What Çréla Prabhupäd Taught About Polygamy From His Books

There are several references that I was shown once by a sannyasi which he used to point out that polygamy is actually something horrible and degraded. However, he totally misunderstood the meaning of the verses. The references weren’t even speaking about polygamy. Since others may also reference these instances, I felt I should cover them here as well. One such reference was from the Purport to SB 4.26.4:

One form of hunting is known as woman-hunting. A conditioned soul is never satisfied with one wife. Those whose senses are very much uncontrolled especially try to hunt for many women. King Puraïjana’s abandoning the company of his religiously married wife is representative of the conditioned soul’s attempt to hunt for many women for sense gratification. -- Purport to SB 4.26.4

This has nothing to do with polygamy. What appears confusing is that Prabhupad says a conditioned soul is never satisfied with one wife. Taken in context, clearly Srila Prabhupad is not speaking of someone who has a desire to offer protection to more than one wife. The entire context of this purport is about a man who leaves his lawful wedded wife (or wives) and goes woman-hunting. Someone who is simply interested in having illicit sex with as many women as possible is not at all the same as a man who responsibly accepts more than one wife and gives them real protection.

Further proof that this verse has nothing to do with opposing polygamy is the Purport to just the second verse that follows it. SB 4.26.6

People have become so degraded in this age that on the one hand they restrict polygamy and on the other hand they hunt for women in so many ways. Many business concerns publicly advertise that topless girls are available in this club or in that shop. Thus women have become instruments of sense enjoyment in modern society. The Vedas enjoin, however, that if a man has the propensity to enjoy more than one wife—as is sometimes the propensity for men in the higher social order, such as the brähmaëas, kñatriyas and vaiçyas, and even sometimes the çüdras—he is allowed to marry more than one wife. Marriage means taking complete charge of a woman and living peacefully without debauchery. At the present moment, however, debauchery is unrestricted. Nonetheless, society makes a law that one should not marry more than one wife. This is typical of a demoniac society. -- Purport to SB 4.26.6

Clearly Srila Prabhupad was not speaking of polygamy in the previous purport. Here he says that it is typical of a demoniac society to restrict polygamy. Obviously, the previous reference only 2 verses earlier in which he states that a conditioned soul is never satisfied with only one wife, and talking about a man whose senses are uncontrolled was not at all speaking of polygamy, which Prabhupad here puts forward as being just the opposite. Marriage with more then one wife, giving her full protection, is marriage without debauchery.

Another similar reference that the sannyasi said was evidence that a man who seeks more than one wife is to be seen as degraded is: SB 5.13.10 Text:

Sometimes, in order to have a little insignificant sex enjoyment, one searches after debauched women. In this attempt, one is insulted and chastised by the women’s kinsmen. This is like going to take honey from a beehive and being attacked by the bees. Sometimes, after spending lots of money, one may acquire another woman for some extra sense enjoyment. Unfortunately, the object of sense enjoyment, the woman, is taken away or kidnapped by another debauchee.


…In human society, those who are not Kåñëa conscious remain in the forest of material life simply for the honey of sex life. Such debauchees are not at all satisfied with one wife. They want many women. Day after day, with great difficulty, they try to secure such women, and sometimes, while trying to taste this kind of honey, one is attacked by a woman’s kinsmen and chastised very heavily. By bribing others, one may secure another woman for enjoyment, yet another debauchee may kidnap her or offer her something better. This woman hunting is going on in the forest of the material world, sometimes legally, and sometimes illegally. Consequently in this Kåñëa consciousness movement the devotees are forbidden to have illicit sex. Thus they avoid so many difficulties. One should remain satisfied with one woman, being duly married. One can satisfy one’s lusty desires with his wife without creating disturbances in society and being punished for doing so. – Verse & Purport to SB 5.13.10

Clearly, as in the previous example, the verse itself is not speaking about polygamy at all. The verse is speaking only of men who go looking for debauched women for purpose of having illicit sex.

In the context of this verse, Srila Prabhupad says that non-Krishna conscious people who are not satisfied with one wife but who want many women and are simply after the honey of sex life are debauchees (fully degraded). Toward the end Prabhupad says that one should be satisfied with one wife, duly married, and not create such disturbances in society. Srila Prabhupad is not referring at all to polygamy here. The purport has to be taken in context of the verse. Running after one degraded woman after another simply for the purpose of having gross illicit sex is fully degraded and fully condemned by the laws of dharma. The point of a man being satisfied with one duly married wife would also apply to one who is duly married to many wives in accordance with shastric injunction.

Polygamy is engaged in not for the purpose of increasing one’s gross sex life, but for the purpose of providing protection to women. One protects the chaste and faithful girls as wife, being responsible for them and maintaining them. This is not debauchery and is not what is being referred to here. This seems quite clear, but some people use this purport to show just how fallen and degraded is the man who seeks after obtaining more than one wife. That is a misinterpretation of what Prabhupad is saying.

Another similar reference is SB 6.1.65. Again in the purport Prabhupad says that one should be satisfied with one wife. However, again, it is in context with someone (Ajamil) who has abandoned all brahminical qualities and is perusing sex pleasure by having an illicit sexual relationship with a prostitute.

In all these instances the context is of only two types of people or two circumstances. One is the degraded sinful man who endeavors for illicit affairs with many degraded women, and the man who is satisfied with his one wife. The other alternative is the man who takes more than one wife in accordance with the laws of dharma. Who gives his many wives all protection and maintains them. That circumstance or type of person is not being mentioned here in these references at all. Therefore one cannot use such references in opposition to polygamy, for that was not their intent.

On the other hand, when Srila Prabhupad directly spoke about polygamy it was in a positive sense. There are a number of times where he simply mentions that taking more than one wife is accepted by Vedic culture, but he doesn’t elaborate much. However, in the purport of Caitanya Caritamrita Adi Lila 14.58 Srila Prabhupad explains in more depth.

"In India in those days and even until fifty years ago, polygamy was freely allowed. Any man, especially of the higher castes—the brähmaëas, the vaiçyas and particularly the kñatriyas—could marry more than one wife. In the Mahäbhärata, or the old history of India, we see that kñatriya kings especially used to marry many wives. According to Vedic civilization there was no restriction against this, and even a man more than fifty years old could marry. But to be married to a man who had many wives was not a very pleasing situation because the husband’s love would be divided among his many wives. To punish the girls unwilling to offer Him the naivedya, Lord Çré Caitanya Mahäprabhu apparently wanted to curse them to be married to men who had at least four wives.

The social structure allowing a man to marry more than one wife can be supported in this way. Generally in every society the female population is greater in number than the male population. Therefore it is a principle in the society that all girls should be married, unless polygamy is allowed it will not be possible. If all the girls are not married there is good chance of adultery, and a society in which adultery is allowed cannot be very peaceful or pure. In our Krishna Conscious society we have restricted illicit sex life. The practical difficulty is to find a husband for each and every girl. We are therefore in favor of polygamy, provided, of course, that the husband is able to maintain more then one wife." -- Purport from CC Adi Lila 14.58

“We Are…In Favor Of Polygamy”. Çréla Prabhupäd explains everything very nicely here. Men of the higher classes they can marry more than one wife. The Vedas have no restriction on this. Even a man more than 50 years old could marry (more than one wife). The only negative thing is that Prabhupad says that for the wives it is not so nice as their husband has to divide his love between so many. However, I argue, which is worse? That the girl must share her husband with another wife, yet be fully protected and maintained nicely and be given nice Krishna Conscious children with a responsible Krishna Conscious father to raise them? Or she be left without proper protection to be taken advantage of by some unscrupulous man? Or fall prey to her own senses? Or spend her entire life with no husband at all? Or get a husband who turns out to be abusive, irresponsible and leaves her for someone else? In exchange for a little less than ideal situation she gets everything else she needs. It is not so horrible a trade-off.

Srila Prabhupad explains the reasons for allowing it Because there are fewer qualified men, unless polygamy is allowed it will not be possible to get all girls married. The result will be society will not be pure or peaceful. Girls left unmarried leave good chance for adultery, which leads to unwanted children. We are witnessing this with some of the second generation. So many girls were not properly protected. The solution, Prabhupäd gives, is that the men who are able, give the girls to them, as many as they can maintain.

Also in Caitanya Caritamrta Madhya 7.128, this is the famous and often quoted verse:

yäre dekha, täre kaha ‘kåñëa’-upadeça
ämära äjïäya guru haïä tära’ ei deça

“Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Çré Kåñëa as they are given in the Bhagavad-gétä and Çrémad-Bhägavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.”
============ REF. Madhya 7.128

In the purport to this verse Srila Prabhupad says:

Instead of living engrossed in material activities, people throughout the world should take advantage of this movement and chant the Hare Kåñëa mahä-mantra at home with their families. One should also refrain from sinful activities—illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. Out of these four items, illicit sex is very sinful. Every person must get married. Every woman especially must get married. If the women outnumber the men, some men can accept more than one wife. In that way there will be no prostitution in society. If men can marry more than one wife, illicit sex life will be stopped. -- Purport to CC Madhya Lila 7.128

If men can marry more than one wife, illicit sex life will be stopped. Yes, in purport to the very verse in which it is stated, "Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Sri Krisahna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam." In this same verse where it is stated: "In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land". In the purport to this very verse Srila Prabhupad states, "If the women outnumber the men, some men can accept more than one wife. IF men can marry more than one wife, illicit sex life will be stopped." To this, I point out that all logic dictates that even if the gross number of men and women are equal, the net number of unwed innocent and good natured girls who would make good wives IF they had a religiously responsible husband far out number the far fewer responsible men that will properly protect and take good care of and give good spiritual protection to those girls. Thus, there stands a need in religious society to accept the practice of polygamy.

There are other references in Prabhupäd's books, all of them are favorable, except one, which I say is more or less neutral. In the purport to SB 9.10.54, the verse glorifies Lord Ram as one who took the vow to have but one wife. Prabhupäd says, "One should not accept more than one wife". It is more an explanation of the Eka Patni Vrata rather then an instruction by Prabhupäd to us. Even taken as an instruction, it is only one against so many others favoring polygamy. Even taken as an instruction, it doesn’t say anything bad about polygamy. All other references I found were favorable.