It is a type of practice in which a person has multiple spouses at the same
time. The practice of Bigamy was very prevalent in most of the ancient
civilizations. If a marriage is performed twice, it will be bigamy, and polygamy
occurs when a marriage is performed multiple times.
Types of Polygamy
There are mainly two types of Polygamy:
- The practice in which a man has numerous wives at the same time is
polygyny. This type of practice was quite prevalent in the ancient period
and is still prevalent in some parts.
- If a woman marries multiple men at the same time, it is called
polyandry. This type of practice was not very common but prevalent in the
warrior and merchant classes in the ancient era. In the 21th century is
still practiced in the area of Tibet.
Polygamy means having several spouses at the same time, the most practiced form
is polygyny, which can be found in the Indian History prevalently. The Rajputs,
Aristocrats, Merchants, Warriors classes used to practiced. The institution of
marriage was very essential to the Rajput Classes in order to produce warriors
for the future battles, the role of the women was very reproductive in the
In order to increase their domain, strengthen their political position they
married many women. Rawal Bapa the king of Mewar married 140 women and Raja Udai
Singh of Mewar married 23 women , the marriage for Rajputs was about producing
male heirs and consolidating state powers.
If we talk about Aristocrates, we found out that polygamy has been practiced
from the ancient to medieval period but the cause was different at different
periods. Although in the Vedic Era the practice of Monogamy ( relationship with
one partner at a time) was favored . In the Pre-Vedic Era, Polygamy was
considered as an exception practised only in specific condition it was allowed.
Many Hindu Religious texts, such as the Dharmashastras, supported monogamy,
however if the first wife is incapable of bearing child or is only producing
female offsprings, the man may choose to marry other woman.
Polygamy Under Different Religions/
Under Hindu Law
In the renowned text "Manusmriti" one of the sources of Hindu law it is given
that if a Hindu man marries a second wife who is not sick, she and her son will
always take precedence over the other wife and her son. In the ancient India the
practice of bigamy was neither strictly forbidden nor commonly practiced. It was
customary among Hindu Aristocracy and Rulers.
Prior to 1955, polygamy was acknowledged by Hindu Personal Law, specifically the
Hindu Marriage Act. Polygamy and its types were outlawed by the Hindu Marriage
Act of 1955. Section 5 of the Act: Condition for a Hindu Marriage is
- A marriage may be solemnized between any two Hindus, if neither party
has a spouse living at the time of the marriage.
The right to practice and profess religion of our own is a fundamental
right guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. Therefore, it allows certain
communities to follow their personal laws. For instance, Muslim personal law
recognizes polygamy. On the other hand, Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 does not
allow subsequent marriage in the presence of former spouse.
In the Landmark case Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, the question
arises before the Supreme Court that when a Hindu changes his faith and marries
again, will the second marriage be legal or will the first marriage be void?
The Supreme Court looked into the matter closely and came to the conclusion that
if a man changes his faith solely for the purpose of marrying again, the first
marriage will continue to exist until it is dissolved by the provisions laid
down in the Hindu Marriage Act 1955. Secondly, if the first marriage is still
legally binding, the second marriage will be considered as null and void, and
Section 494 of Indian Penal Code's bigamy will apply. The second marriage
will be held illegal as such an act is unjust and unconstitutional.
Under Muslim LawThe practice of polygamy is prohibited in India, but Muslim Personal Law
makes an exception. Islam permits polygamy and permits man to marry multiple
wives at the same time. While a Muslim man may have numerous wives at the same
time, but Muslim law does not permit women to have more than one husband at a
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights and Divorce) Act, 1986 preserved some
rights for women and stated that, if a Muslim man can treat and respect all of
his wives equally, then he has the right to marry twice and thrice. If he fails
to do so, he will be accountable .
Under Parsi Law
Under the Parsi Law the practice of Polygamy is prohibited. According to Section
5 of the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act 1936, any Parsi who marries a second
time while their first spouse is still alive without getting a legal divorce
will have their marriage deemed null and void or dissolved. It will be liable to
punishment outlined in the Section 494 and 495 of the Indian Penal Code.
As discussed earlier, polygamy prevailed differently in different regions. With
time it was seen that there was a need to change this practice. For which
resolutions were made and adopted thereafter. Gradually, the practice of
polygamy began to be banned in several parts of India.
First step towards it was successfully made in Mumbai (Bombay), The Bombay
Prevention of Bigamy Act 1948 laid down rules for complete ban on polygamy in
Maharashtra. Later Madras Prevention of Bigamy Act 1949 resulted in same
prohibition in entire Madras. Polygamy was gradually recognized as a practice
which is against the right of women in the Hindu Marriage Act 1955.
This resulted in the prohibition of Polygamy becoming unlawful throughout the
nation, with the exception of Muslims whose Personal Laws permit it, Also, since
India is a secular country that gives right to its citizens to profess and
practice their own religion. However it has been subjected to certain
restrictions. While in Hinduism and other religions it is not permissible in
order to strengthen and protect certain basic rights of the people within
The civil code enforced by Portuguese that prevails even today was enforced
in the 19th century in Goa. Thus Goa is the only state in India that follows the
Uniform Civil Code and follows common family law. Since then polygamy is banned
and even men of Muslim community are restricted to marry more than once.
- Act 25 of 1955
- Article 25 of Indian Constitution
- AIR 1995 SC 1531
- Indian Penal Code 1860, Act no. 45 of 1860
- Act of 1937
- Act no. 25 of 1986
- Act no. 03 of 1936
- Act no. 38 of 1948
- Act no. 6 of 1949
- Portuguese Civil Code of 1867