Even in a society which freely allows men to take more than one wife legally, not all men will do so. Rather, only a few should and only a few do. Two factors weigh most in this regard. The qualification of the men, and the number of women in society in need of protection. There are two types of men who are qualified to take more then one wife. One are those who are very wealthy and can financially take many wives, as in the case of kings or very wealthy businessmen. The other are those who are qualified in the spiritual sense, the brahmincal sages, who are able to lead their dependents out of the cycle of birth and death. A Vaishnava who can take his dependents to the Lotus Feet of Sri Krsna is qualified to take on a larger number of dependents, if he so desires. But, he must also be able to maintain his wife or wives to the standard of his ashram. At least the wives must not be forced to work out side the home, working as sudras or servants of others, they must have food, shelter and clothes, at least to the standard of the ashram of the husband. Not that if a brahmana marries more then one wife the wives must be cared for to the standard of ksatriya queens. Brahmana may live very simply, still, each wife must be taken care of respectfully and not be in want of basic needs.
Brahmanas, especially Vaishnava Brahmanas, are generally not at all wealthy, so if they take more than one wife, they generally can take only 2 or 3 wives or so. More worldly men who have great wealth can materially accommodate a large number of wives and offspring. It was not uncommon for kings to take a 100 wives or even 100’s.
The society benefits when a wealthy man takes many wives, and also so do the wives. These women will be materially well taken care of in this life. The society benefits because these women be protected from falling into a life of illicit sex and prostitution, which keeps society focused in the mood of mundane goodness. The children these women will have will be provided for. They will be wanted children, and come into a loving and caring environment.
Yet, of the 2, the Vasihnava Brahmana is best qualified. He not only gives mundane protection to a few women, which also helps the society, although on a smaller scale, but, for the women and their offspring that he protects, they will get the greatest benefit as they will have a husband and spiritual guide who will take them to Krishna, who will guide them out of the material world.They may not live in the lap of excess mundane luxury in this life, but they will receive the highest benefit, serving a devotee and getting the best opportunity for going back to God’s Kingdom.
So, how many men will take more than one wife? Truly qualified Vaishnavas are rare in this world, and the number of wealthy men are also a minority. Out of those who may have these qualifications, materially or spiritually, again, depending on time, place and circumstance, not all of them, maybe only a few of them, will actually take more than one wife.
The other factor that dictates the number of polygamous marriages is the number of unprotected women available. Even in a society that openly practices it and accepts it, if there are enough qualified young single men available, then there will be no need for the fathers to search else where to find a qualified husband, nor will girls who are searching need to look else where. However, one factor here that is important to consider is the word “Qualified”. There may be plenty of young single men available, but if only a handful are qualified to make decent, responsible husbands and fathers, then those few may be sought out to take more than one wife. The fathers of devotee girls, who have wanted to find a husband for their daughter who is “qualified” spiritually as well as materially have found, time and time again, father after father, that there are not enough “qualified” boys to go around.
A devotee of Krishna who has been married for some years, who has children, who has taken care of his first wife nicely, who is settled down and stable in the society, who has the means to support a larger family, and who is also spiritually enlightened and qualified to lead his dependents out of the material world, is actually a highly qualified person. Such a person has a proven and verifiable track record. He isn’t a blank check. Fathers, and the girls, should seriously consider such men as qualified candidates for marriage of the daughter. Krsna is Krsna, men are only men, but it was because Krsna was so qualified that so many women wanted to marry Him, and so many kings were not only willing, but extremely thankful that Krsna accepted their daughters. No father of Krsna’s 16,108 wives objected, ‘Oh, He already has a wife, not a wife, many wives, oh, I don’t want my daughter marrying such a person.’ Not just Krishna, but many sages and kings took more than one wife. The fathers did not complain. Neither was not looked down upon or considered a lesser position for a girl to become a man’s second or even 100th wife.. If the man was qualified, then the father’s didn’t mind if the man already has other wives. Rather, the fact that he has other wives and is taking care of them nicely adds to his qualifications. “Please, sir, please also accept my daughter as one of your wives”. “Please care for her as you are caring for your other wives”. This type of polygamous marriage is beneficial for the girl as the husband already has a proven track record. It is less of a gamble.
But, if polygamy is not practiced, what happens? What happens when there are not enough qualified men, or not even enough men period, to go around?
Srila Prabhupada has written that the need for polygamy in society is based on his assessment that there are more girls then boys. I took a look at the US senses bureau and this was not actually a fact. The numbers are very closely equal, at least in number of births. However, Srila Prabhupada has said that he has ‘seen’ that in every country there are more unwed women and too few men to marry them. This can be understood in the following ways (some not applicable to our society currently, but are applicable to various societies at various times, and yet, the majority are applicable to our society today as well):
Boys are generally more daring and more active in dangerous sports then girls. Thus, by 15-25 yrs of age fewer boys will be available.
War – young men, traditionally, are sent off to defend their country. When a country is or has been at war, the number of available men to marry is often sharply reduced
Crime: Young men are more apt, then young girls, to become involved in a life of crime. More crimes, such as robbery, vandalism, murder, drug trafficking, etc., are committed by men, especially young men, then young girls. This again reduces the number of men to the number of women “available”. I do not have statistics, but it is a known fact that the prisons and jails have much higher male then female population. Much higher. There are few all women’s prisons compared to the number of male prisions. This actually is a major consideration because just a 1 to 2% increase in women to men makes presents a major problem to society. The other consideration related to this is the next consideration.
Character, or type of husband. In the same way as above, it can also be seen that far more young men become involved in less than desirable and more irresponsible life-styles then do young unwed marriageable girls. More young men will take to drugs or drinking then young girls. Also, men who do get into drinking and/or drugs or just partying around, are the least responsible men. Often their interest is only to take the girl down, enjoy with her, then go to the next. They run from responsible long term relationships (ie: marriage). Take a look at any high school. Give 16-18 are generally much more well behaved, and the vast majority have the potential to make nice wives IF they could find an appropriate and qualified husband at that age. Yet, looking at the same aged or slightly older boys and one cannot find an equal match at all. Rather, there exists a glaring disproportion of girls who could make good wives to the number of young men who would make good husbands.
For marriages where the father chooses, nearly all fathers will not want men of low character to marry their daughter. And neither would the vast majority of girls want. Yet, the majority of unspoiled girls who reach marriageable age that would make good wives IIFF (that is a Big IF) they could find a religious, responsible, mature (devotee) man to marry who would take good care of them far out numbers the number of ‘qualified’ single men available. The point is, that even when the percentages at birth or even if at the time of marriageable age the percentages are the same, still, there are fewer good natured, religious men of good character to marry the greater number of more innocent and good natured young unwed girls who are seeking (or father’s are seeking on their behalf) and need a religious and responsible man of good character to marry. This is the major reason why polygamy is needed in society and why the society actually will benefit when polygamy is accepted and allowed and practiced.
The above are hard cold facts based on the mathematical need for it to be allowed.
According to Srila Prabhupada a girl should be wed before puberty, or at least by 16. This is to assure her innocence, chastity and purity before she marries. The vast majority of girls at that age are still innocent, chaste, and are the most in need of protection. Their chastity is most in need of being protected at that age. And, if not protected at that age a large number of those girls will fall, will be taken advantage of, or in other ways their innocence and chastity and purity of heart and mind will be lost. Thus, for the majority most girls need to be protected via marriage by that age. And best ages for men to marry is 20-25 or even 30 years of age. Manu Samhita gives best age for men at 30 yrs old. I do not have exact numbers, and I will try to be conservative, but the percentage of young girls 16 who would make first class wives, or even up to 24 yrs of age, is very high. Higher at 12-16, that is why Vedic culture and Srila Prabhupad teach that girls be married by that age. Still, even at older age, the number of never wed marriageable girls who will make good wives IF they could find a good responsible religious husband is very high. Say out of 100 there would be at least 90. Now, out of 100 young men of marriageable age the number who are proven to be responsible, of good religious character, and able to provide or potential to provide, is no where near as high. Especially in the outside world which is more irreligious, a number of young men are either in or have been in jail, drinking, into drugs, etc. There are fewer really qualified young men available. Conservatively I will put it at 70 out of a hundred, but in reality it is far less. And, if the father’s standards are high, especially for devotee standard, it is far fewer then this. More like 30-40 out of a hundred he might consider, maybe even less.
For sake of example, lets go with 90 out of 100 for girls and 60 out of 100 boys who would make at least acceptable husbands for the girls. That is 60 to 90, or approximately 1.5 times as many girls needing a good husband then there are good young men available. That is 90 girls competing for 60 of the potential good husbands. Or, 67% of the who, if monogamy is the only option acceptable, who will be able to marry an acceptably good husband. Then, what about the other 33% of the girls. That is 33 out of 100 good or qualified girls who will not be able to find a good or qualified husband in a society that only accepts monogamy. This is most unfair to the women. It forces 33% of the young unwed, innocent and qualified young ladies to accept very less then acceptable husbands. Even forces many girls into abusive marriages or degraded lives. They have no other choice in a society that does not allow polygamy.
When you run the math, monogamy short changes the women. Especially it is the worst alternative for religious people who cherish and respect the chastity of women. For men and women who are religious, who see the religious and social value of protecting the chastity of women, protecting the chastity and purity of motherhood, and who desire the best welfare of the women, polygamy, or allowing men to take more than one wife, is fully supported, and a forced monogamous society is not at all acceptable.
Modern society currently looks down upon polygamy, yet it gives a nod of acceptance to divorce and remarriage. If a man takes 3 wives, living with all 3 at the same time, maintaining them (none have to work outside the home), being a first-class father to all their children, providing for their material as well as spiritual needs, modern society will, never-the-less, label him as despicable, uncivilized, and low-class. Yet, if the same man were to marry once, have 2 children, divorce his first wife, marry a second wife, have another 2 children, divorce his second wife and marry a 3rd wife, and again have 2 children, society will turn its head in a silent voice of acceptance. Yet, the first 2 wives may have been treated cruelly and left without sufficient support, and his first children may not ever have a father in their lives. Still, this (very irresponsible) man can remain respected in today’s society. Yet the same society will have only disdain for a religiously responsible man who would provide for 3 wives and all his children at one time. Society needs to be educated. Polygamy is not unwanted, nor is forced monogamy good for women. Rather, it short changes the women. It leave many with no positive alternative.
The idea of polygamy was introduced to the ISKCON members by Srila Prabhupada himself. We could also say that it was Krishna who originally introduced the concept as He displayed to us His pastimes 5,000 years ago of marrying 16,108 wives.
Someone may ask: Why? What is the value for a spiritual organization like ISKCON to promote or allow the practice of polygamy either among its own members or to promote the idea to the general public encouraging the public to accept it? Why should a follower of Srila Prabhupada be concerned with it? As Prabhupada has written, Krishna Consciousness means to decrease sex life. Why be concerned about allowing men to keep more than one wife? Isn’t this gross sense-gratification? The answer to the last question is no. Not if performed for the proper reason. Polygamy is based on the principles of Dharma, religion. Its purpose is to provide a system for protection of the women. This will be more fully explained as we examine what Srila Prabhupada has to say.
Here we hit on another explosive topic in today’s world. Protection of the women. What does this mean? And why? Why do women need protection? Protection from who, from what? By who? We cannot properly answer these questions in the confines of this one small book. But, we will have to give some sort of idea. Regardless, it is to be understood that this concept of protecting women is one of the fundamental principles of Varnasrama-Dharma, the religious law for keeping order and peace among the different classes of society. Polygamy is a system authorized and promoted by the laws of Dharma that allow for the greatest protection of women. Prabhupada has said that without polygamy being allowed in society, it will not be possible to achieve social peace.
Protection? Many people will argue that is why polygamy is illegal in most countries. It has been made illegal to ‘protect’ the women from being exploited by men. Here we find the greatest difference between the Vedic understanding of human nature in this regard and the modern concepts. The Vedic premise is that a woman should become a wife and a mother, this is her natural duty in life. However, the Vedic premise is also that there are not enough qualified men to marry all of them. Therefore, for their protection, it is advised that the more able men take more than one wife. If not, this will leave many women unprotected, causing many to lead very degraded lives, fully exploited by the lower class of men.
This protection through marriage is explained in the Bhagavad Gita Chapter One, Verses 39 to 43. There it is said that when irreligion becomes prominent in society the woman are easily misled into degradation (being exploited or misused as objects of sex enjoyment only). When the women of society become degraded unwanted children are born. (Unwanted means unloved. Such children grow up seeking revenge upon society). A society that is overrun with unwanted children becomes both completely corrupt and hellish.
In his purport of Bhagavad Gita 1.40 A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada summarizes this:
“Good population in human society is the basic principle for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress in life. The varnasrama religion’s principles were so designed that the good population would prevail in society for the general spiritual progress of state and community. Such population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of its womanhood. As children are very prone to be misled, women are similarly very prone to degradation. Therefore, both children and women require protection by the elder members of the family… …On the failure of such varnasrama-dharma, naturally the women become free to act and mix with men, and thus adultery is indulged in at the risk of unwanted population. Irresponsible men also provoke adultery in society, and thus unwanted children flood the human race at the risk of war and pestilence.” -Purport BG 1.40
Everyone wants peace and prosperity. Here the formula is given. Good population is the basis for peace, prosperity and spiritual progress. Good population depends on the chastity and faithfulness of society’s women. This requires that the women be properly protected. According to the laws of dharma, the most important aspect of this protection is to get the girl married in her youth (Refer to the Kanya Daya book for more information about this). To facilitate this, according to the instructions of Srila Prabhupada, it must be allowed in society for men to accept more than one wife.
Srila Prabhupada says that just as a small child is easily misled, so too, women are prone to degradation. I have a 3 year old daughter. Just a few days ago she hurt one of her toes. One of my friends told her to ask her daddy for money so she could go to the store to buy a new toe. And she did. In fact, she was completely serious about it. She demanded that I give her the money, and she would settle for nothing less then a new toe. She believed everything. Since a small child is learning everything as a new experience they can be easily misled. Young women are also easily misled by unscrupulous men. They simply need to be told the man really loves them. The women will be thinking in terms of marriage, the man is thinking in terms of going to bed. After he gets what he wanted, time to move on. Women are easily misled.
Women who are not properly protected are easily swayed into degradation.
And we see, today the bars, the dance clubs, the pornography magazines and online services, have no lack of young girls who appear more than eager to shed their clothes, chastity and respectability of motherhood in exchange for a few dollars.
How easily are unprotected girls prone to degradation? It is going back a few years, but back in the early 70’s one, quite low and degraded, biker was telling me that his expertise was converting 13 and 14 year old virgins into prostitutes. His motor cycle club sold these poor girls out and used the profits to support themselves. He claimed it was easy and had done it many times. The glories of the 1960’s.
What he did was illegal, but according to modern laws, it is not illegal for 18 year old girls to dance naked in bars. There are restaurants which cater to truck drivers whose waitresses wait on them completely naked. Because there is a cover charge to get in and the meals are very expensive, the girls are paid very well. (The parking lots are always full with tired and weary truck drivers). Easily a good looking girl who just turned 18 can legally earn over $4,000 a month and more working at one of these places. All it takes to get the girls is to place a newspaper ad stating they are looking for 18 year old attractive girls and the pay is high.
How many girls, just out of home and just out of high school, are persuaded into degradation this way by the lure of easy money? How many other jobs offer $50,000 a year and up for such non-skilled work? Many of these girls were decent girls in their youth. They are cheated by money into thinking it will be all right if they only do it for a few months. They can make some quick cash, take care of some needs, then give it up and continue to lead a descent life. It often never works out that way.
These are more graphic examples, but in so many ways, girls can be easily degraded. Cheated. Used simply as sex symbols. Today we have so many teenage girls who are unmarried with children. Cheated. Used as machines for having sex, then dumped. This is the result of women being left without protection. And such children, being unwanted, without fathers, or raised by step-fathers, often suffer deep psychological scars which result in their lashing back at society. All of society becomes corrupt and terrorized as a result and the world becomes the hell we have today. It is all because women are not being properly protected.
Throughout this book I will be giving many references to the Manu Samhita. Manu Samhita is the foremost of the dharma shastras. Some followers of Srila Prabhupada may question whether this is proper. Generally we only quote from Srila Prabhupad’s own teachings. Especially when it comes to Vedic literatures. Please refer to the section at the end of this book entitled Information About Manu Samhita for explanations why I chose to also use it as a reference and what Srila Prabhupada has said about it.
In the Manu Samhita (referred to as MS) there are some very heavy instructions which show the need for men to protect women.
MS Chapter 9, texts 15 – 18 describe that some woman cannot control their passion for another man. Some times a wife can become as short tempered as her husband. A woman can become cold hearted and disloyal. All this is possible even with a husband who carefully endeavors to protect his wife. Therefore, Manu instructs man must understand this and strenuously exert himself to protect his wife.
Manu describes that women easily become attached to their beds, their sitting places, their ornaments, impure desires, anger, malice toward others, and bad conduct.
Manu says that women are not to perform sacrificial rites (or take sacred thread). Thus it is declared (by Manu) that women are to be understood to lack physical strength (compared with men), and do not assimilate the higher understandings of Vedic wisdom. Manu says that women who are not protected can become as impure as falsehood itself.
He says there are many sacred texts in the Vedas which instruct to this same effect so that men will fully understand the nature of unprotected women. The purpose is so that men will understand the need for fully protecting the women under their care.
MS 9.2 and 3 state that men must keep women dependent on them day and night.
In the childhood the father protects her. In youth her husband gives her protection. In old age her sons give her protection. In this way, a woman is never to be given independence. Srila Prabhupad quotes this verse many times.
MS 9.6 says that protection of the women is man’s highest duty, that even a weak husband must strive to protect his wife. And MS 9.7 says that one who protects his wife nicely preserves the purity of his children, thus assuring good fortune for his family and himself and all of society.
When women are properly protected the children they give birth to will be wanted, loved and cared for. This will result in generations who posses qualities of goodness. A society of such people automatically become peaceful, prosperous and attracted to religious principles and spiritual life.
How are women to be protected? What is the protection? Manu says they are to be engaged in household affairs. Engaged in devotional service and religious activities. They are to be respected for their chastity and faithfulness. And most importantly they must be married at the proper time. Manu Samhita says that the father who fails to marry his daughter before she reaches her 3rd year after reaching puberty, he is to be rejected as a failure in society.
A girl should be completely faithful to her husband. Chaste, she should never have any connection with any other boy or man. To keep her purity she must have only one intimate relationship in life, with her one and only husband. This is the chastity that is stipulated by religious scripture.
To achieve such chastity it is imperative that all girls be married and live with husband as soon as they reach physical age. Before puberty the father of the girl has to find out a husband for his daughter and give her in marriage. However, the girl does not leave her father’s house or have any intimate contact with the boy until she reaches puberty. Before that time she can cook for him and serve him lunch or dinner at his parent’s house, but strictly, they are not allowed to associate, not even talk with one another. The girl can be married even at the young age of 6. Or by 11, 12, she is married and never has to think about boys. She remains pure in heart and chaste. Then, as soon as the girl has first menstruation immediately a second wedding ceremony and the girl is sent to go live with the boy (usually at his parent’s house). Generally this is by age 12, 13 or so. Sometimes 11, sometimes not until 15, whenever the girl reaches puberty.
Girls are not to practice long term celibacy. As soon as sex desire comes, she has her lawful husband and he gives her a child. The girl goes directly from child to mother. No space in-between. No chance for degradation, to be cheated by the false sweet words of some lusty boy. In this way the girl is kept chaste.
However, women are to be protected in other ways as well. A wife or daughter should never have to work outside the home. This is considered, by Vedic wisdom, to be failure on the part of the husband or father. Women should be provided for. All necessities are to be given them. Home, clothing, food, ornaments, children. Of course, this may mean to accept more simple living standards, especially for the brahmanas. But, a woman who has father or husband is considered unprotected if she must work outside for her living (a wife can, however, at the request of her husband, be engaged in assisting the husband in his work).
A mother must stay at home and raise her own children. A mother’s close daily association, love and affection, that only the real mother can give, is the most essential thing for a developing young child. As soon as the girl is ready she should be given child by her responsible legal husband and become a mother herself. Immediately her duty in life is to raise her child. That becomes her full-time engagement. You ask any mother, they will tell you, just one child is a full-time engagement. But, today, women go back to work weeks, even days, after the baby comes. The child is sent to a nursery. There they do not get the one-on-one intimate loving affection from mother, and it scars the child. The natural and healthy thing is for the mother to remain at home and raise her children. Later, she will have grandchildren and can assist her daughters and daughter-in-laws with their children. For families who properly protect their women, there is never a lack for chaste engagements for them. This not only keeps the women chaste, but produces a population which is deeply enriched with good qualities.
This way we can see how the laws of dharma define what protection is for a woman. Not just marriage, but engaged properly and kept very nicely. Husband must provide all the necessities for the wife.
Some may agree with these concepts and degree of protection, but they may ask what all this has to do with polygamy? Isn’t that also exploitation? No. The whole basis of polygamy is that generally in human society there are more young virtuous girls in need of qualified husband’s then there are those qualified to marry them.
The next problem is how to get all girls married? Where are fathers to find suitable qualified husbands for their daughters? Generally, in all societies, the female population out numbers the male. By puberty, there are more boys who take to a less then ideal life styles then girls do by that age. Drinking, rebel-rousing, getting into trouble. Following the system by which the father must get his daughter married in her youth, the problem then becomes, where to find a qualified husband?
In our Krishna Consciousness society many parents realize the importance of getting the daughter married. But the most often repeated problem is the same. Many fathers have told me, “I wanted to get my daughter married when she was young, but I just couldn’t find any suitable qualified boy.” Therefore, as we shall learn from Srila Prabhupada, it is a very nice system if men take more than one wife. That is the moral and religious purpose for polygamy.
This writing was originally intended for the members of ISKCON, so the question for those of us who are members is: What did Srila Prabhupada want us to do in this regard? Is it authorized for devotee men to take more than one wife?
We will examine the chronology of Prabhupada’s instructions regarding this subject and see what he has said.
From the book on polygamy by Ameyatma das ACBSP (to be continued)
First Printed Edition: October 1995
Revised Internet Version: July 21, 2004