It has come to our attention that a blog by one Milin Patel purporting to “focus on the history of Ancient India and its Sanskrit epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana” has made the very bizarre claim that the Rāmāyaṇa says that Śrī Rāma had more than one wife. Although polygamy was not forbidden to Hindu kings, and Rāma, being the Supreme Person, could have any number of divine marriages, the established tradition holds that Rāma had only one wife. Attempts to show otherwise may be motivated or usurped by Abrahamic, Hinduphobic elements who see polygamy as inherently unflattering. However, the Hindu literary tradition would not conceal polygamy were it indeed present. It is well known that Rāma’s father Daśaratha had three wives, and the same Hindu Pauraṇic tradition acknowledges that Śrī Kṛṣṇa had 16,108 wives. Thus, there would be no need for Hindus to conceal polygamy in the case of Rāma, if it actually was a fact. Nevertheless, since telling the truth is always the best policy, we will take up Milin Patel’s theories objectively with direct reference to his arguments and the evidence.
Patel’s first argument and the translation he quoted is given below:
हृष्टाः खलु भविष्यन्ति रामस्य परमाः स्त्रियः |
अप्रहृष्टा भविष्यन्ति स्नुषास्ते भरतक्षये || २-८-१२
“Rama’s wives will get delighted. Your daughters-in-law will be unhappy because of Bharata’s waning position.”
From such speech of Manthara, it should be evident that Rama had many wives, instead of just one wife. Manthara’s words should be considered reliable, as she was a favorite of Kayekai, and was therefore very close to the royal family of Kosala. She would therefore know how many wives Rama had. Hence, Manthara’s narrative suggests that Rama was not a monogamist.
Mantharā, being the servant of Kaikeyī (whose name the blogger misspells), was trying to convince her to object to Rāma’s coronation by describing a future in which Rāma would supposedly experience great happiness at her expense. The verb “bhaviṣyanti” here in the 3rd person plural (of “bhū” meaning ‘to become’) is describing “striyaḥ” which is also plural (of “strī” which most commonly means ‘woman’). Patel’s translation interprets “striyaḥ” as “wives” and then argues that the verse proves that Rāma has wives because that is how the translator interpreted it. But “strī” means women in its most common usage, and even if it could be assumed that the “women” here refer to “wives,” the use of the verb “bhū” discounts the theory of polygamy because it is referring to a future conceived of by Mantharā in which many wives of Rāma will experience something, not to a reality at the time she made this statement. Other translations of this śloka are as follows:
Gita Press: “The most blessed ladies of Rāma’s household…”
P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subramaniam: “All the women of Rama’s (palace)…“
M.N. Dutt: “And Rāma’s wives together with their hand-maids…” (he then writes in his foot note “Historically Rāma had but one wife. Mantharā here anticipated that Rāma would marry many wives like His father after the installation“)
Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy: “Rama’s wives will get delighted….” (he also writes in his foot note, “The words ‘Rama’s wives’ here do not indicate that Rama had multiple wives. Manathara refers to a possible future where Rama being a King would marry other women. It was a norm then for a king to have more than one wife.“)
Thus, regardless of how “striyaḥ” is interpreted in this śloka, there is no conceivable way to interpret it as meaning that Rāma already had multiple wives.
If we agree on that, let us look in the text for the number of legally wedded wives Rama had. When Ravana approaches Seetha, who was in her hermitage, as a sannyasi, Seetha gives her introduction in the following manner:
दुहिता जनकस्य अहम् मैथिलस्य महात्मनः |
सीता नाम्ना अस्मि भद्रम् ते रामस्य महिषी प्रिया || ३-४७-३
“I am the daughter of noble-souled Janaka, the king of Mithila, by name I am Seetha, and the dear, first wife of Rama, let safety betide you.
Here, Seetha uses the words रामस्य महिषी प्रिया to describe herself. रामस्य महिषी प्रिया (of Rama, first wife, dear) means “(I am the) dear, first wife of Rama”. Now if Seetha calls herself the first wife of Rama, it implies that Rama must have at least two wives, if not more. Without there being a second, there cannot be a first. This suggests that Rama had more than one legally wedded wife.
Here is a gross mistranslation. No word in the Sanskrit means “first.” The word “priyā” means “dear” as in “dear wife of Rāma.” Even Bollywood movie-goers understand this basic meaning of “priyā” which refers to someone who is dear to one’s self. Again, we can see this usage reflected in the commonly available translations:
Gita Press: “…Sītā by name, I am the beloved consort of Śrī Rāma.“
P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subramaniam: “I am Sita by name, daughter of the great Janaka, king of Mithila and wife of Rama….“
M.N. Dutt: “…I am the daughter of the high-souled Janaka, the king of Mithilā, the beloved Queen of Rāma and my name is Sītā.“
Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy: “I am the daughter of noble-souled Janaka, the king of Mithila, by name I am Seetha, and the dear wife and queen of Rama…“
As anyone can see, no one translates this śloka to indicate that Sītā is the “first” wife of Rāma. The word “priyā” does not mean “first” and this is obvious to anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of Indic languages.
Furthermore, when Seetha is in Lanka, she laments about the fact that Rama had not yet come to save her, by saying:
पितुर्निदेशं नियमेन कृत्वा वनान्निवृत्तश्चरितव्रतश्च |
स्त्रीभिस्तु मन्ये विपुलेक्षणाभिस्त्वं रंस्यसे वीतभयः कृतार्थः || ५-२८-१४
“Having fulfilled your father’s command as per the order of his words and observed your vow, you return from the forest fearlessly and having accomplished your purpose, I think you will enjoy carnally with large-eyed wives.”
अहं तु राम त्वयि जातकामा चिरं विनाशाय निबद्धभावा |
मोघं चरित्वाथ तपो व्रतञ्च त्यक्ष्यामि धिग्जीवितमल्पभाग्याम् || ५-२८-१५
“O Rama! Having performed austerity and vow in vain, I for myself who has fallen in love with you and in whose was confined an affection for you for a long time, for my own destruction, I can lose my life. Woe to me of my little fortune!”
Note verse 5.28.14 above… Seetha clearly laments that Rama will enjoy carnally with other large-eyed wives, suggesting that Rama had perhaps more than one wife.
Nothing here says that Rāma has other wives. Milin Patel obviously had not even read the original text when he extracted these verses. Here, Sītā is trapped in Laṅka as the prisoner of Rāvaṇa and is lamenting her fate. Her statement that Rāma will forget her and enjoy life with other women is a reflection of her humility brought on by separation from her Lord:
हा राम सत्यव्रत दीर्घबाहो हा पूर्णचन्द्रप्रतिमानवक्त्र ।
हा जीवलोकस्य हितः प्रियश्च वध्यां न मां वेत्सि हि राक्षसानाम् ॥ वा.रा ५.२८.११ ॥
अनन्य दैवत्वमियं क्षमा च भूमौ च शय्या नियमश्च धर्मे ।
पतिव्रतात्वं विफलं ममेदं कृतं कृतघ्नेष्विव मानुषाणाम् ॥ वा.रा. ५.२८.१२ ॥
मोघो हि धर्मश्चरितो मयायं तथैकपत्नीत्वामिदं निरर्थम् ।
या त्वां न पश्यामि कृशा विवर्णा हीना त्वया सङ्गमने निराशा ॥ वा.रा. ५.२८.१३ ॥
पितुर्निदेशं नियमेन कृत्वा वनान्निवृत्तश्चरितव्रतश्च ।
स्त्रीभिस्तु मन्ये विपुलेक्षणाभिस्त्वं रंस्यसे वीतभयः कृतार्थः ॥ वा.रा. ५.२८.१४ ॥
“O Rama, unfailing in vows and long-armed! Alas, Rama Whose face is like the full moon! You, Who are well-disposed to the world of living beings, do not indeed know me to have been sentenced to death by the rākṣasas. I am devoted to You and to no other deva. My hardship in sleeping on the ground, my righteousness, my discipline and chastity have all proved futile like the devotion of an ungrateful person. This righteousness practiced by me is in vain like my devotion to You, as I am unable to see You. I am separated, emaciated, pale with no hope of reuniting with you. Having truly fulfilled your pledge given to your father, you will return from the forest to Ayodhya, rid of all fear, as an accomplished person, will and revel in the company of large-eyed damsels, I think.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 5.28.11-14)
The word “manye” in the last śloka clearly indicates that this is what Sītā thinks will happen, not a factual statement of what actually is. Again, one can look at how translators have rendered this last śloka to recognize that it clearly does not refer to a reality in which Rāma is polygamous:
Gita Press: “When, having carried out the behest of Your father according to rules and completed Your vow, You return from the forest rid of (all) fear and accomplished of purpose, You for Your part will, I believe, revel with (many) large-eyed women (after marrying them).“
P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subramaniam: “Having truly fulfilled your pledge given to Your father, You will return from the forest to Ayodhya, rid of all fear, and as an accomplished person, will revel in the company of large-eyed damsels, I think.“
M.N. Dutt: “And duly satisfying Your sire’s command, and returning successfully from the forest, You shall fearlessly sport with many a damsel having large eyes.”
Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy: “Having fulfilled your father’s command as per the order of his words and observed your vow, you return from the forest fearlessly and having accomplished your purpose, I think you will enjoy carnally with large-eyed women.“
In each of the translations, the gerundive construction kṛtvā is correctly understood as indicating that this thinking of Sītā refers to something that will happen in the future, after having fulfilled the terms of the forest exile, which Rāma was still in the process of observing when she uttered this statement. Thus, again, this cannot be taken as a reference to wives Rāma already had, but to women Rāma would supposedly enjoy in the future according to the depressed and humbled thinking of Sītā who was separated from Rāma.
Now let us consider another incident, this time in Yuddha Kanda, wherein Ravana makes Lakshmana unconscious. When Lakshmana was made unconscious, Rama laments by saying:
देशे देशे कलत्राणि देशे देशे च बान्धवाः | तं तु देशं न पश्यामि यत्र भ्राता सहोदरः || ६-१०१-१५
“Wives may be obtained ever where. Relatives can be had every where. However, I do not find a brother, born of the same womb, at such a place whatsoever.”
Note the plurality in Rama’s statement. In response to Lakshmana’s injury, Rama does not say that “a wife may be obtained everywhere”. Instead, he says “wives may be obtained everywhere”. Now if he was a monogamist, why would he talk about obtaining wives?
This is another blatant distortion of a text that says nothing about Rāma being polygamous. In this verse, Rāma, confronted with Lakṣmaṇa’s grievous injury, is making a statement of brotherly love by stressing the uniqueness of a brother like Lakṣmaṇa. As stated previously, polygamy was not unknown to ancient Hindu culture, and many Kṣatriya kings (other than Rāma) had more than one wife. The Indian subcontinent at that time, as we know from Hindu texts, was divided into many kingdoms ruled by many different royal families. Hence, Rāma says that one can in theory get wives from many different marriage alliances, but one cannot get another brother like Lakṣmaṇa.
Gita Press: “Wives may be found everywhere and kinsmen (to) can be had everywhere. I, however, see no place where a uterine (real) brother could be had.“
M.N. Dutt: “In land after land one meets with wives, in land after land one meets with friends, but find I none where a uterine brother may be met with.”
Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy: “Wives may be obtained everwhere. Relatives can be had everywhere. However, I do not find a brother, born of the same womb, at such a place whatsoever.”
Nothing in this verse indicates that Rāma Himself had many wives. He was merely extolling his brother’s rare virtues and stating that one cannot get such a brother unlike in theory being able to have many wives and many kinsmen.
more references, after Ravana’s death, do suggest that Rama had multiple wives. The first of these references are the following verses, spoken by Bharatha, when he comes to know, from Hanumana, that Rama is returning to Ayodhya, after having killed Ravana:
सूताः स्तुतिपुराणज्ञाह् सर्वे वैतालिकास्तथा |
सर्वे वादित्रकुशला गणिकाश्चैव संघशः || ६-१२७-३
राजदारास्तथामात्याः सैन्याः सेनागणाङ्गनाः |
ब्राह्मणाश्च सराजन्याः श्रेणिमुख्यास्तथा गणाः || ६-१२७-४
अभिनिर्यान्तु रामस्य द्रष्टुं शशिनिभं मुखम् |
“Let bards well-versed in singing praises and Puranas (containing ancient legends, cosmogony etc.) as also all panegyrists, all those proficient in the use of musical instruments, courtesans all collected together, the wives of the king, ministers, army-men and their wives, brahmanas accompanied by Kshatriyas (members of fighting class), leaders of guilds of traders and artisans, as also their members, come out to see the moon-like countenance of Rama.”
Bharatha says that the राजदारा (meaning “wives of the king”) will come to welcome Rama. In this case, the king being referred to cannot be Dasharatha, as he died at least fourteen years back, if not more. With Dasharatha not ruling as king for such a long period of time, Bharatha could not have possibly been referring to Dasharatha’s wives when he said राजदारा (“wives of the king”). Rather, he would have used a more respectful term, such as rajamata, had he been referring to the wives of Dasharatha.
This leaves us with two possible contenders for the position of king: Bharatha or Rama. Bharatha, as we know, was completely against himself ruling the Kosala kingdom. Rather, he wanted Rama to rule the Kosala kingdom. He only agreed to rule for the 14 year interim period of Rama’s exile, after Rama had urged him to do so. In the context/presence of Rama, could such a Bharatha ignore his elder brother Rama and call himself as “king”?
If we want to interpret this verse in an extremely literal fashion, then the flaw in Patel’s logic is that Rāma was not yet King at that point, as His paṭṭābhiṣekham had not yet been performed. Bharata only had one wife, and in any case He was only ruling as a proxy ruler. Thus, by process of elimination, the word “rājadārāḥ” could here refer only to the wives of the late Daśaratha, in other words the Queen-mothers Kauśalya, Sumitrā, and Kaikeyī. Just as one speaks of a man as one’s father even when he had passed away many years prior, so it is that Daśaratha can still be referred to as the King even though he was no longer physically sitting on the throne. Hence, the rājadārāḥ in this context are Daśaratha’s wives.
Once again, we can see that other translators have understood it in exactly this way:
Gita Press: “(Nay) let bards well-versed in singing praises as well as in the Purāṇas (containing ancient legends, cosmogony, etc.) as also minstrels, all those proficient in the use of musical instruments as well as courtesans from every wuarter, the queen-mothers as also the ministers, the troops stationed in the royal palace and drawing their emoluments from the palace itself, army men and their wives, nay, the Brahmans accompanied by the Kṣatriyas (the members of the fighting class), the leaders of the guilds of traders and artisans as well as their members issue forth to behold the moonlike contenance of Śrī Rāma.“
M.N. Dutt: “Let all the bards conversant with the chanting of the pedigree, the flatterers, all those conversant with music, the dancing girls, the queens, the courtiers, the soldiers with their wives, Brāhmaṇas, Kṣatriyas, and people of all other castes, issue out to behold the moon-like countenance of Rāma.”
Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy: “Let bards well-versed in singing praises and Puranas (containing ancient legends, cosmogony etc.) as also all panegyrists, all those proficient in the use of musical instruments, courtesans all collected together, the queen-mothers, ministers, army-men and their wives, brahmanas accompanied by Kshatriyas (members of fighting class), leaders of guilds of traders and artisans, as also their members, come out to see the moon-like countenance of Rama.“
There is no logical reason to assume that rājadārāḥ must refer to the wives of a presently enthroned King. Thus, this cannot be taken to mean that Rāma had more than one wife.
The second of the two references are the following verses spoken by Valmiki, in Yuddha Kanda Section 116 (Critical Edition), at the time of Rama’s coronation as the ruler of Kosala:
प्रतिकर्म च रामस्य कारयामास वीर्यवान् |
लक्ष्मणस्य च लक्ष्मीवानिक्ष्वाकुकुलवर्धनः || १६||
प्रतिकर्म च सीतायाः सर्वा दशरथस्त्रियः |
आत्मनैव तदा चक्रुर्मनस्विन्यो मनोहरम् || १७||
ततो राघवपत्नीनां सर्वासामेव शोभनम् |
चकार यत्नात्कौसल्या प्रहृष्टा पुत्रवत्सला || १८||
The valiant and graceful Shatrughna, the upholder of the dignity of the Ikshwaku race, himself got ready the dresses for Rama and Lakshmana. And all the high-minded wives of Dasharatha with their own hands decked Seetha with various charming (ornaments). Thereupon Kaushalya, delighted and fond of her son, herself with great care, decorated the (other) wives of Raghava (Rama).
The above translation is derived from the translation of Yuddha Kanda Section 130 (Southern Recension), given by MN Dutt. The above verses are slightly different in the Critical Edition, compared to the Southern Recension. For this reason, I have slightly tweaked MN Dutt’s translation of these verses in the Southern Recension, to account for the slight change in verse structure that appears in the Critical Edition. That being said, what should be evident from the aforementioned verses is that Rama had wives other than Seetha, who were decorated and adorned by Kaushalya.
In essence, Patel is saying that he changed M.N. Dutt’s translation to suit his preconceived bias, and then proved his interpretation on the basis that this was how he chose to translate it. The recension translated by M.N. Dutt’s has this verse in chapter 128, and in actuality, this is how he translated it:
“Thereupon Kauśalyā, delighted and fond of her son, herself with great care, decorated the wives of monkeys.“
That’s because the Sanskrit in M.N. Dutt’s recension reads as “vānarapatnīnām” (wives of the vānaras) and not “rāghavapatnīnām” (wives of Rāghava).
Although “vānara” is often translated by many as “monkey,” the Rāmāyaṇa actually depicts the vānaras as an intelligent, monkey-like race who had their own government, their own kingdom of Kiṣkindha, their own version of varṇāśrama-dharma, and their own adherence to Vedic rituals. The same Sanskrit text is found in the translation of Desiraju Hanumanta Rao & K.M.K. Murthy, the Gita Press edition, and the edition published by Nag Publishers.
Hence, the correct translation is “wives of the vānaras” and not “wives of Rāma.” There is no conceivable way that the Sanskrit text “vānarapatīnām” could be taken as “wives of Rāma,” and the Sanskrit text given by Milin Patel is bogus.
Milin Patel makes much of the explicit absence of Rāma’s “ekapatnī vrata” (vow of having only one wife) during the Sūrpaṇakha episode. But he remains oblivious to the remaining details of the story. For example, when Sūrpaṇakha proposes marriage to Rāma, she says:
चिराय भव मे भर्ता सीतया किं करिष्यसि ।
विकृता च विरूपा च न चेयं सदृशी तव ॥ वा.रा. ३.१७.२७ ॥
अहमेवानुरूपा ते भार्या रूपेण पश्य माम् ।
इमां विरूपामसतीं करालां निर्णतोदरीम् ॥ वा.रा. ३.१७.२८ ॥
अनेन ते सह भ्रात्रा भक्षयिष्यामि मानुषीम् ।
“Be my husband forever. What will you do with Sītā? She is ugly, deformed, unsuitable for you. I am alone fit for you. Look upon me as your wife. I will devour your brother along with this disfigured, unchaste and fearful lady with a flat belly.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 3.17.27-29)
But if Rāma had many wives, then why would Sūrpaṇakha insist on killing Sītā, when she could simply be another of Rāma’s wives? And if the answer is that Sūrpaṇakha wanted to be Rāma’s only wife, then why did she not threaten to kill any other wife besides Sītā?
Rāma tells Sūrpaṇaka that,
कृतदारोऽस्मि भवति भार्येयं दयिता मम ।
त्वद्विधानां तु नारीणां सुदुःखा ससपत्नता ॥ वा.रा. ३.१८.२ ॥
“O lady I am married and here is My wife who is dear to Me. To be a co-wife to someone is indeed painful for people like you.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 3.18.2)
If Rāma actually had many wives, then why would He only point to Sītā and not mention these other wives? And why would He mention his marriage as a reason not to marry? He could have simply told Sūrpaṇakha that she could be another of His wives. Finally, when Sūrpaṇakha says:
अद्येमां भक्षयिष्यामि पश्यतस्तव मानुषीम् ।
त्वया सह चरिष्यामि निस्सपत्ना यथासुखम् ॥ वा.रा. ३.१८.१६ ॥
“I shall eat up this woman now before Your very eyes and I can move about happily with You without a co-wife.” (Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 3.18.16)
But how could Sūrpaṇakha expect to have no co-wife by murdering Sītā, when Rāma supposedly had other wives?
Although one might try to argue that Rāma had other wives who were not present with Him during His forest exile, that He would neglect to mention them despite the detailed introduction He gave of Himself and his marriage, and that Sūrpaṇakha would not be expected to know about them, one can’t help but note that this relies on a lot of forced assumptions that have no basis in the text. Hence, despite the lack of explicit mention of “ekapatnī vrata,” the statements within the Sūrpaṇakha episode contradict the idea of Rāma having or even wanting more than one wife.
There is no clear evidence that Rāma had any other wife besides Sītā. Sītā’s marriage to Rāma is depicted in very clear detail near the end of the Bāla-Kāṇḍa along with her origin story and her royal lineage. Where in the Rāmāyaṇa is there mention of the lives, lineages, and marriages of other women who supposedly married Rāma? Where were these other wives when Rāma was being exiled to the forest and Sītā insisted that she share His exile? Where were these other wives during the 14 years of Rāma’s exile, and where were they during the descriptions of Rāma’s triumphant return to Ayodhya? Hindus were never averse to polygamy, and Daśaratha’s own polygamy is mentioned in great detail in the very Rāmāyaṇa that seemingly goes to great pains to conceal the alleged polygamy of Rāma. Thus, the theory that Rāma had many wives finds no support from even a generous reading of the text, which speaks poorly of the motivations of those who still assert this view.