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Polyandry in India and Around The World

Polyandry has a deep history and was once more common than many would imagine.

Different Forms of Marriage

Marriage as an institution has always undergone constant evolution. And one constant factor that governed the direction of this evolutionary path was economics and this dictated the societal structure of the specific community. Monogamy and polygamy have all existed in most of the societies during different time periods. Though generally people think of monogamy as the “normal” form of marriage, most cultures around the world have practiced some form of polygamy. One might say the current practice of frequent divorce and remarrying represents a form of polygamy or rather, serial monogamy.

Some definitions:

Polygamy refers to either of the sex having multiple spouses. If a man has multiple wives, the polygamy becomes polygyny, and if a woman has multiple husbands, the polygamous relationship is referred to as polyandry.

Polyandry in Ancient India

Westerners have trouble understanding this, but there is at least one extremely popular instance of polyandry mentioned in the Indian epic of Mahabharata, that talks of the primary female protagonist: Draupadi, who becomes the wife of the five Pandava brothers, the heroes of the epic. Draupadi’s father and brother are not happy with this prospect and protest it was against the prevailing norms of the society. Yudhishtra, the eldest Pandava, justifies it elaborately citing his mother’s inadvertent command, which of course cannot go untrue and had to obeyed at all costs. More importantly, he also cites instances in olden societies where such instances occurred.

Draupadi and the Pandavas Draupadi and the Pandavas—From Wikipedia

The five brothers schedule conjugal relations with their common wife, and it is decided that no one was to intrude into the privacy of the couple, whenever one of the brothers was spending time with Draupadi, and the defaulter would have to spend one year in the forest in atonement. Draupadi is considered virtuous; in fact, when she is dragged to the court and Pandavas’ evil cousins try to disrobe her and taunt her as being a whore, there is a shocked outcry, and the elders hang their head in shame. In fact, in rural India, Draupadi is worshiped as a goddess, as a ‘pativrata’ – a chaste woman.

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