Niyoga (Sanskrit: नियोग) is an ancient Hindu tradition, in which a woman (whose husband is either incapable of fatherhood or has died without having a child) would request and appoint a person for helping her bear a child. According to this Hindu tradition the man who was appointed must be or would most likely be a revered person. There were various clauses associated with this process, as follows:
- The woman would agree to this only for the sake of rightfully having a child and not for pleasure.
- The appointed man would do this for Dharma, considering it as his duty to help the woman bear a child and not for pleasure.
- The child, thus born would be considered the child of the husband-wife and not that of the appointed man.
- The appointed man would not seek any paternal relationship or attachment to this child in the future.
- To avoid misuse, a man was allowed a maximum of three times in his lifetime to be appointed in such a way.
- The act will be seen as that of Dharma and while doing so, the man and the wife will have only Dharma in their mind and not passion nor lust. The man will do it as a help to the woman in the name of God, whereas the woman will accept it only to bear the child for herself and her husband.
- There would be no foreplay, oral or any other type of sexual activity except the intercourse.
- There would be a semi-transparent curtain covering the upper part of the woman, only allowing view and access to her lower part for the man performing niyoga.
In niyoga, the bodies were to be covered with ghee (so that lust may not take root in the minds of the participants but the actual act may take place for conception).
In the Mahabharata
The epic Mahabharata describes two instances of niyoga. Queen Satyavati compels her son and sage Vyasa to perform niyoga with the widows of her son Vichitravirya. The widows Ambika and Ambalika and one of their maids bear Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura respectively. When Pandu is cursed to die on being intimate with any woman, his wives Kunti and Madri perform niyoga with the gods and mother five sons - the Pandavas. Pandu convinces Kunti to have niyoga with the gods and mother children for him, citing the example of Kalmashapada, who had been cursed to die if he touches any woman with amorous intent and requests his guru, the sage Vashishtha, to have niyoga with his queen.
Niyoga in Manusmṛti
Influences on art and culture
The movie Eklavya: The Royal Guard has this practice as the central plot. The title character played by Amitabh Bachchan is torn between his duty and the emotions for his children begotten by the practice of niyoga.
- Candrabalī Tripāṭhī (1 January 2005). The Evolution of Ideals of Womenhood in Indian Society. Gyan Books. p. 140. ISBN 978-81-7835-425-5.
- Bühler, George (1886). "Chapter IX". The Laws of Manu. Sacred Books of the East 25.