chanakyaChanakya (Kautilya) was a famous Indian philosopher, teacher, economist, author and an advisor to the Indian king Chandragupta Maurya. Chanakya authored the famous political treatise – Arthasashtra (Economics) which lays out the foundations of how to run an organized state in the Maurya empire. This book lays out the foundations of collective ethics that holds a society together.

Chanakya’s Sutra were not limited to political and royal boundary. Chanakya laid out several best practices to address concerns in the marital life of a man and woman. Given below are some of the principles that were practiced at his time.

1. Marriages were classified into 8 types

  • Brahmya – When a father gives away his daughter in full consent.
  • Prajapatya – The joint performance of sacred duties performed by the husband and the wife without prior consent of the wife’s father.
  • Aarsha – A marriage performed and regularized by the groom when he gifts two cows to the bride’s father in exchange of getting his wife.
  • Daiva – The giving away of a daughter to the officiating priest.
  • Gandharva – The man and woman marrying secretly without anyone’s permission or knowledge (witness).
  • Asura – The giving away of a daughter in exchange of price.
  • Rakshasha – A marriage performed after the bride has been abducted and without her consent.
  • Paisacha – A marriage performed after the bride was poisoned/intoxicated or while she is sleeping.

The first four types of marriages are considered lawful and sacred while the last four are considered unlawful.

2. No Divorce can be claimed for marriages of the first four kinds. In the case of latter four kinds, a divorce can be seeked on the basis of mutual hatred. A spouse cannot seek a divorce on the basis of unilaternal hatred so if one of them is not willing to end the marriage, a divorce is ruled out.

3. If a husband seeks divorce from his wife on the basis of wife’s misconduct, he shall return to her all that he has received from her. However, if a wife seeks divorce from her husband on the basis of Husband’s misconduct, he may not return to her all that he has received from her.

4. Under no conditions a marriage can be revoked if the girl has conceived a child from the man.

5. A marriage can be revoked if a sexual defect (impotency, loss of virginity) is discovered immediately after marriage.

6. Giving away a girl by hiding the fact of her sexual defect is a punishable offence. Arranging the marriage of a man who has a sexual defect is a punishable offence with a fine double that for a girl.

7. It is an offence to show one girl and substitute another at the time of marriage.

8. It is not an offence for a daughter to remain unmarried upto 3 years from the day of her first menstruation cycle. Beyond 3 years, it is considered an offence and the girls’s father is subjected to pay the fine for not marrying the daughter to a suitable bridegroom within 3 years of her entering puberty.

9. A girl may choose to marry a man of a different Varna provided she does not take any ornaments or help from her father.

10. A girl attains majority at 12 years while a boy attains majority at 16. The obligation to carry out marital duties begins at this age, failure to which the subjects are answerable and qualify for punishment/fine.

11. No man should falsely accuse his wife of not being a virgin before marriage. If anyone does so, he loses the right to marry her if she does not want to and he cannot claim any dowry and the marriage expenses.

12. If the bride is not a virgin at the time of marriage and this accusation is proved, she shall pay the dowry, marriage expenses and a fine. Deceiving or suppression of this fact is a punishable offence.

13. A husband cannot have sexual relationships with his wife beyond her will under the following conditions

  • If the wife has already borne him sons
  • Wants to lead a pious life
  • is barren
  • has given birth to a still born
  • is beyond her menopause

14. A husband is not obliged to have sexual relations with an insane wife. However, a wife may have sexual relations with an insane husband in order to beget a son she wants.

15. A woman shall lose all her property if found guilty of treason, persistent misconduct or becomes a vagrant.

16. There is no limit to the amount of Jewellery a wife can keep from her family and her husband and all the Jewellery she has is legally her property (Streedhana). Under no circumstances, the husband or the bride’s father or the bride’s son/daughter can claim her jewellery.

17. If the wife dies before her husband, her property shall be first equally divided among her sons and daughters (their marital status does not matter). If there are no sons, the property shall be divided equally among her daughters. If the wife has no children, only then the husband is entitled to receive her property.

18. On the death of a wife, the dowry, marriage gifts and all other gifts should revert back to the original donors and husband cannot claim them as his property.

19. Women who do not expect to remarry after the death of her husband shall receive support endowment, her jewellery, the balance of dowry and whatever had been given to her by her husband. After her death, this property shall pass on to kinsmen.

20. If a widow decides to re-marry, she has to forfeit what was left to her by her previos husband and has to return the rest with interest.

21. If a widow marries someone from the Husband’s family with a view of begetting a son, she can retain all the property, provided she has the affirmation of her father in law.

22. If a widow marries outside her late Husband’s family, her new family has to return all the property to the late husband’s family.

23. If a widow with children wishes to re-marry, her property is first passed to his sons and daughters in equal shares. If she continues to look after her sons from the previous marriage, she can keep the property so long as the maintenance of her children is taken care of by her.

24. A man may marry any number of wives provided that he pays each of the wives their dowry, their property and adequate maintenance.

25. Before taking another wife, the husband has to wait

  • 8 years, if the wife is barren, always miscarries or conceives only daughters.
  • 10 years if all the children are still born
  • 12 years if the children are all daughters

If the husband marries before this period, he has to pay the wife a dowry and adequate property and a fine to the court.

26. If more than one wife has her fertile period at the same time, the husband shall sleep with the elder wife or with the one who has already bore him sons.

27. A husband who tries to avoid a wife during her fertile period is subject to punishable offence.

28. A wife may abandon her husband if he

  • is found guilty of bad character
  • is away from home for a long time in a foreign country
  • is a traitor to the king
  • threatens the life of his wife
  • is declared an outcast
  • is impotent.

29. Physical punishment of a wife from a husband is a punishable offence. The husband can slap her back three times, use a rope or a bamboo cane but any beating exceeding this is punishable. The same is applicable is the wife is cruel towards her husband.

30. A wife who does not let her husband sleep with her for seven menstrual periods shall return to her husband the endowment and jewellery given to her by him and should let him sleep with another woman of his choice.

31.  A husband who dislikes his wife shall permit her to live apart under the protection of a guardian, kinsman or a mendicant woman.

32. A man and a woman who are not married to each other should refrain from gestures or secret conversations. Neither a man nor a woman shall touch the hair or the knot of the lower garment of another of opposite sex. Neither a man nor a woman should give presents to anyone to whom the giving of presents is prohibited.

33. A wife is not allowed to go to pleasure trips without her husband, to see performances in a nearby village with other men or women without the knowledge of her husband. She shall not leave the house when the husband is sleeping or refuse to open the door when the husband has arrived home from his daily work.

34. A woman shall not run away from her marital home, except when she has been ill treated or tortured by her husband.

35. A Husband shall not prohibit his wife from going to the house of a kinsman on occasions of death, illness, calamity or childbirth.

36. No man shall give asylum to another man’s wife except to saver her from imminent danger. He shall not be punished if he had forbidden to enter his house or if she does so without his knowledge.

37. Adultery should be presumed if the wife

  • Meets a man by pre-arrangement during the journey
  • Goes to an out of the way place with another man
  • accompanies a man who is suspected of having carnal intentions
  • accompanies a man with whom contact is forbidden

38. A wife is free to re-marry under the following conditions

  • If the husband has abandoned the wife without information and the wife has waited 7 years in her fertile period.
  • If the husband has abandoned the wife with information and the wife has waited 5 years in her fertile period.
  • The wife of  a Brahmin who has gone away for higher study shall wait ten years before re-marrying is she has no children and twelve if she has.

39. After the waiting period, the wife should choose a new husband based on the following order of priority

  • The only brother of the husband
  • If there are many brothers, the eldest unmarried brother.
  • Immediate elder or younger brother
  • One who is virtuous
  • One who can maintain her
  • The youngest unmarried one.
  • If there are no unmarried brothers, a male member of the Husband’s extended family.
  • If there are no unmarried brothers in the extended family, a male member from the Husband’s “Kula”

If the above order is violated, the woman, her new husband and anyone supporting their marriage are subject to the punishment of adultery by the court.

40. A Kinsman or the servant of a husband who is out on a long journey shall keep an adulterous wife under his guardianship until the time the husband returns. If on return the husband does not raise objections, neither the woman nor her lover is subjected to any punishment. However, if the husband raises objection, the wife shall suffer mutilation and the lover, death.

41. No one shall conceal adultery. Anyone who tries to help an adulterer shall himself be punished. Taking bribes to help an adulterer escape is a punishable offence.

42. The proofs of adultery

  • Finding the hair of one person over another
  • Marks of carnal enjoyment
  • Opinions of experts
  • Woman’s admission.

43. No man can renounce his marital life without providing for his wife and sons.

44. No one should induce a woman into becoming an ascetic.

45. A man who has passed the age of sexual activity can renounce his family life with the approval of the court, only when he has provided for his wife and family.

46. Anyone who tries to rape or molest a girl/woman is subject to serious punishment e.g limbs cut off and castration. Attempting to start an affair with a woman of royal family or trying to have implicit relations has the punishment of boiling the offender alive in front of all citizens.

The above is just a synopsis of the fundamental guidelines that were observed regarding the preservation of a healthy society. For complete details, please refer Arthasashtra, chapter 8 where Chanakya has elaborated each use case with reasons and implications which may arise if law and order is not observed strictly..

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