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: Was Kunti a good mother?
Kunti was a good mother to the Pandavas. She not only sacrifices many of her personal comforts to improve her sons’ prospects in life, she also puts herself in danger to protect them. But equally, she is not a good mother to Karna, whom she abandons at birth and does not reconcile with until the very end.
Read on to discover more about whether or not Kunti was a good mother.
(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Qualities of a Good Mother
If we were tasked with coming up with a list of qualities that a good mother ought to have, we may come up with something similar to this:
- A good mother nurses her young through the crucial first year of life.
- As their children grow, a good mother protects them from harm in the outside world, which the children are eager to explore.
- A good mother becomes a role model to her children – someone they wish to emulate.
- A good mother directs her children toward the respective paths that she believes they should take. She equips them with means with which they can fulfil their destinies.
- When their children are wrong, a good mother chastises them. When they are right, she supports them.
- A good mother is not above using insults and anger to remind her children if they are lazy and listless (in her opinion).
The above is not a comprehensive list (of course), but we can use it as a working framework with which Kunti’s motherhood credentials can be established.
Yudhishthir, Arjuna and Bhima
With the first three Pandavas, Kunti’s relationship is straightforward. She chooses to have them. She bears them within the socially approved structure of a marital relationship.
Her husband, Pandu, adopts the three children immediately as his own.
Kunti therefore has no reason to dislike or resent them. Throughout the story, while she is not demonstratively affectionate toward these three men, there isn’t an occasion where she is disappointed in them either.
For their part, the three sons are dutiful. There is no record of any of them disobeying Kunti’s instruction at any point.
Kunti fulfils all of her duties with respect to her three biological children. Toward the end, when it becomes clear to her that Yudhishthir is more inclined toward peace than toward war, she sends back a fiery message through Krishna, reminding him of his duty.
Until the marriage of the Pandavas, she performs the onerous task of keeping the Pandavas united as well.
Nakula and Sahadeva
With Nakula and Sahadeva, Kunti finds herself thrust into a position of responsibility. When Madri immolates herself on Pandu’s funeral pyre, her dying words to Kunti are: ‘Please be a mother to my sons.’
Madri, in fact, admits to Kunti that she would have been unable to consider the first three brothers her own children, whereas Kunti is sufficiently pure of mind to do so.
Kunti thus becomes mother to the twins. In addition to her other motherly duties, she is now tasked with making sure that her biological children should always think of Nakula and Sahadeva as their own brothers.
In order to achieve this, Kunti carefully constructs her behaviour such that she is never seen as being partial to her children over Madri’s. If anything, she goes out of her way to make Nakula and Sahadeva feel welcome.
We know that Kunti does a good job of this because Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna – as adults – never speak of Nakula and Sahadeva as the sons of Madri. They always refer to themselves collectively as the Pandavas.
Also, during the Yaksha Prashna, when given a boon to bring back just one of his brothers to life, Yudhishthir chooses Nakula.
When asked why, he explains: ‘When Madri died, she placed the responsibility of looking after her sons in Mother Kunti’s hands. I have inherited that trust from her. Now, it is only proper that if one son of Kunti is to be alive, then so must one son of Madri.’
From this, we can conclude that Kunti did a great job of fostering a sense of unity between her sons and those of Madri.
When it comes to Karna, however, Kunti fails just about every motherhood test – except for that she gives birth to him.
She does not suckle him at her breast. She abandons him just after he is born. Even later, when she recognizes him as an adult, she chooses not to claim him as her son.
It is perhaps not a stretch to suggest that Kunti feels no motherly love or affection toward Karna. In her mind, he is just a nuisance, a hindrance to her plans.
She gives only reluctant consent to give birth to Karna. This happens when she is a maiden of fourteen, without society’s approval, and at a time when she is not intellectually or emotionally ready to become a mother.
At the end of the story, she attempts to reconcile with Karna – but only when it becomes plain that Karna is the biggest threat to the safety of her ‘real’ sons, the Pandavas.
She extracts from him the promise that he will not kill any of the Pandavas bur Arjuna. In doing this, she actively pushes Karna off the path of his chosen destiny – that of serving Duryodhana.
To the extent that Karna feels beholden toward her, it is only that she has given him birth. He freely acknowledges that he considers Radha and Adiratha to be his real parents.
Whether or not Kunti was a good mother depends on whom you ask the question.
- Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna will probably say yes emphatically. Not only does Kunti fulfil all of her duties toward them, but she also showers them with love.
- Nakula and Sahadeva will probably say yes, but guardedly. While Kunti never fails them in any way, it is also important to remember that they do not receive from her the same love that they would have from Madri.
- Karna will – and does – say no. All Kunti does is give birth to him, and then she abdicates all of her responsibility toward him – until at the very end when she wishes to manipulate him.
All in all, we might conclude that Kunti is a good mother to those she considers her children.
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