by Sulaiman Razvi
Does Hinduism allow widow remarriage? To be simple and short the answer is No, Hinduism doesn’t allow widow remarriage. But it would be improper to come to the conclusion without discussing the sources. Though the Indian constitution allows widow remarriage but it is nowhere to be found in the Hindu scripture. The status of widows in India has been miserable. Woman’s head was shaved off after the demise of her husband, she would be forced to live a degraded life. But all these things are much better than the evil Vedic practise called Sati Pratha. The widow had to immolate herself after her husband’s death. This inhumane Vedic practise is a disgrace to humanity. Fortunately this practise was banned by the Mughals, later by the Britishers and presently by the Government of India. The condition of a widow in ancient India was disgusting it is mentioned in Baudhyana Sutra,
Baudhyana Dharma Sutra 22.214.171.124-9 A widow shall avoid during a year (the use of) honey, meat spirituous liquor, and salt, and sleep on the ground. Maudgalya (declares that she shall do so) during six months.
Let’s have a look at what Hindu scriptures has to say about widow remarriage.
Rishi Dirghatama said,
Mahabharata 1.104.31-32 Dirghatamas [Rishi] said, ‘I lay down from this day as a rule that every woman shall have to adhere to one husband for her life. Be the husband dead or alive, it shall not be lawful for a woman to have connection with another. And she who may have such connection shall certainly be regarded as fallen. A woman without husband shall always be liable to be sinful.
Mahabharata 1.160 There is no sin in this. For a man polygamy is an act of merit, but for a woman it is very sinful to betake herself to a second husband after the first.
Garuda Purana ch 95 ”A girl should be given only once in marriage…”Tr. M.N. Dutt
Vamana Purana 12.85 “Those who remarry widows and those that defiles unmarried girls, and the ancestors of the offsprings of such unions are made to eat worms and ants.” Tr. Anand Swarup Gupta
Skanda Purana III.ii.21.15-17 “It is mentioned by Kasyapa that these burn the family like fire: The daughter of a widow who marries again should be always avoided. She is the lowliest born…one who has gone round the fire and one who is a child of a widow remarried – all these burn the family like fires (says Kasyapa).” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Kurma Purana II.17.14 “One should particularly avoid the food served by a widowed woman who has remarried…” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Kurma Purana II.21.30 “Those who sell their sons, those who are born as sons of remarried widow, those who perform the Yajnas of even ordinary persons – all these are spoken of as fallen ones.” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Sri Markandeya says in Skanda Purana
Skanda Purana V.iii.85.64-70a “…If a remarried widow, Vrsali and Sudri frequent anyone’s abode, he (such a Brahmana) should be abandoned even from a distance by one who wishes for one’s welfare…” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Skanda Purana VII.I.167.35-36 “I shall narrate other means of sustenance of which the Bhutas are always fond. These are your permanent residences: the places where there are thorny trees, the creeper of Nispava (?), where someone’s wife (widowed?) marries again and where there is Valmika (an ant-hill).” Tr. G.V. Tagare
Manu Smriti 9.47. Once is the partition (of the inheritance) made, (once is) a maiden given in marriage, (and) once does (a man) say,’ I will give;’ each of those three (acts is done) once only.
Chanakya Neeti Shastra 4.11 King speak for once, men of learning once, and the daughter is given in marriage once. All these things happen once and only once.
Brahan Naradiya Purana ”The gift in remarriage to another of a girl once given away in marriage is prohibited in the Kaliyuga”
Yajnavalkya Smriti chapter 3, verse 52 “Without breaking (the rules) of studentship, let him marry a woman with auspicious characteristics who has not belonged to another man, who is lovely, who is not a Sapinda and who is younger (than himself).” Tr. Srisa Chandra Vasu
Vijnanesvara writes on this verse,
“…Ananyapurvika (Not Anyapurvika), one who has not been accepted by any other man either by way of gift, or enjoyment.” Tr. Srisa Chanda Vasu
Balambhatta writes on this,
“One should not marry a woman who has already been enjoyed by another person. Or, says Baudhayana that seven kinds of women are called Punarbhus:- ‘1. A bride already promised to another; 2. a bride who has already elected another mentally, 3. who has gone round the fire ceremony, 4. who has performed the seven steps ceremony, 5. who has enjoyed by another, 6. who is pregnant, and 7. who has given birth to a child before marriage. By marrying these seven kinds of girls, the debt one owes to his ancestors is not discharged, nor is the offspring legal.’ The first two sorts of bride may be re-married, if there is some defect in the bridegroom.” Tr. Srisa Chandra Vasu
Some apologists use Yajnavalkya 1.67 about remarried woman being called Punarbhu as a proof for remarriage. Yajnavalkya is not permitting remarriage of woman it is merely stating types of wives hence it cannot be taken as a proof for remarriage of women in Yajnavalkya.
Manu Smriti 9.65 In the sacred texts which refer to marriage the appointment (of widows) is nowhere mentioned, nor is the re-marriage of widows prescribed in the rules concerning marriage.
Manu Smriti 5.157 At her pleasure let her emaciate her body by (living on) pure flowers, roots, and fruit; but she must never even mention the name of another man after her husband has died.
Hinduism prohibits widow remarriage but encourages the remarriage of a widower,
Manu Smriti 5.168 Having thus, at the funeral, given the sacred fires to his wife who dies before him, he may marry again, and again kindle (the fires).
Padma Purana states that one must avoid the food of a widow who is remarried,
Padma Purana III.56.4-15 “…(He should avoid) the food of women having no children…(He should) especially (avoid) the food of a widow who is remarried, so also of the husband of a woman who is married twice…” Tr. N.A. Deshpande
Usana Smriti censures those who marry widows,
Usana Samhita 4.23-30 “The following are disqualified to be present at the Sraddha ceremony:- Those, who sell the Sruti; those who marry widows; those, who enter in to a locked room without the permission of the owner; and those, who officiate as priests for inferior castes; are described as out-castes.” Tr. Manmatha Nath Dutt
It is mentioned in Agni Purana that the wife who practices self-restraint and also the one who immolates herself after her husband’s death goes to the heaven,
Agni Purana 222.19-23 “…The widow who practices self-control and austerities after the death of her husband, goes to heaven…the widow who burns herself on the same funeral pire with her husband also goes to heaven.” Tr. M.N. Dutt
Same is said in Vishnu Smriti also,
Vishnu Smriti 25.14 After the death of her husband, to preserve her chastity, or to ascend the pile after him.
The widow either has to lead a chaste life after the death of her husband or mount his pyre. But why should only women has this option? Why doesn’t Hindu text say the same about a Widower, why shouldn’t a man enter the funeral pyre of his wife? Hindu apologists try their level best to present Hinduism in the best light. But their explanations can fool only the gullible Hindus who believe in everything they hear from their scholars without verifying it. The explanation cited by apologists is that,
Hinduism permits widow remarriage when the husband is dead, when the husband has gone abroad and tidings of him have been obtained, when the husband has become a Sanyasi, when the husband is impotent, when the husband is excommunicated.
This is taken out of context. Apologist should honestly quote the circumstances when widow remarriage is permissible. As per Hindu texts remarriage of widows is allowed only if the marriage was not consummated.
Mahabharata 13.44.52 Some say that the virgin wife or widow,–one, that is, whose marriage has not been consummated with her husband by actual sexual congress in consequence of his absence or death,–may be allowed to unite herself with her husband’s younger brother or such other relation. The husband dying before such consummation, the virgin-widow may either surrender herself to her husband’s younger brother or betake herself to the practice of penances.
It is mentioned in Sutras,
Baudhyana Dharma Sutra 4.1.16 If, after (a damsel) has been given away, or even after (the nuptial sacrifice) have been offered, the husband dies, she who (thus) has left (her father’s house) and has returned, may be again wedded according to the rule applicable to second weddings, provided the marriage had not been consummated.
Vasistha Dharma Shastra 17.74 ‘If a damsel at the death of her husband had been merely wedded by (the recitation of) sacred texts, and if the marriage had not been consummated, she may be married again.’
It is mentioned in Manu Smriti that the virgin wife is worthy of being married again,
Manu Smriti 9.176 If she be (still) a virgin, or one who returned (to her first husband) after leaving him, she is worthy to again perform with her second (or first deserted) husband the (nuptial) ceremony.
A impotent man cannot consummate the marriage, hence Sutras also allow remarriage of widows whose husband is impotent,
Baudhayana Dharma Sutra, Prasna 2, Adhyaya 2, Kandika 3.27 He (is called the son) of a twice married woman (paunarbhava) who is born of a remarried female, (i,e.) of one who, having left an impotent man, has taken a second husband.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati was also of the same view but unlike Maharishi Manu, Dayanand prohibited remarriage of both man and woman,
”Q ~Can one party re-marry when the other is dead? A. ~ Yes. Says the sage Manu on this subject ” A man or a woman, who has simply gone through the ceremony of joining hands* but whose marriage has not been consummated, is entitled to re-marry.” MANU 9:179 But re-marriage is absolutely prohibited in the case of a twice born man or woman (i.e., one belonging to a Brahman, Kshatriya or Vaishya Class who has had sexual intercourse with his or her consort.”- Satyarth Prakash, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Ch 4, p.129, Tr. Chiranjiva Bhardwaja.
Markandeya Purana seems to prohibit marrying a virgin widow too,
Markandeya Purana 14.82 Those men who have married virgin widows and have grown old to the full extent of life, these turned into worms are consumed by ants.
As we see, Dayanand a Vedic scholar was also against remarriage. Because Hindu text forbids widow remarriage and most important of all many Puranas prohibit widow remarriage in the Kali-Yuga.