What is Polygamy

Polygamy is a practice wherein a person has more than one partner. It is a system that was widely in practice in various parts of the globe in the medieval period. The term, ‘polygamy’ has its origin from Greek which means ‘often married’. The two main forms of polygamy are ‘polygyny’ and ‘polyandry’. Polygyny refers to the form of marriage wherein a man has more than one wife; and polyandry refers to the practice wherein the woman gets married to more than one man. However, in general, having only two partners is called ‘bigamy’, more specifically. The practice of polygamy is more common as compared to polyandry.

Another form of marriage that can be classified under the head polygamy is that of ‘group marriage’. Here, both the man and woman in the marriage have multiple partners. The practice of group marriage was found only in the olden times and there are very few instances of these occurrences in the present day world. Some religions support the practice of polygamy, while some term it as immoral. Among various tribes, the practice of polygamy was practiced to ensure that the scarcity of resources was handled by keeping a check on the sexual relationship between people. For instance, the various tribes in Tibet and North Eastern India practice polyandry, wherein the wife of the eldest brother is the wife to the younger brothers too and she has equal sexual access to all of them.

Instances from various epics (Hindu mythology) and religious texts show that polygamy was widely practiced in the olden times. The holy book of Quran permits the Muslims to have a maximum of four wives at the same time, provided the husband can provide good treatment to all his wives. Having more than four wives is termed an offence as per Sharia law. Polygamy that was practiced in India among the rulers of the ancient and the medieval period is considered immoral now and is prohibited as per law.

Currently, the practice of polygyny is widely practiced in the Arab countries where the majority of the population comprises of Muslims. There is support for the inclusion of polygamy in the redefinition of marriage in the United States of America. Though polygamy was said to be a method among the indigenous tribes using which the population could be controlled, in the current scenario, polygamy leads to poor living conditions among the poor people who live in developing countries. In countries like Sudan where the sex ratio is very high, the polygamy is encouraged to ensure high fertility and increase in population.

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