Illustration of Draupadi, a princess and queen in the ancient Indian epic "Mahabharata", with her five husbands
Draupadi and her five husbands, the Pandavas. Top down, from left to right: the twins Nakula and Sahadeva stand either side of the throne on which Yudhishthira and Draupadi sit between Bhima and Arjuna.

Polyandry (/ˈpɒliˌændri, ˌpɒliˈæn-/; from Ancient Greek πολύ (polú) 'many', and ἀνήρ (anḗr) 'man') is a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, involving one male and two or more females. If a marriage involves a plural number of "husbands and wives" participants of each gender, then it can be called polygamy,[1] group or conjoint marriage.[2] In its broadest use, polyandry refers to sexual relations with multiple males within or without marriage.

Of the 1,231 societies listed in the 1980 Ethnographic Atlas, 186 were found to be monogamous, 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and four had polyandry.[3] Polyandry is less rare than this figure suggests, as it considered only those examples found in the Himalayan mountain region (eight societies). More recent studies have found more than four other societies practicing polyandry.[4]

Fraternal polyandry is practiced among Tibetans in Nepal and parts of China, in which two or more brothers are married to the same wife, with the wife having equal "sexual access" to them.[5][6] It is associated with partible paternity, the cultural belief that a child can have more than one father.[4] Several ethnic groups practicing polyandry in India identify their customs with their descent from Draupadi, a central character of the Mahabharata who was married to five brothers, although local practices may not be fraternal themselves.

Polyandry is believed to be more likely in societies with scarce environmental resources. It is believed to limit human population growth and enhance child survival.[6][7] It is a rare form of marriage that exists not only among peasant families but also among elite families.[8] For example, polyandry in the Himalayan mountains is related to the scarcity of land. The marriage of all brothers in a family to the same wife allows family land to remain intact and undivided. If every brother married separately and had children, family land would be split into unsustainable small plots. In contrast, very poor persons not owning land were less likely to practice polyandry in Buddhist Ladakh and Zanskar.[6][verification needed] In Europe, the splitting up of land was prevented through the social practice of impartible inheritance. With most siblings disinherited, many of them became celibate monks and priests.[9]

  1. ^ McCullough, Derek; Hall, David S. (27 February 2003). "Polyamory – What it is and what it isn't". Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality. 6. Archived from the original on 10 December 2020. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
  2. ^ Zeitzen, Miriam Koktvedgaard (2008). Polygamy: a cross-cultural analysis. Berg. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-84520-220-0. Archived from the original on 2020-08-01. Retrieved 2017-06-08.
  3. ^ Ethnographic Atlas Codebook Archived 2012-11-18 at the Wayback Machine derived from George P. Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas recording the marital composition of 1,231 societies from 1960 to 1980.
  4. ^ a b Starkweather, Katherine; Hames, Raymond (2012). "A survey of non-classical polyandry". Human Nature (Hawthorne, N.Y.). 23 (2): 149–150. doi:10.1007/s12110-012-9144-x. PMID 22688804. S2CID 2008559. Archived from the original on 2019-12-04. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  5. ^ Dreger, A. (2013). "When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 31 July 2018. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  6. ^ a b c Gielen, U. P. (1993). Gender Roles in traditional Tibetan cultures. In L. L. Adler (Ed.), International handbook on gender roles (pp. 413–437). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  7. ^ (Linda Stone, Kinship and Gender, 2006, Westview, 3rd ed., ch. 6) The Center for Research on Tibet Archived 2018-01-21 at the Wayback Machine Papers on Tibetan Marriage and Polyandry (accessed October 1, 2006).
  8. ^ Goldstein, "Pahari and Tibetan Polyandry Revisited" in Ethnology 17(3): 325–327 (1978) (The Center for Research on Tibet Archived 2018-01-21 at the Wayback Machine; accessed October 1, 2007).
  9. ^ Levine, Nancy (1998). The Dynamics of polyandry: kinship, domesticity, and population on the Tibetan border. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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