Gender diversity and non-heterosexual sexuality have been represented in Hindu mythology through developed heroes and incidents. When we consider it in the light of today’s anti-homosexuality legislations, which are built on colonial laws, we can understand how it defied sexual norms and the widely held gender binary. Changes in sex, homoerotic encounters, and intersex and third gender figures are frequently seen in epics, Puranas, and regional folklores, though they are often expressed more discreetly than explicitly.
India had criminal legislations prohibiting homosexual conducts until September 2018. However, before the country was colonised, it was a very sexually permissive place. India is the birthplace of the Kamasutra, as well as the inherently spiritual side of sex. Our visitors came from all over the world, the majority of them were Europeans who were subjected to rigorous religious and later legal restrictions that limited their capacity to engage in anything other than sex that might lead to procreation. After all, India held the majority of the world’s riches at the time.
HOMSEXUALITY AND HINDU MYTHOLOGY
Mohini is Vishnu’s only female avtaar who demonstrates gender diversity, and even became pregnant in one scenario where Vishnu as Mohini and the ‘Preserver’ even procreates with Shiva, the ‘Destroyer’ and gave birth to Lord Ayyappa. The world was spared every time Vishnu, in his position as the universe’s defender, assumed the feminine form of the celestial sorceress Mohini. When gender-adaptability is required to resolve issues, Vishnu transforms into Mohini. Beyond the savior’s role, the implications of dual-genderism and fluid sexuality are more analogous, with each person including both masculine and feminine aspects.
Aravan, a god for the transgender community
Vishnu takes the form of Mohini to marry Aravan, the son of Arjun and the Naga princess Uloopi, in the Mahabharata. Aravan has one last plea before being sacrificed for the Pandavas’ victory in the Kurukshetra war: he does not want to die unmarried. Krishna assumes the form of Mohini, weds Iranvan, and is regarded as a hero’s widow following Iranvan’s death. Aravan is a patron god of some transgender populations in the country today, according to this folk tale.
Androgynous Ardhanarishvara and Lakshmi-Narayan
Even Shiva, who is typically seen as the pinnacle of masculinity, is known as Ardhanarinateshvara when he assumes the androgynous mix of Shiva and his wife, goddess Parvati. Parvati longed to share Shiva’s experiences, so she requested that their physical bodies be physically united to demonstrate that the inner masculinity and femininity may coexist and combine. Similarly, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Vishnu, her spouse, form the hermaphroditic or androgynous Lakshmi-Narayan.
Shikhandi, man and woman
Shikhandi born Shikhandini, King Drupada’s daughter, and was a warrior in the Kurukshetra conflict. Drupada raises her as a son, claiming she is Amba resurrected to wreak her revenge on Bhishma. Shikhandini sees the garland of ever-blooming blue lotuses strung on the palace entrance as a child and wears it around her neck, according to one narrative. Drupada is terrified of provoking Bhishma’s wrath and becoming his enemy, so he banishes his daughter. She is converted into a man named Shikhandi after performing austerities in the jungle.
In another story, she marries the princess of Dasharna, who discovers her husband is a woman and informs her father. Shikhandini flees to the wilderness, where she meets a Yaksha who swaps genders with her. He assumed the name Shikhandi and lived as a man till his death in the Mahabharata conflict. In some versions of the narrative, Shikhandi becomes a eunuch as a result of the sex swap. Regardless of gender, Shikhandi is regarded as a valiant warrior who was responsible for Bhishma’s death.
Agni, consort of the Moon god
There are various examples of homosexual or bisexual behaviours that is not solely for the purpose of sexual enjoyment. Agni, the deity of fire, is married to both Svaha, the goddess, and Soma, the male Moon god. Agni plays a responsive role in this union. Another interesting component of this story, according to ancient rishis, was that the gender of a child was determined by two elements: fire (agni for sun) and water (soma for moon).
Similarly, the gods of intimacy Mitra and Varuna are frequently referenced together, both ruling over the universal waters: Mitra governs the ocean depths, while Varuna rules the rivers and coasts. They are often represented as images of male affection, mounting a shark or crocodile together or seating close together on a golden chariot carried by seven swans. They are metaphorically linked to the two moon phases with Varun, as the waxing and waning phases are both Mitra, symbolising same sex interactions. They (Rishi Agastya and Rishi Vashisth) are reported to have an offspring through a yoni with the apsara Urvashi, which is similar to surrogacy.
Budh, Ila and gender swapping
Budh represents a model of gender stereotypes in Hindu astrology, in addition to being the planet Mercury. When Rishi Briahspati learns that his spouse Tara is expecting Chandra’s kid, he curses Budh to be neither male nor female. Budh subsequently marries Ila, who has been doomed to alter genders every month since she entered the prohibited Sharavana grove of Parvati and Shiva. In the Mahabharata, their descendants founded the lunar Chandra-vamsa dynasty.
Bhagirathi – The King Born of Two Queens
According to the Krittivasi Ramayan, written by Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha, King Sagara of Ayodhya was anxious to preserve his bloodline after having lost almost all of his sons to the fury of Kapila sage.
When Dilip, the dynasty’s only heir, expired before giving his two queens the miraculous potion that would impregnate them, the threat to the dynasty became even greater. The widows, however, drank the potion and engaged in sexual intercourse in order to conceive a child, with one of them being pregnant, according to the poem. The kid was King Bhagirathi, who is credited with sending the Ganges down from the sky in folklore.
While the male-female reproductive bond has always been respected, homosexuality and LGBT subjects have been established in classical texts, folk stories, art, and performance art. Basically, because gender is frequently viewed as an idea, a belief, or a belief whose scope and scope can be observed in the varied characters, each remarkable and distinctive.
HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE KAMASUTRA
The Kamasutra is named after Kama, the god of desire, who was born without limbs and hence embodied the spiritual and energy aspects of desire and sex. Because homosexuality was never branded enough to be othered, Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, simply the most in-depth literature on sex in human history, had no fear or reservations in including it. The Kamasutra classifies anal intercourse as sex between sex same couples and not just heterosexual couples.
“Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex,” by Amara Das Wilhelm, comprises decades of painstaking research of Sanskrit writings from mediaeval and ancient India, demonstrating that homosexuality and the “third gender” were not only present in Indian society at the time, but also universally tolerated.
The book also mentioned gay males, or “klibas,” who were related to sterile men, usually represented men unable to have sexual relations with women owing to their “homosexual tendencies.” In the Kama Sutra’s chapter “Auparishtaka,” which deals with oral sex, the homosexual males are mentioned extensively. ‘Mukhebhaga’ or ‘asekya’ were terms used to describe homosexual men who took a ‘passive’ role in oral sex. A homosexual man in the Kama Sutra could be feminine or masculine, depending on the context. They were known to marry each other, despite the fact that they were known to be associated in inconsequential relationships.
According to the book, the Vedic system recognised eight different types of weddings, including homosexual marriage between two men or two women falling under the “gandharva” or celestial kind, which is defined as a union of love and cohabitation, without the requirement for parental consent.
MONUMENTS DEPICTING HOMSEXUALITY
- Khajuraho Temple: The statues in Madhya Pradesh’s Khajuraho temple are noted for their overt homosexual themes. The temple is thought to have been constructed in the 12th century. The sculptures in the Khajuraho temple represents what appears to be sexual flexibility between men and women. Even all-female orgies have been documented. While the sculptures depict “acceptable” sexual connections between male and female entities, they are best renowned for displaying intimacy between individuals of the same sex.
- Jain Temples, Ranakpur, Rajasthan: The main temple, dedicated to the Jain god Rishabhdev, is a magnificent three-story marble edifice and one of Jainism’s most important pilgrimages. Sensuous statues of dancing nymphs adorn the walls of the main temple and adjacent temples. In the mornings, the temple is available for devotion, and subsequently in the day, it is open to visitors.
- Lingaraj Temple, Bhubaneshwar, Orissa: The Lingaraj Temple stands out among the Kalinga dynasty’s grandest and oldest temples. The sculptures that adorn this shrine are supposed to be based on Kamasutra, the world’s first sex manual. Non-Hindus are not permitted entry to the temple. These temples featuring sexual art are notable through the UNESCO and the Archaeological Survey of India’s recognition. In India, there are countless additional temples with graphic and explicit depictions of pleasure. Researchers believe that tantric practises were prominent in ancient India, and others argue that these representations lead people to enlightenment.
- Similar images may be seen in the Surya Devalaya, a thirteenth-century Sun temple in Konark, east of Orissa. The Sun Temple is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, with sculptures representing sensual themes from the Kamasutra adorning the facade.
- Puri and Tanjore temples also have graphic depictions of homosexual lovers. A sculpture showing two ladies having oral sex may be seen at Bhubaneswar’s Rajrani temple.
INFLUENCE OF RELIGION AND PATRIARCHY ON HOMOPHOBIA
Most Church pronouncements on homosexuality address solely to male homosexuality, but the same principles apply to female homosexuality as well. On this question, there are significant schisms within the Christian community, with the Roman Catholic Church and various evangelical churches holding opposing viewpoints. The majority of Christian churches believe that one should “love the sinner but hate the sin.” This is commonly taken to suggest that Christians should treat homosexuals with love and compassion, but that gays should not participate in sexual behaviour. Since most churches teach that sex should only take place within marriage, which the Church defines as a union between a man and a woman.
The Roman Catholic Church states, “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided…Homosexual people are called to chastity.”
Homophobia and misogyny are intricately related, just as racism and misogyny are. Like the old image of the ‘ouroboros,’ a snake biting its own tail, they feed into each other. Women in same-sex partnerships may not face the same open hostility as homosexual men, but this is usually only when they dress in a feminine manner. The mix of homophobia and misogyny that femme women in same-sex relationships face is often predicated on men choosing to believe that the relationship exists solely for their sexual gratification. The erroneous portrayal of lesbian sex in mainstream pornography, which is typically directed at male consumers and frequently includes a male actor who enters to ‘complete’ the scene, exacerbates the notion that lesbians are a source of sexual enjoyment for men.
Homosexuality in India has been sometimes a thriving, sometimes a mellower subject of discussion, throughout the chronological timeline. Be it ancient or old, the quest for homosexuality or queer spectrum being represented into the social mainstream has been a tedious, never-ending battle.
Historically speaking, India has not much documented history when it comes to a coming movement out per se, however intellectual battles have been fought over the same in differing documented texts, throughout the vedic evolution.
The Dharmsastras, especially the ones that came later, cited against non-vaginal sex, much like the Vashistha Dharmasutra did. The Yājñavalkya Smṛti prescribes fines for such acts too, typically for men who engage in sexual activity with other men. The Manusmriti’s XI. 174 prescribes eating the five products of the cow or Panchagavya as a form of punishment and the foregoing food for a night, for several sexual acts committed by a man including those with other men. XI. 175 of Manusmriti also states that those men who engage in intercourse with a man should take a bath while being clothed. Verses 8.369-370 of Manusmriti also mention the punishment for a female for having intercourse with another woman.
However, the Kamasutra by Vatsanaya, elaborates on vivid erotic homosexual behavior and prescribes ways and positions to magnify the pleasure in the same. Third-gender sect is the aravani or ali of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The aravanis are typically transgender and their main festival, the popular Koovagam or Aravan Festival celebrated in late April/early May, is attended by thousands, including many transgender people and homosexuals. The aravani worship the Hindu god, Aravan, and do not practice any system of castration.
For the northern part of the Indian mainland, historically, the Ardhanarinateshwar form of Shiva is worshipped as a mythological representation of the eunuchs – more commonly called the transgenders.
FAMOUS LGBTQI+ PERSONALITIES IN INDIA
- Gauri Sawant – Gauri sprang to prominence after appearing in a Vicks advertising, although she had always been an advocate for transgender rights. In fact, she was the first transgender person to approach the Supreme Court of India for transgender people’s right to adoption in 2014. This was understandable given that she had adopted a girl in 2008 after the baby’s mother, a sex worker, died. Since she was also a petitioner in the National Legal Services Authority case, in which the Supreme Court acknowledged transgender as the third gender, her contribution to the struggle for rights has been significant.
- Harish Iyer – Harish Iyer has been a major supporter of the Queer community and has been on Amir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate. He did, however, make history when he became India’s first openly homosexual person to be a part of a political party.
- Anwesh Sahoo – Since he was badly tormented as a youngster in school, Anwesh came out to his sister when he was 16 and, since he was 18, he has been penning heavily to refute prejudices about individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community. Anwesh went on to win Mr. Gay World India as the youngest winner in 2016 and has since also been a part of public speaking.
- Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil- He is India’s first royal to come out as gay, and he founded the Lakshya Trust to teach people about safe sex. In addition, the trust provides sexual transmission of illness counselling and treatment. While he faced a lot of societal challenges after coming out, it did not discourage him from working to improve the lives of one of India’s most disadvantaged people.
- Anjali Ameer- Anjali has had a lengthy road as the first transgender to have a main part in an Indian film. She lost her parents when she was young and, even as a child, was drawn to feminine things. When her family was not accepting, she went away from home and lived with other third gender groups. She did, however, experiment with modelling at the time, and acting followed shortly after.
While more Indian youths are accepting of homosexuality and queer identities than before, acknowledgement of their sexuality and the freedom to publicly declare their gender choices remain a constant struggle for LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people within the confines of their families, homes, and schools.
In urban India, where social media and corporate initiatives have raised awareness of LGBTQIA+ rights, the outlook for homosexual males appears to be brighter than for transgender individuals or lesbian women. While urban LGBTQIA+ voices voiced on a variety of online and real-world venues are an important aspect of LGBTQIA+ advocacy, they only cover a small portion of the community’s numerous concerns.
Lesbian women in other parts of the country are susceptible to family-sanctioned remedial rapes, which are frequently carried out by their own relatives. Lesbian women and transmen in rural areas, according to Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli, a transwoman LGBTQIA+ activist and public policy scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Hyderabad who has candidly addressed her abuse at school, end up at the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to basic human rights within the family and village unit.
 Kavita Kane, Storytelling: LGBT themes in Hindu mythology, The Indian Express, (February 15th, 8:59pm, 2022), https://indianexpress.com/article/parenting/blog/storytelling-lgbt-themes-in-hindu-mythology-5273332/
 SANJANA RAY, Indian Culture Does Recognise Homosexuality, Let Us Count the Ways, The Quint, (February 15th, 8:50pm, 2022), https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/homosexuality-rss-ancient-indian-culture-section-377#read-more
 Anonymous, 7 Sex Temples of India: Idolising Sex through Erotic Sculptures, Holidify, (February 15th, 9:02pm, 2022), https://www.holidify.com/pages/sex-temple-in-india-4413.html
 Deepanshi Mehrotra, The Pre-Colonial History of Homosexuality in India: Why Love Is Not Western, , Lawoctopus, (February20th. 3:45pm, 2022), https://www.lawctopus.com/academike/history-of-homosexuality-in-india/
 Anonymous, Human sexuality and relationships, Bitesize, (February 15th, 9:00pm, 2022), https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zqd7sbk/revision/5
Author: Proma Mukherji