Why did Kunti not accept Karna?

Why did Kunti not accept Karna - Featured Image - Picture of a woman closing her eyes, representing Kunti.

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 not accept Karna?

Kunti does not accept Karna because of three reasons: (1) she does not have any matronly affection for him, (2) admitting to the truth would amount to lowering her character in front of the world, and (3) Duryodhana would then use Karna as a tool to defeat the Pandavas, knowing that they would not fight him.

Read on to discover more about why Kunti did not accept Karna.

(For answers to all Kunti-related questions, see: Kunti: 14 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)

Recognizing Karna

After abandoning Karna as a little boy on the Yamuna’s surface, the next time Kunti meets him is at the graduation ceremony of the Kuru princes. Karna appears out of nowhere and challenges Arjuna to a single combat.

Kunti recognizes this young man as the infant that she had once given up. How does she know for certain? The most probably explanation is that Karna, at this point, is still wearing the divine armour and earrings with which he was born.

Also, Kunti is one of the few mortal women who had seen Surya (the sun god) in the flesh. Karna may have been carrying in his features immediately recognizable signs for those in the know.

Regardless, Kunti collapses into a faint upon realizing who this man is. And by the time she comes to, the ceremony has come to a close.

Duryodhana has already befriended Karna. The Pandavas think of the newcomer as an arrogant upstart that needs to be taught a lesson.

What are Kunti’s inner thoughts as this event unfolds? We do not know. But we can surmise that a part of her feels sad that her firstborn and her other sons are at odds with each other.

At this point, she must have debated with herself whether or not to make this knowledge public. Below, we will see some of the factors that will have played a part in her decision.

Did Kunti like Karna?

It is the day after the graduation ceremony. Let us imagine Kunti sitting alone in her chamber, thinking the matter over.

The first question she would have asked herself is whether or not she actually has any matronly affection for Karna. All those years ago, she had decided that her life would be better off without him. Has anything changed now?

She had taken the tough decision to abandon a just-born infant because she did not want the child to impede her prospects elsewhere.

Does she now suddenly love the boy, or is she just awash with the shock of discovery right now?

Kunti would have weighed up all these questions in her mind, and she would have come to the conclusion that she does not love Karna at all. She had already moved on from him. The fact that he appeared in her life today does not change that.

In fact, Kunti may even have felt a bit of resentment toward Karna – for having returned in such a manner. She may have found herself wishing that he would just go away.

In short, Kunti does not see herself as Karna’s mother. She does not love him. She does not feel affection for him. To the extent that she is shocked by his appearance, it is out of worry for how this might affect the futures of her ‘real’ sons, the Pandavas.

Fear of Social Censure

Let us, for a moment, give Kunti the benefit of the doubt and hypothesize that during her interview with herself, she discovers that she does love Karna.

After all, Kunti is no more the impetuous young girl of sixteen that had abandoned the baby. Now she was older, wiser, and has had the experience of birthing three children and raising five.

Perhaps the older Kunti finds herself overflowing with love at the sight and thought of Karna. Perhaps she is wishing with all her heart that Karna and the Pandavas become one single unit and march together into the future.

One consideration would have given her pause: the fact that she would have to answer a number of questions in the court of public opinion if she were to admit that she had had a child out of wedlock.

Already, her standing at the Hastinapur court is tenuous. Rumours are abuzz that the Pandavas are not the sons of gods at all.

Now, if Kunti were to come out and claim that she had a son with another god before her marriage to Pandu, there will be some snickering in the corner.

And since Pandu is no longer alive to adopt Karna as his son, Karna’s status as a ‘Pandava’ will forever remain under a cloud.

Will the Pandavas accept Karna?

Continuing her ruminations, Kunti would have asked herself if Yudhishthir and his brothers will accept Karna as their older brother.

Yudhishthir may have no problem doing the ‘right’ thing, but what if Arjuna and Bhima object? These two have already traded insults with Karna when Kunti was unconscious at the ceremony.

What if Nakula and Sahadeva refuse to serve Karna as their older brother on the grounds that he had not been adopted by Pandu?

What if Bhishma refuses to consider Karna his grandson?

All of this, Kunti would have reasoned, has the potential to weaken the bond that she has painstakingly built and nurtured between her five sons. It also might weaken her own status within the Kuru court, fragile as it is already.

Finally, if she were to accept Karna as her child, there would be aspersions cast upon her character because the number of paramours that she has taken in life will be publicly known to be five. Not four.

Ripples from these judgements may reach Shurasena or Kunti. She may bring shame upon her marital home and her father’s home.

The Duryodhana Factor

We must also remember that by the time Kunti regains consciousness at the end of the ceremony, and at the time she has enough privacy to think matters through, Duryodhana has already sunk his claws into Karna.

He has already made Karna the king of Anga. He has already publicly proclaimed himself to be Karna’s bosom friend.

Karna is already tremendously loyal to Duryodhana, and looks upon him as his benefactor. With this dynamic already in place, will Karna accept Kunti as his mother and embrace the Pandavas as brothers?

Or will he reject his birth mother and stay beholden to Duryodhana?

Regardless of Karna’s choice in the matter, he will certainly become a tool which Duryodhana will wield ruthlessly against the Pandavas.

Knowing that he is their elder brother, the Pandavas will always be restrained by thoughts of morality and duty when the prospect of fighting Karna arises.

The threat of Arjuna and Bhima, therefore, can be neutralized effectively just by using Karna as a fighting pawn in every battle henceforth. And the Pandavas will bow to Duryodhana’s every demand.

Duryodhana will then take Karna’s support in becoming the undisputed king of Hastinapur.

Admitting that Karna is her son could, therefore, end up harming the Pandavas irreparably in their fight against the Kauravas.


Even after recognizing her son very early on in the story, Kunti decides not to publicly acknowledge Karna until the very end. The main factors that influence her decision are:

  • Her own matronly feelings toward Karna. Having abandoned him as an infant, she does not have any affection for Karna that we may expect from a mother toward her son.
  • Fear of social judgement. Admitting that she had a lover before her marriage would bring her ‘status’ to that of an unchaste woman, because scriptures have said that a woman with five lovers or more is equal to a prostitute.
  • Fear of acceptance. When she announces that Karna is her son, will the Pandavas and the Kuru establishment welcome him with open arms? Or will they resist, citing the clause that he is not a Pandava?
  • The Duryodhana factor. Knowing that Duryodhana has already befriended Karna and wields power over him, Kunti’s acknowledgement will only strengthen Duryodhana while simultaneously weakening the Pandavas.

If the Pandavas are to be trusted with fighting Karna as they should, Kunti reasons, they should never know that he is their elder brother.

True to this plan, she reveals her secret to Yudhishthir only after the Kurukshetra war has come to an end.

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