Rāma’s (Non-Existent) Polygamy – Revisited

Śrī Rāma had one wife. Period.

In response to our article refuting the contention that Rāma had multiple wives, the original blogger Milin Patel was nice enough to offer a response defending his point of view. We will therefore revisit the issue with reference to his arguments and corrections.

First, it is important to understand that there is nothing inherently offensive about polygamy. Ancient Hindus, and in particular Hindu kings, were sometimes polygamous. In a culture in which marriage was seen as a religious institution (saṁskāra), and in which husbands and wives were regarded as co-participants in religious rituals, this was not regarded as immoral. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa along with the Mahābhārata and other core Hindu texts records that Śrī Kṛṣṇa had an astounding 16,108 wives, and that He expanded Himself into as many forms as necessary to simultaneously be with all of them. Such feats are neither miraculous nor materialistic for the immortal Puruṣa, Whom the Vedas, Itihāsas, and Purāṇas declare to be the Supreme Person beyond the influences of material nature.

Second, from Patel’s response, it appears that he is primarily fixated with the idea of refuting the claim of “ekapatnī vrata” being uttered in the Rāmāyaṇa. I myself have not encountered this statement in my reading of the Rāmāyaṇa, and therefore I have not premised my arguments on Rāma having said this.

Third, it should be made clear that while the Rāmāyaṇa describes Sītā’s wedding in elaborate detail, there is no chapter in the text that describes any other girl’s marriage to Rāma. Nor is there mention of the name of any other wife besides Sītā. Nor do any other core Hindu texts which mention the story of the Rāmāyaṇa (such as the Mahābhārata, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and the Viṣṇu Purāṇa) mention additional wives besides Sītā. Nor do most commonly available English translations of the Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa interpret the verses as indicating that Rāma had more than one wife. All of these points remain undisputed. Just to put this in perspective, it is Patel who is arguing against centuries of tradition, literary evidence, and the views of the majority of scholars.

Scholars should be most concerned with the facts from the literature and how well they fit any theory about its content. Patel’s pleas to be accepted as a Hindu, his reference to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 and his extrapolations from Mughal Emperor Akbar’s regrets about his own polygamy are unwarranted in this analysis since our sole concern is with the content of the Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa and the meaning its author, who was a part of a greater Hindu tradition, was trying to convey.

Addressing our criticism of his interpretation of Rāmāyaṇa 2.8.12, Patel writes:

In fact, Milin Patel is simply incorrect here. There is no reason for “bhaviṣyanti” to be repeated twice, as not only would that violate the syllabic requirements of the anuṣṭup meter employed by the poet, but it would also be grammatically unsound. Patel’s proposed “bhaviṣyanti rāmasya bhaviṣyanti paramāḥ striyaḥ” is meaningless since “rāmasya paramāḥ striyaḥ” (the great women of Rāma) is the only subject of this half of the śloka. Another verb is not needed there as there is no other subject. Patel appears to be confusing verbs with adjectives. If he insists that it cannot refer to future wives because another qualifier must modify “striyaḥ,” then an adjective (like bhaviṣya) should have been used instead of repeating the 3rd-person plural verb “bhaviṣyanti.” However, even such explicit qualifiers aren’t needed in Sanskrit because ślokas are characterized by a certain economy of language in order to conform to the poetic meter. There is no word indicating that these are presently women of Rāma either – whether these are existing women or future women must be implied through context. Does the context refer to present wives who will experience happiness, or does it refer to future women of Rāma who will experience bliss in the future? While the former makes more sense by default when the sentence is taken out of context, in context of only one explicitly mentioned marriage, the latter is more logical. Again, it should be emphasized that Rāma had not explicitly mentioned a vow of “ekapatnī vrata” at this point in the text, so there was no reason for Mantharā to think that He would have no more wives in the future. The objective reader hardly needs to be told which interpretation makes more sense.

Ironically, this argument of Patel’s stands in contrast to his previously stated position that a “dāsī” given away by Rāma must necessarily be a slave-girl. For if he admits that a woman of Rāma’s could be something other than a slave, such as a wife, then it weakens the position that a girl given away by Rāma when He was renouncing the kingdom must necessarily be a slave. However, that is another issue which we have dealt with elsewhere. The point here is that women of Rāma could refer to servant women or wives or both. There is no reason to think it must refer to wives only, especially when there were obviously female servants who waited on Rāma as there were for every member of the royal household. And even if it did refer to wives, there is still no reason to assume it refers to wives Rāma had at that moment, since the text identified no other wife besides Sītā.

Moving on to his interpretation of Rāmāyaṇa 3.47.3, Patel writes:

The word mahiṣī can indeed refer to the first wife/queen of a king, as the Spoken Sanskrit dictionary (not Monier-Williams as claimed) indicates, if there is context to suggest that the king had more than one wife. But it is inappropriately rigid to assume that it only means a “first wife,” and that one can therefore back-track from its usage and assume that Rāma had other wives. In fact, the Cologne Sanskrit Digital Lexicon linked from the same page, which is based on Monier-Williams, gives “the first or consecrated wife of a king, or any queenas a more general translation:

As does Apte’s Sanskrit-English dictionary, also linked from the same page:

As one can seen from the broad range of meanings which this word (like many words in Sanskrit) can have, it is context ultimately that must guide one to the correct rendering of the text. As there is no context indicating marriage to other women besides Sītā, there is no basis for assuming that “mahiṣī” in 3.47.3 refers to a “first wife/queen,” and thus no basis for assuming that Rāma had other queens based on this usage. Mahiṣī means “queen” only in this context, not the first of multiple queens.

Now we come to Patel’s interpretation of 5.28.13-14:

We do not agree with Patel that Sītā had an “arrogant, narcissistic personality.” More importantly, there is little evidence that Vālmīki wanted us to see it that way and much evidence to the contrary. Patel’s distorted reading of Sītā’s character reveals the flaw in his approach to the Rāmāyaṇa, which reminds one of an unwanted surgery by a doctor with arthritic hands that removes a perfectly healthy appendix, only to leave the patient dead on the operating table. It’s precisely because his reading of the text is colored by this very distorted and unflattering reading of Sītā that we must take up the subject of how Vālmīki treated her character and revealed her importance in the text.

The Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa we have is a devotional text, and according to that text, Rāma is identified as the Supreme Person (Puruṣa) of the Vedas, and Sītā as Lakṣmī is the ideal of selfless devotion that inspires the reader. The story of Sītā is all the more important because she is the devotee, and the poet himself states (1.4.7) that the Rāmāyaṇa is also known as Sītā’s story: sītāyāḥ caritam mahat. Thus, we can understand that Vālmīki isn’t trying to tell us merely of the greatness of Rāma, but also of the greatness of Sītā, and his writings must be understood in that context.

It is true that, while playing the role of a human wife confronted with fear regarding her husband’s safety, Sītā uncharacteristically responded with a vile insult towards Lakṣmaṇa. This, however, can be seen as a necessary plot point in the context of Viṣṇu’s promise (as revealed in 1.16.1-3) to eliminate Rāvaṇa in the form of a kṣatriya male, which was premised on Rāvaṇa’s kidnapping the unguarded Sītā. The text repeatedly mentions that Sītā would be born for this specific purpose of bringing about Rāvaṇa’s end in 7.17.37 and 7.17.43-44, even though it required her to act in a manner that was inconsistent with her natural disposition. Such seemingly flawed behaviors exhibited by great souls to move the plot is not unknown in Sanskrit literature. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa was only narrated after the saintly king Parīkṣit offended a great sage and was cursed to die seven days later. Only because of that offense did Parīkṣit renounce his kingdom and hear Śukadeva narrate the Bhāgavata for the benefit of the world. His legacy remains that of a great devotee of Viṣṇu despite this one aberrant behavior. Similarly, without Sītā driving away Lakṣmaṇa, the killing of Rāvaṇa, which benefited the entire world, would not have taken place, and thus, this is no reason to unfavorably judge Sītā. The Bhagavad-gītā 9.30 declares that even a sinful man who worships Bhagavān must be regarded as saintly due to his resolve, what to speak of an exalted devotee like Sītā whom Vālmīki identifies as the avatāra of the eternally-liberated Lakṣmī.

Sītā’s questioning of Rāma’s manliness must be seen in the same way. These words of anger were clearly motivated by intense love for Rāma, as stated at the beginning of their dialog in 2.27.1 – praṇayāt eva saṁkruddhā. Later, when Rāma tried to discourage her by citing the perils of forest life, she again is described as responding out of love and injured self-respect in 2.30.2 – praṇayāt ca abhimānāt ca. There is simply no excuse, other than not having carefully read the text, for missing that context.

Of course, one might try to argue that abhimāna implies that Sītā was self-centered and haughty, but the context again does not fit that interpretation, as just before this she said:

भक्तां पतिव्रतां दीनां मां समां सुखदुःखयोः ।
नेतुमर्हसि काकुत्स्थ समान सुखदुःखिनीम् ॥ वा.रा. २.२९.२० ॥

“O Rāma, I am faithful and devoted to You. I have equal disposition to happiness and sorrow. I equally share your prosperity and adversity. Therefore, You should take Your wife (to the forest) in this time of distress.”

(Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 2.29.20) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala & V.V. Subramaniam]

Sītā’s “injured self-respect” was not from being denied any worldly accolades or pleasures. It was from the doubt about what her role should be when her husband was stripped of royal power and sent into exile. There was no doubt in her mind as to where she should be; her intention was to always stay with her husband, and she had no use for any sensual comforts without the chance to be at His side. This is further supported by her statement of being equal in happiness and sorrow (samāṁ sukha-duḥkhayoḥ), which is very reminiscent of a similar instruction in the Gītā 2.38 to carry out one’s duty treating happiness and distress equally (sukha-duḥkhe same). It is the happiness of worldly pleasures, recognition, and discomforts which must be ignored, which pale in comparison to the divine pleasure of bhakti and the misery of its absence. Arjuna was instructed to conquer these dualities of material existence, but Sītā had already conquered them, being faithful and devoted to Śrī Rāma (bhaktāṁ pativratāṁ). Thus, even her “injured pride” as some translators render it was not “pride” as we conventionally think of it, but intense resentment due to devotion at the idea of being separated from her Lord for any reason.

The language employed here by Vālmīki is clearly devotional, and an insider to the tradition would recognize it as the kind of selflessness that characterizes bhakti. Sītā herself exhibited this selflessness when she said:

यदि त्वं प्रस्थितो दुर्गं वनमद्यैव राघव ।
अग्रतस्ते गमिष्यामि मृद्नन्ती कुशकण्टकान् ॥ वा.रा. २.२७.६ ॥

“O son of the Raghus if You set out for the impenetrable forest now itself, I shall also go, walking ahead of You and crushing the thorns and (spiky) kuśa grass (rendering the path comfortable for you to walk).”

(Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 2.27.6) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala & V.V. Subramaniam]

And she would further go on to say:

किं हि कृत्वा विषण्णस्त्वं कुतो वा भयमस्ति ते ।
यत्परित्यक्तुकामस्त्वं मामनन्यपरायणाम् ॥ वा.रा. २.३०.५ ॥
द्युमत्सेनसुतं वीर सत्यवन्तमनुव्रताम् ।
सावित्रीमिव मां विद्धि त्वमात्मवशवर्तिनीम् ॥ वा.रा. २.३०.६ ॥
न त्वहं मनसाऽप्यन्यं द्रष्टाऽस्मि त्वदृतेऽनघ ।
त्वया राघव गच्छेयं यथाऽन्या कुलपांसिनी ॥ वा.रा. २.३०.७ ॥

“What may be the cause for your fear and depression behind Your desire to desert one who is so exclusively devoted to You? Know, O valiant one, that by remaining subordinate to You, I am as faithful to you as Sāvitrī was to her husband, Satyavanta, son of Dyumatsena. O sinless son of the Raghus I am not like other women who bring disgrace to the family. I have not looked at any one except You, even with my mind’s eye. I will go (to the forest) along with You.”

(Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 2.30.5-7) [translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala & V.V. Subramaniam]

Is Vālmīki really trying to convey in his Great Story of Sītā (“Sītāyāḥ Caritam Mahat“) the idea that Sītā had an “arrogant, narcissistic personality?” A narcissistic person is self-centered by definition. When the poet describes Sītā as samāṁ sukha-duḥkhayoḥ (being equal to worldly happiness and distress), as ananyaparāyaṇām (having no one else other than Rāma as her refuge), anuvratām sāvitrīmiva (as faithful to Rāma as Sāvitrī was to her husband), and na tvahaṁ manasā’pyanyaṁ drṣṭā’smi tvadṛte’ngha (“I see no one else other than You even in my mind”), do these phrases suggest narcissistic tendencies, or are they illustrative of an intense, selfless, supernatural standard of devotion? An objective reader will hardly need to be told the answer.

Patel’s distorted reading of 5.28.14 is rooted in his inability to understand Sītā’s sublime character as Vālmīki intended. When Sītā, despondently lamenting her separation from Rāma in the Aṣoka Vana in Laṅka, says, “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 revel in the company of large-eyed damsels, I think,” she is referring to a future that she thinks (manye) will happen, when Rāma has completed His vow of forest-exile, which He had not yet done at that point in the story. Patel now seems to acknowledge that this does not indicate polygamy as he originally suggested, but rather that Sītā knew her husband had polygamous tendencies:

But Patel is still misunderstanding the verse and Sītā’s mindset, despite invoking “tradition” for his analysis. Tradition, as evidenced by the Rāmāyaṇa itself, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the Mahābhārata, the Viṣṇu Purāṇa, and numerous other Hindu texts which narrate the Rāma story, holds that Rāma is the avatāra of Viṣṇu, the Supreme Person, and Sītā is the avatāra of His chief consort Lakṣmī. As such, she is not merely a “dedicated wife,” but the devotee whose superlative devotion is beyond the scope of ordinary, worldly marital love. It must necessarily be understood in the context of bhakti, and understanding it in any other way is a misunderstanding. Her statement that Rāma would abandon her and enjoy with other women does not make Rāma a polygamist, and such a reading is missing the point Vālmīki is trying to make. Rather, her words are an expression of despondent humility in the mood of bhakti resulting from separation from her Lord. There are similar examples of this same sort of despondent humility in separation expressed by the gopikas in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. For example, during Kṛṣṇa’s imminent deparature from Vṛndāvana, Vyāsa chronicles the gopikas saying:

“Alas! The Darling of Nanda (Himself) Whose friendship is (but) momentary, and Who is fond of the new, does not even gaze on us, who have been enslaved by the spell cast by Himself and who directly sought His service renouncing our homes, relations, sons and husbands! Happy will be the dawn following this night for the ladies of the city (of Mathurā); (nay,) their aspirations have been surely realized; (for) they will fondly gaze on the countenance – full of nectarean smiles exhibited by the corners of eyes – of Śrī Kṛṣṇa (the Lord of Vraja), even as He fearlessly enters the city. How, then, will Śrī Kṛṣṇa (the Bestower of Liberation) return to us, helpless rustic women – even though He has got other relations (too in Vraja), and although He is self-possessed – when His mind is captivated by the utterances, sweet as honey, of those ladies (of Mathurā), and remains deluded by their bashful smiles and amorous glances?”

Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.39.22-24, translated by C.L. Goswami

It should be noted here that Śrī Kṛṣṇa did not marry any of the women of Mathurā.

Again during Uddhava’s visit to Vraja, we see them expressing similar sentiments:

“We know that you are the personal servant of Kṛṣṇa, the chief of the Yadus, and that you have come here on the order of your good master, who desires to give pleasure to His parents. We see nothing else He might consider worth remembering in these cow pastures of Vraja. Indeed, the bonds of affection for one’s family members are difficult to break, even for a sage. The friendship shown toward others — those who are not family members — is motivated by personal interest, and thus it is a pretense that lasts only until one’s purpose is fulfilled. Such friendship is just like the interest men take in women, or bees in flowers. Prostitutes abandon a penniless man, subjects an incompetent king, students their teacher once they have finished their education, and priests a man who has remunerated them for a sacrifice. Birds abandon a tree when its fruits are gone, guests a house after they have eaten, animals a forest that has burnt down, and a lover the woman he has enjoyed, even though she remains attached to him. Thus speaking, the gopīs, whose words, bodies and minds were fully dedicated to Lord Govinda, put aside all their regular work now that Kṛṣṇa’s messenger, Śrī Uddhava, had arrived among them. Constantly remembering the activities their beloved Kṛṣṇa had performed in His childhood and youth, they sang about them and cried without shame.”

Śrīmad Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.47.4-10, translated by disciples of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Like Sītā, the gopikas exhibited the same, self-flagellating attitude when separated from Śrī Kṛṣṇa, expressing their insignificance in relation to Him whom they assumed would simply move on to other women. Although their words resemble those of jilted lovers, Vyāsa rejects any mundane view of their devotion by referring to the engagement of their words, minds and bodies to Govinda, reminding us that He is Para Brahman. Thus, the lesson here is the exalted and selfless nature of the bhakti of the gopikas, just as it is in the case of the bhakti of Sītā. If the only thing one has taken from Sītā’s words of separation is that Rāma will marry other women, then one has completely missed the point that Vālmīki was trying to convey.

Of course, we know that Śrī Kṛṣṇa exhibited polygamy as a part of His divine līlā. But this is not disputed by orthodox Hindus because it is clear from the text. Whereas Rāma having multiple wives should be disputed because it is based on extremely oblique readings of the text. Representing a text accurately is a basic requirement of honesty.

Patel’s argument, as noted previously, is based on the premise that Rāma took a vow to have only one wife, as he notes in his analysis of 6.101.15:

However, this analysis misses the mark because it has never been our position that Rāma explicitly took such a vow or expressed revulsion about polygamy. Our position only is that Rāma had one wife and that this is the clear view of the Rāmāyaṇa. Rāma’s own father had three wives, each of whom He venerated as His own mother, so naturally Rāma would not express revulsion for polygamy the way a vegetarian would express revulsion for the possibility of eating meat. Thus, it is perfectly reasonable to expect that a Rāma Who married once could express the uniqueness of His brother Lakṣmaṇa by contrasting it with the possibility of getting many wives, which was not uncommon in the kṣatriya culture.

Regarding his interpretation of the term “rājadārāḥ” in Rāmāyaṇa 6.127.4, Patel argues that the common reading as the wives of Daśaratha has no “solid basis” and requires “a lot of wishful thinking and mental gymnastics.” This is in contrast to his unique reading that it refers to other wives of Rāma who are never named in the text nor in any recension of the same. Obviously, readers can decide for themselves what makes more sense in this context. What is notable is that Patel’s reasoning remains flawed:

The essence of Patel’s argument is that “rājadārāḥ” cannot refer to Daśaratha’s wives in Bharata’s directive in 6.127.4 because when Vālmīki describes their response to that directive in 6.127.15, he refers to them as “daśarathastriyaḥ.” Evidently, Patel is unaware that in poetic Sanskrit, the same concept need not be rigidly described with the exact same words in different ślokas. In this case, one is an instruction by Bharata about what Daśaratha’s wives should do while the other is the narration of what they actually did as a result. Vālmīki would never have written “tato yānānyupārūḍāḥ sarvā rājadārāḥ” in verse 6.127.15 because that is not in anuṣṭup meter, whereas using “daśarathastriyaḥ” does satisfy the syllabic requirements of that meter. Thus, both terms can and should indeed refer to the wives of Daśaratha. Of note, verse 6.127.15 does not mention any wives of Rāma coming out, so if Bharata had indeed meant Rāma’s wives by “rājadārāḥ,” then why does Valmīki only describe wives of Daśaratha coming out to meet Rāma?

Patel appears to be premising his opinion of Rāma’s polygamy on an unquestioning, almost religious, sanctity to a variant reading of one śloka in the “critical edition” of the Rāmāyaṇa, which is ironic since his stance is that of one questioning the orthodox view in the first place. For those who do not know, a critical edition of a text is an attempt to reconstruct what is believed to be its original form from many, disparate recensions. The choice of which variant readings are authentic and which are not requires educated guesses; it is not a matter of rigid, mathematical certainty. To the best of our knowledge, no orthodox Hindu scholars have endorsed the critical edition produced by academia. The claim that Rāma had more than one wife, based on this “critical edition,” still lazily disregards the fact that no other wife is mentioned, not even in contexts where Rāma introduced Himself along with His wife. Patel’s interpretation requires us to believe that Rāma already had more than one wife by the time of the Yuddha-Kāṇḍa’s end, yet he cannot furnish any evidence from any earlier chapter describing other weddings besides that of Sītā’s. If Rāma had other wives, then where were these women when Rāma was still in Ayodhya, declaring His intention to leave for 14 years? Would it not seem strange that a wife would not even make an appearance to dissuade her husband, or at least see him off, in such an emotionally trying situation? And if Patel argues that Rāma was merely inclined to have more than one wife but still had only one marriage by the time of Sundara-Kāṇḍa, then where and when did He have the time during forest-exile to marry other women? Hence, when considering the matter objectively, it is quite sensible to assume that the critical edition text reading as “rāghavapatīnām” is bogus, next to the more commonly translated “vānarapatīnām” which makes more sense in context.

Just as Patel misconstrues the character of Sītā to prop up his polygamy interpretation, he similarly distorts the character of Rāma for the same purpose.

In other words, in contrast to my “mental gymnastics,” Milin Patel’s reading of the verses requires us to believe that Rāma would lie about His allegedly polygamous married life, despite being declared in the opening verses (1.1.2) to be “satyavākyaḥ” (truthful in His words). Further, he needs us to believe that Rāma would “mildly flirt” with another woman, and that too someone He identified as a rākṣasī. Let us examine how Vālmīki described Śūrpaṇakha’s beauty:

सुमुखं दुर्मुखी रामं वृत्तमध्यं महोदरी ।
विशालाक्षं विरूपाक्षी सुकेशं ताम्रमूर्धजा ॥ वा.रा. ३.१७.१० ॥
प्रीतिरूपं विरूपा सा सुस्वरं भैरवस्वरा ।
तरुणं दारुणा वृद्धा दक्षिणं वामभाषिणी ॥ वा.रा. ३.१७.११ ॥
न्यायवृत्तं सुदुर्वृत्ता प्रियमप्रियदर्शना ।
शरीरजसमाविष्टा राक्षसी वाक्यमब्रवीत् ॥ वा.रा. ३.१७.१२ ॥

“Rāma’s face was lovely, Śūrpaṇakha’s was hideous (durmukhī). Rāma had a slender waist, she had a huge belly (mahodarī). His eyes were large, hers were deformed (virūpākṣī). His hair was black and beautiful, hers was copper-colored (tāmramūrdhjā). He was lovely in appearance, she was ugly (virūpā). His voice was sweet, hers was shrill (bhairavasvarā). He was young, she was dreadfully old (dāruṇā vṛddhā). He was positive, she was perverted (vāmabhāṣiṇī). Rāma was well-behaved, she was wicked (sudurvṛttā). Rāma was just and loving while she was overcome by lust (śarīrajasmāviṣṭā).”

Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa 3.17.20-22, translated by P. Geervani, K. Kamala, & V.V. Subba Rao

Let us put aside for the moment that Vālmīki described Rāma as “ātmavān” (self-restrained) in verse 1.1.4, and “flirting” with another woman would be out of character for such a person. Are Śūrpaṇakha’s physical features such that they would inspire an ordinary man to lie about his marital status in the hopes of securing a romantic liaison with her? Milin Patel seems to think so: “When an already married man tries to flirt with an interested lady, he is going to keep the introduction of his family and wives to a minimum and will focus more on himself as a person and on the woman he is trying to woo.” The woman “he is trying to woo” in this case being an old, ugly, pot-bellied, vulgar and shrill-voiced…

In essence, Patel is telling the story of a fictional, dishonest, flirtatious Rāma whom he can identify with, not the truthful, self-controlled Rāma whom Vālmīki identified as the subject of his epic. The fact remains that Rāma only introduced Himself as having one wife, and Śūrpaṇakha thought by devouring Śītā she could become his only wife. Even Patel seems to have conceded the point by writing that:

So if even Patel has taken the position that Rāma had only one wife during the Rāma-Śūrpaṇakha samvāda, which took place in Āraṇya-Kāṇḍa, then he only has to show how Rāma, despite being in forest exile, acquired more wives between that point and the end of the Yuddha-Kāṇḍa, where he favors the critical edition variant of “rāghavapatīnām.”

Or he could just acknowledge that the critical edition’s variant makes no sense and is simply wrong.

The problem is, Patel seems confused about his actual position, for later he goes on to write:

So, in other words, Patel is still arguing that Rāma had multiple wives in Ayodhya-Kāṇḍa, but only had one wife in Āraṇya-Kāṇda (or lied about it which goes against His character), and then by Yuddha-Kāṇḍa suddenly had multiple wives again.

The argument that Daśaratha’s and Rāvaṇa’s other wives are not mentioned holds little weight here because Rāma is the protagonist, and one would expect Vālmīki to to focus on this character in great detail. Yet even in the critical edition which Patel considers an authority, there is no mention even of the names of these other wives or the other marriages Rāma supposedly had. Note that even the marriages of Lakṣmaṇa, Bharata, and Śatrughna are mentioned (Bāla-Kāṇḍa, 72nd sarga), but no additional marriages of Rāma are.

In reality, the issue of Rāma’s monogamy or polygamy is not so much the problem as the methodology by which Patel and others like him approach the Rāmāyaṇa. Instead of treating it as a sacred text that is an integral part of a larger literary tradition, the Rāmāyaṇa to them is merely a dissection specimen whose unwanted layers must be peeled away and discarded to get what they want. Straightforward readings of the text suddenly become “mental gymnastics,” while claims of imaginary polygamy are suddenly obvious conclusions despite the lack of clear textual evidence. We should consider at this time the sheer number of bizarre and unsubstantiated assumptions that Patel has to base his theory of polygamy on:

  1. That Hindus were so impressed with the fictional monogamy of their Muslim oppressors that they would rewrite a polygamous Rāma from the Rāmāyaṇa into a monogamous one.
  2. All other references to Rāma’s story in the various Purāṇas and the Mahābhārata were similarly and simultaneously scrubbed by these servile Hindus of all troubling polygamy references.
  3. That the conspiracy to rewrite Rāma as a monogamist in Hindu literature was so uncharacteristically complete and organized that no surviving recension of the original texts with the unaltered polygamy references can be found anywhere, despite this process having occurred only during the medieval period.
  4. That this selective rewriting would, strangely, not take place for Kṛṣṇa, Whose polygamy is explicitly mentioned in the Mahābhārata and Bhāgavata Purāṇas, both texts that were celebrated, quoted, and commented on during the same medieval period.
  5. In spite of much evidence to the contrary, Sītā was an “arrogant” and “narcissistic” person, and therefore her words of despondent humility, including what she thought in that state that Rāma would do, must be taken literally.
  6. Off all the Sanskrit translators of Rāmāyaṇa, only Milin Patel, whose grasp of the language is questionable, and anti-Hindutva crusader Sheldon Pollock, got it right. Everyone else, including Gita Press, M.N. Dutt, P. Geervani, and Desiraj Hanumanta Rao missed the mark.
  7. Rāma lied about having multiple wives because He liked flirting with other women, even when they were obese, elderly, ugly, cannibals.

In science, there is a principle known as Ockham’s Razor. It holds that that theory which provides the best explanation of the facts while making the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one. On this basis, Patel’s theory of Rāma’s polygamy fails, being predicated on a broad array of utterly absurd assumptions that defy common sense.

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