In the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira justifies his polyandrous relationship with Draupadi with two reasons: it has historic precedent, and because his mother ordered the Pandavas to share Draupadi:

"Yudhishthira then spoke, saying, 'My tongue never uttereth an untruth and my heart never inclineth to what is sinful. When my heart approveth of it, it can never be sinful. I have heard in the Purana that a lady of name Jatila, the foremost of all virtuous women belonging to the race of Gotama had married seven Rishis. So also an ascetic's daughter, born of a tree, had in former times united herself in marriage with ten brothers all bearing the same name of Prachetas and who were all of souls exalted by asceticism. O foremost of all that are acquainted with the rules of morality, it is said that obedience to superior is ever meritorious. Amongst all superiors, it is well-known that the mother is the foremost. Even she hath commanded us to enjoy Draupadi as we do anything obtained as alms. It is for this, O best of Brahmanas, that I regard the (proposed) act as virtuous.'

But polyandry is a non-Vedic practice:

Aitareya Brahmana III. 3. - Therefore, there are several wives for one man, but not several husbands for a woman simultaneously

In the MB section linked above, even king Drupada says that polyandry is non-Vedic:

The practice is sinful in my opinion, being opposed to both usage and the Vedas. O best of Brahmanas, nowhere have I seen many men having one wife. The illustrious ones also of former ages never had such a usage amongst them.

Now, Drupada is clearly wrong about there being no historic precedent, but he is correct that polyandry is apparently non-Vedic.

Now that there is a Vedic prohibition of polyandry, can anything override it? Consider this verse from the Manusmriti:

2.6 - The entire Veda is the root-source of Dharma, as well as the practices found in Smriti, the traditional practices of Vaidikas (AcAra), and their self-satisfaction.

Shruti (Veda) takes precedence over Smriti, which takes precedence over AcAra, which takes precedence over one's own opinion. So how can one's mother or any authority order a non-Vedic practice? If my father tells me to murder someone, then I doubt that that act becomes dharma.

Moreover, the Mimamsakas make it clear that traditional or regional customs only have authority as long as they don't conflict with the Vedas.

The Apastamba Dharma Sutra also says:

Ācārya adhīnaḥ syād anyatra patanīyebhyaḥ

He shall obey his teacher, except [when ordered to commit] sins which cause loss of caste.

From all this, I don't see how Yudhishthira's justification of polyandry is valid, unless it is the case that Smriti, AcAra, and sAdhutuSTi are on the same level as the Vedas.

  • 1
    I think not very part of the Vedas is eternal and authoritative. So laws can change with time. May 8, 2021 at 16:57
  • 1
    @DarkKnight Correct, look at this: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/43471/11726
    – Ikshvaku
    May 8, 2021 at 17:16
  • I think the answer is NO, Because no one can controdict the Vedas. "The Puranas and other religious scriptures are all denoted by the word "Smriti". And their authority goes so far as they follow the Vedas and do not contradict them". By ramakrishna. So Yudhishthira controdicts the Vedas. He is wrong. May 11, 2021 at 12:37
  • What comes before the "therefore?" That's an incomplete idea. It's possible it only applies to some cases. Oct 8, 2021 at 20:47
  • @AupakaranaAbhibhaa "What comes before the 'therefore'" - Some kind of symbolic idea/explanation.
    – Ikshvaku
    Dec 25, 2021 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


As per mahAbhArata, polyandry was sinful:

mahAbhArata 1.160.36

O revered sir, abandoning me thou mayest obtain another wife. By her thou mayest again acquire religious merit. 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.

mahAbhArata 14.80.12-18

O blessed lady, polygamy is not fault with men. Women only incur fault by taking more than one husband.

In case of polyandry of draupadi in Adi parva CLXLVIII, yudhiShThira was not justifying polyandry a sinless practice as for him it was a choice between "more sinful v/s less sinful" i.e. yudhiShThira was of the opinion that disobeying mother's word was more sinful than polyandry. Note that draupada, dhrishtadyumna etc. were countering it the other way round i.e. polyandry more sinful than disobeying mother's word.

In mahAbhArata Adi parva CLXLVII, draupada says that he has not heard of such a practice -

'Drupada answered, 'O scion of Kuru's race, it hath been directed that one man may have many wives. But it hath never been heard that one woman may have many husbands!

Now because an elderly person like draupada hasn't heard of such a practice, yudhiShThira in response points out that he is not the first one to commit such a (sinful) act - a lady of name Jatila and an ascetic's daughter, born of a tree have already done it in past.

Eventually draupada gives his consent in Adi parva section CC only with a disclaimer that he is not a party to the sin implying that everyone including yudhiShThira was in agreement that polyandry was sinful but they were doing it only because it was unavoidable due to destiny and kuntI's words:

The knot of destiny cannot be untied. Nothing in this world is the result of our own acts. That which had been appointed by us in view of securing one only bridegroom hath now terminated in favour of many. As Krishna (in a former life) had repeatedly said, 'O, give me a husband!' the great god himself even gave her the boon she had asked. The god himself knows the right or wrong of this. As regards myself, when Sankara hath ordained so, right or wrong, no sin can attach to me.


I doubt the Vedas really are against polyandry. That quote might be out of context. For example, the Maruts, who seem to be virtuous,, confirmed in a later verse, are all husbands of the Earth. While some may think that is a metaphor, the Earth has literal children like Naraka elsewhere, and I don't see what the metaphor could be in context.

Even Earth hath spread herself wide at their coming, and they (probably Maruts) as husbands have with power impregned her.


8 Ho! Maruts, Heroes, skilled in Law, immortal, be gracious unto us, ye rich in treasures,

Additionally, the Aitareya Brahmana quote is not about humans, or any race for that matter. It is referring to the marriage between the Rig Veda and Sama Veda. The reason it says that is Sama Veda has three wives and Rig Veda has one husband. This has no relevance on anyone else. This is like saying one man has three bedrooms because he has three wives, therefore everyone must have three wives. Thus, there is no conflicting Vedic verse to counteract (as if that makes sense if the Vedas are true) the one I gave above.

First there existed the Rik and the Saman (separate from one an- other) ; sd was the Rik, and the name amai?i.was the Saman. Sd, which was Rik, said to the Saman, '* Let us copulate for begetting children." The Saman answered, " No ; for my greatness exceeds (yours •." (Thereupon) the Rik became two ; both spoke (to the Saman to the same effect); but [ 197 j it did not comply with their request. The Rik became three (divided into three) ; all three spoke (to the Saman to the same effect). Thus the Saman joined the three Riehas. Thence the Sama singers use for their chant three Richas,^^ (that is) they perform their work of chanting

with three Richas, (This is so also in worldly affairs.) For one man has manj^ wives (represented by the Richas), but one wife has not many husbands at the same time. From sd and avialt, having joined, sama was produced. Thence it is called sdman.^ He who has such a knowledge becomes sdman, i.e., equal, equitous. He who exists and attains to the highest rank, is a sdman, whilst they use the word asdmanya, i.e., inequitous, partial, as a term of reproach.

As a side note, I think all subsequent marriages after the first (even if divorced) have to at best be Gandharva weddings, but those are never discouraged except relatively to better versions.

By the way, the only reason humans don't tend to use polyandry is our outdated reproduction method using internal wombs. This causes suspicion of parentage and a bunch of other problems. Other races (and future humans) will not have internal wombs (the only mentions of other races with internal wombs are in boon stories, which I don't believe are real). Without our terrible reproductive system, there is no real reason again polyandry for society (I don't think the reasons are big enough for all cases). In fact we are already evolving past this miserable condition (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(18)30451-0/fulltext#:~:text=Of%20the%2038%20countries%20with,12%C3%970)%20in%202014.)

  • 2
    English translations of Sanskrit scriptures are generally a poor reflection of truth or author's intentions.
    – ram
    Dec 24, 2021 at 18:57
  • @mar How would you even get this wrong? It's not like these words together are easily confused with anything else. Dec 24, 2021 at 20:48
  • @mar I'm all for not trusting quotes or translations, but that requires a plausible scenario for them to get it wrong. Dec 24, 2021 at 20:50
  • @AupakaranaAbhibhaa What does the Marut verse have to do with whether polyandry is sinful for humans or not? The Aitareya Brahmana verse, regardless of whatever reason or dumb analogy/explanation it gives, explicitly prohibits polyandry. Also, if people do polyandry, they won't know who the father is, so there are impractical issues aside from scriptural prohibitions.
    – Ikshvaku
    Dec 29, 2021 at 15:01
  • @Ikshvaku The Aitareya Brahmana verse is not prohibiting polyandry, it is explaining something using the polygamous and non polyandrous relationship of Rig Veda and Sama Veda. It is not prohibiting anything. Dec 29, 2021 at 21:20

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