeing her firstborn clash with her other sons.
After recovering from her faint, Kunti knows that this man who has entered their lives in such a dramatic manner is none other than her long-lost son. But does she take any steps to reclaim him?
No. From Kunti’s perspective, Karna is an uncomfortable remnant of the past that she had thought had been buried successfully. Now, with her past colliding with the present in this way, Kunti chooses to ignore it and hope it goes away.
She is the only person who knows the secret of Karna’s birth, so despite all that happens between Karna and the Pandavas, she places her own potential loss of honour ahead of the welfare of the Kuru kingdom.
This may seem ruthless and cold-blooded to some, but we must remember that Kunti does not have any love in her heart for Karna. He is an unwanted child, abandoned at birth.
Her shock at seeing him arrive at Hastinapur is driven by practical considerations of what might happen now. There is little evidence that Kunti feels any regret for her actions toward Karna.
Kunti tries to reconcile with Karna some thirty years after she first recognizes him as an adult.
With war looming, after realizing that Krishna’s attempt at recruiting Karna has failed, Kunti learns that her sons – the Pandavas – are in mortal danger from this man who insists on fighting for Duryodhana.
She meets with Karna privately, and tries to convince him that she is his mother. Karna gently disengages himself from her, and points out that she has done nothing motherly toward him.
Still, out of the goodness of his heart, Karna gives Kunti a promise that he will not try to kill any of the Pandava brothers with the exception of Arjuna.
This inadvertently secures the lives of all the Pandavas because Kunti knows that Arjuna will be under the direct protection of Krishna during the battle.
Kunti’s reconciliation with Karna, therefore, is driven by the purely selfish desire to protect her own sons.
Ironically, Kunti feels more motherly – and performs more duties of a mother – toward Nakula and Sahadeva (who are in no way related to her) than toward Karna.
Kunti reveals her secret publicly to her sons only after the war has been won, when Yudhishthir is paying his respects to the dead. In other words, the stakes are at their lowest.
That Kunti recognizes Karna when he is a young boy and still chooses to disown him for the rest of his life is perhaps the cruellest act in the Mahabharata committed by any character.
For this, she receives censure from Yudhishthir, who curses all womanhood with the inability to keep secrets henceforth.
If Kunti had sacrificed her fears about her own well-being and had told everyone about Karna, we cannot be sure that Karna would have forsaken Duryodhana’s friendship because of it, but it would have absolved Kunti of the misdeed.
As it stands now, Kunti should accept a good chunk of the blame for Karna and the Pandavas spending their whole lives thinking of one another as enemies.
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