To my friends in the grhasta-ashrama.
My dandavats Sriman Uddharan.
By chance after advising you not to take advantage of your gentle wife’s no fighting stance I happened to read this demand of Srila Prabhupada upon a bride to be (“I do promise to always serve and obey my husband . . . ”):
Śyāmasundara: “Henceforward from this day…”
Prabhupāda: Let him promise.
Prabhupāda: You promise, “I…”
Śyāmasundara: You, Sanaka dāsa…
Prabhupāda: Say, “I, Sanaka dāsa…”
Sanaka: I, Sanaka dāsa…
Prabhupāda: Ah! “…take charge of you…”
Śyāmasundara: “…take charge of you…”
Prabhupāda: Why you are laughing? It is laughing thing? I told you first, don’t take anything very lenient. Very serious.
Śyāmasundara: “I, Sanaka dāsa, [Sanaka dāsa repeating] do hereby promise from this day henceforward to always protect and take for my wife Devadarśana dāsī.”
Prabhupāda: Yes. And you say that “I shall serve you…”
Śyāmasundara: Now, “I, Devadarśana dāsī, [Devadarśana repeating] do from this day henceforward, I do promise to always serve and obey my husband, Sanaka dāsa.”
Prabhupāda: Now change the garland. Now give her the vermilion, red powder. Cover her head.
Śyāmasundara: Cover her head with the sārī.
Prabhupāda: Do like that. Now you come this side.
Śyāmasundara: Now you change places.
Prabhupāda: So you have agreed that there is no question of divorce in your life? In any circumstances you cannot separate. Is that all right? You also agree? You cannot separate. There is no question of divorce.
Even if you fight, you can remain in one temple, he can remain, but there is no question of divorce. So take in mind. That’s all. Now have this…
—Deity Installation, Wedding and Initiations, Date: April 6, 1972,
But Krishna showed us that the husband should not take advantage of the wife’s vow to: “always serve and obey my husband.” by making his wives think they controlled Him:
“All the 16,108 wives of Kṛṣṇa were princesses, and when each saw that Kṛṣṇa was always present in her respective palace and did not leave home, she considered Kṛṣṇa a henpecked husband who was very much attached to her. Every one of them thought that Kṛṣṇa was her very obedient husband, . . . “
— Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, CHAPTER 61
Perhaps the above serves an example of harmonious dealings with the environment.
While Krishna’s wives favored Krishna’s behavior as a “henpecked husband” the gopis were of a different mind and saw this as a fault:
“Kṛṣṇa advertises Himself as magnanimous, and He is praised by great saints. His qualifications would be perfectly utilized if He would only show us some mercy, for we are so much downtrodden and neglected by Him. You poor messenger, you are only a less intelligent servant. You do not know much about Kṛṣṇa – how ungrateful and hardhearted He has been, not only in this life but in His previous lives also. We have all heard this from our grandmother Paurṇamāsī. She has informed us that Kṛṣṇa was born in a kṣatriya family previous to this birth and was known as Rāmacandra. In that birth, instead of killing Vāli, an enemy of His friend, in the manner of a kṣatriya, He killed him just like a hunter. A hunter takes a secure hiding place and then kills an animal without facing it. So Lord Rāmacandra, as a kṣatriya, should have fought with Vāli face to face, but, instigated by His friend, He killed him from behind a tree. Thus He deviated from the religious principles of a kṣatriya. Also, He was so attracted by the beauty of Sītā that He converted Śūrpaṇakhā, the sister of Rāvaṇa, into an ugly woman by cutting off her nose and ears. Śūrpaṇakhā proposed an intimate relationship with Him, and as a kṣatriya He should have satisfied her. But He was so henpecked that He could not forget Sītādevī and converted Śūrpaṇakhā into an ugly woman. Before that birth as a kṣatriya, He took His birth as a brāhmaṇa boy known as Vāmanadeva and asked charity from Bali Mahārāja. Bali Mahārāja was so magnanimous that he gave Him whatever he had, yet Kṛṣṇa as Vāmanadeva ungratefully arrested him just like a crow and pushed him down to the Pātāla kingdom. We know all about Kṛṣṇa and how ungrateful He is. But here is the difficulty: in spite of His being so cruel and hardhearted, it is very difficult for us to give up talking about Him. And it is not only we who are unable to give up this talk, but great sages and saintly persons also engage in talking about Him. We gopīs of Vṛndāvana do not want to make any more friendships with this blackish boy, but we do not know how we shall be able to give up remembering and talking about His activities.”
— Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, CHAPTER 47
A husband must, at least, appear to be submissive to his wife:
Indeed, Mahārāja Priyavrata would not have to fight, for simply because of his strong determination, they dared not disobey the rules and regulations of varṇāśrama-dharma. It is said that unless human society is regulated by varṇāśrama-dharma, it is no better than a bestial society of cats and dogs. Mahārāja Priyavrata, therefore, strictly maintained varṇāśrama-dharma by his extraordinary, unparalleled prowess.
To maintain such a life of strict vigilance, one needs encouragement from his wife. In the varṇāśrama-dharma system, certain classes, such as the brāhmaṇas and sannyāsīs, do not need encouragement from the opposite sex. Kṣatriyas and gṛhasthas, however, actually need the encouragement of their wives in order to execute their duties. Indeed, a gṛhastha or kṣatriya cannot properly execute his responsibilities without the association of his wife. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu personally admitted that a gṛhastha must live with a wife. Kṣatriyas were even allowed to have many wives to encourage them in discharging the duties of government. The association of a good wife is necessary in a life of karma and political affairs. To execute his duties properly, therefore, Mahārāja Priyavrata took advantage of his good wife Barhiṣmatī, who was always very expert in pleasing her great husband by properly dressing herself, smiling, and exhibiting her feminine bodily features. Queen Barhiṣmatī always kept Mahārāja Priyavrata very encouraged, and thus he executed his governmental duty very properly. In this verse iva has twice been used to indicate that Mahārāja Priyavrata acted exactly like a henpecked husband and thereby seemed to have lost his sense of human responsibility. Actually, however, he was fully conscious of his position as a spirit soul, although he seemingly behaved like an acquiescent karmī husband. Mahārāja Priyavrata thus ruled the universe for eleven arbudas of years. One arbuda consists of 100,000,000 years, and Mahārāja Priyavrata ruled the universe for eleven such arbudas.
—ACB, SB 5.1.29, Purport
But don’t become a fool, like Indra:
Indra’s wives inspired him to run after the Lord to fight, and Indra, because he was a henpecked husband and also a fool, listened to them and dared to fight with Kṛṣṇa. He was a fool on this occasion because he forgot that everything belongs to the Lord.
There was no fault on the part of the Lord, even though He took away the tree from the heavenly kingdom, but because Indra was henpecked, dominated by his beautiful wives like Śacī, he became a fool, just as all persons who are dominated by their wives are generally foolish. Indra thought that Kṛṣṇa was a henpecked husband who only by the will of His wife Satyabhāmā took away the property of heaven, and therefore he thought that Kṛṣṇa could be punished. He forgot that the Lord is the proprietor of everything and cannot be henpecked. The Lord is fully independent, and by His will only He can have hundreds and thousands of wives like Satyabhāmā. He was not, therefore, attached to Satyabhāmā because she was a beautiful wife, but He was pleased with her devotional service and thus wanted to reciprocate the unalloyed devotion of His devotee.
—ACB, SB 3.3.5
So, what is what? Is a husband indebted to his obedient wife? Should a wife be obedient to her husband, or vice versa? Who rules the roost, the hens or the rooster? I don’t think you’ll find your answer here:
O queen of the home, we are not able to act like you, nor could we repay you for what you have done, even if we worked for our entire life or even after death. To repay you is not possible, even for those who are admirers of personal qualities.
So much glorification of a woman by her husband indicates that he is henpecked or is talking lightly in joke. Kaśyapa meant that householders living with wives enjoy the heavenly blessings of sense enjoyment and at the same time have no fear of going down to hell. The man in the renounced order of life has no wife and may be driven by sex desire to seek another woman or another’s wife and thus go to hell. In other words, the so-called man of the renounced order, who has left his house and wife, goes to hell if he again desires sexual pleasure, knowingly or unknowingly. In that way the householders are on the side of safety. Therefore husbands as a class cannot repay their debt to women either in this life or in the next. Even if they engage themselves in repaying the women throughout their whole lives, it is still not possible. Not all husbands are as able to appreciate the good qualities of their wives, but even though one is able to appreciate these qualities, it is still not possible to repay the debt to the wife. Such extraordinary praises by a husband for his wife are certainly in the mode of joking.
—ACB, ŚB 3.14.21
I leave it to you to decide, while I remain removed and distant from such controversies, enjoying the life of a sannyasi.
Your humble servant,
Swami B.K. Giri