Live-in relationships or convenient marriage in India with its historical and legal perspective

Manu Dharam Shstra (a.k.a. Hindu Manusmriti)

There is no denying that the ancient law governing this part of land was Manusmriti. It is believed that this Vedic Dharam Shastra is over 10,000 yers old. The documented version of this law of Manu came into existence later. Manusmriti governed all aspect of human life including marriage and carnal pleasures. At the time of Ramayana and Mahabharata, Manusmriti was the known law as it is referred therein at many places. According to Manusmriti there were following eight forms of marriages:

  1. Spontaneous Marriage: Gift of maiden spontaneously after clothing and referencing her.
  2. Daiva Marriage: Gift of a daughter to a priest as part of fee for performing the vedic rites of sacrifice.
  3. Arsha Marriage: Gift of maiden in exchange of two cattle from bridegroom.
  4. Prajapatya Marriage: Gift of maiden When gift is made while addressing both the pair “Together do your duty”
    [Present saptpada (seven steps) marriages including Anand Karaj is a derivative of above four types of marriages]
  5. Asura Marriage: Gift of maiden after receiving the wealth from bridegroom, as much as he can pay.
  6. Gandharva Marriage: Voluntary Connection between man and woman. (Present day love marriage.)
  7. Rakshasa Marriage: Forcible abduction of of maiden crying out and weeping after slaying and wounding her relatives.
  8. Pishacha Marriage: Secretly approaching the girl asleep, intoxicated or confused. It is the most sinful of all marriages and is prohibited.

Live-in relationships or convenient marriage in India

Presently the law of marriage in India, in respect of Hindu and Christians are governed by different statutes but are based on consensual marriage. Islamic Marriage is governed by shariat or personal law and is always a contract by consent of both parties. Child Marriage of all types are prohibited.

Islamic shia’s Mut’ah Nik’ah (Marriage)

Islam recognizes the temporary or short-term marriages with fixed term at which the marriage expires. But Mut’ah is acceptable in Shia sect of Muslims. It is a different matter if it is not widely acceptable, yet it is practiced at many places.

Live-in relationships

It is traditionally believed that live in relationships are a western concept. While it is a common practice in the west, it is not an absolute stranger to this continent as well. It may be called by different names but the similar concept to enter into matrimony of convenience did exist at all times even if it was not as popular as it is in the west. Even today it is not a common way of living in India but it exists.
For all practical purposes it is a marriage with very few commitment. Rituals do not define marriages. As mentioned above, rituals change over a period of time. Just because a couple starts a common household without any ritual, it does not cease to be less than marriage only for want of a particular ritual.

What is a live in relationship?

It appears that it is an arrangement in which two persons (now gender does not matter) live together without complying with any legal (sometime social as well) formality. Some of initiation of these live in relationship may be preceded by a party or social gathering to celebrate the event. But in no case any right or responsibility, enforceable by law is promised. Even-though sharing of resources is implicit in such live in arrangement. The whole idea of live in is based on temporary living arrangement without any commitment to die together in old age. It seems more like the above Gandharva Marriage with an exit door.

It appears that this arrangement is an outcome of revolt against the legal maze of right and liability created by law in respect of marriages especially the fact that law offer no easy revolving door to get out. But the law is fast catching up. Courts all over world are protecting forcible eviction from the living quarters or providing maintenance to non-working member of such arrangement. But it is only in exceptional cases with proven long period of live in. Position is no different in India. The Evidence Act presumes a lawful marriage if the couple lives and behaves like married couple for a long period of time.

Short term marriage

Mahabharata has numerous instances of short-term marriages. Of course these were called marriages and not live-in but at that time law of maintenance and alimony had also not come into existence. Birth of Kaurav and Pandvas, them-self was not from a regular arrangement. The fact that Vali, the monkey King in Ramayana was keeping his younger brother wife with him was also an instance of Rakshasa Marriage. Even in recent times Kings having nine wives was considered normal. (See such living in action at Jaipur’s Nahargarh Palace) Having one main wife and several pusine wives was acceptable. Such pusine wives were nothing but on live in arrangements which existed at the mercy of Kings. But these are taken as instances of polyandry. The point is not the name of marriage or the form but to enter into a flexible arrangement which is not common or popularly acceptable. The harems of Mughal were worse but that does not justify polyandry.


In those times, as referred in above Manusmriti’s classification, different forms of convenience or force marriages were acceptable hence there was no need to such live in arrangements. Now apart from illiterate people, who move to town in search for employment and share convenience, literate and working young people are also not confident of creating rights and liabilities. Hence these live in relationships. If the law catches up with these live in relationships, the incentive will soon be lost.

In my view, the family law needs a thorough review. It is especially so in India. Financial aspects of alimony and maintenance can not be same for an ordinary couple and for billionaires. To treat educated rather technically qualified woman as financial burden on the husband is also little far-fetched. These issues must be ironed out by law makers and courts to earn respect from citizens who want to revolt against the system with such arrangements.

© Sandeep Bhalla

2 thoughts on “Live-in relationships or convenient marriage in India with its historical and legal perspective

  1. As I had no prior knowledge of this subject I found this well written article to be interesting. Thank you for the clarity. In particular, your final paragraph resonates with me. The law ought to reflect reality, the will of the people and what is in the best interests of all.


    • Thanks for concurrent view. Actually what inspired this article, was a puritanic view of a colleague that in India such relationships were non existent in the past. Fact is that any given time society and laws are in struggle to keep pace with each other. No society or race or civilisation can claim that it has no person living on margins of law.


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