By Swami Harshananda
Punarbhu literally means ‘a woman who has married again’.
Definition of Punarbhu
Remarriage of widows seems to have been permitted in the ancient days under certain conditions. Such a woman was known as ‘punarbhu’.
Classification of Punarbhu
A punarbhu was of three kinds:
- A maiden whose marriage was not consummated and whose husband died suddenly.
- A woman accused of adultery but returned to her parents who gave her in marriage to another man.
- A widow remarried to a close relative of her husband whether she was childless or not is not clear in this case.
Rules for Punarbhu as per Dharmaśāstras
A married woman was permitted to remarry by some dharmaśāstras under the following conditions:
- When a husband dies very early or is lost or unheard of for a long time.
- If he becomes a sanyāsin
- If he is impotent or suffering from incurable diseases or a sinner.
Curtailments on Punarbhu
Though remarriage was perhaps permitted in the earliest age during the later period, more stringent rules were imposed for the same. Some of the smṛtis even frowned upon the custom. Insistence on chastity and the social implications like maidens not getting good husbands may be one of the reasons for the hardening of this stand.
- Sanyāsin means monk.
- Ṛgveda 10.18.7 and 8
- Atharvaveda 5.17.8 and 9
- Manusmṛti 9.47
- Manusmṛti 8.226
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore