Same-Sex Representation In Ancient India

Same-Sex Representation In Ancient India

We know India to be a very conservative country.  It has constantly been in opposition to the LGBT community. In worse cases, even extending to its denial.

But Ancient India says otherwise, with multiple instances of same-sex representation throughout history:

In the temples of Khajuraho, there are ancient images of women erotically embracing other women. There are also men displaying their genitals to each other. Scholars have furthermore explained that this as an acknowledgement that people did engage in homosexual acts since the olden times. Representation In Ancient India
Courtesy – Getty Images

In the Valmiki Ramayana, Lord Rama’s devotee and companion Hanuman sees Rakshasa women kissing and embracing other women. Furthermore, another point in the Ramayana tells the tale of a King named Dilip who had two wives. Death had come before an heir could be born.

The story continues that Lord Shiva made an appearance in the dreams of the widows. He tells them that if they made love to one another, they may bear a child. So the queens follow through with the instructions and one of them got pregnant. The child born is the famous King Bhagirath,  known for bringing the River Ganga from heaven and placing it on Earth.

The Mahabharata has an interesting story about Shikhandini. S/he is the feminine or transgender warrior of the time and responsible for the defeat and killing of Bhishma.
Shikhandini was a daughter of King Drupada. He is known to have brought her up as a prince to take revenge from the Kurus, the rulers of Hastinapur. So much was his devotion that Drupada even got Shikhandini married to a woman. After her wife discovered the reality of Shikhandini’s gender, she revolted. A divine intervention bestowing Shikhandini with manhood during the night saves the day. Shikhandini henceforth lived like a transperson.

During the great churning of the milky ocean, according to ancient Matsya Purana, Lord Vishnu took the form of a beautiful woman, Mohini to trick the demons so that the gods could drink all the amrut (the immortal juice found from the churning of the ocean). Meanwhile, Lord Shiva saw Vishnu as Mohini and instantly fell for him. Their union led to the birth of a child — Lord Ayyappa. Representation In Ancient India
Mohini and Lord Shiva
Courtesy – Detechter/

Laws and Penal Codes:

Another scripture, the Narada Purana has references to what may be classified as “unnatural offences” like in Section 377. At one place, the Narada Purana states, anyone who discharges semen in non-vaginas, in those beings destitute of the vulva, and uteruses of animals is a great sinner and will fall in hell. While the Purana does not approve of “unnatural offences” but the references prove that they were in practice.

The famous law code, Manusmriti provides for punishment to homosexual men and women. Manusmriti says that if a girl has sex with another girl, she is liable for a fine of two hundred coins and ten whiplashes. But if lesbian sex is done on a girl with an older woman, the older shall have her head shaven or two of her fingers cut off as punishment. The woman would also have to ride on a donkey.

In the case of homosexual males, Manusmriti says that sexual union between two men brings loss of caste. If a man has sex with non-human females or with another man or indulges in anal or oral sex with women he is liable for punishment as per the “Painful Heating Vow”. Representation In Ancient India
Manusmriti – The Text Courtesy- Youtube

The ninth chapter of the Kamasutra of Vatsyayana talks about oral sexual acts (Auparistaka), homosexuality and also of similar activities among transgenders (Tritiya Prakriti). The book, however, does not favor homosexuality of any kind.

Arthashastra of Kautilya — a treatise on politics — also mentions homosexuality. But the book makes it a duty of the king to punish those indulging in homosexuality and expects the ruler to fight against the “social evil”.

The fact amongst all of this remains the same.

LGBT did exist much before it came up in conversation, showing it to not be just an “influence of media” or “new era times”. Such a community has been in existence for years on end and we see their representation, regardless of bad or good, in ancient India.

We seek pride, in knowing that the current situation in India is far better. Now there are more people embracing the act than shying away.

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