Kunti and Draupadi, Women of substance, Part II

Kunti and Draupadi … amazingly similar upbringing, but leading to such different personalities.  Both of them grew up without mothers.  In Kunti it resulted in a secretive and stoic personality.  Her father Shura, a Vrishi leader in a spirit of generosity ‘gifts’ his daughter Pritha, later known as Kunti, to his childless friend Kuntibhoja.  She grows up lonely, and when just a teenager, she is ordered by her foster father to “sewa karo” the eccentric and irascible Durvasa.  In fact her foster father tells her that if she slips up, both the clans would be dishonored.  Durvasa was much feared, unreasonable and prone to curse people at the drop of a hat.  In these days it would be called child abuse! ….

I also wonder why neither Shura nor Kuntibhoj invited her back after Pandu died.  She bought her sons up in a hostile court.  Wonder how it impacted her already reserved personality?

She was lovely, Pritha means buxom (the ancient parameter of beauty).  Also four gods and one mortal did not turn down her invitation … so one can safely assume that she was irresistible.

Is it just me or has it occurred to others how she managed to keep Karna’s birth a secret? The courts of both Shura and Kuntibhoj, the maids, the waiting women all  blissfully slept through Karna’s birth and abandonment.  Well!  Parental neglect of colossal order.

Like Ahalya, she is curious and invites Surya.  He comes, and though she is hesitant, he cajoles her, browbeats her, and threatens to consume/burn the kingdom if he is not satisfied.  Rather like Indra who browbeats Ahalya when she tells him she can see though his disguise.  She gives in, only after she obtains two boons – that she would be virgo intacta and her son would have special powers.  She was intelligent, did not sacrifice all for a tumble in the hay, even if it was a God she was tumbling in said hay with.

Smart woman our Kunti was, when Durvasa tells her to ask for a boon, she says : Grant me a boon that will be of use to me in my future.  I can’t see the future, you can.

She is faced with a strange situation.  Her husband is impotent, and he exhorts her to give him sons from other men.  Wonder what went on in her mind at that time?  Granted she already had an illegitimate son – but being virgo intacto, she would have dismissed that, brushed it under the carpet.

Pandu first commands her to do this – give him sons from other men, she refuses.  He cites scriptures, she refuses.  Finally when he grovels at her feet, she agrees.   To add insult to injury he also begs her to give Madri the mantra.


The description of hers that sticks to my mind is “nathavati anathavat “  Husbanded yet unprotected.

She is the dark one, also known as Krishnaa.  Born from fire and as fiery as they come.  She’s born full grown, and poets wax eloquent on her seductive beauty, her temper and her pride.  Snob she definitely was – and was definitely not humbled by her strange polyandrous marriage.  She wore it like a badge of honour.

Five husbands … and yet none rose to rescue her during her disrobing.

Brilliant mind – she questioned the court on how could Yudhisthir have wagered her when he had lost himself.  She screamed at the elders in the court for witnessing and allowing her disrobing.

Something that I was not aware of, but found in my reading:  She was given three boons Dhritrashtra, she asked for her husbands’ freedom, their weapons and then refused the third.  She could have asked for anything, including her palace which she loved, but did not.  Proud lady, I admire her.

May be she did not need her husbands’ protection; she was a force to reckon with on her own.

Something about Draupadi that one wonders about:

She had a lonely girlhood, with just her brother as a companion.  Her father’s wives and other women of the court envied her beauty and feared her fiery nature.

She was attracted to Karna – but insulted him to protect her twin brother, who would have gone to war to avenge the perceived insult of his sister being married to a charioteer’s son.

Won by Arjuna, but shared by him and his brothers

Wagered in a game of dice

Had children but was never a mother to them.

This would have broken a lesser woman.  Not her.  She was very strong

One a side note, one wonders what she thought of her husbands, renowned warriors, sons of Gods and yet … so weak in comparison to her.

And what her relationship with Kunti was … Kunti stayed back with Gandhari rather than live with her sons and Draupadi.

 A similar post with much more scholarship and deeper understanding of them than mine by Pradip Bhattacharya.  Thank you Sanjana Iyer for the link.




21 thoughts on “Kunti and Draupadi, Women of substance, Part II

  1. I always admire Draupadi. There is a lot more to women… whether it is symbolism.. Shiv is nothing without Shakti, but Shakti seems to be complete in herself. Saraswati and Lakshmi also do not need Mahavishnu and he has to pamper them to be with him. 🙂

    • There are so many women who seem to think they are weak. These women stood out even in the heavily patriarchal set up of the warrior culture of olden days. They were strong, led eventful lives and left their mark on history. These are liberal times, we can do so too

  2. Lot of new things I got to learn. Interestingly your comment on how things were kept a secret reminded me of a family story. My great grandfather’s father in law thought his son and son in law were being educated at medical and law college respectively while they had been at home only all the 5 years supported by the ladies at home. In rich homes, it is very easy to hide things.

    • Really? That is interesting. But pregnancies can not be hidden, more so in the olden times, when one wore un-stitched cloth as garments. Women can make out pregnancy just by the gait of the person. She must have taken someone in confidence!

  3. Hi Ritu,
    I am mythology fan too.
    One can dig into any of our epics in general and Mahabarath in particular all through one’s life and still get new facets at every read, that is the beauty of our sacred texts.

    Though Sathyavati (Grand mother in law of Kunti) is not part of the Panch kanya sloka, she is a very interesting and strong woman too 🙂
    Speaking of strong women, Have you read The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni?

    • Oh I love that book, keep going back to it. Draupadi comes through as so strong in it – even though I found the narration a tad bit whiny… but not uncomfortably so. Its a book which I feel is a classic

  4. I will read up on Satyavati … yes she stands out too, so does Ganga. Urmila, Lakshman’s wife is also a fascinating character. It is said that she quite enjoyed being in a long distance marriage, no husband to cater for 😛

      • obviously they existed… and in all likelihood they were women… tells you about the time and culture back then… the story over a period of time gets sort of distorted and spiced up…

        wonderfully depicted here in this post Ritu ! I think its simplified… but believers will crucify you for this !

      • Oh I dont much worry about rigid thinkers and religious bigots. I was born with a brain and I will use it. And to my mind this is a slice of history

  5. Nice observation Ritu. I say here, like I said in one of TF’s post, there are different angles that you can see an even or a character. There are reasons why Durvasa always got angry, there are reasons why Kunti stayed back and so on. Furthermore, I could not digest your comparing Ahalya and Draupdi…they had different situations altogether.

    • I did not, there is a verse in which these five ladies are clubbed together. The analysis stems from that verse. It is in the previous post

  6. Comment from @Purba Ray
    I feel Bheema was the one who truly loved Draupadi. And she manipulated him to extract her revenge. Kunti manipulated Draupadi to keep her sons together.
    Both of them strong women who knew exactly what they wanted and how to get it.

    • Yes that is true … I did not want trolls so I did not add my views to that extent. Draupadi really manipulated Bheema, especially in the Keechak episode. She even tried to manipulate Krishna .. but he was wily

      Kunti kept herself reserved from Draupadi – since she was such an aloof person, no one could point fingers at her. She ruled her household and her sons with a tight hand. In fact the entire family had a healthy respect/fear vis a vis Kunti

  7. I find it so fascinating that they were strong women who also did not break and who lived by their own rules. I did feel that Kunti’s breaking point was when and the way Pandu and Madri died.

    • Oh yes, it was. Any woman’s would be – he opted to die in his lust for her sautan, and Madri followed him, committed Sati leaving Kunti saddled with 5 sons in a hostile court.

    • Bikky, I love mythology. To me it is our unwritten history. The women were strong and lead such tumultuous lives … fascinating ladies

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