Panchakanya: A Group of Five Legendary Women

Panchakanya: A Group of Five Legendary Women

The Panchakanya is a revered group of five legendary women from Hindu epics, celebrated in hymns for their virtues. Reciting their names is believed to absolve one of sins. They include Ahalya, known for her purity; Draupadi, a key figure in the Mahabharata; Kunti, another important character from the same epic; Tara, known for her wisdom; and Mandodari, who is praised for her loyalty. These women symbolize the epitome of ideal wives in Hinduism, each embodying different virtues and qualities admired in traditional Indian culture.


“Panchakanya” is a term from Hindu mythology that translates to “five maidens” in English. In this context, “kanya” refers to a girl, daughter, maiden, or virgin. These five maidens are renowned for their purity, strength, and virtue, and they are often revered in Hindu scriptures and folklore.

Panchakanya Hymn

The famous Sanskrit hymn that defines the Panchakanya goes like this:

ahalya draupadi kunti tara mandodari tatha ।
pancakanyah smarennityam mahapatakanasinih ॥

Meaning: Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara, and Mandodari,
These five virgins, remember always, the remover of great sins.


Ahalya, also known as Ahilya, was the wife of the sage Gautama. According to some stories, she was created by the god Brahma as a flawless beauty, while others say she was a mortal princess of the Lunar dynasty. Gautama cared for her until she reached puberty, after which Brahma returned her to him as a reward for his self-restraint.

Indra, the king of the gods, was captivated by Ahalya’s beauty. He once disguised himself as Gautama and approached her, asking or commanding her to engage in sexual relations. In some versions, Ahalya saw through the disguise but still complied out of curiosity. In others, she fell for Indra’s trickery or was raped. Regardless, Gautama cursed both Ahalya and Indra for their actions.

Ahalya was cursed to become a stone until Rama brushed her with his foot, restoring her human form.

Traditionally, Ahalya had to undergo severe penance, remaining invisible to the world, to atone for her actions. Eventually, she was purified by offering hospitality to Rama, an avatar of the god Vishnu and the hero of the Valmiki Ramayana. However, in later retellings, Ahalya was cursed to become a stone until Rama brushed her with his foot, restoring her human form.

Some versions of the tale also mention that Ahalya was transformed into a dry stream and would only be absolved of her guilt when the stream began to flow and joined the river Gautami (Godavari). Indra, on the other hand, was cursed to be castrated or covered by a thousand vulvae, which eventually turned into a thousand eyes.


Tara, the queen of Kishkindha, first married Vali, the vanara-king, and later his brother Sugriva after Vali’s presumed death. She’s depicted as either the daughter of a vanara physician or a celestial nymph. With Vali, she bore a son named Angada. When Vali returned and reclaimed her, Sugriva became king and took Tara. Despite Tara’s wise counsel, Vali fought Sugriva and died, reconciling with his brother on his deathbed and advising him to heed Tara’s wisdom. Tara’s lament is significant in most versions of the tale, where she either curses Rama or is enlightened by him.

As Sugriva reigns, Tara helps him reconcile with Rama, who seeks his assistance in rescuing his wife, Sita. However, Sugriva neglects his promise, spending time indulging with Tara instead. Tara becomes instrumental in mediating between Rama and Sugriva, especially in pacifying Rama’s brother Lakshmana. Eventually, Sugriva fulfills his promise to Rama with Tara’s diplomatic guidance, and peace is restored in Kishkindha.


Mandodari holds the esteemed position of chief queen consort to Ravana, the formidable rakshasa ruler of Lanka, in the revered Hindu epics. Described as possessing unparalleled beauty, unwavering piety, and a strong sense of righteousness, she is the daughter of Mayasura, the illustrious king of the asuras, and Hema, a celestial nymph known as an apsara. Legends recount a tale where an apsara named Madhura endures a curse, transforming into a frog before eventually being blessed to reclaim her beauty and adopted by Mayasura as his daughter, Mandodari. Ravana, smitten by Mandodari’s allure, journeys to the abode of Mayasura, where he falls deeply in love and subsequently weds her. Together, Mandodari and Ravana are blessed with three sons: Meghanada (also known as Indrajita), Atikaya, and Akshayakumara.

Despite Ravana’s formidable reputation and his evident flaws, Mandodari remains steadfast in her devotion to him, often offering counsel aimed at guiding him towards the path of righteousness. Her unwavering love for Ravana is a recurring theme throughout the Ramayana, where her character is lauded for its loyalty and integrity. Mandodari’s moral compass compels her to repeatedly implore Ravana to return Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, to her rightful place, but her pleas are met with indifference. Various versions of the epic depict the trials endured by Mandodari at the hands of Rama’s allies, the vanara generals. Whether subjected to humiliation during a sacrificial ritual orchestrated by Ravana or suffering the violation of her chastity, Mandodari’s resolve remains unshaken. In certain regional folklore, the cunning tactics of Hanuman lead to Mandodari inadvertently divulging crucial information that aids in Ravana’s downfall. Following Ravana’s demise, his younger brother Vibhishana, who aligns himself with Rama, heeds the counsel of the victorious prince and takes Mandodari as his wife. Legends diverge on the fate of Mandodari after Rama’s conquest, with some narratives attributing to her a prophetic curse upon Sita, foretelling the queen’s eventual abandonment by her divine husband.



Draupadi, a central figure in the Mahabharata, is the wife of the Pandava brothers and queen of Hastinapura. She was born from a fire-sacrifice by King Drupada of Panchala and is destined to play a significant role in the downfall of Drona and the Kauravas. Arjuna wins her hand in marriage at her svayamvara, though in some versions, she refuses Karna due to his low birth. Draupadi ends up marrying all five Pandavas due to a misunderstanding, with the agreement that she would be the chief consort and empress. Each year, she spends time with one Pandava, and any interruption by another brother leads to a twelve-year pilgrimage for the intruding brother. Draupadi bears five sons with each Pandava, miraculously regaining her virginity each year.

During a rajasuya yajna, Duryodhana falls into a lake, mistaking it for land, and is laughed at, traditionally by Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva. In modern adaptations, Draupadi is depicted as the one who laughs. When Yudhishthira loses her in a game of dice to the Kauravas, Dushasana tries to disrobe her in court, but Krishna intervenes, saving her honor by making her garments endless. The Pandavas and Draupadi endure thirteen years of exile for losing the game, during which Bhima rescues her from various threats.

In the thirteenth year, they live incognito in Virata’s court, where Draupadi serves as a maid and faces harassment from Kichaka, who is ultimately killed by Bhima. The Kurukshetra War follows, leading to the defeat of the Kauravas and the avenging of Draupadi’s insult. However, she suffers immense loss, including her father, brothers, and sons. Yudhishthira becomes the emperor, with Draupadi as his chief consort.

In their old age, Draupadi and her husbands embark on a journey to heaven. However, Draupadi falls midway, believed to be because she favored Arjuna over her other husbands.



Kunti was originally named Pritha and was said to be the daughter of King Shurasena of the Yadava clan. However, she was adopted by King Kuntibhoja of the Kunti kingdom due to being childless. Through her devotion, she earned a boon from the sage Durvasa that allowed her to have children by invoking deities. She tested this boon by calling upon the sun god Surya and gave birth to a son named Karna, whom she had to abandon.

Later, she married Pandu, the king of Hastinapura, who had been cursed to die if he ever engaged in sexual relations. At Pandu’s request, Kunti used her boon to have three sons: Yudhishthira from the god Yama, Bhima from Vayu, and Arjuna from Indra. Pandu’s second wife, Madri, had twins, Nakula and Sahadeva, through divine means as well.

After Pandu’s death, Madri blamed herself and committed sati, while Kunti returned to Hastinapura to care for the five Pandava brothers. She formed a close bond with Vidura, Pandu’s half-brother and advisor to the king.

During their tumultuous lives, Kunti played a pivotal role in advising her sons and ensuring their safety. When Duryodhana plotted against them, Kunti helped them escape. She also guided Bhima to marry Hidimbi and supported her children in their duties towards the common people.

When Draupadi became the wife of all five Pandavas, Kunti accepted her as part of the family and encouraged her sons to share everything equally. Throughout the Pandavas’ exile and the events leading up to the Kurukshetra War, Kunti remained a source of wisdom and support.

Before the war, she revealed the truth of Karna’s parentage to him and urged him not to harm his brothers, except for Arjuna. After the war, Kunti, along with Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, retired to the forest for a life of penance. She eventually perished in a forest fire, attaining heaven in the end.

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