What is Polygamy

What is polygamy: mean, marriage, religion, in the bible, in sociology, in Islam, in History. It is easy to fall in love, right? Some people fall in love again and again in their life and even tie marital bonds with them.

What is polygamy: mean, marriage, religion, in the bible, in sociology, in Islam, in History
What is polygamy: mean, marriage, religion, in the bible, in sociology, in Islam, in History

Some people get married two or multiple times, whereas some get married once in their lifetime. There are several forms of marriages reckoned across countries; some of them are polygamy, polyamory, monogamy, and exogamy.

Among these forms, polygamy gets most commonly heard. But What does it mean?

Let’s dig out what polygamy means and its relevance in different religions.

What does polygamy mean

The word polygamy originated from the Late Latin word, ‘polygamia’ originally derived from the Late Greek word ‘Polugamos’ which means; often marriage

Polugamos is a combination of two words, ‘polus’ means many and ‘gamos’ means; marriage. The combination of these words means often marrying or marrying more than one. 

Thus, polygamy is a condition of having multiple spouses at a time. In polygamy, a person keeps multiple spouses at a time; without abandoning the former spouse. 

In such marriages, a man or woman gets married to multiple partners simultaneously, unlike monogamy marriages where one person gets married to only one partner at a time.

There are three types of polygamy:

  • Polygyny: a condition where a man gets married to multiple women simultaneously, is called polygyny. 
  • Polyandry: where a woman gets married to more than one man simultaneously, is called polyandry.
  • Group marriages: In in-group marriages, multiple men and multiple women unite together to form a family. 

Among these types, polygyny is most prevalent in societies that allow polygamy. Even today, where only monogamy gets considered legal in almost every country, polygamy gets practiced by some communities as a cultural practice.

But some religions that allow polygamy, such as contemporary Muslim societies, rarely practice polygamy. Polygamy is prohibited; in all 50 states in the United States, but people who practice polygamy; rarely get encountered.


In biology, polygamy gets defined as the state of having multiple mates. When one partner indulges in sexual relations with another partner who is not their primary mate is termed polygamy. Many biologists found that polygamy naturally occurs in about 90% of mammals, and only 10% of mammals are monogamous.


In sociology, polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple wives at once.

What is Polygamy marriage

Everyone has to get married one day. Marriages are an essential part of our society. There are many types of marriages, such as polygamy, monogamy, exogamy and the list goes on.

Polygamy means the state of having multiple spouses simultaneously. In simple words, when a person, either male or female, keeps more than one partner at a time, such a condition gets called polygamy. These terms oppose the concept of monogamy, which means marrying only one person at a time or marrying once in a lifetime. In monogamy marriages, a person devotes themselves to their partner. 

Although monogamous marriages get widely reckoned throughout the world, in many countries, polygamy is still legal and recognized including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Algeria, Cameroon, and the list goes on. In countries like India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, polygamy is legal and recognized only by Muslim communities.

In all 50 states of the United States, polygamy gets not outright criminalized, but bigamy is considered a prohibited and illegal act. Bigamy marriages are in which; one person gets married to another person while their previous marriage is still subsistence. 

There are three types of polygamy marriages mainly; polygyny, polyandry, and group marriages. These three types of polygamous marriages get widely known since ancient times.

Polygyny marriages are marriages in which a man keeps multiple wives simultaneously. These types of marriages get widely practiced in countries that allow polygamy.

The condition in which multiple men share a woman in a marital bond or a woman marrying more than one man at a time is called polyandry. Polyandry is not much popular as polygyny. Women are rarely allowed to keep multiple spouses.

The last one is group marriages in which several adult males and females live together in a marital bond-forming a family. They share the household and children as one family.

According to data released by Pew Research in 2020, around 2% of the global population lives in polygamous households. The data shows that polygamy rarely gets practiced, but some still live in polygamous relationships. 

Polygamy and Religion

There are many religions in this world; each religion has its perception regarding polygamy. Some religions debarred polygamy, whereas some allow it as a religious practice. Let’s discuss the concept of polygamy in different cultures and religions.


In Buddhism, marriages get reckoned as secular affairs, not a sacrament. Buddhism remained silent on the concept of monogamy and polygamy. They neither supported polygamy nor condemned it. Even though Buddhism does not reckon with or encourage any particular type of marriage, the Buddhist laity taught to limit themselves to one wife only.

Buddhism does not prescribe any rules on marriage but advises its followers on how to lead a happy married life. Buddhism taught its followers to remain faithful to one wife and not run after other women. A person who cheats his wife for other women is moving on a path; to self decline.

The Parabhava Sutta stated, “A man who is not satisfied with one woman and brings up another is on the verge of collapse.” 

There are many examples in Buddhist scriptures that somehow consider polygamy as counterproductive. Such instances suggest that Buddhism generally does not favor polygamy. Adultery in Buddhism.


Whether; Christianity ethics allow or prohibit polygamy marriages is still a debatable question among the old testaments and the New Testaments.

According to old testaments, polygamy gets widely practiced among the devotees of God such as Abraham, Israel, Gideon, King David, and Solomon had multiple wives in ancient times. However, the Roman Catholic Church Condemned polygamy, but the Lutheran Church gave a green signal to some polygamists. The Anglican Communion allowed polygamy in some circumstances.


In ancient times, polygamy was prevalent among certain classes. Many kings and upper-class peoples perform polygamy as a status symbol. Polygamy rarely gets practiced in the lower class. Many instances in ancient times show polygamy practiced in Hinduism.

In many Vedic Puranas, Hindu Gods practiced polygamy. For example, Lord Krishna had 16108 wives mentioned in Vishnu Purana; Vasudeva had 14 wives according to Brahma Purana; Lord Ganesha had two wives, and Dropati had five husbands named Pandavas in Mahabharat. These instances show the practice of both; polygyny and polyandry in the ancient Vedic period.

In another Hindu law book, Baudhayana Dharmashastra, the three caste Brâhmanas, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas can take up to 4 wives, whereas Sudras were prohibited; to keep more than one wife. 


In ancient times, polygamy was permitted and practiced among Jewish, but later it was outlawed. Many instances in the Scriptures; show that polygamy, though not extremely common, was practiced among ancient Hebrews.

It was neither prohibited nor discouraged by ancient Jewish. The Hebrew Scriptures show that many prominent figures such as Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Esau, and David lived in polygamous relationships.

In Torah, Exodus verse 21:10 depicts that multiple marriages must not diminish the status of the first wife. Deuteronomy verse 21:15-17 states that a man must award the inheritance to the firstborn son, even if he does not like that son’s mother and likes another wife more.

In Torah, Deuteronomy verse 17:17 depicts that the king shall not have too many wives.

Later the contemporary Jewish people outlawed and condemned polygamy. Besides, few people practice polygamy in modern times.

Polygamy in Islam

Although Islam does not prohibit its devotees from practicing polygamy, it got opposed in many contemporary Muslim societies. According to traditional Islamic law, a man can marry and take up to 4 wives but in certain circumstances.

Islamic law has provided certain conditions; in which a man can take up to 4wives. The Quran in verse 4.3 depicts that, ‘If you fear that you will not be able to treat orphan girls fairly, marry (other) women of your choice; 2, 3 or 4, but if you fear that you will not be able to treat (them) fairly, then only one.’ 

It gets believed that this verse got revealed when many Muslim soldiers died in the war, leaving behind their widows and orphan girls.

This statement depicts that if a man can not treat orphaned girls( who have no father, mother, and any guardian to look after) justifiably, they can take up to 4 wives. But if they cannot treat or love them equally, they must not marry more than once.

The modern scholar interpreted these statements as compassion towards women, not to please man’s sexuality. They said polygamy is not a right; it confers responsibility to ensure social justice for orphan girls.

Polygamy is only pertained to the orphan’s women by Qur’an if justice can get done by marrying more than one. If justice cannot get done by marrying multiple women, the Quran suggests monogamy as the only acceptable marriage.

Many Muslim countries outlawed polygyny. In Muslim-dominated countries such as Indonesia, only 1% of Muslims live in polygamous relationships. 

Countries like India, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Kuwait, allow women to restrict their husbands from performing polygyny by inserting a condition in their marriage contracts.

By signing these conditions, a man cannot take multiple wives simultaneously. Other countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, require prior consent for taking a second wife from his first wife. 

However, polygamy is still practiced illegally despite the laws and bans.

Polygamy in the bible

Polygamy is the practice of marrying more than one person at a time or marrying often. In polygamy, a male or female keeps multiple spouses simultaneously, unlike in monogamous marriages where one person keeps only one partner at a time. But whether the holy book of the bible reckoned monogamy marriages or polygamy marriages in its verses are still a debatable question.

Although the bible explicitly does not encourage or forbid polygamy, the old and new testaments presented different views regarding the acceptable marriage type in the bible.

In the New Testament, Christian theologians stated Matthew 19:3–9, which explicitly provides that one man should have one woman. The old testament, on the contrary, said one flesh does not mean spiritual union; it signifies physical union between two people forming one flesh.

Many people who supported polygamy argued that a married man and women are one flesh, and when the new women added that women become one flesh with the husband and his wife.

According to old testaments, polygamy got widely practiced among many devotees of God in ancient times. Lamech in Genesis 4:19: “Lamech married two women” was the first instance that shows polygamy got practiced among many devotees.

The old testaments highlighted the examples of Abraham, Israel, Gideon, King David, and Solomon, who had multiple wives in ancient times. Even though King David and Solomon were God’s chosen leaders, they were in a polygamous relationship keeping several wives at a time.

For instance, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines and was famous for his harem of wives and concubines, King David, who is known as a man after God’s own heart, had eight wives, and Jacob has married Leah by mistake then got married to Rachel(Leah sister). These instances depicted in the bible clearly shows that polygamy was practiced in ancient time, even though God never encouraged them to take multiple spouses.

On the contrary, the new testament said that those who indulge in polygamous relationships commit a great sin and will have to pay; a price. They argued that God has created one man for each woman in this world, and those who keep multiple spouses simultaneously act against the will of God. 

Keeping several spouses is considered against God’s will and design. The new testaments highlighted various verses; depicted in the bible that shows God never favored polygamy relationships.

1 Corinthians 7:2 depicts that each man should have his wife and each woman should have her husband.” This statement clarifies that a man should have his wife only and nobody else, whereas a woman should have her husband only. They belong to each other, and there is no place for another person between them.

Genesis 2:24 depicts that ‘a man shall leave his parents and hold fast to his wife, become one flesh with her.’ This statement clarifies that a union of husband and wife forms one flesh together; that does not get formed with any other person. 

Thus, the Bible nowhere explicitly debarred polygamy but never favored it. 

Polygamy in sociology

Many Sociologists have described several forms of marriages across countries and societies. Among that types, polygamy is a well-known marriage form. Sociologists defined polygamy as a state of having multiple spouses simultaneously. In simple words, a man or woman who is married to more than one person at a time is called polygamy. 

Sociologists have given three types of polygamy mainly:

  • Polygyny: a condition where a man is married to multiple women simultaneously; termed as polygyny.
  • Polyandry: a condition in which; a woman is married to multiple men simultaneously or multiple men sharing one woman is called polyandry.
  • Group marriages: group marriages are marriages; in which several men and women live as a family.

According to sociologists, in countries where polygamy is allowed, polygyny is widely practiced; as compared to polyandry.

Polygamy in History

Monogamy is a new concept. Before the formation of urban communities, humans were generally polygamous.

Since ancient times, polygamy got reincarnated in varied ways over the centuries.

Dating back to years ago polygamy was practiced by cultures from all over the world. The Hebrew society has partially allowed polygamy. In classical China, polygyny gets highly practiced by many upper-class peoples and kings as a status symbol. Among the Native Americans, Indonesia, Polynesia, India, and ancient Greece polygamy were highly reckoned.

In the United States, polygamy got practiced by some Christian communities. Later in 1899, polygamy was outlawed and criminalized in all 50 states of the United States.

In ancient Hinduism, there were many instances in Vedic Puranas that show many Gods; and their devotees had multiple wives. However, contemporary Hindu law forbids polygamy and encourages monogamous marriages.

In ancient Egypt, polygyny got highly practiced. It means that; men were allowed to have multiple wives in ancient Egypt, but not women. 

In ancient Mesopotamia and the Assyrians, people generally lived in monogamous relationships but not entirely. Many rulers often practiced Polygamy and had several wives.

Although polygamy in modern times got outlawed in many countries, polygamy got reckoned throughout history in every society.

Read also: Monogamy vs polygamy; Adultery vs Polygamy; History of polygamy in the US; Pros and cons of Polygamy

External resource: Wikipedia

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