When you read various holy books of Hindu religion, you find stories of many kings and lords having more than one wife. For example, king Dasratha (father of lord Rama) has had three wives. The lord Krishna was believed to have about 16000 Gopiyan (beloved wives). The marriage, in which a person has more than one spouse, is known as polygamy.
Here are a few important facts about polygamy:
Two Types of Polygamy
The polygamy is classified according to marriage of a man or a woman. When a man marries more than one woman, it is known as polygyny. When a woman marries more than one man, it is known as polyandry. The bigamy is a form of polygamy.
Polygyny may also of be of two types: sororal polygyny and non-sororal polygyny. In case of the sororal polygyny the co-wives are generally real sisters; but in case of non-sororal polygamy the co-wives are not sisters or they are not related to each other at all.
On the same lines the polyandry is also of two types: fraternal polyandry and non-fraternal polyandry. In the former, all the husbands of a woman are brothers and in the later all the husbands are not related.
Social Acceptance of Polygamy
The system of plural marriage or polygamy has been accepted in various societies of the world. In some societies, being polygamist is a symbol of power, status and wealth.
In ancient times, it was believed that if men having more wives will produce more children and it ultimately provide them productive workforce (where all the members of family were involved in same work or business). It also allowed them to have stronger political ties with the kings.
In some societies, the brother used to marry the widow of his brother. This was intended to support the widows and her children. This also maintained the stronger family ties. Thus, the polygamy has been accepted by the various societies.
Religious Acceptance of Polygamy
Various holy books of Hindu religion mention the existence of polygamy. Even the second marriage with the women of lower caste was permitted, provided the first wife was from the same caste. The Vishnu Smriti mentions the number of wives to be kept by men as per the caste system. So, the Brahmin could have four wives, while Kshatriya and Vaishya could have three and two respectively. The Shudra were not permitted for polygamy. According to Manusmriti, the second wife was permitted to be kept when the first one was unable to perform religious duties or was unable to bear a son. The famous epic Mahabharata give a glimpse of polyandry where Draupadi had 5 husbands.
Legal Status of Polygamy
While the traditional Hindu law permitted polygamy only in the case the first wife was unable to bear a son. But, according to recent Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the plural marriage is not at all allowed. It can’t be accepted as a way of life, rather it is termed as infidelity. The children born out of second marriage may get claim the sustenance from the father, but the second wife has no status when first one is alive and marriage is not dissolved by law. This is a setback to the self-worth of ladies.