How could Polygyny be “Moral” in ages gone by (Ramayana and Mahabharata are replete with instances) but immoral/illegal in present-day Indian society?

When Lord Ram’s father Dasrath could have three wives and that too in Treta-Yug (just following Sat-Yug), Lord Krishna and Arjun had innumerable “conquests” during Dwapar-Yug, then how come Polygyny all of a sudden become immoral & illegal in Hindu society? Is monogamy (thus) an “adopted” character?


Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

Thank you for the A2A.


Disclaimer : What I write is exclusively my own opinion about this topic.


Polygyny was indeed an accepted and ‘moral’ practice in the days gone by. If you look at the time when the Ramayana happened, this practice was accepted but was not really encouraged. Emperor Dasaratha married Kaikeyi and Sumitra out of his desperation to have a son. He married them many years after he had married Kausalya. After his daughter Shanta was born, etc. Even a notorious womanizer like Ravana had just three official wives – Mandodari, Dhaanyamalini & a third wife whose name is not mentioned.

In Satya-Yuga, such practices were absent in totality (as far as I know). Probably some divine Rishis had multiple wives.

In Treta-Yuga, the demarcation between what was morally right and what was morally wrong was very clear. There were just black and white characters. Dasaratha was the emperor. He could have relationships with any number of women as he pleased. But he chose to just marry three (for the sake of progeny) and remained faithful to them. It is often said that he was partial to Kaikeyi because of her beauty, but that’s another story. His sons were strictly monogamous. So much so that Shri Ram is still seen as the ideal husband for any woman.

Ravana, on the other hand, is technically a ‘black’ character. He married three women but had a harem of countless hapless women in his custody. He had no qualms in lusting after another man’s wife either. And he has always been portrayed as one of the vilest characters in Hindu mythology. At the end of the war, Vibhishana is forced to marry his brother’s widow, Manodari, as he could be crowned king of Lanka only if he was wed to the reigning queen.

In Dwapara-Yuga, times obviously changed. There was no more differentiation between what was morally correct and what was morally incorrect. No one was completely white or completely black in character – everyone was grey. There was no universal right or universal wrong as it existed in the previous two yugas. This is when you would see marriages happening for not just righteous reasons. Political alliances were the main reason. When Bhishma went to Kashi to win a bride for his step-brother, Vichitravirya, he could have chosen one of the three princesses. But he chose to take all three of them for his brother. Why? The bloodline of the Kurus had to survive. Vichitravirya’s only brother had died and he was the last remaining link.

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And having three wives ensured that there would be enough children to take the bloodline forward. Pandu was quite happy with Kunti but Bhisma decided that he needs to have one more wife. That is how he proposed marriage between Pandu and Madri.

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Although the Pandavas shared Draupadi as a common wife, each of them had other wives too – all of whom were married for political reasons, except probably for Subhadra and Arjun. So the concept of marriage became one of convenience. The vows taken were deeply honored but the intent behind many marriages was a hidden selfish interest. When it was so easy to get influenced and change sides, a marital alliance was the only way they saw to keep their hold on their allies. Other than Rukmini, all the other chief wives of Krishna were political alliances.

It was just Satyabhama who was possessive and fought foolishly with the other wives to get more of Krishna’s attention, despite the fact that she was just gifted to Him by her father.

In Kali-Yuga – our times – the character of people have become so degraded that even the concept of marriage in the purest sense of the word is scoffed at. Vows taken at the altar/mandapam are thrown out the window. People had grown so openly selfish and lustful. Until before the Hindu Marriage Act of 1956, it wasn’t uncommon for men to have multiple wives for no other intent than to satisfy their needs. This led to the overall degradation of women in society. They came to be seen as commodities created solely for the pleasure of men. The shadow cast on women back then still lurks silently even today, despite continuous attempts to kill it. In Islam, having up to four wives is permitted. But there are two clauses for a man to marry again:

  1. He must have the explicit permission of his previous wife/wives.
  2. He must be able to provide for the new wife just as much as he provided for his other two wives – measure for measure.

Unfortunately, Hinduism did not have any such clauses. Men just married any woman they fancied. Society came to look like one ugly picture. This is the reason behind the enforcement of monogamy. Now that there is a legal ban to it, things have changed. Of course, desperate nymphomaniacs still have extra-marital affairs but it’s shrouded in secrecy…and it’s ‘extra-marital’. That says a lot.

Times have changed a lot over the past few thousand years. People have also changed. Hence it becomes essential that rules also be changed in accordance with the changing times.

How could Polygyny be “Moral” in ages gone by (Ramayana and Mahabharata are replete with instances) but immoral/illegal in present-day In…

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