by Jayaram V
Day and night woman must be kept in dependence
by the males (of) their (families), and, if they attach themselves
to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one's control. -
Her father protects her in childhood, her husband
protects her in youth, and her sons protect her in old age; a woman
is never fit for independence. - Manusmriti
When creating them Manu allotted to women a love
of their bed, of their seat and of ornament, impure desires, wrath,
dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct. - Manusmriti
Hinduism does not favor extramarital relationships. Adultery
is a mortal sin.
People who get caught in adultery or illicit relationships have
to deal with a lot of social ridicule and public disgrace, particularly
in the rural areas, where society at large is still traditional.
Especially in case of women the consequences of adultery are much
worse and such actions are rarely forgotten or forgiven. Hindus
believes that marriage is a sacred relationship, which extends over
several lives. The sanctity of marriage should be maintained and
upheld all the times. The marriage vows are meant to ensure that
both spouses would perform their obligatory duties to uphold dharma
and remain faithful to each other. Marriages are not meant for mere
sexual enjoyment, but raising families and ensuring family and social
order. Breaching the sacred commitments and the bond of marriage
established with gods as witnesses is a sacrilege and a bad karma. This
however does not mean there has been no adultery in Hindu society
either in the present or in the past. Most of it happens in secrecy,
under the cover. Till a few decades ago it was a matter of pride
and status symbol in certain rural communities for some men of upper
castes to maintain two houses, one for their legitimate wives and
one for their mistresses. The feudal system enabled men in
power to extend their sway not only on the lands they owned, but
on the men and women who lived in their domains and who were indebted
to them either by tradition, belief, fear or money. India has the
largest number of sex workers and a notorious place for trafficking
in women. The Hindu Marriage Act, explicitly prohibits polygamy
and prescribes punishment for those who violate the law.
The Traditional View
Hindu law books are very severe against adultery, not only for
moral reasons but also for social reasons. They consider that
it would lead to confusion of castes, degradation of family values
and social disorder. In olden days women from upper castes were
barred from moving in society freely.
The ancient Hindu law books distinguished adulterous relationships
involving married women from those involving free women. The former
attracted a higher punishment. The law books also treated differently
acts of adultery involving different caste women. The higher the
caste of the woman and lower the caste of man, the greater
was the severity of punishment.
Ancient Hindu society was not free from the problem of adultery.
Hindu mythology has a number of stories illustrating the manner
in which gods themselves often indulged in adulterous thoughts and
actions. Lord Rama banished his wife Sita into the forests on the
mere allegation of possible adultery. The stories depicting the
libidinous activities of some Hindu divinities such as Indra and
Agni with the wives of some virtuous rishs are well known. The Vatsyana's
Kamasutra explains how to seduce different types of women. Women
like Amrapali, Vasanthasena were public women with refined character,
who commanded respect in society for their social and artistic skills.
Women were bought and sold in public places and used as servants
or pleasure girls. The nobility and the royalty till recently maintained
large harems purely for carnal pleasures. Temporary relationships,
contractual arrangements, relationship with housemaids, use of free
women for seeking favors from the influential and streets of pleasure
houses populated by women trained in the art and craft of love were
also very much prevalent in ancient Indian society.
Manu was particularly suspicious of women's behavior and prescribed
strict code of conduct for men to keep a watch on their women so
that would not fall into evil ways and bring disrepute to themselves
and to their families. He believed that if women were left alone,
they would succumb to evil temptations and bring sorrow on their
families. So "even weak husbands (must) strive to guard their wives."
He declared that women would easily succumb to men, caring neither
for age nor for looks. "Through their passion for men, through their
mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become
disloyal towards their husbands, however carefully they may be guarded
in this world. Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures
laid in them at the creation, to be such, every man should most
strenuously exert himself to guard them." (Manu:9.14-15).
The Scriptural Evidence
The following excerpts from different scriptures show how the
problem of adultery was regarded in ancient times.
"With the emergence of adharma, O Krishna, women become impure.
And when women fall into bad ways, O descendent of Vrisni, admixture
of castes takes place.
"The intermixture of castes lead the destroyers of the family
and also the family to hell. The ancestors (in heaven) also fall,
as they do not receive the ritualistic offerings of food and water
due to them.
"Because of the misdeeds of these destroyers of family and order
of the castes, the order (dharma) of the community and of the family
are permanently destroyed.
Vishnu Purana 3.11
A man should not think incontinently of another's wife, much
less address her to that end; for such a man will be reborn in a
future life as a creeping insect. He who commits adultery is punished
both here and hereafter; for his days in this world are cut short,
and when dead he falls into hell.
Manusmriti: Chapter 8
353. For by (adultery) is caused a mixture of the castes (varna)
among men; thence (follows) sin, which cuts up even the roots and
causes the destruction of everything.
354. A man formerly accused
of (such) offences, who secretly converses with another man's wife,
shall pay the first (or lowest) fine.
355. But a man, not before
accused, who (thus) speaks with (a woman) for some (reasonable)
cause, shall not incur any guilt, since in him there is no transgression.
356. He who addresses the wife of another man at a Tirtha, outside
the village, in a forest, or at the confluence of rivers, suffer
(the punishment for) adulterous acts (samgrahana).
357. Offering presents (to a woman), romping (with her),
touching her ornaments and dress, sitting with her on a bed, all
(these acts) are considered adulterous acts (samgrahana).
If one touches a woman in a place (which ought) not (to be touched)
or allows (oneself to be touched in such a spot), all (such acts
done) with mutual consent are declared (to be) adulterous (samgrahana).
359. A man who is not a Brahmana ought to suffer death for adultery
(samgrahana); for the wives of all the four castes even must always
be carefully guarded.
360. Mendicants, bards, men who have performed
the initiatory ceremony of a Vedic sacrifice, and artisans are not
prohibited from speaking to married women.
361. Let no man converse
with the wives of others after he has been forbidden (to do so);
but he who converses (with them), in spite of a prohibition, shall
be fined one suvarna.
362. This rule does not apply to the wives
of actors and singers, nor (of) those who live on (the intrigues
of) their own (wives); for such men send their wives (to others)
or, concealing themselves, allow them to hold criminal intercourse.
363. Yet he who secretly converses with such women, or with female
slaves kept by one (master), and with female ascetics, shall be
compelled to pay a small fine.
364. He who violates an unwilling
maiden shall instantly suffer corporal punishment; but a man who
enjoys a willing maiden shall not suffer corporal punishment, if
(his caste be) the same (as hers).
365. From a maiden who makes
advances to a (man of) high (caste), he shall not take any fine;
but her, who courts a (man of) low (caste), let him force to live
confined in her house.
366. A (man of) low (caste) who makes
love to a maiden (of) the highest (caste) shall suffer corporal
punishment; he who addresses a maiden (on) equal (caste) shall pay
the nuptial fee, if her father desires it.
367. But if any man
through insolence forcibly contaminates a maiden, two of his fingers
shall be instantly cut off, and he shall pay a fine of six hundred
368. A man (of) equal (caste) who defiles a willing
maiden shall not suffer the amputation of his fingers, but shall
pay a fine of two hundred (panas) in order to deter him from a repetition
(of the offence).
369. A damsel who pollutes (another) damsel
must be fined two hundred (panas), pay the double of her (nuptial)
fee, and receive ten (lashes with a) rod.
370. But a woman who
pollutes a damsel shall instantly have (her head) shaved or two
fingers cut off, and be made to ride (through the town) on a donkey.
371. If a wife, proud of the greatness of her relatives or (her
own) excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the
king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented
372. Let him cause the male offender to be burnt on
a red-hot iron bed; they shall put logs under it, (until) the sinner
is burned (to death).
373. On a man (once) convicted, who is
(again) accused within a year, a double fine (must be inflicted);
even thus (must the fine be doubled) for (repeated) intercourse
with a Vratya and a Kandali.
374. A Sudra who has intercourse
with a woman of a twice-born caste (varna), guarded or unguarded,
(shall be punished in the following manner): if she was unguarded,
he loses the part (offending) and all his property; if she was guarded,
everything (even his life).
375. (For intercourse with a guarded
Brahmana a Vaisya shall forfeit all his property after imprisonment
for a year; a Kshatriya shall be fined one thousand (panas) and
be shaved with the urine (of an ass).
376. If a Vaisya or a Kshatriya
has connexion with an unguarded Brahmana, let him fine the Vaisya
five hundred (panas) and the Kshatriya one thousand.
even these two, if they offend with a Brahmani (not only) guarded
(but the wife of an eminent man), shall be punished like a Sudra
or be burnt in a fire of dry grass.
378. A Brahmana who carnally
knows a guarded Brahmani against her will, shall be fined one thousand
(panas); but he shall be made to pay five hundred, if he had connexion
with a willing one.
379. Tonsure (of the head) is ordained for
a Brahmana (instead of) capital punishment; but (men of) other castes
shall suffer capital punishment.
380. Let him never slay a Brahmana,
though he have committed all (possible) crimes; let him banish such
an (offender), leaving all his property (to him) and (his body)
381. No greater crime is known on earth than slaying
a Brahmana; a king, therefore, must not even conceive in his mind
the thought of killing a Brahmana.
382. If a Vaisya approaches
a guarded female of the Kshatriya caste, or a Kshatriya a (guarded)
Vaisya woman, they both deserve the same punishment as in the case
of an unguarded Brahmana female.
383. A Brahmana shall be compelled
to pay a fine of one thousand (panas) if he has intercourse with
guarded (females of) those two (castes); for (offending with) a
(guarded) Sudra female a fine of one thousand (panas shall be inflicted)
on a Kshatriya or a Vaisya.
384. For (intercourse with) an unguarded
Kshatriya a fine of five hundred (panas shall fall) on a Vaisya;
but (for the same offence) a Kshatriya shall be shaved with the
urine (of a donkey) or (pay) the same fine.
385. A Brahmana who
approaches unguarded females (of the) Kshatriya or Vaisya (castes),
or a Sudra female, shall be fined five hundred (panas); but (for
intercourse with) a female (of the) lowest (castes), one thousand.
386. That king in whose town lives no thief, no adulterer, no defamer,
no man guilty of violence, and no committer of assaults, attains
the world of Sakra (Indra).
387. The suppression of those five
in his dominions secures to a king paramount sovereignty among his
peers and fame in the world.
Manusmriti: Chapter 9
5. Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations,
however trifling (they may appear); for, if they are not guarded,
they will bring sorrow on two families.
6. Considering that the highest duty of all castes, even weak
husbands (must) strive to guard their wives.
7. He who carefully guards his wife, preserves (the purity of)
his offspring, virtuous conduct, his family, himself, and his (means
of acquiring) merit.
8. The husband, after conception by his wife, becomes an embryo
and is born again of her; for that is the wifehood of a wife (gaya),
that he is born (gayate) again by her.
9. As the male is to whom a wife cleaves, even so is the son
whom she brings forth; let him therefore carefully guard his wife,
in order to keep his offspring pure.
10. No man can completely guard women by force; but they can
be guarded by the employment of the (following) expedients:
11. Let the (husband) employ his (wife) in the collection and
expenditure of his wealth, in keeping (everything) clean, in (the
fulfilment of) religious duties, in the preparation of his food,
and in looking after the household utensils.
12. Women, confined in the house under trustworthy and obedient
servants, are not (well) guarded; but those who of their own accord
keep guard over themselves, are well guarded.
13. Drinking (spirituous liquor), associating with wicked people,
separation from the husband, rambling abroad, sleeping (at unseasonable
hours), and dwelling in other men's houses, are the six causes of
the ruin of women.
14. Women do not care for beauty, nor is their attention fixed
on age; (thinking), '(It is enough that) he is a man,' they give
themselves to the handsome and to the ugly.
15. Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper,
through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards
their husbands, however carefully they may be guarded in this (world).
16. Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures laid
in them at the creation, to be such, (every) man should most strenuously
exert himself to guard them.
17. (When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their)
bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty,
malice, and bad conduct.
Suggested Further Reading