Reading Guide. Remember how Satyavati had a son, Vyasa, as a result of her encounter with a sage, long before she became the wife of King Shantanu? Similarly Kunti, who will later become the wife of King Pandu, also had a son years before, when she was but a girl. You will read about the birth of that son, named Karna, in this episode. Karna will become one of the most important, and complex, characters in the whole epic.
Image: The photograph below shows a brass statue of the sun god, Surya, now found in the State Museum of Orissa in eastern India.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [600 words]
King Pandu became a mighty monarch and was renowned as a warrior and a just ruler of his kingdom. He married two wives: Kunti, who was chief rani, and Madri, whom he loved best.
Now Kunti was of celestial origin, for her mother was a nymph; her father was a holy brahmin and her brother, Vasudeva, was the father of Krishna. When but a babe she had been adopted by the rajah of Shurasena, whose kingdom was among the Vindhya mountains. She was of pious heart and ever showed reverence towards holy men.
Once there came to the palace the great rishi Durvasas, and she ministered unto him faithfully by serving food at any hour he desired and by kindling the sacred fire in the sacrificial chamber. After his stay, which was in length a full year, Durvasas, in reward for her services, imparted to Kunti a powerful charm by virtue of which she could compel the love of a celestial being.
One day she had a vision of Surya, god of the sun; she muttered the charm and received him when he drew nigh in the attire of a rajah, wearing the celestial earrings. In secret she became in time the mother of his son, Karna, who was equipped at birth with celestial earrings and an invulnerable coat of mail which had power to grow as the wearer increased in stature. The child had the eyes of a lion and the shoulders of a bull.
In her maidenly shame Kunti resolved to conceal her new-born babe. So she wrapped him in soft sheets and, laying under his head a costly pillow, placed him in a basket of wickerwork which she had smeared over with wax. Then, weeping bitterly, she set the basket afloat on the river, saying, "O my babe, be thou protected by all who are on land, and in the water, and in the sky, and in the celestial regions! May all who see thee love thee! May Varuna, god of the waters, shield thee from harm! May thy father, the sun, give thee warmth! I shall know thee in days to come, wherever thou mayst be, by thy coat of golden mail. She who will find thee and adopt thee will be surely blessed. O my son, she who will cherish thee will behold thee in youthful prime like to a maned lion in Himalayan forests."
The basket drifted down the River Aswa until it was no longer seen by that lotus-eyed damsel, and at length it reached the Yamuna; the Yamuna gave it to the Ganges, and by that great and holy river it was borne unto the country of Anga. The child, lying in soft slumber, was kept alive by reason of the virtues possessed by the celestial armor and the earrings.
Now there was a woman of Anga who was named Radha, and she had peerless beauty. Her husband was Adhiratha (also called Shatananda), the charioteer. Both husband and wife had for long sorrowed greatly because that they could not obtain a son. One day, however, their wish was gratified. It chanced that Radha went down to the river bank, and she beheld the basket drifting on the waves. She caused it to be brought ashore, and when it was uncovered, she gazed with wonder upon a sleeping babe who was as fair as the morning sun. Her heart was immediately filled with great gladness, and she cried out, "The gods have heard me at length, and they have sent unto me a son." So she adopted the babe and cherished him. And the years went past, and Karna grew up and became a powerful youth and a mighty bowman.