Queer Quotient in Hindu Mythology

‘Vikruti evam Prakruti’

Vikruti evam Prakruti. This term in Sanskrit literally translates to ‘ What seems unnatural is also natural’. This is stated in the Rigveda, one of the four Vedas which form the basis of the Hindu Philosophy.

Some believe this particular term supports the homosexual behavior of human beings and deems it as as natural as anything else in this universe, else it would not have been created and included in these texts in the first place.

Hindu Mythology makes constant references to queerness, the idea that questions notions of maleness and femaleness. A lot of queer stories are related to Hindu Mythology where in Gods and mortals often change genders, indulge in homosexual activities as well as heterosexual activities as different reincarnated genders. Transgenders have also been mentioned in quite a few Hindu Mythological tales. All these various references just points out to the fact that queerness has been there since centuries in our culture, existing for more than about 2000 years now.

imagesShiva is at times referred to as Ardhanarisvara, who has a dual nature of femininity as well as masculinity. The male form represents the mind and the female form represents the nature, and they are interdependent on each other. This story comes from the Shaiva Agamas.

In the karmic worldview,one is queer because of karma, and it may turn out to be a boon or a curse.

Queer stories are not restricted to Hindu Mythology only. Most of the Queer tales are restricted to men, but a few exceptions are there, one of which were the Greek Poems of love and passion of a women for another women , by Sappho , which were written on the island of Lesbos, giving rise to the term ‘Lesbian’

Intrigued by the whole idea of the intersection queerness and mythology I looked up for a few books, and  Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik didn’t fail to impress me.

Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you
is short book with a few short tales from the Hindu Mythology which have an element of queerness. Men turning to women, Men loving men or individuals having unique sexual tastes , or stories even about cross dressers.

The book begins with a brief introduction on appreciating queerness and mentions how Hindu mythology has been defining the queer quotient since ages. It also gives an insight to the queer community in various other mythologies including the stories from the  Arctic and the  Vikings,  ranging to Egyptian, Chinese, Greek , Persian and biblical mythologies

The highlight of this book is this very historical acquaintance with the LGBTQ trends occurring in the pre Kali Yuga era. It’s fascinating to know what people condemn today was practiced long ago. And these are not the stories of ordinary people. The tales we are talking about,  largely revolves around Kings and God’s and people with quite some stature in the society. Seems like Indian history has been breaking barriers even before it was a barrier.

Tshikhandihe book has around thirty tales which revolve around various characters from the Hindu Mythology. Stories from Ramayana,  Mahabharata and tales from various Puranas have been roped in. This shows the diversity of the spread of queer culture back then.

The writing has been exemplary. I have now read almost half of Devdutt’s books, and it keeps on getting better every time. More than the stories I have loved his piece on discovery and invention of queerness, in which the historical existence has been discussed at length.

There have been a lot of similar stories in the book apart from, Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife.These includes the story of Arjuna, who became temporarily castrated for showing restraint, and other tales like that of Aravan , whose wife was the complete man and of course about Vishnu, who became a women to deliver his devotee’s child. So on and so forth, a few other stories have been explained in length and the list essentially is endless.

As always, Devdutt Pattanaik’s books have been filled with interesting illustrations. Apart from being a doctor, writer and a mythologist he is an impeccable illustrator. This book is worth a read if one wants to discover the roots of queer culture in Hindu Mythology and it is definitely a recommended book.

In 2009 , India was going through a social change. There was hope in the air. During that year Delhi High court decriminalised section 377, and everyone had the same freedom as anyone else. It was a renaissance period for people of this country. A change was happening, and people were quite vocal about it as well. In 2013 Delhi High court revoked the order. This back tracking of the judgement has had seen a lot of dialogue between regressive protectors of Indian Culture, pseudo progressive individuals as well as a few obnoxious punks and some open minded intellectuals.

Indian culture is all about being plural and being open to accepting. In the end its about loving another person. I have had the privilege of meeting quite a few notable people from the LGBTQ community at various conferences where they have been addressing the delegates. They have succeeded in impacting an audience confined in that auditorium but we are far from convincing the reality. Times are changing but one thing is certain, had Queerness been against our culture it would not have been expressed in our mythological texts explicitly.

Afterall,
‘What seems unnatural,is also natural’ – Rigveda

 


 

Quotes from Shikhandi and other tales they don’t tell you by Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustrations by Devdutt Pattanaik from devdutt.com
You can read more about the author on devdutt.com

Other Sources :

Blog, Times of India : Homosexuality in India – Progressive judiciary, regressive people

Speaking Tree : What do Vedas say about Homosexuality

 

First 100!

It brings me immense joy to know that my blog A year of reading India is now followed by more than 100 followers across various parts of the world with close to about 1000 readers and  viewers from about 24 countries. As a new blogger, this is really overwhelming! I am happy that the readers love the content and are interested in the books I blog about.

One thing which I really did not want was to convert it into a conventional Book Review Blog. As many of you might have noticed my reviews of the books I read weave around a particular story theme or concept , and I try to provide information, ideas and views not only related to the book but try to paint a picture on a wider canvas.

I have loved writing Mythology, Philosophy, Fiction, Non-Fiction by an array of Indian authors, and I still feel a lot more needs to be written about. Of my earlier posts I have written, my top five personal favourites are Jaya, which is a beautiful modern redering of the Mahabharata. Followed by Shantaram, which gives a vivid description of the Mumbai city, which now I call my home. I have loved Palace of Illusions, surely the fastest read I have undertaken in one sitting. Sita has been a very touching book for me personally and finally Gita which was very enlightening.

There are so many communities, cultures and vivid people all in this one small subcontinent in Asia. I am reading an array of books by Indian Authors and myself am intrigued by the variety of categories. Surely Indian writing is taking over subsequently, be it in a regional language or English.

I do have a few books lined up for upcoming posts, but I urge my readers to suggest books they would want me to write about pertaining to India or written by Indian Authors, and continue inspiring me in this journey of reading India.


Cover Photo by Vicky Roy

Sita : Story of the Daughter of Earth

‘Animals fight to defend their bodies. Humans curse to defend their imagination of themselves. The imagined notion of who we are, and how others are supposed to see us, is called aham. Aham constantly seeks validation from the external world. When that is not forthcoming it becomes insecure. Aham makes humans accumulate things; through things we hope people will look upon us as we imagine ourselves. That is why, Janaka, people display their wealth and their knowledge and their power. Aham yearns to be seen‘, Ashtavakra said to Janaka

I was in my fourth grade when I first saw the Ramayana Series which used to run on Cartoon Network India, which was later made into a movie. It was phenomenal and so breathtaking. Even the animations were so realistic. Two years later in my sixth grade I read the Ramayana for the first time, in Hindi. The more I read about it ,the more I got lost in the enchanted world of Ayodhya.

I purchased Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik shortly after I finished reading Jaya by the same author. I had loved Jaya and was completely bowled over by it, and hence decided to give Sita a shot.

This book is an illustrated retelling of the Ramayana, and the central character is Sita, who was discovered in a furrow by King Janaka while the fields were being ploughed in Mithila. Hence she is also referred to as the daughter of the earth.

The book is written in a compelling manner , it starts with Hanuman and it ends with Hanuman, who is also the guardian of Ayodhya. The novel also concentrates on Sita’s  actions which are mostly associated with being at peace with herself and not wanting to be judged by a society, she has no part in. The story examines Sita’s actions as a spiritual side and her connection to nature than to the society.

Devdutt Pattanaik mentions in the beginning that ‘To all those who believe that the Mahabharata is more realistic and complex than the Ramayana; may they realise that that both epics speak of dharma, which means human potential, not righteous conduct.’

Dharma is about exchange, about giving and receiving . It is about outgrowing animal instincts, outgrowing fear, discovering the ability to feed others, comfort others, enable others to find meaning.’

As Krishna says in Gita,

‘Dharma is more about empathy than ethics, about intent rather than outcome. I follow Dharma when I am concerned about your material, emotional or intellectual hunger. I follow adharma when I focus on my hunger at the cost of yours.’

Ramayana has had numerous retelling’s and it beacons across centuries. Before second century there were the oral retelling’s by travelling bards, and then in second century the first written form of Ramayana emerged in Sanskrit by Valmiki. The poetry, all scholars agree is outstanding, and has been traditionally qualified as Adi Kavya, the first poem.

Ramayana apart from being quite popular across the length and breadth of the Indian Subcontinent is also very popular across Indian borders including Tibet, Vietnam, and a lot of South East Asian countries. But most of the scripts in which Ramayana has been written in India emerged from the script we commonly refer to as Brahmi.

A few centuries later even Kalidasa wrote a version of Ramayana. There have been numerous Bengali , Assamese and Odia translations as well. Ramayana is divided into Seven Books, and in Sita the author has divided the the book into seven corresponding chapters. The interesting part of Devdutt Pattanaik’s Sita  are the short notes at the end of every section which divulge a whole lot of information from various sources and are very insightful. Alternate theories by different retelling’s have also been discussed in this section.

Sita-1The story spans across different locations from Mithila to Ayodhya to Lanka, and during the fourteen years of exile of Ram & Sita accompanied by Ram’s younger brother Lakshmana, a lot of geographical areas has been covered by them on foot. These places, where they halted have their own significance and stories related to them.
After leaving Ayodhya, they reached Prayag shortly after. Prayag  also known as Triveni Sangam is the place of confluence of three rivers, Saraswati, Ganga and Yamuna, and is considered very Sacred.

Then they travelled to Chitrakoot and finally to Dandkaranya which covers a vast area of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

Covering  a vast span across of the Indian Subcontinent makes it an important book with respect to my blog and hence I chose to write about it here. Personally I have loved Jaya more than Sita but the central theme of both the books is same. Dharma. A recommended read and a complete heads up to this book.

As for Sita, she went back the same route she came into this world, back into the furrow in the ground. And whatever remained of her above  the ground, her hair, slowly turned into blades of grass, which were being caressed slowly by Ram. He just sat there thinking of her, as he had always done, because she was always there in his heart no matter what the circumstances were.

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Quotes from Sita by Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustrations by Devdutt Pattanaik from devdutt.com
You can read more about the author on devdutt.com