Adultery in Hinduism


Whether called adultery, infidelity, or unfaithfulness, the Hindu dharmasastras do not permit any act of sexual union outside the socially sanctioned marriage system. The life of a person in the phase of grihasthya (household life) has prescribed functions of prajaa (progeny for family), dharma (meeting religious goals), and kama (sensual and emotional pleasure). A serious breach of dharma occurs if there is any deviation like lesbianism, homosexuality, and adultery. The Bhagavad Gita (1:40-42) commented that a corrupt woman would destroy the family value, resulting in the destruction of her family. According to the Vishnu Purana, if a man commits adultery, he will be severely punished in this birth as well as the next birth (3:11). Even offering of gifts or touching of the dress and ornaments of a woman constitutes an act of adultery. According to the ancient lawgiver, Manu (100 BCE to 100 CE), severe punishment was to be imposed on men and women indulging in samgrahana (adulterous acts) (5:154; 8:371-372). The Atharva Veda was against even having sinful thoughts (6:45, 1). Manu had implored the king to free the kingdom from assault, adultery, theft, defamation, and violence so as to enjoy sovereignty and integrity (5:154; 8:386-387). Hinduism recognizes the moral issues of adultery that cause degradation of family life as well as social disorder.

Despite sanctions against deviant sexual behavior, Hinduism produced passionate sexual expression in the Konarka Temple of Orissa and Khajuraho of Madhya Pradesh, which display sculptures of couples in sexual positions, group sex, tantric postures, and the like. Medieval Hindu poetry espousing the passionate love between Krishna and Radha and erotic poems in vernacular languages celebrated the parakiya priti (love outside marriage). Here women were portrayed as having their own emotional and sexual longings to be united with their beloveds. The lover’s viraha vedana (pain in separation), amorous descriptions of lovemaking, eroticism, and ornamental delineation of female beauty and body were portrayed in Vaishnava literature. The rhetorical school in regional languages with lyrical couplets depicted moods of adulterous lovers, nayika veda (different varieties of ladies in love), and milana (lovers in union). The lyrical Padavali songs in Bengali dealt with para kiya priti. A parakiya (passionate relationship) crossing societal norms was not infrequent. The Chittor Queen Mirabai’s (1504-1550) songs depicted her love and devotion to Lord Krishna. She left the palace and spent her time in worship of Krishna. The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva (1147-1170) depicted intense love between Lord Krishna and Radha. The unbridled eroticism and passion displayed between the two were nothing but the desire of jeeva atma (human soul) to merge with param atma (God). In modern times, adultery continues to be depicted in novels, poetry, soap operas, and movies. Hinduism tries to build a harmonious society with its prescribed rules for proper behavior. Adulterous behavior is still seen as an aberration that does not reflect the values of the society.

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