Polygamy in Hinduism!
This issue was in focus in Cho's discussion in yesterday's episode of
"YengE Brahmanan?" (Jaya TV at 8 pm from Monday to Friday).
This post is on the issues around this.
There two ways of looking at this issue.
One is about the dharma angle of it and
another about what people did.
Sanatana dharma does not support polygamy.
Marriage is for the sake of doing rituals and getting children.
Without a wife beside him as his better half, the husband can not do any yajna.
When one half is still with him, he can not create another half of himself,
to be shared with another woman.
He can marry another woman only after the death of his first wife.
The same is also applicable to woman.
Widow re-marriage was prevalent until Mahabharatha times.
After the death of Shanthanu, Satyavati was proposed by Ugrayudha,
according to Harivamsa purana.
Arjuna married Uloopi, the Naga princess who was a widow.
Like this many instances of woman re-marrying after the death of her husband
Dharma is equal to both genders in this respect.
We even come to know from Varahamihira that the couple not only shared life
but also the good and bad of their karmas.
Varahamihira mentioned this in Brihad samhita
by quoting dharma satras that are now extinct.
As per this, whatever the husband does, half of it goes to his wife.
Similarly whatever the wife does, half of it goes to the husband.
Based on this rationale, the injunctions were formed that a wife need not do any vedik karma such as doing homas or reciting Vedas, for, half of whatever that her husband gains by doing them anyway goes to her.
Similarly what ever dharma (like giving alms, feeding others etc)
that she as the head of the Home does is shared by her husband.
That is why a marriage done in Vedic way can not be broken by any law of the land. They remain as husband and wife as long as they live.
This is the highest dharma which was exhibited by Rama.
Eka patni vratham is a difficult one. But a man must adhere to it.
But marriage with another woman when the first wife is still alive
had happened in practice.
Since it was in practice, we can not say that taking more than one wife
has dharmic sanction.
In most cases of second marriage while the first one was alive,
the motive was to get a male child.
Though the desire of the Hindu marriage system was to get a male child –
for the purpose of paying off debts to the pithrus –
dharma does not say that one can marry a second woman for that purpose.
Instead one can opt for adoption.
And there is no need for adoption if a person has only daughters.
The eldest grandson (from the daughters) can pay off the pithru ruaNam.
Rig veda 3-31-1 authenticates this.
Though the desire for male child is there, one can fulfill the purpose of that desire without violating the marriage dharma.
The marriage vow is such that it is a commitment for mutual fidelity throughout their lives. Such a vow taken in the presence of Agni can not be violated.
Verses 9-101 and 102 of Manu smrithi state this.
But the same Manu smrithi goes on to state the conditions under which a man or a woman can take up another spouse.
These are the conditions where a man or a woman can not discharge the duties as a grahastha.
But there are times when one seeks another wife for sensual gratification.
This will invite a resultant karma.
Such karma can be known from Jyothisha sastra.
From astrology we come to know that a person who marries when the first spouse is still alive, hale and healthy, will have to face sufferings in the next birth.
The exceptional cases where a woman can give up the spouse,
have been given in smrithis.
For the woman in Kali yuga, she can give up her husband if he has abandoned her (similar to divorce in today's condition), had died, had become an ascetic, happens to be an eunuch and is an offender in the eyes of Law of the land. This is as per Parashara smrithi which is the dharma sastra for Kaliyuga.
But no such rules are given for man. It shows that as long the wife is alive, he has to take care of her and be with her. Parashara smrithi does not give injunctions for marrying another woman when the first wife is there.
In present day's condition of rising divorce cases, these laws seem not applicable.
However the core principle is not diluted.
The core principle is that one can not live with more than one spouse at any given time.
In other words, polygamy is not supported and
one is expected to be an 'eka-patni vrathan' of the one he has married.
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