Early life of Kunti
Shurasena was a Yadava ruler of Mathura (a city in Uttar Pradesh), (Yadava’s claim themselves as descended of Yadu (eldest son of king Yayati and Devayani), they were cowherds by profession). Shurasena married a Naga princess called Marisha who happened to be the granddaughter of Naga chief Aryaka, who belonged to Naga clan of Vasuki. Kunti was a daughter of Shurasena and Marisha. In the future, when one of Kunti’s son Bhima was food poisoned and thrown to river Ganga by Duryodhana out of animosity. Aryaka recognized Bhima as his kin and saved him. Kunti had many brothers and sister, among her siblings, including Vasudeva (father of Krishna), Shrutasravas (mother of Shishupala) and brothers like Devashrava and Devabhaga. Kuntibhoja adopted Kunti when she was very young, Kuntibhoja was the cousin of Shurasena. Kuntibhoja was childless, he raised Kunti like his own daughter. He was the ruler of Kunti Kingdom he renamed Pritha as Kunti. Kunti shared a close relationship with Vasudeva and his son Krishna. Later, her youngest son Arjuna married Vasudeva’s daughter Subhadra.
When Kunti was a young girl, sage Durvasa visited the Kunti Kingdom. Knowing Durvasa (the sage who was known for his short temper). King Kuntibhoja entrusted the sage to his daughter’s care. Kunti was tasked with the hospitality of the sage. Kunti had to handle Durvasa’s temper, his unreasonable requests (such as demanding food at odd hours of the night) and she had to take care of all his needs during his stay. Kunti patiently served the sage with great dedication. Sage extremely pleased with devotion and comforts that Kunti offered during his visit. Before departing Sage Durvasa who had the foresight of her future (he knew Kunti was fated to be childless). So he taught her Atharvaveda mantra, which enables a woman to invoke any god of her choice to beget children by them.
Kunti who was still an adolescent at that time, as soon as Rishi Durvasa left, Kunti out of impetuous curiosity decided to test the mantra. She looked around, just then she saw smiling sun god who was moving in the sky. She decided to test the mantra of Rishi Durvasa by invoking the sun god and chanted the mantra in all her devotion. Due to the power of mantra Sun-god at once appeared before her. Kunti could not stand the effulgence of the sun, but was overpowered by the glorious vision. Only then did she realized her mistake of invoking a god using a mantra. She prayed the Sun god to leave as she was an unmarried girl and there would be backlash from society over her premarital pregnancy. But, the sun god said due to the power of the mantra, he had to bless her with a son. The Sun god assured her that she will regain her virginity after the birth of the child and childbirth would take place immediately without waiting for nine months. She gave birth to Karna, Karna was born with divine gold armor and earrings (that made him an immortal at birth). Demon Sahasra Kavacha who was born as Karna (to read the story of Sahasra Kavacha (click here)). Sahasra Kavacha lost 999 armour from his chest in the fight with Nara and Narayana. When the last armour was left, Treta yuga had come to an end, there was Pralaya (complete destruction) on Earth due to the change of the Yuga. Nara was not able to remove the last armour. Hence Karna was born with divine gold armour. Kunti had to abandon the child as she was an unmarried teen during the birth of Karna. Kunti requested Lord Surya to give Karna kundala in addition to Kavacha. Kundala had special powers as long as he was wearing it, death cannot touch him, and also it had the power, to distract warriors who were fighting with him.
Fearing of the social stigma connected with a virgin girl giving birth, Kunti decided to abandon the child. She covered the baby in nice garments and placed the newborn in a padded basket along with the gold and precious stone set it adrift in the small river Ashvanadi. The basket floats into Charmanavati river, then into river Yamuna. Then basket floats and reaches the River Ganga and on it into the kingdom of Anga (ancient Bengal). The basket was then found by charioteer Adhiratha Nandana, who happened to be the charioteer of Dhritarashtra. Charioteer who happened to be childless was very happy when he found a beautiful child in the river. He then handed the child to his wife Radha. Karna was raised as their own son and named him Vasusena. Karna as his son was also called Sutaputra Karna. He also came to be known as Radheya, the son of Radha. Karna grows up to be an accomplished warrior of extraordinary abilities, a gifted speaker and becomes a loyal friend of Duryodhana. He was appointed the king of Anga (Bengal) by Duryodhana.
When Kunti grew up Kuntibhoja, arranged swayamvara for her. Many Kings and princes attended swayamvara, Pandu the king of Hastinapur was one among them. Pandu had his training from Bhishma, he was a great warrior (maharati) and an excellent archer. Kunti chose King Pandu as her husband. Soon after marriage, Pandu conquered territories of Sindhu, Kashi, Anga, Trigarta, Kalinga & Magadha to expand his empire. Pandu married Madra princess Madri in order to secure the Madra kingdom. Thus Madri, sister of Shalya became the second wife of Pandu. Kunti kingdom was low in power, merit, status in comparison with Madra kingdom and they belong to Yadavas who were cattle herders by profession. Madri viewed Kunti as inferior to her. This act of Pandu taking Madri as the second wife lead to vexation in Kunti. But eventually, with the time she reconciled with him.
Kunti had three more sons (Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna) using sage Durvasa’s mantra. She also shares mantra with Madri, who then gave birth to twins Nakula and Sahadeva. After the death of King, Pandu Madri committed Sati (she immolates herself jumping into the deceased husband’s funeral pyre). Kunti then adopted Madri sons and raised them as her own children.