In Ancient India, 12 types of children were considered to be legal heir of his father. All of them need not be biological children of their legal father.
Manu Smriti and other dharma sastras describe 12 different ways a child can become legal heir of someone.
When a husband dies childless or is husband is either incapable of fatherhood, wife can opt for a method called ‘Niyoga‘.
She can request for appointment of a person for helping her bear a child. 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 to this only for the sake of rightfully having a child and not for pleasure.
2. The child, thus born would be considered the child of the husband-wife and not that of the appointed man.
3. The appointed man would not seek any paternal relationship or attachment to this child in the future.
4. To avoid misuse, a man was allowed a maximum of three times in his lifetime to be appointed in such a way.
5. 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 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 the participants but the actual act may take place for conception).
In Mahabharata, queen Satyavati compels her first son and sage Vyasa to perform niyoga with the widows of her third son Vichitravirya. The widows Ambika and Ambalika and one of their maids bear Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura respectively.
Manu Smriti describes the child born by niyoga as a kshetraja child of the husband-wife.
12 Types of Children (Legal Heir) in Ancient India
- Aurasa : Biological son through wife in a normal marriage, where son carries father’s Y-Chromosome.
- Putrikaputra : When there is no son, girl is treated as son and her son becomes legal heir (ex : Babruvahana, born to Arjuna and Chitrangada, but became legal heir of his maternal-grandfather.)
- Kshetraja : Wife’s womb but husband is not biological father. (ex: Kunti, Madri giving birth to pandavas). This can happen even after husband’s death and still the children born will be treated as deceased father’s heir
- Dattaka : Adopted through legal method or vedic ritual.
- Kritima : A child is nourished and brough up as a son, but no adoption rituals performed. Child grows up and assumes you as parent.
- Gudhaja : Wife’s secret son, without husband’s knowledge. This child also is heir of father. Only difference with Kshetraja is, husband’s approval or knowledge.
- Apaviddha : Rejected child of some parent, but grew up with others. This child can claim property of person who nourished him, but cannot do pind-daan or death rituals to ancestors of that family (example : Karna did not or could not do pind-daan to ancestors of the adhirtha-radha)
- Kanina : Son born to a lady before her marriage. But he becomes legal heir of his mother’s future husband. (ex : Karna would have inherited the throne of Hastinapur after the death of Pandu being his eldest son as per this law, but birth of Karna was kept secret by Kunti and she revealed the truth only after the death of Karna. )
- Sahodha : A son is brought along with the marriage. If a woman was pregnant at the time of her marriage, the son born to her after her marriage was deemed to be the son of the man who married her, even though the biological father was a different man.
- Krita : He is a purchased son.
- Paunarbhava : The son of a virgin widow. She after her marriage became a ‘Punarbhu’ ( married second time). Such marriages happened when husband dies during or immediately after marriage and wife is still a virgin. She can re-marry a person of her choice, but a son born from that marriage belongs to the family of 1st deceased husband. She can claim rights only from 2nd kid and so on..
- Swayamdatta : ‘Self Offered son’ – When an orphaned boy went to some person and offered himself to be his son and the latter accepted his offer, the boy in such a case was called Swayamdatta.
Out of above 12, only 3 : Aurasa, Putrikaputra, Paunarbhava were entitled for full property of father and also his family’s property (inherited from ancestors).
2 more : Kanina and Sahodha were also given rights to ancestral property, only if their biological father married their mother at a later stage.
Other 7 : Kshetraja, Dattaka, Kritima, Gudhaja, Apaviddha, Krita, Swayamdatta were entitled to claim only what was earned by their (social) father or his part of ancestral property, but not the entire family property. However, they can carry the surname, gotra etc.