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Divorce: a compilation of references

Vedic society recognizes eight traditional types of marriage - brahma, daiva, arsha, prajapatya, asura, gandharva, rakshasa, paishaca (Manu-samhita 3.20-44) - first four auspicious and second four inauspicious. Marriage in Kali-yuga is mainly by personal selection (gandharva type, SB 9.20.15 p.) and often leads to divorce.

dAmpatye 'bhirucir hetur
mAyaiva vyAvahArike
strItve puMstve ca hi ratir
vipratve sUtram eva hi

[In Kali-yuga] "Men and women will live together merely because of superficial attraction, and success in business will depend on deceit. Womanliness and manliness will be judged according to one's expertise in sex, and a man will be known as a brahmana just by his wearing a thread." (SB 12.2.3)

However, Vedic society in the words of dharma sastras frankly forbids dvijas to divorce.

"Neither by sale nor by repudiation is a wife released from her husband; such we know the law to be, which the Lord of creatures (Prajapati) made of old.
"Once is the partition (of the inheritance) made, (once is) a maiden given in marriage, (and) once does (a man) say, 'I will give;' each of those three (acts is done) once only." (Manu-samhita 9.46-47)

Manu-samhita 9.80-83 speaks about specific cases of superseding a bad wife who returns to her family.

Some cases of a separation in Vedic sastras

A Mahabharata story related to the birth of Skanda: "Markandeya continued, 'When that powerful, high-souled, and mighty being was born, various kinds of fearful phenomena occurred. And the nature of males and females, of heat and cold, and of such other pairs of contraries, was reversed. And the planets, the cardinal points and the firmaments became radiant with light and the earth began to rumble very much. And the Rishis even, seeking the welfare of the world, while they observed all these terrific prodigies on all sides, began with anxious hearts to restore tranquillity in the universe.
And those who used to live in that Chitraratha forest said, This very miserable condition of ours hath been brought about by Agni cohabiting with the six wives of the seven Rishis.' Others again who had seen the goddess assume the disguise of a bird said, 'This evil hath been brought about by a bird.' No one ever imagined that Swaha was the authoress of that mischief. But having heard that the (new born) male child was hers, she went to Skanda and gradually revealed to him the fact that she was his mother. And those seven Rishis, when they heard that a son of great power had been born (to them), divorced their six wives with the exception of the adorable Arundhati, because all the dwellers of that forest protested that those six persons had been instrumental in bringing forth the child. (Mahabharata 3, Ganguly ed., Section CCXXV, m03226.htm)

See also Puranic Encyclopedia, entry 'Chaya'.

vag-duSTayaz ca daNDo hi parityagaH zrutau zruteH
tvaya yadi parityakta pitra yatnena palita

A wife that speaks harshly may be divorced. That is the punishment described in the Vedas. If you had divorced her, her father would have carefully protected her. (Brahmavaivarta Purana 4.25.18)

kanta praNadhika zazvan na hi ko 'pi tato 'dhikaH
bhaktan dveSTi svayaM sa cen nunaM tyajati taM vibhuH

Lord Krsna's wife is more dear to Him than life itself. Still, if She were to hate His devotees, Lord Krsna would at once divorce Her. (Brahmavaivarta Purana 4.25.74)

"10) Paunarbhavaputra. A son born to a woman after becoming a widow - or after being divorced by her husband by her willingly going with another man is called a Paunarbhavaputra." (Puranic Encyclopedia, entry 'Putra')

MANAVARA. She was the wife of Arthalobha who was the house-keeper of Bahubala, King of Kanci. This Manavara divorced her husband to marry one who was more wealthy. (Kathasaritsagara). (Puranic Encyclopedia, entry 'Manavara')

While the Skanda and Chaya cases could be considered as lila to learn from, the other cases show a degraded status. Srila Prabhupada said that divorce is fit only for sudras (SB 9.3.21 p., 9.20.15 p.). Status of the modern society with its man-made laws is even lower.

When thou shalt hate her put her away, saith the Lord, the God of Israel: but iniquity shalt cover his garment, saith the Lord of hosts, keep your spirit, and despise not. (Malachias 2:16, see also 1 Cor. 7:10-16,27 Douay-Rheims)

(Iniquity means a negative karma, a sin against dharma.)

Main reasons for divorce:

- marriage for sense gratification, rajo guna (BG 18.38 p., SB 3.14.19 p., 3.21.15 p., 7.13.26 p.)
"A father who is a chronic debtor, an adulterous mother, a beautiful wife, and an unlearned son are enemies (in one's own home)." (Canakya Pandita's Niti-sastra 6.11)
- no consultation of astrologer before marriage (SB 3.21.15 p.)
- marriage not according to mutual gunas - daiva/asura (SB 3.24.15 p.), pratiloma/anuloma (SB 9.18.23 p.)
- woman's weakness (SB 4.4.3 p.)
- husband does not want to become a servant of his wife (SB 4.25.56 p.)
- dissatisfaction of the family members (SB 5.13.8 p.)
- misery of material life (SB 5.14.19 p.)
- envy, cheating and enmity (SB 5.14.37 p.)
- woman is not trained to be submissive to the will of her husband (SB 9.30.10 p.)

Reasons for not divorcing:

- to maintain social order
- to advance in Krishna consciousness (SB 10.20.17 p., etc.)
- after divorce only father (not mother) is delivered by son (SB 9.20.22 p.)
- "If she [a woman] is separated from her husband and dies elsewhere she cannot attain the region of her husband till the day of final deluge [at the end of kalpa]." (Garuda Purana 2.26.52)
- "Separation from the wife, disgrace from one's own people, an enemy saved in battle, service to a wicked king, poverty, and a mismanaged assembly: these six kinds of evils, if afflicting a person, burn him even without fire." (Canakya Pandita's Niti-sastra 2.14)

Solutions to prevent divorce:

- a compulsory marriage:

"2. There must be compulsory marriage of young boys and girls attaining twenty-four years of age and sixteen years of age respectively. There is no harm in coeducation in the schools and colleges, provided the boys and girls are duly married, and in case there is any intimate connection between a male and female student, they should be married properly without illicit relation. The divorce act is encouraging prostitution, and this should be abolished." (SB 1.17.38 p.)

- getting a qualified wife, e.g. by following Ekadasi (sukalatra pradA, HBV 12.118)

- willing separation by mutual consent or by the Vedic arrangement at a certain age (SB 5.13.8 p.). This refers to sannyasa.

- education and training in families following Vedic ways and in Vedic varnasrama colleges

Quotes about remarriage after divorce:

On the dharma sastra level (non-Vaishnava), remarriage is allowed in few cases: "If the husband is untraceable, dead, or has renounced the world, is impotent or degraded - in these cases of emergency a woman can remarry." (Garuda Purana 1.107.28)

"Another man is ordained for women in five calamities: When the husband is missing and is unheard of; the husband dies; when the husband is impotent; when the husband has become an ascetic; the husband has become depraved." (Agni Purana 154.5)

On the question of remarriage Shiva says that if a widower marries again, he will have neither happiness, wealth or progeny in this world. Ravana replies that if a man without issue marries again, then he is not at fault. But, if he has a child (from a former marriage), he should not marry again. (Ravana samhita)

Srila Prabhupada discouraged it since most divorces do not follow the above conditions:

"Giving up the association of her husband does not mean, however, that a woman should marry again and thus indulge in prostitution. If a chaste woman unfortunately marries a husband who is fallen, she should live separately from him. Similarly, a husband can separate himself from a woman who is not chaste according to the description of the sastra. The conclusion is that a husband should be a pure Vaisnava and that a woman should be a chaste wife with all the symptoms described in this regard. Then both of them will be happy and make spiritual progress in Krsna consciousness." (SB 7.11.28 p.)

Srila Prabhupada's letter to Rupanuga - Vrindaban 9 September, 1967:

"Anyway, both your wife and yourself cannot think of marrying again; that is not my advice. Even if your wife decides to marry again, for your part you should forget it; and if by the Grace of Krishna you can live peacefully without any wife, completely devoted to K.C., that will be the best part of your life. You can love and put all your affection to the child, and try to make him fully K.C."

Srila Prabhupada's letter to Silavati - New Vrindavan 14 June, 1969:

"Regarding the suggestion that you remarry, I have never suggested such thing, so you need not trouble yourself with this. As I have told you in Los Angeles, I wish that the mother's who have no husband at present should not remarry, but should dedicate their time to seeing that their children are brought up very nicely in Krishna Consciousness."

Srila Prabhupada's letter to Rupanuga - New Delhi 21 August, 1975:

"Regarding remarriage, no, remarriage should be always discouraged. Remarriage means encouraging sense gratification. Our mission is to curtail sense gratification. Three times marrying in a year, this is not good, and they are doing this."

Srila Prabhupada's letter to Jayananda - Vrindaban 1 September, 1975:

"Why should you remarry? Rather you should take sannyasa. Now you are getting very good training. Why has Jayatirtha suggested you to remarry?"

Srila Prabhupada's letter to Anangamanjari - New York 19 July, 1976:

"It is not advisable to marry again as this may disturb your former husband who is now engaged in preaching activities. So rather you can come here to New York where your service will be appreciated and there is very nice association with so many nice girls."

BG - Bhagavad-gita As It Is (
SB - Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) (
Garuda Purana (trans. tr. J.L. Shastri/A board of scholars)
Manu-samhita (trans. G. Buhler, overview)
Srila Prabhupada Siksamrta, section Grhastha Asrama
other dharma sastras


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