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: Why did Kunti divide Draupadi?
Kunti is often considered the main reason why Draupadi was shared by the Pandavas. She mistakenly tells her sons to ‘divide whatever you brought equally between yourselves’. However, she also sees that if Draupadi is given to any one brother, the other four will be envious of him. So to keep the peace between the Pandavas, Kunti thinks it best that Draupadi be shared.
Read on to discover more about why Kunti divided Draupadi.
(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Born to Different Fathers
One important truth about the Pandavas is that the only string that binds them together is the fact that Pandu adopted them as his sons.
In no other way are the five of them brothers to one another. The sons of Kunti and the sons of Madri do not share even one parent.
Yudhishthir, Arjuna and Bhima are half-brothers because they share a mother. Nakula and Sahadeva are also half-brothers to each other. But the first three and the last two are not related at all, except by the fact that Pandu adopted them.
Given this lack of biological ties, Kunti believes that it is important that the five brothers are unified in other ways. During the first half of their lives, Kunti serves as this unifier.
Even before the arrival of Draupadi, Kunti must have it at the back of her mind that after the Pandavas get married and their wives enter the family, it will be tough to maintain the same sense of unity with which they grew up.
After Draupadi comes into the picture, Kunti believes she should become the next rallying center of the Pandavas.
Draupadi the Destroyer
When Draupadi is brought to their hut in Panchala, Kunti is immediately forced to confront her worst fears: here is a beautiful woman won by Arjuna, but all the other Pandavas are also stealing glances of desire at her.
Instantly, Kunti calculates that Draupadi can be the destructive influence on the Pandavas that she had been fearing all along. No matter who among the Pandavas marries her, the other four will be torn by envy.
And envy may bring about violence in different forms. Kunti will have known that brothers have fought one another for winning a woman’s love. The Pandavas are not even true brothers.
So she decides that Draupadi should be made the common wife of all five Pandavas.
Yudhishthir also has similar thoughts on the matter. He also notices that Draupadi is too desirable to be given as prize to any one brother.
Instead, if she is shared among the five, they will feel a sense of kinship toward one another through her.
Draupadi can thus become a unifying agent, not an agent of rupture and discord.
An Accidental Instruction
At the moment of the Pandavas’ arrival at the hut with Draupadi, Kunti is in the kitchen with her back turned to the living room.
When Yudhishthir announces that they have brought back something, Kunti says without looking: ‘Whatever it is, divide it equally between yourselves.’
Then, of course, she comes out of the kitchen and is bemused to see that they have brought back a person – not a piece of wealth that can be divided easily.
The entire setup of this often-repeated scene is incredulous. Kunti knows that her sons had gone to Draupadi’s swayamvara. She has already been primed by Vyasa into believing that Arjuna will win Draupadi.
So she is half-expecting the Pandavas to bring Draupadi back home. When Yudhishthir calls out to her in an excited tone that ‘they have brought something back’, it is tough to believe that Kunti does not guess who Yudhishthir means.
In any case, most lazy retellings of the Mahabharata focus on this one incident, and pretend that this is the entire reason why the momentous decision to share Draupadi between the Pandavas was taken.
In reality, it is not so. None of our choices are made with single-factor thinking. Kunti is no exception.
Even if we concede that Kunti was shocked when she came out of the kitchen, she would have then thought it through deliberately – with Yudhishthir for company – and confirmed the choice.
Within this frame, Kunti’s earlier words spoken by accident are seen as ‘good omen’.
What Kunti and Yudhishthir are asking Draupadi to do here is highly irregular, even for those times.
The crucial detail is that there are five Pandavas. By being wedded to all of them, Draupadi will publicly acknowledge all five of them as her paramours.
This is a problem, because the scriptures of the time are clear on the point that if a woman takes five or more lovers during her lifetime, she is no better than a prostitute.
Kunti herself knows this; indeed, this is one of the main reasons she refuses to accept Karna as her son. (Because that would mean acknowledging that she has taken five lovers, and is therefore a whore.)
By asking Draupadi to do what she has cold-bloodedly refused to do in her own life, Kunti is placing a burden on the princess of Panchala.
In effect, Kunti is asking Draupadi to take the risk of character assassination to accomplish the ‘larger goal’ of keeping the Pandavas united.
This is by no means a theoretical risk. It comes true during the dice game that Yudhishthir loses to Shakuni.
When Draupadi is brought forcefully to Dhritarashtra’s hall, and when the debate rages on whether Yudhishthir had the right to pledge Draupadi after having first lost himself, Karna rises to make a point.
He says that everyone there was making an assumption that is untrue. The assumption is that Draupadi is a chaste woman, and is deserving of a chaste woman’s rights.
‘By taking five husbands publicly,’ Karna asserts, ‘Draupadi has adopted the culture and values of an unchaste woman. She is no better than a prostitute, and is therefore deserving of no rights that we give chaste women.’
This, according to Karna, is enough to disrobe Draupadi in full view of the assembly.
None of the assembled Kuru elders – Bhishma and Vidura included – argue with Karna on this point, which suggests to us that they agree with it.
Later, when Vidura does interrupt proceedings, he pleads with Dhritarashtra on grounds that Draupadi is the daughter-in-law of the Kuru house and therefore deserves better treatment.
He does not argue on Draupadi’s chastity – perhaps wisely.
So we can draw a direct link between Kunti’s decision to divide Draupadi and Draupadi’s humiliation at the dice game.
Support for Kunti’s Decision
Kunti’s decision is by no means taken in isolation, with dictatorial conceit. She receives support from multiple quarters that this is the best way forward given the circumstances.
Sage Vyasa is the first to hint at this arrangement with the Pandavas, when he tells them that Draupadi, in her previous life, received a boon from Shiva that she will have five husbands in this one.
Yudhishthir himself sees the wisdom of Kunti’s words when he weighs up all the options. Whether it is he or Arjuna that is given Draupadi, the rest of them will live their whole lives with a sense of deprivation.
And finally, Drupada, the king of Panchala – after initial hesitation – agrees to this arrangement because it makes Draupadi not only the wife of Arjuna but also the first wife of Yudhishthir.
This effectively makes Draupadi the biggest stakeholder in all of Yudhishthir’s future prospects. It is Draupadi’s children who will be considered heirs to the throne – if a throne is in Yudhishthir’s destiny.
Panchala, by association, will thus become the most important ally to the Pandavas.
When considering why Kunti made the decision to share Draupadi among the Pandavas, therefore, we must remember the following:
- Kunti understands the gravity of the arrangement. She knows that Draupadi’s character will henceforth always be questioned by moralists and opportunists.
- But she still thinks that if Draupadi is given to any one brother, the Pandavas will end up divided over her.
- So she decides that the sharing of Draupadi must happen, irrespective of future risks.
- The reward that accrues from the arrangement is that the Pandavas will be united over Draupadi’s protection and welfare.
- Both risk and reward show themselves in Draupadi’s life: during the dice game, Karna humiliates her by calling her a prostitute; and during the exile and beyond, the Pandavas unite repeatedly to protect her honour.
- Kunti’s decision finds support from three separate men: Vyasa, who agrees it is preordained; Yudhishthir, who agrees it is wise; and Drupada, who agrees it is politically profitable.
Thus, Draupadi ends up being shared by the Pandavas.
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