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Beyond the Sex Binary| LGBTQ+ Stories hidden in Hindu Mythology

"A human's imagination has a finite ending. What they are unable to imagine and create, that is within the Divine's capacity. So when people begin to categorize within the sex binary, that's when the Divine throws them a curve ball by creating a person who's neither a man nor a woman, or both a man and a woman. The boundaries we create for our thoughts and imagination, those don't exist in Nature. The word, Boundary doesn't exist in the Divine's dictionary." - Devdutt Pattanaik, A Hindu Mythologist.

Ancient Hinduism or Vedic Hinduism or the Hinduism practiced during the origins of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Hindu epics, generated several LGBTQ+ tales that were deliberately hidden when preaching the New-Age Hinduism.

Stories featuring gods cross-dressing to transgender gods and goddesses, from gender fluid deities to sex reassignment surgeries, our ancestors were very accommodating towards the fluidity of one's sexuality and gender expressions. Not only did they ensure a safe haven for expression, they also invested in writing novels so as to educate the general public about these crucial theories.

Today, we live in a world where people use the word, Sin to control others' behaviors. Sri Krishna spoke of Phal ki chinta mat karo (don't worry about the fruits of your efforts). For it is believed that even the Divine can't predict the fruits, their efforts would bear. Would it be Paap (Impure/Corrupted) or Punya (Blessed/Holy)? No one knows. If the Divine doesn't categorize LGBTQ+ as Paap/Punya then humans have no right do so. - Queer Vani, Devdutt Pattanaik.

Story 1: Trans-male, Shikhandi from Mahabharat

There was once a King who bore a daughter, Shikhandi. However, he always looked at her as if she were his son. That daughter's upbringing was that of a man's. Here's an individual who was born bearing a physical existence of a female, however in the viewpoint of the society's, she wore the social existence of a male. Such was life at the Royal House of Panchal (sometimes called as Dhrupad).

A few years later, post a rather lavish wedding ceremony, the Bride discovers that her Groom from Panchal was female as well! Disappointed and feeling betrayed, the Bride's father readied his army to attack the Kingdom of Panchal. Before the war was declared, he offered the Kingdom one last chance to prove that the Groom was genuinely a male and not a female.

On a quest to find a solution to this situation, Shikhandi stumbled upon a Yaksha (Demigod), with whose help he was able to procure a set of male genetalia to prove his masculine form to his father-in-law. So Shikhandi was a trans-male, an individual born as female but presented as a male to the society.

Fast-forward a few years and Shikhandi was called in by Pandavas (set of 5 Royal princes) at Kurukshetra to fight the war against Kauravas (Pandavas 100 evil cousins who currently had control over the former's Kingdom). The situation was that Kauravas were backed by Bhishma Pitamah, their Guru and a legendary, undefeated warrior.

In order for Pandavas to win, Shikhandi, a transgender, was brought in to the front-lines. Bhishma Pitamah held very traditional views, one of those being that he'd never fight a woman. Seeing Shikhandi on the front-lines, he recognized him as a woman instead of a trans-man. He lowered his bow and stated, "This person was born a female and I cannot shoot at a female."

Krishna, the advisor to the Pandavas requested Bhishma to focus on Shikhandi's Vartaman Ling (Present Gender) and not his Bhootkal Ling (Past Gender). Unable to think beyond his traditional views, Bhishma refused to pick up his bow. Noticing an opportunity, the Pandavas were able to shoot their arrows, thus pinning down the Great Bhishma Pitamah.

Change with time, be fluid, for it might save your life.

Story 2: An Intersex Mercury & the Gender Swapping Tale of their partner, Ila/Sudyumna

Chandra, the Moon God, once fell in love with Tara. However, there is a twist in this tale: Tara was already married to Brihaspati Rishi (a famous Guru/Saint, known for his Anger issues). When Brihaspati found out about his wife's affair, cursed the couple stating that the child born to them would be of the 3rd Gender.

The child thus brought into the world, was Budh Graha (Mercury), bearing both Male and Female anatomy (intersex). Once, Mercury was very concerned of their gender and asked their mother, if they would ever find a partner in life. "Will my partner be a male or female?" The mother then replied that Mercury should keep patience for Nature definitely has something in store for them.

In a Kingdom far away, King Ikshavaku's brother, Sudyumna walks into a forest where he stumbles upon God Shiva and Goddess Parvati having sex. This forest was spelled to transform any person who walks in into a female form. Sudyumna, a male, upon entering this forest, was transformed into a female. Noticing this change, he protested to Shiva saying he wasn't aware of the spell and the activities that the deities were involved in, and that he did not consent to this gender transformation.

Unfortunately, the spell was too complicated for Shiva to undo. There were no loopholes and Shiva, an all-powerful God himself, couldn't break the rules of the spell and transform Sudyumna back to his male form. However, he offered to tweak the transformation a bit: during the Krishna Paksha (Waning Moon), Sudyumna would become female (named Ila) and during the Shukla Pakasha (Waxing Moon), he'd maintain his male form. This is a classic tale depicting the fluidity of sex and the swapping nature of one's gender.

As fate would have it, Ila/Sudyumna married Budh Graha. Ila/Sudyumna became the first Chandravansh King. This gender fluid-intersex union gave birth to the Chandravansh Clan (Lunar Dynasty) of Kings in India.

Story 3: Bhangashwana, the Gender-fluid Parent

Bhangashwana, born as a man was once cursed by Lord Indra to take the form of a woman. He/She bore many children who call him/her Father/Mother based on their parent's gender during the gestation period. Kids born when Bhangashwana was a man, called him Father while those born during Bhangashwana's female persona, called her Mother: Gender-fluid Parenting.

"There are several such stories hidden in our mythology which aren't given much of importance these days. Gender is a very fluid concept in our language and culture. While Day has been given a Male identity, Night was provided a Female identity. Sandhya Bela or the time frame that connected Day and Night is represented as Napunsak ling or the 3rd gender: Transgender." - Queer Vani, Devdutt Pattanaik

Story 4: Yuvanashva, the Pregnant King

This story originates from the Suryavansh Clan (Solar Dynasty). A childless King, Yuvanashva, in his desperation, once performed a yagna or a ritual to bear a kheer (potion/sweet). The drinker of the said potion would become pregnant and produce an heir to the throne. King Yuvanashva had 3 wives, however, misinterpreting the instructions that came with the potion, he drank it all by himself.

Although born a male. King Yuvanashva becomes pregnant and gives birth to the heir to the throne, Prince Mandhaata. For Mandhaata, his mother and father were one individual, King Yuvanashva.

Story 5: Lord Shiva cross-dressing so as to dance with Lord Krishna, an effeminate God

There exists a God, Lord Krishna in Hinduism who is considered the Purushottama (the ideal man). This was a deity depicted as effeminate, often cross-dressing, extremely sexually explorative with at least 16008 partners. On the other side, we have Lord Shiva, who is given a highly masculinized form. However, Shiva has also been depicted as gender-fluid, for he often takes the form a Transgender.

In Madhuban, Krishna's land, there's a time of the year where everyone gathers around for the Rasleela, a festival intended for dance and music. However, here's a catch: in Madhuban, only Krishna is allowed to remain in his masculine form. Why? Because he's referred to as the Purushottam (the ideal man), a man who isn't uncomfortable embracing his feminine side. So any man who wishes to enter the Rasleela, is advised to bathe in the River Yamuna and cross-dress as a woman.

Lord Shiva, also a great dancer, was extremely looking forward to the Rasleela, and did bathe in the Yamuna, cross-dressed as a Gopi (milkmaid), just so that he could dance a duet with Krishna.

This form of Lord Shiva is still being worshipped as Gopeshwar Mahadev in Rajasthan (West of India).

Story 6: A cis-gender King having an affair with a gender-fluid travel companion

There was once a Yogini (a spiritually evolved female) named Chudala. One day, her husband announced that he'd like to venture into the forest in search of a Guru from whom he can continue his education on matters of spirituality, intellect, worldly affairs, etc. Chudala pointed out that he needn't venture out to gain a further understanding about these subjects, and that he could obtain this knowledge from her by staying inside the palace. However, her husband was a product of patriarchy and did not think it capable of women to be knowledgeable. He didn't see his wife as Guru-saman (a learned one given the same respect as a Guru).

He picked up his bag and left for the forest. Eventually, his nomadic life in the jungle is graced by the presence of a rather beautiful man, who too appears to be on a quest to find a Guru. The King was clueless of the fact that this stranger he had just met was none other than his own wife, who was blessed with extensive knowledge, so much so that she could appear as a man in front of her husband. Chudala also lied to her husband that she is cursed, that she can take the form of a man in the morning but at night, she turns into a woman.

As nights go by, Chudala quietly mentions that she's getting attracted to the King and asks if he'd like to maintain a sexual relationship with her. The King, fully aware of his companion's gender fluidity, still agrees to engage in sexual relations with him/her.

Story 7: Gender-fluid God, Lord Krishna transforms into a Trans-female so as to fulfil a dying man's last wish

During the Great War in Mahabharat, the Pandavas (set of 5 Princes), in order to win the war, were asked to sacrifice a man who held a total of 32 esteemed attributes. Such a man was none other than Aravan, Pandav Prince Arjun's son. Aravan however, had a last wish: he wanted to be married before he was put to death.

Although they had agreed, the search was futile, for all the women in the kingdom refused the marriage proposal as they had no intentions of being a bride for just a day and then living the rest of her life as a widow.

So Lord Krishna stepped in, took the form of Mohini (his female avatar) and offered to be Aravan's bride for the night and his widow for the next morning. So, a royal wedding took place with Lord Krishna dressed up as the bride. The next day morning, Aravan was sacrificed and Krishna adorned the white saree and grieved the loss of her husband.

This day is commemorated each year in Tamil Nadu by the transgender community (Hijra/Aravanis) where they take to the streets as brides for one night and then mourn the death of their husband as widows, the next morning.

For them, even God, without any hesitation, altered his physical appearance so as to appear as a woman, and engage in a sexual union with a Prince just to fulfil his last wish. Today, we would call this Gynandromorphophilia: a cis-man attracted to a trans-woman.

Story 8: Lord Ram's Kingdom was established only after the all the three sexes were recognized and given importance

When Lord Ram returned from his Vanvaas (exile) he noticed all the members of the Hijra (transgender) community lying in wait outside the Gates of his Kingdom. When questioned why they had positioned themselves outside the city, they replied saying, "When you left for your exile, the entire Kingdom was intent on joining you. However, you asked all the Men and Women to go back to the Capitol, to their homes. You never gave us, transgenders, an order. So we lay waiting for our King to return."

Moved by their loyalty to the Crown, Lord Ram replied, "I would like you to journey back to the Capitol with me, for the establishment of my kingdom is impossible without your presence and participation."

Purush Napunsak Naari Vaa, Jiv Charaachar Koy;

Sarv Bhaav Kapat Taji, Mohi Parampriya Soy.

Meaning: Any man, transgender, woman, living being, as long as they give up malice and come to me with love for all, they are dearest to me. Adapted from Tulsidas Ramayan.

Our stories define the love we once shared, the ability to accept and be inclusive towards all communities. The LGBTQ+ community is not a western notion of existence or expression. These individuals have long existed among us since the dawn of time and we have all co-existed as one nation for centuries. Foster love, for you'd be lucky to be on the receival end of all the love this community has to offer you.


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