April 10, 2012

Till Death Do Us Part. ~ Vikram Zutshi

The primary catalyst of Biblical Creation, the succulent red fruit that sets the ball rolling on History, is now alternatively called an ‘Apple’ or the Forbidden Fruit, depending on which side your bread is buttered.

Moreover, the grand timeless parable has been co-opted and condensed to an icon for a mega-corporation, bite marks and all.

The charming, playful metaphor of Adam and Eve has mutated into a rigid, ossified belief system that is rapidly and alarmingly approaching a state of rigor mortis

An intriguing development, a curious system that binds men and women to each other is in effect. It is known as ‘Marriage’ and stipulates that each man shall have no more than one female partner, that they must co-exist in perfect harmony till ‘death do them part’.

Our old stomping ground, the lush cornucopia that symbolized Mother Nature at the peak of her expression, The Garden of Eden, has transmogrified into a neurotic cesspool. A plethora of issues abound, including widespread societal dysfunction, pathological criminality and mass alienation, all manifestations of the greater malaise afflicting the single family unit

Divorce rates are skyrocketing as never before. In both the West as well the East, the traditional bastion of ‘family values’, the sacred institution of marriage does not seem to be working out the way it was marketed. The younger generation seems increasingly reluctant, disinclined or incapable of abiding by the social mores laid down by their forefathers.

Prior to colonial conditioning of native people, plural marriages, concubinage and even Polyandry (a single woman consorting with multiple male partners) were widely practiced and very common all over the world.

It is fascinating to study some of the quirkier social permutations that existed the world over before being replaced by institutional dogma.

The story of Draupadi and her five Pandava husbands from the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata is the most famous example of accepted polygamy within the traditional fabric of Indian culture. In contrast to our hypocritical times, Draupadi has been portrayed as a strong woman, capable of transcending moral dogma in the interest of the greater good, in spite of the travesty of being ‘shared’ by five men.

A warrior tribe from the Malabar coast of Kerala, the Nayars, had a unique form of marriage where a young girl was betrothed to a man she often never saw. He was paid a fee for this and was henceforth her official husband and the ‘father’ of her children. However, the girl was free to have sexual relations with several men, often presented to her by her own mother. During the period of temporary cohabitation, the men had the bragging rights to hang their weapons on her door.

The Toda tribe from south India, practiced polyandry among a family comprising of several brothers. The first child of the wife was said to be fathered by the oldest brother, the next by the next-oldest brother, and so on. Needless to say, the horrified British discouraged the practice, as soon as they came upon it. In response, the Todas turned to a form of group marriage in which a family of brothers would marry a family of sisters.

Very often in Tibet, a woman would marry into a family of brothers. They made sure that at least one would stay with her while the others were away on trading expeditions, looking after sheep and cattle or participating in tribal skirmishes.

According to Sharia or Islamic law, a man may take up to four wives, who should ideally be self-sufficient and possess their own property and assets. In the past, the wives had little to no contact with each other and led separate, individual lives in their own houses, and sometimes in different cities, though they all shared the same husband.

In old China, it was permissible to be married and yet have multiple concubines. Members of the royalty or nobility could have as many official mistresses as they wanted (often dozens or even more) As an interesting aside, the first wife, called ‘Tai Tai’, often auditioned and selected her husband’s secondary female companions

A refreshingly original theory was posited by American anthropologist Philip Kilbride, who in his book, ‘Plural Marriage for our Time’ puts forward  polygamy as a healing agent in the breakdown of the social fabric of America. He stipulates that plural marriage may serve as an alternative for divorce in many cases and would help in softening the traumatic effect on kids.

Kilbride says that “Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options.” He also suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage, for example elderly women whose desirability quotient fades with the onset of age.

The relentless march of evolutionary and biological imperative has a tendency to be oblivious to social and cultural conventions. It seems obvious that as a species we are not wired to abide by the obsolete though vigorously marketed virtues of false morality, forced fidelity and religiously mandated monogamy.

The only thing constant is change and those who cannot adapt must by necessity make way for the new paradigm.

Vikram Zutshi is a documentary filmmaker, writer, photojournalist, scuba diver and yogi based out of Los Angeles. When he’s not submerged underwater circling a sunken galleon or at twenty thousand feet above sea level filming the Himalayan snow leopard, he can be found contemplating the infinite while unsuccessfully trying to unwrap himself from the perfect Garbhapindasana. He can be reached at [email protected].





Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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