I read in ACK Mahabharata-3 that Pandu convinces Kunti to have sons with Gods by giving reason that Polyandry was allowed in earlier times and it was Rishi Shwetaketu (son of Rishi Uddhalak) who has made rule for a women to not follow polyandry. He did so as his mother also use to follow polyandry and he was not happy with that.

I want to know whether this story is correct and were there any other examples of Polyandry prior to this story. Also, who were Rishi Shwetaketu and Rishi Ullapad. Have they did any major work. I mean they were so influential that they made such a rule and it was followed till today so they must be real influential people.

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    Many ancient societies followed polygamy. To know why it was allowed, one would need to look at science of Human pair-bonding to determine why there was polygamy/polyandry in old societies and why it later became monogamous. Hindu society being one of the oldest human societies also followed the pattern.
    – Bharat
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 16:55
  • According to the books I have read, I found that women didn't have much privileges earlier, ie, they have to be in separate chambers, they have to keep themselves covered, they have to follow directions of their parents/husband, if parents chooses a husband for them they have to marry him whether they like or not, and so many more. So, I am surprised how along with this polyandry coexisted. Polygamy still i can believe as it was a male dominated society but polyandry I want to know how it was allowed.
    – Aby
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 7:28
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    what were those books you read? Would like to know the sources which say women were oppressed in ancient India.
    – Bharat
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 17:13
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    Draupadi was the only one in the Mahabharata who was polyandrous. It was not a widespread social phenomenon. Draupadi was also only seemingly polyandrous as the 5 pandavas were in reality 5 forms of the same "husband" from her previous life.
    – user1195
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 4:25
  • "Pandu convinces Kunti to have sons with Gods.... " - this is an example of "Niyoga" which is different from polyandry. In Niyoga, person giving child maintains no relationship with the woman or child born.
    – ekAntika
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 18:30

3 Answers 3


In general Polyandry was allowed, but it may not be in a "marriage" form (e.g. Draupadi's case). However the women were much more liberal prior to MahAbhArata. Even during Kuru race's time, certain regions were liberal towards women's sexuality. Refer this answer.

"... I want to know whether this story is correct"

Yes. From Adi Parva - SAmbhava Parva:

O thou of eyes like lotus-petals, the present virtuous practice hath been established by that Swetaketu from anger. Hear thou the reason. One day, in the presence of Swetaketu's father a Brahmana came and catching Swetaketu's mother by the hand, told her, 'Let us go.' Beholding his mother seized by the hand and taken away apparently by force, the son was greatly moved by wrath. Seeing his son indignant, Uddalaka addressed him and said, 'Be not angry. O son! This is the practice sanctioned by antiquity. The women of all orders in this world are free, O son; men in this matter, as regards their respective orders, act as kine.' The Rishi's son, Swetaketu, however, disapproved of the usage and established in the world the present practice as regards men and women. It hath been heard by us, O thou of great virtue, that the existing practice dates from that period among human beings but not among beings of other classes. Accordingly, since the establishment of the present usage, it is sinful for women not to adhere to their husbands.

"were there any other examples of Polyandry prior to this story."

Yes. From the same chapter, PAndu states below examples:

O princess, who is devoted to her husband, it hath also been said by those acquainted with the rules of morality that a wife, when her monthly season cometh, must ever seek her husband, though at other times she deserveth liberty. ... Thus, O timid one, was the existing usage established of old by Swetaketu, the son of Uddalaka, in defiance of antiquity. O thou of taper thighs, it hath also been heard by us that Madayanti, the wife of Saudasa, commanded by her husband to raise offspring went unto Rishi Vasishtha. And on going in unto him, the handsome Madayanti obtained a son named Asmaka. She did this, moved by the desire of doing good to her husband. O thou of lotus-eyes, thou knowest, O timid girl, how we ourselves, for the perpetuation of the Kuru race, were begotten by Krishna-Dwaipayana.

and also from Adi Parva - Vaivahika Parva

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.

" who were Rishi Shwetaketu and Rishi Ullapad. Have they did any major work."

Yes. They must be indeed of great merit. The substantial info I could find in the same page is:

It hath been heard by us that there was a great Rishi of the name of Uddalaka, who had a son named Swetaketu who also was an ascetic of merit.

Other references are also found, like Vana Parva - Tirtha YAtra Parva:

the sacred hermitage of Swetaketu, son of Uddalaka, whose fame as an expert in the sacred mantras is so widely spread on earth. This hermitage is graced with cocoanut trees. Here Swetaketu beheld the goddess Saraswati in her human shape, and spake unto her, saying, 'May I be endowed with the gift of speech!" In that yuga, Swetaketu, the son of Uddalaka, and Ashtavakra, the son of Kahoda, who stood to each other in the relation of uncle and nephew, were the best of those conversant with the sacred lore ...

Related: How many husbands are permitted to a woman (polyandry) in ancient history?


As the Kaala-Chakra (Wheel of Time) rotates, various changes happen. Different types of societies exist over different periods of time. Even within societies, different trends can be seen spatially. Hence, to generalize that women did not have any privileges earlier is a deeply faulted and biased notion.

To answer the title question

Was Polyandry allowed prior to Mahabharata?

In Yoga Vashishtha, the conversation between Sage Vashishtha and Bhusunda mentions polyandry.

Sage Vasishstha asked:

You enjoy such longevity as would suggest that you have attained final liberation! And, you are wise, brave and a great yogi. Pray, tell me what extra-ordinary events you remember, relating to this and the previous world-cycles.

Bhusunda narrates in details, a lot of events. I am mentioning the part relevant to this answer.

Bhusunda said:

....During my lifetime I have seen the appearance and disappearance of countless Manu (the progenitor of Human race). At one time the world was devoid of the gods and demons, but was one radiant cosmic egg. At another time, the earth was populated by Brahmana who were addicted to alcohol, sudra who ridiculed the gods, and polyandrous women. I also remember another epoch when the earth was covered with forests, when the ocean could not even be imagined...

Bhusunda continues like this for quite a while. Although, I hope this answers your question! :)

Reference used: www.estudantedavedanta.net/The-Supreme-Yoga-Swami-Venkatesananda.pdf

Shloka number: 6.1.21.

  • 4
    "Brahmana who were addicted to alcohol, sudra who ridiculed the gods, and polyandrous women" Sounds like kali yuga .
    – user1195
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 4:24
  • @moonstar2001 lol good inference! :) Commented May 14, 2016 at 5:57
  • Would have been wonderful had he seen Computers. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 12:56
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    @Rohit. Computers are subset of yantras.
    – The Destroyer
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 5:47

Polyandry was a topic of "sinful vs sinless" as opposed to "allowed v/s disallowed".

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, it was a choice between "more sinful v/s less sinful" which yudhiShThira had to make 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.

Note: Kunti begetting sons from gods is an example of niyoga which is technically different from polyandry. Practice of niyoga has clauses and manusmriti IX.59-63 & IX.64-68 talks about this niyoga practice.

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