Bharat: An Eternal Celebration of All Genders (Part 1)
Gender perspectives are now finally broadening their definitions across the world yet gender equality is viewed through the lens of feminism.
As modern Bharat revisits its ancient glory, the issue of addressing problems in silos will be reconsidered.
The Indian Way of eternal celebration is beyond toleration and acceptance; it is about assimilation.
Integral Humanism, which forms the very basis of our immortal civilization, envelopes every sex, every gender, every sexual orientation, and more importantly, every individual.
The Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata
The epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana are important to be considered while discussing gender perspectives.
Be it Shikhandi’s resolve to change her sex to kill Bhishma or Kunti single-handedly raising her five sons or Sita’s rejection to not to return to Ayodhya even after Shri Rama repeatedly convincing her to do so or Shri Krishna changing his sex to fulfill the last wish of Aravan to marry or Kaikeyi’s bravery during the Sur vs Asura battlefield to save her husband.
The Ramayana even quotes eunuchs waiting at the river Sharyu for Lord Rama for 14 long years. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna’s appearance as a male-to-female transgender (Brihannala) serves as an important example of the acceptance of third-gender people in Vedic society.
Brihannala’s traditional role as a skilled teacher of the fine arts and her acceptance by Maharaja Virata are exemplary. These are just a few instances from the greatest two epics.
The Vedic Literature
The Rig Veda classifies human beings into three genders: pums-prakriti or male, stri-prakriti or female, and tritiya-prakriti or the third sex. The third sex is categorized under a larger social category of neutral gender. The members belonging to this neutral are called napumsakas (not engaged in procreation). There is no record of persecution of the transgender community neither were they deprived of their basic rights due to their sexual orientation. No Vedic law specifically penalizes third-gender men or women (napumsa, kliba, svairini, etc.) for their characteristic behavior (homosexuality, crossdressing, etc.). They could be beaten for certain crimes or killed for grave offenses (like other citizens) but were never fined. (Narada-smriti 15.12-15, Srimad Bhagavatam 4.17.26)
Vedic medical texts (the Ayur Shastra) specifically mention how third-sex conditions (homosexuality, transgender identity and intersex) are caused at the time of conception. (Sushruta Samhita 3.2.38, 42-43, Caraka Samhita 4.4.30-31). The sex of the foetus— whether male, female or third sex—becomes manifest during the second month of pregnancy and cannot be changed after that. (Sushruta Samhita 3.3.14, Caraka Samhita 4.4.10, 4.8.19).
The Kama Shastra acknowledges third-gender marriages wherein same-sex couples with great attachment and complete faith in one another get married. (Kama Sutra 2.9.36).
Vedic law books regard heterosexual crimes such as rape, adultery and the propagation of unwanted progeny as the foremost threat to human society (not homosexuality). (Manusmriti 8.352-387; Bhagavad Gita 1.40-41)
Homosexual desire is not taught or acquired through practice. Rather, it arises naturally from deep within the imagination or psyche. (Kama Sutra 2.1.39, 41-42) Vedic law considers female homosexuality an offense only when it involves the violation of young, unmarried girls (traditionally aged 8 through 12). The offense is fined variously and can include corporal punishment. (Manusmriti 8.369-370, Artha Shastra 4.12.20-21. The women of the Vedic era were living entities of exuberant knowledge.
Brahmavadini Gargi Vachaknavi, daughter of Vachaknu, is honored as a great natural philosopher, renowned expounder of the Vedas. She is said to have written many hymns in the Rigveda.
Brahmavadini Maitreyi was a venerated ancient Indian philosopher. Ten hymns in the Rigveda are attributed to Maitreyi, where she explored the concept of Atman in a dialogue with Brahma Gyani Sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra, was a great scholar. She was well versed in the principles of Ritham, Sathyam, Mahattattwam, etc. She was chosen by Adi Shankaracharya to contest in debates.
Deities and Festivals
The Koovagam Kothandavar festival is a festival celebrated exclusively by transgenders in the Koovagam village of Tamil Nadu. The primary deity worshipped at the festival is Aravan who made a supreme sacrifice of his life during the 18-day Kurukshetra war in the Mahabharata. He married Lord Krishna, who changed his form to a female, Mohini, as his last wish.
Bahucharya Mata is worshipped as the originator and patron of the hijras, trans and intersex Bangladeshis are considered in the faith to be of a “third gender.”
The Paniya tribe of Tamil Nadu worships the main god of the forests called Kadubhagavathi, or kuli, which is neither male nor female.
One of the 12 alwar saints of Tamil Nadu, this mystic poet often expressed as female and wrote as many as 1,000 devotional songs in the persona of a woman pining for her lover, Lord Vishnu
Rajo Utsav is a festival celebrated in Odisha for a period of three days. It is believed that Mother Earth undergoes menstruation during this period and therefore, during the festival all agricultural operations remain suspended. Abstained from all sorts of domestic work and physical labor, the women community of the state deck themselves up in the most adorable manner during these three days of time.
The mammoth Rath Yatra observes three richly decorated chariots named Nandighosa (for Jagannath), Taladhwaja (for Balabhadra) and Debedalana (for Subhadra) resembling temple structures, being pulled through the streets of Puri. All the three brothers and sisters are equally valued and celebrated during the procession.
The Navaratri observes of nine days of celebration of different goddesses depicting the Indic way of women empowerment.
While the Pride Month in the west is a recent phenomenon, Bharat has been a cosmopolitan of all possible genders. The Bhartiya society has been marred by distortions and has turned into what is modern-day India. Thus, going back to the very roots of our civilisational ethos will enable us to address a majority of issues that currently plague our society.