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 was Kunti related to Krishna?
Kunti is the biological daughter of King Shurasena, father of Prince Vasudeva. Vasudeva and Devaki are the parents of Krishna. Therefore, Kunti is Krishna’s father’s younger sister – his paternal aunt. Her maiden name is Pritha, and she is given for adoption at the court of Kuntibhoja, king of the kingdom of Kunti.
Read on to discover more about how Kunti was related to Krishna.
(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Pritha Becomes Kunti
It is customary for a princess – after her marriage – to take on the name of the kingdom from which she hails. Pritha, the adopted daughter of King Kuntibhoja, is therefore called by the name of Kunti after her marriage to Pandu.
Pritha’s original home is in the kingdom Shurasena, Kunti’s immediate neighbour to the west. Her home kingdom is ruled by King Shurasena, who also is the father of Vasudeva, who then fathers Krishna and Balarama.
We see a similar thing happening with Gandhari (‘daughter of Gandhara’) and Madri (‘daughter of Madra’) as well. In these two cases, we do not even know what the women’s true names were.
Through her biological family, therefore, Pritha is the paternal aunt of Krishna – i.e.: she is his father’s sister.
Vasudeva also has another sister named Srutashrava, who is given in marriage to Damaghosha or Chedi and gives birth to Shishupala. Later, at Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya, Krishna kills Shishupala, who is as close a kinsman to him as are the Pandavas.
Relationship with Krishna
Because of Krishna’s unconventional upbringing in the cowherd settlement of Vrindavan, he hardly meets Kunti during his early years. Even after he overthrows Kamsa, he stays busy attending to the constant threat posed by Jarasandha, and later with the founding and building of the kingdom of Anarta.
Meanwhile, after her marriage to Pandu, Kunti’s ties with her adopted home are almost severed for good. (We do not see Kuntibhoja featuring in the story in any significant capacity hereon.)
She is embroiled in travails of her own, with Pandu deciding to live in the forest away from the wealth and comfort of Hastinapur’s royal palace. Kunti also has to contend with her co-wife Madri’s emotional hold on her husband.
At the time of the Pandavas’ birth, Krishna and Balarama are probably being fostered in Vrindavan – though the exact timeline is tough to ascertain. And as Pandu and Madri at the Gandhamadana, and as Kunti returns to Hastinapur, Krishna overthrows Kamsa in Mathura.
Over the next decade or so, Krishna is busy warding off the threat of Jarasandha and building the city of Dwaraka. Kunti has many adventures, not the least of which is the ill-fated trip to Varanavata where Duryodhana tries to burn the Pandavas alive.
At Draupadi’s Swayamvara
All of this means that Kunti and Krishna – despite knowing of each other – never meet until after the Pandavas have won Draupadi’s hand at the court of Drupada.
This is where the paths of Kunti and Krishna cross for – as far as we can tell – the first time.
Politically speaking, this is also an opportune moment for both parties. The Pandavas are friendless and desperately seeking powerful allies. Krishna and Balarama have just finished building their kingdom and are now entering the geopolitical machine of the Gangetic kingdoms.
Krishna and Balarama spot the Pandavas at the ceremony, follow them back to their hut, and introduce themselves to their aunt and cousins for the first time.
After this delayed meeting, though, the Pandavas and Krishna become close friends and allies thanks to the connection that Kunti has to the kingdom of Shurasena.
Kunti Recedes from View
After introducing her sons and daughter-in-law to Krishna, Kunti recedes from view as primary character in the story. As the Pandavas scale to their glorious summit at Indraprastha, it is Draupadi that we see by their side, always visible.
Kunti is with the Pandavas, but she is barely mentioned throughout these years. Krishna builds a strong friendship with the Pandavas, and he is presumably civil and polite with Kunti, but there is no hiding the fact that Krishna’s focus is primarily Arjuna.
(This is because Krishna isolates Arjuna as the single most powerful warrior of those times – and he does everything to earn and keep the third Pandava’s friendship.)
At the time of the Pandavas’ exile, Kunti refuses to accept hospitality from Krishna – who shelters the Upapandavas and Subhadra – and chooses instead to live at Vidura’s humble cottage in Hastinapur.
There may be a strategic angle to this decision. Staying in Hastinapur sends a message to Dhritarashtra and Gandhari that Kunti expects her sons to return, and that she thinks of Hastinapur as home.
Revealing her Secret
As the war is about to begin, Krishna arrives in Hastinapur at Yudhishthir’s behest to try and make a last-ditch attempt at peace. He chooses to stay during this time at Vidura’s place.
Here, Krishna and Kunti renew their relationship. She asks Krishna about how her sons are doing, and she betrays her anxiety about whether her sons still desire the kingdom or not.
(She is only too aware of Yudhishthir’s propensity for a sage-like life.) Krishna assures her that the Pandavas are ready for battle, and that this trip is only a formal attempt at the impossible.
‘War is inevitable!’ Krishna says. ‘And your sons will fight on your behalf.’
After Krishna returns from Dhritarashtra’s palace, having failed at his undertaking, Kunti reveals to her nephew the secret that she had been holding in her heart: that Karna is none other than her own firstborn.
She also sends individual messages to each of her sons, encouraging them to set aside all compunctions and to exert themselves to their fullest in the upcoming battle.
In a rare moment, Kunti lets her guard down and tells her children that they are the rightful kings of Hastinapur, and that she has been suffering all these years for their honour. ‘It is your duty now,’ she tells Yudhishthir, ‘to give your mother what she deserves.’
Kunti Extracts a Promise
The revelation about Karna induces Krishna to try and recruit him to the Pandava cause. But he fails. Karna rises above the temptations of Krishna’s bribe and declares that he will never leave Duryodhana’s side.
Learning of this, Kunti tries again on her own – probably under Krishna’s instruction. She approaches Karna privately one morning and admits to being his mother. To this, Karna replies, ‘You cannot be my mother, my lady. Radha, the wife of Adiratha, is my mother.’
When Kunti asks Karna to forsake Duryodhana and to fight on the side of Yudhishthir, and that the Pandavas will not think twice about worshipping him as their elder brother and king, Karna refuses.
But Kunti manages to extract a promise from Karna. Karna tells her that despite everything, he will refrain from killing any of the Pandavas other than Arjuna. ‘Arjuna alone, I will not spare,’ he says. ‘But the others will not die at my hands.’
This way, Karna assures Kunti, she will be left with five sons after the war regardless of what happens.
These words prove to be prophetic. On four separate occasions during the war, Karna traps a Pandava and has him on the brink of death, but remembers his vow to Kunti and lets him go.
Later, when Arjuna asks Krishna how Karna the great warrior was vanquished, Krishna cites this act of Kunti as being one of the most important factors.
All in all, we know the following about Kunti and Krishna’s relationship:
- Kunti is Krishna’s paternal aunt: she is the younger sister of his father, Vasudeva.
- Despite being closely related, they meet for the first time only during Draupadi’s swayamvara.
- After this, Kunti disappears into the background and Krishna becomes involved in building a friendship with Arjuna.
- Krishna offers to take Kunti to Dwaraka during the Pandavas’ exile, but she refuses.
- After the exile years, when Krishna arrives at Hastinapur as a peace messenger, he meets Kunti at Vidura’s house.
- Here, Kunti tells Krishna about Karna. Krishna tries to use this information to bribe Karna – and fails.
- Kunti then speaks to Karna (probably at Krishna’s request) and procures a promise that protects all her sons from Karna.
Kunti and Krishna therefore work together to secure the Pandavas’ safety from Karna during the Mahabharata war.
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