The Hindu tradition of Surrogacy in India

on November 2, 2012

Balarma: Surrogate Child

While many in India debate the speed of the Indian government in providing ethical regulations of surrogacy procedures, those IVF clinics and agencies that practice “Ethical Surrogacy” are taking the lead in establishing voluntary guidelines within the industry.  But that doesn’t quell the discussion.

In the midst of the conversation, it’s worthwhile to note that Indian culture has a long history of surrogacy. Traditional Hindu texts includes a reference to Surrogacy in the story of the birth of Balarama.

In Hinduism, Balarama is the elder brother of the divine being, Krishna. Within traditions of  Hinduism generally, he is known as being a manifestation of Shesha, the serpent god on whom Vishnu rests.

According to the legend, the evil king Kamsa was told of a prophesy that the eighth son of his sister Devaki would rise up and kill him.  To prevent this, Kamsa ordered the death of all the children of his sister. Kamsa thus threw Devaki her husband Vasudeva into prison, and proceeded to kill each of their children as they were born.

However, the seventh child was transferred miraculously from Devaki’s womb to the womb of Vasudeva’s other wife Rohini.  This was not bad news Rohini, who wanted a child of her own. Rohini gave birth to Balarama and raised him, saving him from the cruel fate at the hands of his uncle.

If seen scientifically then Vasudeva (Devaki’s husband) would be the sperm donor, Devaki the egg donor, and Rohini is the surrogate.  This is what we would call today Gestational Surrogacy, with a happy ending.

The Christian religion also contains an early reference to Traditional Surrogacy in the story of Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham, who is the forefather of both the Jewish and Christian peoples, and his wife Sarah were incapable of conceiving children because Sarah was very old. Sarah, wanting her husband’s family to continue, sent her slave Hagar to conceive a child with Abraham.  The result was Ishmael, who was the forebear of the Islamic people.

Once born, Sarah was to raise Ishmael as her own – an example of Traditional Surrogacy.   Of course those plans went awry when God made Sarah pregnant with Abraham’s eventual heir, Isaac.  Hagar and Ishmael then were sent away so that Isaac would be the only contender for Abraham’s legacy.

One could consider the Hagar/Ishmael story to be a precautionary tale.  As a surrogate, Hagar should have had a stronger binding contract to ensure the Intended Parents (Sarah and Abraham) took responsibility for the child despite their changed circumstances.


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