Sociology Index


Polyandry is a marriage structure where a woman has more than one husband at one time. Polyandry, the simultaneous marriage of two or more men to a single women, is cross-culturally rare and has been little studied. Polyandry is Polygamy in which one woman has two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is rare, but when it is found there is often fraternal polyandry, in which the husbands are brothers. The term polyandry is also used where a female animal has more than one male mate. Polyandrist is a person who practises polyandry, that is, a woman who has several husbands at the same time. The term polygamy covers both Polygyny and polyandry. Polyandry in India and Nepal.

Polyandry, the marriage of a woman to multiple husbands, is first recounted not in historical texts, but in the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Draupadi married the five Pandava brothers, as this is what she chose in a previous life. Polyandry as it is practised among the Nyinba, a culturally Tibetan group resident in northwestern Nepal.

Polyandry has been practised in Rajasthan, Ladakh and Zanskar, in Uttarakhand,  and among the Toda of South India. Paharis are a separate culture of India characterized by several diversions from mainstream Hinduism, including the institution of polyandry.

Enhancement of Biological Fitness And Polyandry

Polyandry does not empirically increase the biological fitness of offspring within a marriage. Although polyandrous marriages do ensure some variation of alleles within a familial population, the probability of transferal of alleles from father to children decreases with the number of husbands within a polyandrous marriage (Beall and Goldstein 1981).

The decrease in the number of offspring further decreases the chance of transferal of alleles to a further generation. Thus, polyandry “does not appear to enhance the fitness of individuals who practice it, and in fact, seems to entail substantial reproductive sacrifice” (Beall and Goldstein 1981:5).

Matriarchy, polyandry, and fertility amongst the Mosuos in China
Nan E. Johnsona and Kai-Ti Zhanga, Department of Sociology, Michigan State University
Journal of Biosocial Science (1991), 23:499-505 Cambridge University Press.
The results imply that tolerance by the national government of polyandry within certain minority groups will not prevent but may aid the attainment of zero population growth by China in the twenty-first century.

Draupadi's Husbands: A Brief Study of Polyandry in Contemporary Himalayan Cultures. Abstract: The Paharis of India and the nearby Tibetan Nepali are two of the few peoples who practice fraternal polyandry. Practitioners and proponents of polyandry offer several reasons for the continuation of this practice, including polyandry's enhancement of biological fitness in offspring, the abundance of available marriageable men compared to women, polyandry's economic benefits within the society.

Their centuries-old trading partners to the north, the Tibetan Nepali, also practice polyandry. The unique qualities of polyandry and its universal rarity have encouraged continued anthropological investigation among both Paharis and Tibetan Nepali. Despite the variety of hypotheses, no conclusive evidence suggests that practice of polyandry is preferable to polygyny or monogamy.

The dynamics of polyandry: kinship, domesticity, and population on the Tibetan border. Levine, N. E., University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA. Abstract: Uses ethnographic data to explore polyandry's cultural and social parameters and the multiple factors that enter into individuals' decisions to remain in their polyandrous marriages, or, as rarely happens, to dissolve them. This leads to a critique of arguments that find a determinant materialist logic in polyandry and seek its causes in exogenous circumstances. The Nyinba practise fraternal polyandry. The analysis encompasses a wide range of interactions in polyandrous household system. Polyandry among the Nyinba affects interpersonal relationship in marriage and in family life.

The demographic inequality between men and women
A general theory presented for polyandry is the insurance of marriage for all eligible individuals in societies where there is a surplus of men. In Jaunsar Bawar, a polyandrous Pahari community, there is an expectantly great shortage of women. In the monogamous Garhwal, there is a surplus of women, which suggests that polyandry may be the cause and not the solution to a shortage of available wives.

The economic benefits in a system of familial partition
By far the most convincing explanation of polyandry lies in the standard division of familial property among both Pahari and Tibetan Nepali societies. The sons of their polyandrous union are also expected to marry in polyandry, thus retaining the entirety of family land holdings through generations. The economic benefits of polyandry are often outweighed by the number of brothers who partition land from the family in monogamous unions and the divisive effect of such partitioning among brothers who choose polyandry. Paharis find sexual access between the wives and brothers of monogamous marriages as acceptable and desirable as the legitimized union of brothers in polyandry.