Niyoga (Sanskrit: नियोग) is an ancient Hindu tradition, when 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:

  1. The woman would agree for this only for the sake of rightfully having a child and not for pleasure.
  2. The appointed man would do this for Dharma, considering it as his duty to help the woman bear a child and not for pleasure.
  3. The child thus born would be considered the child of the husband-wife and not that of the appointed man.
  4. The appointed man would not seek any paternal relationship or attachment to this child in the future.
  5. To avoid misuse, a man was allowed a maximum of three times in his life time to be appointed in such a way.
  6. 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 the GOD, whereas the woman will accept it only to bear the child for herself and her husband.

In Niyoga, the bodies were to be covered with "ghee" (so that lust may not take root in the minds of participants but actual act may take place for conception). Similar traditions are referred to in the Old Testament as levirate marriages see [1] and the Spartans.

Niyoga in Mahabharata

The most famous examples of Niyoga occurred in the Mahabharata. Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were the three children born by this process when Rishi Vedavyasa was the appointed man. Later Pandu himself was incapable of producing children. The five Pandavas, Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva were the offspring born out of Niyoga, the respective biological fathers being various Devas.

Niyoga in Manusmṛti

In the Manusmṛti, niyoga is prescibed in IX.59-63, but the practice is also condemned in IX.64-68. This text (IX.167) describes the child born by niyoga as a kshetraja child of the husband-wife.[1]

Influences on art and culture

Niyoga is the central issue of Anahat, a Marathi feature film directed by Amol Palekar. It was showcased at the International Film Festival of India 2003.

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.


  1. Bühler, George (1886). "Chapter IX". The Laws of Manu. Sacred Books of the East. 25. 

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