Indian Antiquary

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It is a custom among the Sudras, such as Kanaits, that the eldest of four or five brothers marries a wife according to the customs of the country. The wife thus married is told that all the brothers shall treat her as their common wife, and the wife also agrees to this and takes every one of them as her husband. Thus the woman is considered the common wife of all, provided the husbands are own brothers.1

When a Jat is well-to-do he generally procures a wife for each of his sons, but if he is not rich enough to bear the expenses of many marriages he gets a wife for the eldest son only, and she is expected to, and as a rule does, accept her brothers-in-law as cohusbands. There is no attempt to conceal the fact and it is even a common thing when women quarrel for one to say to the other, "You are one so careless of your duty as not to admit your husband’s brothers to your embraces."2

Polyandry, or the custom of a woman having more husbands than one at one time, is peculiar to the Himalayas. It exists in the Kulu subdivision, the Bashahr state (Simla Hill States) and to a smaller extent in the Nahan, Mandi, and Suket states. The custom is common among the Kanets of the higher hills, but the lower castes also practice it and the Rajputs and other castes residing in the tracts where this custom is prevalent, also appear to have been influenced by it.

The polyandry practiced is generally of the fraternal type, known as Tibetan. All the brothers in a family have usually one joint wife. But only full brothers can do so, although in some cases, stepbrothers and cousins who are on as intimate terms as full brothers are allowed to share the common wife. In rare cases, persons belonging to different families marry a joint wife by agreement and merge their separate properties into a joint holding.

The wife is married by a ceremony resembling marriage by capture. . . . The rule about access to the wife is different in different places. The elder brother usually has the preference, and it is only in his absence that the younger brother can enjoy her company. But where the younger brothers go out for trade or on other business and one of them comes back periodically, the eldest brother allows him the exclusive use of the wife during his short visit. Where, however, all the brothers stay at home, the wife not unfrequently bestows her favors on all of them equally, by turn, one evening being reserved for each. The house usually has two rooms, one for the wife and the other for the husbands. When one brother goes into the wife’s room, he leaves his shoes or hat (topu) at the door, which is equivalent to the notice "engaged," and if another brother wishes to visit the wife, he has, on seeing the signal, to return to the men’s apartment.

All the sons of the wife by whichsoever husband begotten, are generally called the sons of the eldest brother, but the son calls all the husbands of his mother as his fathers. Indeed, the larger the number of fathers, the prouder the son feels. In some places, the first son is supposed to belong to the eldest husband, the second to the second, and so on, even though the second husband may have been absent at the time of conception of the second son. In other cases, the wife is permitted to name the father of each boy, and if she is not particularly scrupulous, she names each time the richest of the brothers as the father of the boy. The brothers may, if necessary, marry a second or a third joint wife or one of the brothers who may have gone out may marry a separate wife there. When he returns home, it depends on the choice of the wife whether she will remain the exclusive wife of the husband who married her or become the joint property of the family. Cases are known in which a family of three brothers has three or as many as four joint wives.1

1MianDurgaSinghn/an/an/an/a, "A Report on the Panjab Hill Tribes," , 36: 277.

2 Kilpatrick, C. S., "Polyandry in the Panjab," Indian Antiquary, 7: 86.

1 Census of India, 1901, 14, Part 1: 287.

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Chicago: Indian Antiquary in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . Indian Antiquary, Vol. 36, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , Indian Antiquary. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from