Avatar Kuruk is perhaps the most misunderstood Avatar of all time. People said he was a go with the flow, laid back kind of Avatar; but that is just enough proof that he really was misunderstood and people didn’t know as much about him as they thought or should have.
Some even hated him, based on the information provided by the show. His successor, Kyoshi was one of those who had a serious bone to pick with him; to the point that her displeasure with him blocked her access to her past lives.
Before the tie-in novels were released, there weren’t that many details on Avatar Kuruk’s life. Most of what was known came from Aang’s conversations with his past lives as he searched for the best way to handle Firelord Ozai in the coming showdown.
During their conversation, Avatar Kuruk revealed to Aang that he was quite easygoing, and as the Avatar of a prosperous era thanks to Yangchen’s actions, he was a bit carefree. He explained that his lax attitude had grave consequences however, as his inaction eventually led to the loss of his wife at the hands of the evil spirit Koh the Face Stealer.
Avatar Kuruk then admonished Aang to be active about shaping his destiny; in order to not repeat his mistakes. Before we can learn anything else about him; he vanishes.
From the online story Escape from the Spirit World which delved further into Avatar Kuruk’s history, and the graphic novel The Rise of Kyoshi where we are truly involved with an in depth narrative on more about the Northern Water Tribe Avatar, we get to piece together the puzzle. Here are the facts about Avatar Kuruk.
1. Avatar Kuruk Did Not Accept Traditional Training
While Avatar Kuruk was one of the most intelligent Avatars, he holds the penchant for also being one of the most arrogant.
When the Water Tribe sages used the ancient tradition of determining the new Avatar, which involves the earthbending of a gemstone into the air; Avatar Kuruk was found to be the chosen one. It was his first attempt at bending, and it really opened a door in Kuruk’s head, and in no short time, he was already excellent at his native waterbending and earthbending. He was assigned an earthbending master from the city of Ba Sing Se named Jianzhu, and in no time they became best of friends.
However, Avatar Kuruk and Jianzhu did not really take the traditional training of the old bending masters quite seriously. And so, they were often found playing pai sho instead.
2. Avatar Kuruk Was A Womanizer
Avatar Kuruk really loved women; to a fault. He was constantly showboating; getting their attention and affection in the process of impressing them. And he had no boundaries.
Avatar Kuruk’s first firebending master was a woman by the name of Hei-Ran. The moment he set eyes on her, Kuruk wanted to be with her. Of course, this would mark Kuruk’s first mistake with women, as Hei-Ran brutally turned him down. She explained that a relationship between them was forbidden and would be taboo as they were on duty.
As if things were not already tense, Kuruk would make another mistake when he had an encounter with spirits. He sustained injuries, but was attended to by a woman. In true fashion, Avatar Kuruk slept with her, losing him a lot of respect from Hei-Ran. If ever there was a chance before, it was gone now. Till the end of his journey as Avatar, Kuruk would pine for Hei-Ran; all to no avail.
3. Avatar Kuruk Was An Amazing Pai Sho Legend
Everyone knows that one of Avatar Kuruk’s most favorite things in the world was playing pai sho. A favorite pastime of characters like Uncle Iroh and members of the White Lotus society, pai sho is a very popular table game across the four nations. Kuruk was an extremely intelligent person, and this contributed to him being referred to as “one of the best pai sho players who ever lived.”
Avatar Kuruk was such an avid fan of the pai sho game that the Avatar’s overall philosophy in life was influenced by it. It also helped to contribute to his personal betterment in the long run.
4. He Inherited A Spirit World That Was Unbalanced From His Predecessor, Avatar Yangchen
Avatar Yangchen was the highly revered Avatar that came before Kuruk. She was highly skilled in the art of negotiation and diplomacy. However, for all her skills with handling human beings, even she admitted that her actions neglected the spirit world; and left it unbalanced as at the time of her death. Yangchen defeated an ancient spirit, and this in turn darkened the spirit world, which Kuruk inherited.
Avatar Kuruk defeated the spirit Heartwalker, who had threatened to take out the Yaoping Town settlement. The fight took a massive toll on Kuruk’s spirit. It was so bad that he fell sick, even frothing at the mouth and shivering. After he recovered and was rehabilitated, Avatar Kuruk slipped into a deep depression. Matter of fact, it is unknown to most, but Kuruk saved the world from dark spirits.
5. Kuruk Was Relentlessly Attacked By The Spirit World
For whatever reason, probably because he was the Avatar, the spirits tormented Avatar Kuruk constantly. They flooded his mind and would leave him restless. Kuruk was plagued with constant visions of evil being done, but in his bid to not worry his friends, he would fight the dark spirits alone. Every time Kuruk took on and defeated a dark spirit, his own spirit would be darkened.
To cope with his demons, Avatar Kuruk started drinking, sleeping around and would pick fights with everyone and everything just so he could feel human again. He had already received warning early on that he would not live a long life. Instead Avatar Kuruk saw that drinking, women and adrenaline-fueled adventure helped him ease the silent suffering he faced throughout the years. It turns out he was not as carefree and irresponsible as people thought he was.
6. He Accidentally Cursed The Avatar Spirit
At some point, Kuruk got fed up with the cracks in his reality caused by the darkening spirit world. He took it upon himself to find the root of all these problems and this led to a confrontation with a very dangerous spirit named Father Glowworm.
Kuruk accidentally switched names with the dark spirit, and ended up putting a curse on the Avatar forever. He did however manage to strike a blow to Father Glowworm that was significant, but he left the fight permanently and spiritually damaged.
7. His Marriage To Ummi Was A Doomed One From The Start
Avatar Kuruk was not interested in settling down at any point, that is until he met Ummi, who was from the Southern Water Tribe. He fell in love with her, and she with him, almost instantly. That same night, he granted her a betrothal necklace. On the day they were to be married, tragedy struck as Koh the face stealer pulled Ummi into the ocean.
Koh did this because he was angered by Avatar Kuruk’s arrogance and interference in the spirit world. So, he stole Ummi’s face to teach the Avatar a lesson.
8. Avatar Kuruk Neglected His Avatar Duties And Instead Focused On Revenge
After Koh the face stealer stole Ummi’s face, Kuruk was beside himself with anger and grief. He set out on a mission to avenge her, and spent the rest of his life searching for the dark spirit. His intention was to find him and slay him with any chance he got. He never did get over losing Ummi, and all that grief consumed him, depleting all of his energy spiritually.
During this time, he was only concerned with his personal affairs, so that for much of his lifetime, he put nearly all of his energy towards individual goals instead of the four nations of the world. By the time he died, the world was in much turmoil, so much that the Earth Kingdom was taken over by a group of terrorists known as the Fifth Nation Pirates. The Fire Nation on the other hand was riddled with poverty and disease.
9. Avatar Kuruk Succumbed To His Inner Demons And Died At A Young Age
You’d think Aang passing at age 66 was a shocking age, but Kuruk was perhaps the youngest Avatar to die. He was just 33 when he finally gave up the ghost; a tragic end to a tragic and misunderstood legacy. It is only made more ironic when you realise that his predecessor, Kyoshi would live on to be 230 years of age; almost seven times his age, and one of the oldest Avatars to live.
After his death, his friends began to look for the new Avatar from the earth kingdom, as a means to compensate for failing their friend. However, they wouldn’t even find Kyoshi as the Avatar until many years later, when the world was in complete chaos.
10. Even After His Death, He Still Sought Revenge
Kuruk continued to search for Ummi in the spirit realm much after he had died. He had vowed to kill Koh, and avenge Ummi; and he would later meet the spirit again reincarnated as Aang. However, Kuruk had long since realized that if he were to kill Koh as planned, then he would also lose Ummi forever. Because of this, he dropped his eternal vendetta, although he did still work to see if he could get the love of his life set free.