Our Vedas permitted live-in relationships

Hari Ravikumar
Hari RavikumarApr 24, 2015 | 21:00

Our Vedas permitted live-in relationships

The ancient texts also recognised that humans are not monogamous by nature and that sex is an inevitable requirement for all beings.

In recent months, there has been much debate about live-in relationships and their legal ramifications. In a recent landmark judgment, the Supreme Court (with Justices MY Eqbal and Amitava Roy) ruled that a woman who had not been legally married to a man would inherit his property, which was hitherto only a privilege of a legally wedded wife. In this particular case, the woman had been living with the man for nearly twenty years after his wife had died.


In the past, there have also been attempts to invoke the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005) in cases where the man suddenly leaves the woman or abuses her. At any rate, the legalities are complicated - one or both involved in the relationship might already be married, the couple might be homosexual, one or both involved in the relationship might be unaware of the other's existing marriage, etc.

The younger generation might consider live-in relationships to be convenient, free of legal hassles, and forward-looking, but in reality they are extremely tricky. Of course, if a man and woman are deeply in love, there is no need for a socio-religious or legal authority to endorse it. However, that is only the ideal case. The reality is quite different - couples have differences in opinion, fights, changes in career paths, and break-ups. What if the woman accuses the man of rape even though they were having consensual sex? What if the man sexually abuses the woman in such a relationship?

If a woman accuses a man of rape, before any investigation, he is immediately taken into police custody and can be harassed for days if the woman has a good lawyer. A large number of rape cases recorded in India have been found to be fake. On the other hand, if a live-in is considered as marriage and the man has forcible sex with the woman, she cannot do much given that marital rape is not illegal in India. Again, a large number of rape cases in India go unrecorded for one reason or another. Further, the legal course is riddled with obstacles and confusions when it comes to inheritance, alimony, and rights of children born from such relationships.


"Live-in relationship" might be a new term but the concept is ancient. In the Vedas, we find a mention of eight types of marriages, one of which is the Gandharva type, in which a man and a woman mutually consent to get married. This neither involves the family of the couple nor a particular ritual to solemnise the marriage. It is just a word-of-mouth commitment. But it still comes under the purview of marriage. Although a couple were united by means of a Gandharva vivaaha, the commitment and responsibility was identical to any of the other types of marriages ordained in the traditional texts. (Perhaps it is worthwhile to mention here that the concept of child marriage is nonexistent in the Vedas; boys and girls were married only after they attained puberty).

Even among the various types of marriages accepted by the Vedas, some are said to be much better than the others. Two highly respected types are the Brahma type and the Prajapatya type.

The Brahma type is where the parents of a boy find a suitable girl for him to get married to. This also includes the case where boy picks a particular girl to marry.


The Prajapatya type is where the parents of a girl find a suitable boy for him to get married to. This also includes the svayamvara tradition where the girl picks a particular boy to marry.

Two others - the Daiva type and the Arsha type - refer to the girl's parents giving their girl off in marriage to priests.

In the Asura type, the boy (or man) pays a lot of money to the girl's parents and gets married to her. In the Rakshasa type, the boy (or man) fights with the parents and relatives of the girl and abducts her, irrespective of her wishes. In the Paishaca type, the boy (or man) seizes the girl against her wishes and harasses her parents. These three types have been called the worst, but are still recognised as marriage.

Even though some of the types of marriage might be disagreeable, the ancient lawgivers and thinkers tried to ensure that dignity is maintained. Even in the cases of polygamy - one man marrying many women or one woman marrying many men - there was a dignity given to the multiple relationships. In the modern era, it isn't uncommon for men to have mistresses but without giving them the status of a wife. And they frown upon the practice of polygamy, paying lip-service to holy wedlock.

Ancient India was open-minded towards prostitution as well. The courtesans of those times were well-versed in many arts and scriptures and also respected by the society at large. Neither did the ancients pass value judgments on common social practices nor did they tolerate hypocrisy and indecency.

For a sense of how to approach relationships and marriage in the modern context, we can find much instruction in the thought process of our ancients. They recognised that humans are not monogamous by nature and that sex is an inevitable requirement for all beings. Like most ancient peoples, they also gave emphasis on procreation and increasing the population of the species. But the unique contribution of our rishis and rishikas is that they tried to bring these relationships under the purview of dharma. They were open enough to accept many of the things that have been taboo at some point or another in post-Vedic times - pre-marital sex, prostitution, sex outside of marriage, divorce, homosexuality, widow remarriage, etc. - but only as long as the act adhered to the path of dharma. And on the other hand, even a simple act that was done without adherence to dharma was considered a grave mistake.

Last updated: April 29, 2018 | 13:20
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy