Adultery is defined as sexual relationship between a married person and someone not their spouse. Adultery is very common in modern times and dissatisfaction, both mental and physical, is often its main cause. Who is to be blamed, the one cheating or the one cheated? Are there different rules for adultery by man and woman? Though modern times offer divorce as a solution, if there is no satisfaction in a marriage, how many choose divorce over adultery? How were these aspects dealt with in ancient times or in mythology?
Let me tell you an interesting story from the first book of Shrimad Devi Bhagavatam, Chapter XI.
Sage Brihaspati, the guru of the gods, was married to Tara, a young, beautiful and lively woman. Once she visited the land of Chandra, the moon. She instantly fell in love with Chandra and was enamoured by his youthful looks and his skills of lovemaking. Tara decided not to return to a loveless marriage with the old sage. When Brihaspati sent word to her to return, she declined to come back. Angry, he went to fetch her.
Brihaspati reminded Chandra that it was against the norm to keep Tara, as she was Chandra’s gurupatni and thus like a mother to him, and having sex with her was a sin. Chandra laughed at him and wondered why sages quoted the scriptures only to suit them. He further ridiculed his guru, asking what curse he could levy when he didn’t have basic knowledge of fulfilling a woman’s desires. Finally he said that he hadn’t forced Tara to stay with him, she had decided to stay herself and that itself spoke volumes about the sage’s ability to keep his wife. The sage accused Chandra of adultery, but Chandra refused to be concerned with anything that his guru had to say.
Brishaspati had to leave and reconcile to the fact that his wife had left him willingly and there was no blaming anybody else, but soon he was beginning to miss her. Once again he landed Chandra’s door, but this time, he wasn’t allowed to cross the gates. This angered the guru to no end, and he shouted at Chandra that if he didn’t return his wife, he would curse him to ashes. An infuriated Chandra came out to ask why an old man like him needed such a young woman for a wife, when he wasn’t even capable of satisfying her. Finally, Chandra told the sage that he could do whatever he wanted, but he wouldn’t return Tara, until and unless she herself decided to leave him.
A crestfallen Brihaspati sought help from Lord Indra. Indra confronted Chandra and asked him to return Tara to Brihaspati. Chandra reminded Indra of his own liaison with Sage Gautam’s wife Ahalya, except that in this case Tara had come to him voluntarily.
Related reading: The story of Ahalya and Indra: Was it really adultery?
At this stage Chandra raised two very important questions, irrespective of morality and duty: One, if a woman wilfully left her home to stay with another man, was the other man to be blamed; and second, family bliss was dependent on both the husband and the wife being happy, but if the wife isn’t happy, then how could one ensure the happiness of the family?
The two important questions, of course, were lost in the war of words and soon matters came to the stage of an imminent war between Indra and Chandra. Lord Brahma intervened and declared that Tara would have to leave Chandra and go back to her husband.
But the matter was not so simple. Tara was pregnant with Chandra’s son, which led to another altercation between Brihaspati and Chandra. Once again Lord Brahma had to intervene. Tara confirmed that the child was Chandra’s and thus Chandra was acknowledged as the father of the child, whom he named Budh.
What is interesting is that nowhere is Tara chastised or blamed, nor is she reprimanded for leaving her husband and living with another man.
In the so-called justice meted out by Lord Brahma, while he doesn’t ask for Tara’s opinion and sends her back to her husband, there are no words of reproach or morality either. Even to establish fatherhood, Tara’s decision is final.
The text is bold, focussing on aspects of physical attraction and lovemaking skills as perceived by a woman. Emotion, love, etc. are not discussed or focused on.
Would the matter be as simple today? Or are the questions it raises still very pertinent?