POLYGAMY IN HINDUISM
Polygamy among the Hindus has become a thing of the past. It is legally prohibited. Bombay State had passed legislation against its practice as early as in 1946 and later Madras and Saurashtra governments followed it. But The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 introduced by the Central Government repealed all the previous legislations and it strictly prohibits Polygamy.
Polygamy is a type of marriage in which one man marries more than one woman. In this form of marriage we find, what may be called “the plurality of wives.”
Though monogamy was the rule fixed by the Rig Veda and the Brahmachari entered the grihasthashrama with his marriage, Polygamy was in practice in ancient times and persisted till the beginning of the present century.
Until the passage of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955, every Hindu man was free to marry a more than one women. In fact, however, a very small percentage of Hindus were polygamous.
It had become a social custom to have many wives as it increased the prestige of the man in society. It was usual for the princes and the aristocratic people and not for the common people. The Nawabs and rich landlords used to have a number of wives.
Causes of Polygamy
During the early days, the barrenness of a wife or her failure to give birth to a son was generally the reason for taking a second wife.
According to Apastamba, a man could marry again after 10 years of his first marriage if his wife was barren, or he could marry after 13 or 14 years if he had only daughters from his wife and wanted a son. Manu also permitted Polygamy more or less for the very same reasons.
It should, however, be noted that during the ancient period monogamy was the prevailing practice of marriage though Polygamy was permitted under specific conditions. In the Mahabharata it is said that a man who marries twice without a rational cause commits sin for which there is no penance. Shastrakara Nanda also said that a man who marries twice should not be accepted as a witness.
Among some trading and warrior castes, a wealthy or powerful man took a second wife. Among the higher castes monogamy prevailed, the ideal of having only one wife [ekapatnivrata] being as old as the Ramayana. This applies to Jains also, but they have no religious necessity for a son.
Polygamy today in Hinduism is not in practice for obvious reasons:
- It is prohibited by the laws prevailing in India.
- People are highly convinced that monogamy is the most ideal and at the same time, the most practicable form of marriage.
- Maintaining too many wives is highly expensive and hence not possible for the majority.
- People no more stick on to the philosophy that one should have a son to attain “Moksha.”
- The idea that the sons are required to give support in the old age has also died out.
- Under the changed socio-economic and educational conditions women themselves are not ready to accept the status of a second wife at home. Most of the women are not ready to lower their social status by giving consent to Polygamy.