The first-born son of a Leviratical marriage was registered as the son of
the deceased brother. It was prevalent also among the Iranians.
The same custom came to be known as Niyoga but it changed its scope
Here we find three stages in the evolution of the custom: (1) In the
first the widow is allowed to raise a son to her dead husband 74 living either with
brother-in law or a man of the same caste as her husband.75 (2) In the second stage we
find the custom censured76 and described as fit only for cattle.
The origin of the custom is traced to the reign of Vena-a mythical
figure. Further it is said that it is not sanctioned by the Sacred
Texts.77 (3) In the
third stage it is not only prohibited and censured but an additional reward of heavenly
bliss and good name in this world is added to a widow who will not follow it. One, who
does for, the sake of off spring, will not only bring disgrace on her but also lose her
place in heaven.
These widely differing views, occurring in the same context, cannot be
the work of one author or of one period. The first represents the Vedic period, the second
of the transitory Puranic period and the last a later period-perhaps later than that of
Vishnu and Narada.
Though at the beginning of the Christian era the custom of Niyoga was
falling into desuetude, still the self-immolation of a widow had not yet appeared in
society. We have seen in Kautilya that remarriage of women was allowed after a certain
period. In Manu, too, we have laws to the same effect, but the length of time that she bas
to wait before getting remarried is lengthened.