Some Unorthodox Marriages In The Family Of Yadu
By N.K. Dutt
Marriage among the higher castes in modern India is generally guided by the rules laid down in the Dharmasastras and Puranas. Among those rules the following are well-known:
1. The bridegroom and the bride should be of the same caste (Apastamba II.6.13,14; Manu III.4; Bhagavata Pur. XI.17.39). In case of an inter-caste marriage the husband should be of a higher caste than that of the wife (Manu III.12).
2. A marriage should not take place between persons who have the same Gotra and Pravara and who are related within seven or five degrees on the father’s or mother’s side respectively (Apastamba II.5.II.15-16; Gautama IV.2-5; Manu III.4; Visnu Pur III.10.23).
3. The bridegroom should be older than the bride so much so that if the bridegroom be of twenty four the bride should be eight years old and that a bridegroom of thirty years should marry a bride of twelve (Manu IX.94; Bhagavata Pur. XI.17.39; Visnu Pur.III.10.16).
4. One should not marry a woman who had been once a wife to another (Apastamba II.6.13.4; Manu IX.65-66; Yajnavalkya 1.52). Though exceptions might be made in the case of a woman whose husband was lost, or dead, or turned an ascetic, or impotent, or outcast (Parasara IV.30; Narada XII; Vasistha XVII; Garuda Pur. 107.28; Agni Pur.154.5; Kautilya Artha.III.2-4), yet, as Vatsyayana says, “the marriage of a woman once married before is not desirable though not forbidden.” (Kamasutra 1.5.3). Modern commentators of Dharmasastras state that intercaste marriage and remarriage of women might have been allowed in previous ages but that a passage in the Aditya Purana has definitely forbidden them for the Kali age. In the face of such dictum, they declare, even the text on the subject of Parasara Dharmasastra which claims to be the legal authority for the Kali age (1.23) must be brushed aside.
Now let me take a few cases from the family in which Sri Krishna was born to example how far the above-mentioned rules were followed in practice. I choose the family of Yadu because it is stated in the Puranas that the Yadavas were regarded as the noblest of the Ksatriyas. “One who hears the history of the Yadavas whose actions were regulated by Visnu Himself is absolved of all sins and goes to the highest heaven.” (Visnu Pu.IV.15.25-26; Bhag. Pur.IX.23.19).
1. First of all, Yadu himself was born of an intercaste union in the pratiloma (inverse) order, his father Yayati being a Ksatriya and his mother Devayani being the daughter of the Brahmin sage Sukracarya (Vis.IV, 10.2). Yet Yadu was not degraded because of his unorthodox origin.
2. One of Yadu’s descendants in the male line was Jyamagha, he had no issue by his wife Saivya, and though he very much desired to have a son he was too afraid of his wife to marry a second time. One day while out on a military expedition he picked up a lovely maiden whom he thought of marrying. But when on his return to his capital with the maiden seated by his side in the chariot he was questioned by his irate wife he got nervous and blurted out that the girl was meant for his son, forgetting that he had no son. Saivya simply smiled in disgust. As luck would have it. Saivya unexpectedly conceived in her advanced age and gave birth to a son, who was named Vidarbha. Vidarbha later married the above-mentioned maiden and had by her two sons (Vis.IV.12; Bhag. IX.23). In this case the wife was older than the husband by at least sixteen years.
3. A later descendant of Yadu was Satvata who had seven sons, of whom Vrsni, Andhaka and Mahabhoja were more famous. From Satvata was born through the direct male line of Vrsni in the Thirteenth generation Vasudeva. He married Devaki who was similarly descendned from Satvata through the direct male line of Andhaka (Bhag. IX.24). According to Visnu Purana (IV.14) both Vasudeva and Devaki were descended from Andhaka in the eleventh and tenth generations respectively. That Vasudeva was a kinsman of Devaki is mentioned clearly also in Harivamsa (Visnuparva. 35.8). From this marriage was born Krishna himself. This was clearly a case of Sagotra (i.e. within the same Gotra) marriage, but nobody found any fault with it or regarded it as ususual.
4. Vrsni’s grandson was Anamitra. A descendant of Anamitra through Nighna was Satrajit whose daughter was Satyabhama. Another descendant of Anamitra through Svafalka was Akrura. Thus it is seen that Krishna, Akrura and Satyabhama were all born in the family of Anamitra, But that did not prevent Akrura from tying for the hand of Satyabhama, who was eventually married to Krishna (Visnu IV.13.35; Bhag, X.56.44). That they all belonged to the same Gotra is clearly mentioned in Visnu Purana (IV.13.16).
5. Another wife of Krishna was Rukmini, daughter of king Bhismaka descended from Mahabhoja. Thus both Krishna and Rukmini were born in the family of Satvata, and therefore belonged to the same Gotra.
6. A third wife to Krishna was Mitravinda, daughter of Rajadhidevi, who was Vasudeva’s sister and hence a paternal aunt of Krishna (Bhag. X.58.31). It was a marriage of love between two cousins, and stood within the prohibited degree of relationship according to the Dharmasastras. But nobody blamed Krishna for this when he carried her off from the Svaayamvara hall after defeating the assembled princes.
7. A fourth wife of Krishna was Bhadra who was similarly related to him. She was the daughter of Srutakirti who was a sister of Vasudeva and hence a paternal aunt of Krishna (Bhag. X, 58.56). Such frequent instances prove that such matrimonial alliances were normal in those days whatever might be the injunctions in the Sastras.
8. Krishna killed the Asura king Naraka of Pragiyotisapura in Assam and appropriated his harem consisting of sixteen thousand women who he married (Bhag. X.59). This was a case of marrying women who had been married before. After the death of Krishna many of his wives, probably of this barbarian stock, willingly allowed themselves to be abducted by Abhira robbers and went to live with them (Vis. V,38.26).
9. Krishna’s son by Rukmini was Pradumnya. When he was seven days old he was carried away by an Asura prince named Samvara and was entrusted to the care of his childless wife Mayavati (Harivamsa, Visnu Parva, 104, 6-7). When Pradumnya grew up into manhood Mayavati one day offered her love to him. He was at first shocked at this unseemly behaviour having been under the impression that she was his mother. Knowing from her the fact of this birth in the Yadava family he killed Samvara and married her (Visnu V.27; Bhag. X.55). This was an instance where the bride was much older than the husband, probably older than his mother, and had been the wife of another.
10. Another wife of Pradumnya was Rukmavati, who was the daughter of his maternal uncle Rukmi (Bhag.10.61). Here is again a case of marriage within the prohibited degree.
11. Pradumnya’s son Aniruddha similarly married his maternal uncle’s daughter, Rochna, who was the grand-daughter of Rukmi (Bhag,X.61).
12. Another wife of Aniruddha was Osa, daughter of the Asura King Bana of Sonitapura in Assam. This was a union between members of two different races, not to speak of castes.
13. Subhadra, sister of Krishna, married Arjuna the Pandava, who was her cousin being a son of Pritha or Kunti, sister of Vasudea.
14. Subhadra’s grandson, Parksit the Pandava king followed the usual custom and married his maternal uncle’s daughter Iravati (Bhag.I.16.2)
15. Brahmadatta was a Yajurvedi Brahmin sage who acted as the priest at the Asvamedha sacrifice of Vasudeva. He married five hundred wives, of whom two hundred were Brahmin, one hundred were Ksatriya, one hundred Vaisya and one hundred Sudra. By thee wives he had five hundred sons and five hundred daughters. Most of the daughters were given in marriage to princes of the Yadu family (Harivamsa. Visnuparva,83). This story, like many other similar stories relating to other families, shows that intercaste marriage, even in the inverse order, was not unknown in those days.
There was laxity in the observance of Dharmasastra rules in those days not only with regard to marriage but also in matters of food and drink. Thus the drinking of spiritious liquor, which is called, even in Sruti literature (Chandogya UP. V.10.9) one of the four greatest sins (mahapataka) causing loss of caste not only to the offender but also those who associate with him, was freely indulged in by members of thee Yadava family. The princes of the Yadava family had no objection to get intoxicated along with their wives with different kinds of spirituous liquor, such as Maireya, Madhvika, Sura and Asava, and to eat various kinds of meat including that of buffalo. Of course, there were some among them like Uddhava who did not drink or eat meat (Harivamsa, visnu, 89). The drinking habit inspite of the greatest condemnation in the Dharmasastras continued even among Brahmins as late as the seventh and eight centuries A.D. in the very heart of Aryavarta. The great reformer Kumraila Bhatta observes, “Among the people of modern days we find the Brahmana women of the countries of Ahicchatra and Mathura to be addicted to drinking.” (Tantra-vartika, I.III.4). He condemned this practice in the case of Brahmins only, but not of Ksatriya and Vaisya men and women, if the liquor was distilled form fruits or flowers (Madhvi) and molasses (Gaudi) and not from grains (Sura).
The marrying of the daughter of one’s maternal uncle or paternal aunt is forbidden in almost all the Dharmasastras. Baudhayana, however, permits it for the people of the Deccan. “There is a dispute regarding five practices both in the south and in the north. We will explain those peculiar to the south. They are, to eat in the company of an uninitiated person, to eat in the company of one’s wife, to eat stale food, to marry the daughter of maternal uncle, or a paternal aunt. Now the customs peculiar to the north are, to deal in wool, to drink rum, to sell animals that have teeth in the upper and in the lower jaws, to follow the trade of arms, to go to sea. He, who follows these practices in any other country than where they prevail, commits sin. For each of these customs of the locality should be considered the authority. Gautama declares that that is false. And one should not take heed of either set of practices because they are opposed to the tradition of Sistas.” Baudha.Dharma. I.1.2). The family of Krishna, however, cannot be regarded as Deccanese, nor the family of Arjuna and Pariksit.
To those who declare that practices like widow-marriage, intercaste marriage, etc., might have been alllowed in previous ages, but have been especially forbidden for the Kali age, it may be pointed out that Krishna and his sons lived in Kali age and not Dvapara age. This is known from the story of the Indian Rip Van Winkle, King Mucukunda. After burning to ashed Kalayavana who had broked his long sleep he found that the world had in the meanwhile become degenerate on account of the advent of Kali, and so he left for Gandhamadana mountain, the place of Nara-naryana (Visnu Pur. V.24.5; Bhag, X.52.2). This event took place just when Krishna had to transfer the capital city of the Yadavas from Mathura to Dvaraka, and when he was a comparatively young man. The Vaisnava Puranas, however, could not reconcile the existence side by side of the influence of Krishna and of Kali, and therefore offer and explanation that through Kali had entered the world before the advent of Krishna he could not extend his overwhelming influence so long as Krishna was alive (Visnu Pur, IV.24, 36; Bhag. Pur I.15.36; XII. 2.30). But this statement is belied by the Mucukunda’s observation. A more definite ate of the beginning of Kali age is given by the great astronomer Varahamihira. “The Kurus and the Pandavas fought when 653 years had passed of the Kali age”. In other words, Kali had come about six centuries before the birth of Krishna.
The real reason for this state of anomaly is not the advent of Kali but that the Brahmin legislators framed laws not always accordance with actual practices in society but with a view to set up certain ideals of conduct. Thus the Dharmasastras contained a mixture of both customary laws and moral maxims, and it took in some cases many centuries for the customs in questions to be modified according to the ideals.
(Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol 21; 1945)
As mentioned in Marriage in Indian Society: From Tradition to Modernity, p.93-98, by Usha Sharma, Mittal Publications, Jan 1, 2005