Polyandry in India

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Polyandry in India refers to the practice of polyandry, whereby a woman has two or more husbands at the same time, either historically on the Indian subcontinent or currently in the country of India. An early example can be found in the Hindu epic Mahabharata , in which Draupadi, daughter of the king of Panchala, is married to five brothers. [1]

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Polyandry was mainly prevalent in the Kinnaur Region, a part of Himachal in India which is close to the Tibet or currently the Indo-China border. As mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas were banished from their kingdom for thirteen years and they spent the last year hiding in this hilly terrain of Kinnaur. A minority of the Kinaauris still claim to be descendants of the Pandavas[ citation needed ] and thus justify the practice of polyandry. However, this is a debatable issue as Kinnauris existed long before the Pandavas as mentioned in the epic.

Apart from Kinnaur, polyandry was practised in South India among the Todas tribes of Nilgiris, Nanjanad Vellala of Travancore. [2] and some Nair castes. While polyandrous unions have disappeared from the traditions of many of the groups and tribes, it is still practiced by some Paharis, especially in the Jaunsar-Bawar region in Northern India.

Recent years have seen the rise in fraternal polyandry in the agrarian societies in Malwa region of Punjab to avoid division of farming land. [3]

Kinnaur

Polyandry is in practice in many villages of Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. Fraternal polyandry (where husbands are related to each other) is mainly in practice in villages, where the societies are male dominated and which still follow ancient rituals and customs.

There are many forms of polyandry which can be found here. Most often, all the brothers are married to a woman and sometimes the marriage to brothers happens at a later date. The wife can only ascertain the blood-relationship of the children, though recently there have been a few instances of paternity tests using DNA samples to resolve inheritance disputes. The rules for breaking the marriage are strict and a brother going against the marriage agreement can be treated as an outcast while losing his entire share in the property.

The territory of Kinnaur remained forbidden for many years as the land route was only established 30 years ago.[ clarification needed ]

Toda

Photograph of two Toda men and a woman. Nilgiri Hills, 1871. Toda men women 1871.jpg
Photograph of two Toda men and a woman. Nilgiri Hills, 1871.

Todas are tribal people residing in the Nilgiri hills in South India who for several centuries practiced polyandry. [4] They practiced a form of polyandrous relationship which is considered to be a classic example of polyandry. They practiced both fraternal and sequential polyandry.

The males who shared one or two wives were almost always full or half-brothers. [5] A Toda woman when married was automatically married to her husband's brothers. [6] When the wife became pregnant, one husband would ceremonially give a bow and arrow to the wife, and would be the father of that child. When the next child arrived, another husband would perform the ceremony and become the father. [7] [ clarification needed ]

Kerala

Polyandry and polygamy were prevalent in Kerala till the late 19th century and isolated cases were reported until the mid-20th century. Castes practicing polyandry were Nairs, Thiyyas, Ezhavas, Kammalans and a few of the artisan castes. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13]

In the case of Nairs and other related castes, a man's property is inherited by his sister's children and not his own. [14] Under Nair polyandry, the only conceivable blood-relationship could be ascertained through females. [15] However, polyandry among Nairs is a contested issue with opinion divided between ones who support its existence [16] [17] and ones who do not support it based on the fact that no stable conjugal relationship is formed in Nair polyandry. [18] Ezhavas of Kerala also practised polyandry. The custom of Fraternal polyandry was common among Thiyyas of Malabar. According to Cyriac Pullipally, some female members of the Thiyya community associated with English men as their concubines. [19]

Jaunsar-Bawar

Polyandry was practised in Jaunsar-Bawar in Uttarakhand. [20] A distinct group of people called Paharis live in the lower ranges of Himalayas in Northern India from southeastern Kashmir all the way through Nepal. Polyandry has been reported among these people in many districts but studied in great detail in Jaunsar-Bawar. It is a region in Dehradun district in Uttarakhand. The practice is believed to have descended from their ancestors who had earlier settled down in the plains from Himalayas. [21]

Polyandrous union occurs in this region when a woman marries the eldest son in a family. The woman automatically becomes the wife of all his brothers upon her marriage. The brothers can be married to more than one woman if the first woman was sterile or if the age difference of the brothers were large. The wife is shared equally by all brothers and no one in the group has exclusive privilege to the wife. The woman considers all the men in the group her husband and the children recognise them all as their father. [22] [23]

Other tribes

Fraternal polyandry exists among the Khasa of Dehradun; and among the Gallong and Memba of Arunachal Pradesh, the Mala Madessar, the Mavilan, etc. of Kerala. Non-fraternal polyandry exists among the Kota; and among the Karvazhi, Pulaya, Muthuvan, and Mannan in Kerala.

In the 1911 Census of India, E.A. Gait mentions polyandry of the Tibetans, Bhotias, Kanets of Kulu valley, people of state of Bashahr, Thakkars and Megs of Kashmir, Gonds of Central Provinces, Todas and Kurumbas of Nilgiris, Kallars of Madurai, Tolkolans of Malabar, Ezhavas, Kaniyans and Kammalans of Cochin, Muduvas of Travancore and of Nairs. [24] [25]

See also

Related Research Articles

Polyandry Mating system in which the female partner may have multiple partners

Polyandry is a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, involving one male and two or more females. If a marriage involves a plural number of "husbands and wives" participants of each gender, then it can be called polygamy, group or conjoint marriage. In its broadest use, polyandry refers to sexual relations with multiple males within or without marriage.

Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage.

Toda people Ethnic group of Tamil Nadu, India

Toda people are a Dravidian ethnic group who live in the Nilgiri Mountains of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Before the 18th century and British colonisation, the Toda coexisted locally with other ethnic communities, including the Kota, Badaga and Kurumba, in a loose caste-like society, in which the Toda were the top ranking. During the 20th century, the Toda population has hovered in the range 700 to 900. Although an insignificant fraction of the large population of India, since the early 19th century the Toda have attracted "a most disproportionate amount of attention because of their ethnological aberrancy" and "their unlikeness to their neighbours in appearance, manners, and customs." The study of their culture by anthropologists and linguists proved significant in developing the fields of social anthropology and ethnomusicology.

Group marriage is a marriage-like arrangement where three or more adults live together, all considering themselves partners, sharing finances, children, and household responsibilities. Group marriage is considered a form of polyamory. The term does not refer to bigamy as no claim to being married in formal legal terms is necessary.

Nair A caste group in India

The Nair, also known as Nayar, are a group of Indian Hindu castes, described by anthropologist Kathleen Gough as "not a unitary group but a named category of castes". The Nair include several castes and many subdivisions, not all of whom historically bore the name 'Nair'. These people lived, and continue to live, in the area which is now the Indian state of Kerala. Their internal caste behaviours and systems are markedly different between the people in the northern and southern sections of the area, although there is not very much reliable information on those inhabiting the north.

Polyandry is a rare marital arrangement in which a woman has several husbands. In Tibet, those husbands are often brothers; "fraternal polyandry". Concern over which children are fathered by which brother falls on the wife alone. She may or may not say who the father is because she does not wish to create conflict in the family or is unsure who the biological father is. Historically the social system compelled marriage within a social class.

The type, functions, and characteristics of marriage vary from culture to culture, and can change over time. In general there are two types: civil marriage and religious marriage, and typically marriages employ a combination of both. Marriages between people of differing religions are called interfaith marriages, while marital conversion, a more controversial concept than interfaith marriage, refers to the religious conversion of one partner to the other's religion for sake of satisfying a religious requirement.

Nambudiri Malayali Brahmin caste, native to Kerala, India

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Jaunsar-Bawar Place in Uttarakhand, India

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Polygamy in India

Polygamy in India is outlawed. While polygamy was not prohibited in Ancient India and it was common among aristocrats and emperors, it is believed that it was not a major cultural practice. The lack of prohibition was in part due to the separation between land laws and religion, and partially since all of the major religions of India portrayed polygamy in a neutral light.

There are numerous ceremonies and customs adopted by the Nair caste, who are prominent in the South Indian state of Kerala.

Polygamy is legal in Bhutan regarding the consent of future wives. There is no legal recognition granted to polygamous spouses under civil law of Bhutan or customary law. Women in Bhutan may by custom be married to several husbands, however they are allowed only one legal husband. The legal status of married couples among polygamous and polyandrous households impacts the division of property upon divorce and survivorship, as well as general admissibility of the marital relationship in courts.

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Further reading