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KeywordsAdultery Hindu Scriptures Ahalya Bhishma Saraswati
Adultery, also sometimes found in the form of incest, is a consensual physical correlation between two persons who are not in conjugal relationship with each other. Adultery is considered sinful and wrong in Hinduism so much so that it is also unlawful and criminal under Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code. The Hindu Dharmashastras forbid any type of sexual union/act – physical, mental, and emotional adultery – outside the socially sanctioned marriage institution . According to Bhagavad Gita, a corrupt woman destroys family values which further leads to the destruction of the clan (1:40–42). And Manusmriti implored the ruler to free the State from adultery, assault, theft, defamation, and violence (5:154; 8:386–387).
In Shanti Parva of Mahabharata (Section CLVIII), there is a dialogue between Bhishma and Yudhishthira where Bhishma considered it as a major sin and recommended punishment for the one who is proven guilty . For a woman, who abandons her husband of a higher caste to a lower caste person, the ruler is advised to put such a culprit in front of dogs to be devoured in the midst of an immense concourse of spectators. Likewise, a wise ruler should punish a male person committing adultery under similar circumstances to be put upon a heated iron bed, and small sticks are tied together for burning on a fire underneath to punish the culprit thereon.
Adultery and Hindu Gods/Gods
Adultery is very common, and some Hindu gods are found playing incest and adultery not only in their heavenly abode but also on earth. Some often visit earth to seduce women. Quite surprisingly, Hindu Scriptures are filled with many licentious stories of gods – starting from Brahma (the creator of the universe) and Vishnu (the protector of the universe) to Indra (the king of gods) and Agni (the fire god). While reading such narratives in Hindu Scriptures, one must remember that adultery and incest are man-made terms, and only humans are bound to it, not the Gods and minor gods .
The story of Brahma (one of the three main Gods in Hinduism) and Saraswati (the goddess of learning/knowledge) is an example of one such narrative whose reference is found in many Hindu Scriptures, including Matsya Purana (III.32), Aitareya Brahmana (III.33), Bhagavata Purana (III.12.28), Shiva Purana, Jnanasamhita (49:65–80), and Satapatha Brahmana (I.7.4). Brahma created his daughter Saraswati from his own seminal fluid and later on become armored seeing her beauty so much so that he wanted to have her. Saraswati, in turn, ran into all directions to save her but could not escape from her father’s lust. Consequently indulging incest and adultery, they lived for 100 years and had one son Swayambhumaru and a daughter Satarupa thereafter. Another version of the same story states that Brahma in the process of creation created Saraswati and got attracted toward her like Frankenstein. His heads grew out in all directions while gazing, chasing, and following Saraswati. Shiva, the God of destruction, grew angry witnessing this obsession of Brahma and cut his fifth upward head and cursed him not to be worshipped by anyone. However, finally father and daughter got together for creating life in this universe.
In Srimad Bhagavatam (9.14.36–38), at one place Apsara (nymph) Urvashi tells Narada (the reporter of gods) that women are cunning like fox and merciless, and they can do anything irreligious for their own pleasure, including killing their husband and brother, and they are naturally seduced by men. This description further verifies the narrative of Brahma and Saraswati that such things might happen . Shiva Purana’s Uma Samhita (5.24.16–36) indirectly makes women responsible for the adultery. It states that seeing a man their vaginal passage naturally opens and begins to release slimy secretions so much so like water dripping from a leather bag. However, there is one story in Hindu Scriptures where the six wives of Saptarishis (“seven cosmic seers”) were accused of adultery with Agni. Once Shiva let loose his semen to be caught by Agni (“the fire god”) in his mouth, and accidently the semen seeped into the six wives’ bodies while they were sitting near a fire to ward off the cold. Therefore, they were cursed as Krittikas and became stars.
Much notoriety has been drawn by Indra (“the king of gods”) through duping Ahalya, the wife of sage Gautama. Indra changed his shape to look like Ahalya’s husband and seduced her. In the epic Ramayana, this story has special significance, for the lord Rama found Ahalya and rewarded her for her devotion and restored as chaste to her husband . Following Rama’s grace, Ahalya has been included among the five ideal women of Hinduism, Draupadi, Mandodari, Sita, and Tara. In Shiva Purana (Ch 23.38–45), Vishnu is said to have seduced Vrinda/Tulsi for which he had been cursed by her.
Adultery and Social Conduct
Tirukkural, the South Indian ethical masterpiece, states that when one who commits adultery, such an individual can never be free from sin, hatred, disgrace, and fear (146). Vishnu Purana even warns people of mental adultery and instructs them of not thinking about another’s wife. If someone indulges into mental adultery, then such an individual will be reborn as a creeping insect and falls into hell (3.11). In Atharva Veda, a hymn describes mental adultery and states a desire to free from it. It states – sin of the mind, go away, and go away from here. I do not want you. Go to the forests (6.45.1).
Further, Manusmriti raises doubt over women’s behavior and prescribes a strict code of conduct for men so that they may not succumb to evil desires and corrupt their families (9.14–15) . The consequences of adultery have been discussed in Bhagavad Gita – the admixture of castes will ruin families and lead the members to hell (1.41–43). Manusmriti also affirms that adultery is the root cause of destruction of everything (8.353), and even it proposes many provisions to stop it from monetary fine to severe physical punishment (Ch. 8 & 9).
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