Vinaya is the author of "Amazing Alphabet" and "People's War in Nepal: Songs and Narratives From the Frontline."
Homosexuality in Hinduism
In Hinduism, carnal pleasure, called Kama in Sanskrit, is one of the four major duties assigned to human beings. The other three are dharma (righteous actions), artha (wealth) and mokshya (liberation). Hindu theologies do not accept sex outside the context of marriage and adultery is abhorred. Hinduism emphasizes a life of celibacy and gives techniques to abstain from sex until marriage. However, Hinduism has a liberal attitude towards sex. Hindu canon consists of numerous texts on how to enjoy sensual pleasure to the fullest.
Questions This Article Will Answer
- What does Hinduism say about homosexuality?
- What do the Hindu scriptures say about homosexuality?
- What is the concept of third gender?
- How is homosexuality seen in contemporary Hindu societies?
1. What Does Hinduism Say About Homosexuality?
According to Mastya Purana and Vayu Purana, Lord Vishnu took the form of enchantress Mohini to trick the demons. However, when Lord Shiva saw Vishnu as Mohini, he was instantly in love. The union between the Gods manifested a child. This child of Vishnu and Shiva is worshiped as Lord Ayyappa. The Temple of Sabarimala in the Indian State of Kerala is dedicated to the son of Vishnu and Shiva, who was popularly called Hari-Hara-Putra.
Hari is one of the names of Vishnu and Hara is one of the names of Shiva. In Hindu worship, when Vishnu and Shiva are worshiped together, they are called Hari-Hara. The prayers dedicated to Hari-Hara describe Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Shiva) as a male couple. Some of the depictions of Hari-Hara show the deity in blended form and in some portrayals they are standing close.
The Hindu Epic Ramayana also has a story about homosexuality. Once there was a king named Dilip, he had two wives, but he died without leaving an heir. One day Lord Shiva appeared in the dream of the King’s widows and said they will have a child if they made love together. The queens made love and one day one of the queens gave birth to a child. The child grew to become a great King Bhagiratha, who brought River Ganges from heaven to the earth.
The Vedas are the most authoritative Hindu Scriptures. In the Vedas, there are twin Gods called Ashwini and Kumar. Hindu theologies always refer Ashwini-Kumar as a couple. Ashwini and Kumar are never mentioned separately, they are seen together even when they go to bed.
2. What Do the Hindu Scriptures Say About Homosexuality?
Many Hindus consider homosexuality taboo because the scriptures do not specifically mention homosexuality, and the purpose of sex, within the concept of marriage, is for sustaining the genealogy of the human race and for enjoying the bliss of copulation.
Homosexual Iconography in Hinduism
There is an overwhelming presence of homosexual iconography in Hinduism. Hindu art in sculptures, carvings, and paintings represent copulation between the same sexes. Since Hindu religion and philosophy treat sexuality as pleasure and fertility, erotic carvings are highly revered. Erotic sculptures, carvings, and paintings are significant aspects of Hindu Temples. In Kama Sutra, the Hindu book on sexuality, homosexuality is considered permissible in some communities and forbidden in others.
What Does Hinduism Say About the Soul?
The main thesis of Hinduism is the reincarnation of the soul. The soul is an invisible and eternal entity, which lives in human beings, as well as animals, and does not die when human beings die. As long as the soul (Atma in Sanskrit) does not unite with the Supreme Soul (God, Parmatma in Sanskrit) and becomes liberated, it enters into another body and continues to exist. Hindu philosophy says the human soul does not have a gender, and when it reincarnates, it may be birthed in a man, a woman, or an animal.
3. What Is the Concept of Third Gender?
Even though there is no specific mention of homosexuality, Hinduism recognizes people showing the signs of both sexes. The terminology used for such a person is tritiya prakriti, literally meaning third nature. The third gender is the common term for a human being that is between a man and woman.
India, the country with the highest Hindu population in the world, does not officially recognize the third gender, except in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu. In India, the followers of the Radha-Krishna worshiping cult believe that everyone on earth is a woman and only Lord Krishna is a man. Based on their belief, the male devotes dress as a woman.
Nepal, the country with the world’s second-largest Hindu population, officially recognizes the third gender. The Nepali definition of third gender includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
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In India and Nepal, transgender people, commonly called Hijra, identify themselves as a third gender. In some Hijra communities, the members go through ritual castration to look more like a woman. The Hindus in India and Nepal do not consider a man who copulates with a Hijra to be gay.
The Third Gender in Hindu Scriptures
The Hindu scriptures contain references to third gender (i.e. alternate sexual identity). In the Hindu Epic, Mahabharata, which is often designated as the gist of Hindu religion and philosophy, there are two major third-gender characters: Shikhandi and Brihanla.
Shikhandi, who was born as a transgender in a royal family of Panchal during the Mahabharata era, is mentioned both as a man and as a woman. In his/her previous life form, Shikhandi was a princess named Amba, who wanted revenge on Bhisma, because he destroyed her marriage. Amba worshiped Lord Shiva and asked him to bless her with the power to kill Bhisma. Lord Shiva said, when she would be born as Shikhandi in another life form, she will be able to kill Bhisma. With the help of Shikhandi, Arjuna, one of the heroes of the Mahabharata, was able to kill Bhisma.
Arjuna, too, had to live as a transgendered person for a year because a nymph called Urvasi cursed him. According to Hindu mythology, Arjuna went to live with his father Indra, the Lord of Heaven, for some time. In Heaven, Urvasi fell for Arjuna and asked him to satisfy her desire. Arjuna flatly denied saying Urvasi is like a mother figure for him because eons ago she had been a consort of his ancestor. Urvasi, in a bout of anger, cursed Arjuna that his potency would collapse. When Indra heard about the curse, he said that Arjuna would live one year as a transgendered person, which would be very helpful to him. When Arjuna, along with his four brothers and his wife, was hiding from his arch-enemy Duryodhana, he changed into a transgendered form. Arjuna, as a transgendered person, was called Brihanla. According to the Mahabharata, Arjuna did not cross-dress as a woman but was biologically changed into a transgendered person.
The Hindu scriptures of Purna also mention alternate genders. According to Mastya Purana, Ill, also called Illa, was a son of King Manu. However, he changed into a woman because of a curse from Goddess Parvati. Every month his gender changed. As a man, he was called Ill and as a woman, she was called Illa.
Ardhanarishwar: The Third Gender Deity
Hindu religion also has a deity in third gender form. He/she is called Ardhanarishwar, literally half-male and half-female God. The hermaphrodite deity in Hinduism, Ardhanarishwar, has a split body. The left side of their body is female and right side is male. Ardhanarishwor is an androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Ardhanarishwar is believed to be neither Shiva nor Parvati, but the God and Goddess in unison.
Yellamma: The Deity of the Fallen
Yellamma, the deity of the fallen, is a local deity in the Indian State of Tamil Nadu, worshiped by the third genders. Yellamma is believed to be the transgender form of Arjuna, one of the heroes in the Hindu Epic Mahabharata. In his third gender form, Arjuna is called Brihanla, and Yellamma is a local name for Brihanla. The Temple of Yellamma is dedicated to the third gender form of Arjuna. As Brihanla, Arjuna spent his time teaching dance and music, therefore, most of the third genders in India earn their living by dancing and singing.
4. How Is Homosexuality Seen in Contemporary Hindu Societies?
Since there is no specific reference in Hindu canon criminalizing or decriminalizing homosexuality, proponents and opponents of homosexuality put forward their arguments based on their own interpretation of theologies.
When Fire, a film based on lesbian relations, was released in India in 1996, it caused nationwide protest. The theaters had to stop the screening of the film because the demonstrations went violent. However, the BJP, the Hindu Party, which was in the government at the time, rejected a plea to ban the movie.
© 2013 Vinaya Ghimire
bhattuc on August 10, 2020:
A well researched article. Excellent reading.
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on July 11, 2020:
Well presented. Good work.
Srushti Govilkar on September 03, 2015:
There seems to be a factual error in the article. You have written that Ramayana is the epic in which two queens make love and conceive. However, the incident is not from Ramayana, but from Krittivasi Ramayana.
suzettenaples on April 13, 2015:
Error: one should be able to love whomever one wants to is how it should read. I am not homosexual! Sorry about that!
suzettenaples on April 13, 2015:
This is a fascinating read, Vinyaya. I agree with you that homosexuality prevents the continuation of society. But, I also believe one shomd be able too love whomever I wants to without discrimination. What happens in the bedroom is private. Hindu and Sikh take on this is so interesting and thank you for writing this. I am thrilled for you that a publication picked this up. Well done and congratulations
radhapriestess from Minneapolis, MN on April 12, 2015:
Well written piece on the topic. I think it's good that it's not mentioned in the texts. Some people are just born this way. I think of people I know who are this way most say they knew when they were very young. Perhaps these individuals in previous lives were intolerant of gays and lesbians, so in this life they had to live as one to learn compassion. One of my family members, who is male, never liked to date women and always had just male friends. He was not a priest. I do think he always was this way, so from my own experience I think there are reasons a person is born this way. I have a number of gay & lesbian creative friends who are quite spiritual people. A gay woman rented to me when I was down and out. I have a good opinion of the ones I know. It is interesting to see some very interesting stories which you shared on the topic. I learned some things from your post.
Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on April 11, 2015:
Lots of votes here! Great article and so full of information. Thank you for the insights and sharing what you know. Cheers!
manatita44 from london on May 18, 2014:
Very interesting Hub.
Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 21, 2014:
The different countries have different views on this issue which is understandable. Once again, you have given readers a good synopsis of these views. Your knowledge of many subjects shows in your hubs. Thanks for sharing this subject. I am tolerant of all people with sexual differences. Keep up the good work. Blessings. Audrey
Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on November 13, 2013:
Tanks for reading and taking time to comment. Cheers
LKMore01 on November 06, 2013:
Well done and insightful, Vinaya. Great article. No religion should ever be used to persecute or hurt other people.
Dianna Mendez on November 03, 2013:
Thank you for the education on Hindu beliefs. It is all very interesting.
Vinaya Ghimire (author) from Nepal on November 02, 2013:
@Mary, my intention to publish an article on this issue is to present Hindu perspective, and not support or criticize homosexuality. Thanks for your comment.
@Toubusiness, I'm glad that you consider this article fascinating.Thanks
@Billy,thank you very much for your comment.
@Chef-de-jour, I agree we your point of view. I'm also against prosecution of homosexuals. Thanks for your feedback.
@Flourish Anyway, I'm standpoint on this matter is we are straight does not mean we have to criminalize the homosexual. Thanks for sharing your view.
@Suhail, that's a nice quote. Thank you very much for sharing.
@Prajwal, thanks for sharing your opinion.
@DDE, thank you very much for your sharing your point of view.
@IslandBites, thanks for taking time to comment.
@fpherj48, thanks for appreciating my work. Cheers
@Faith, when I write, I try to avoid generalizations. Thanks for always appreciating my work
@Frank, you don't have to be sorry. There are many philosophical interpretations of deities and mythological events, however, my intention was just to homosexuality is Hindu perspective. Your interpretation of half man and half woman is compatible with Hindu world view. Cheers
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 02, 2013:
Vin, im sorry about the comment I left it's just that sometimes the meanings you present may have a different meaning to the Westeners... Like the half man and woman I took it as if a man's not complete without a woman.. so homosexuality throws in that wrench.. I dunno.. but love the hub at any rate :)
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 02, 2013:
Nepal, the country with world’s second largest Hindu population, officially recognizes the third gender. Nepali definition of third gender includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. ( I think This is lost in translation Vin.. which cannot be translated in the West..yeah? )
Faith Reaper from southern USA on October 31, 2013:
Vinaya, as always, when you write it is always a comprehensive write on the subject, and this article is very thorough on Hinduism.
God bless, Faith Reaper
Suzie from Carson City on October 31, 2013:
I appreciate your straightforwardness in explaining, what can sometimes be a delicate issue. Except for education, how can man make intelligent decisions and choices. Excellent job, Vinaya.......UP++
IslandBites from Puerto Rico on October 31, 2013:
Interesting info. Thanks!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on October 31, 2013:
Hindu View on Homosexuality I for one as a Hindu don't bother about the homosexuality it is just how they chose to be. However, you have certainly got this act straight forwardly out, and very interesting indeed.
Martin Kloess from San Francisco on October 31, 2013:
Thank you for this insight.
prajwal pokharel from kathmandu on October 30, 2013:
The subject have long been disputed ... i don't promote it but am not also against it.... good to see writer from around....
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on October 30, 2013:
I salute you Vinaya for writing on as sensitive a subject as this one.
My take on gays and straights is simple. Both of us are not going away on any other planet any soon so why not take a deep breath, relax, and wish each other the best of luck.
Also, I will like to quote my childhood hero, Cecil Chaudhry here:
“By faith I’m a Christian, but my religion is humanity”
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 30, 2013:
Great hub, interesting topic which I enjoyed reading. I have never considered what Hindus specifically think of this subject. I am tolerant no matter people's orientation and don't like that people anywhere in the world might be persecuted for their orientation.
Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on October 30, 2013:
Homosexuality will become a major debating point in the future as 'east meets west' and religious elders face up to their consciences and history. Your hub is a part of the ongoing opening up of a taboo subject and for that I applaud your effort.
As we move into the 21st century I feel there is an opportunity for wise and reasoned debate on this topic. Sexuality in all its incredible forms is not going away so why not be transparent and open and get rid of the urban myths and prejudice!! No one should be persecuted for their sexuality.
I'm not gay in any way but as a compassionate human being seeing images of young men being hanged in Iran for example really makes my blood boil and my conscience is pained. Surely we can do better than that in our modern global world.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 30, 2013:
Fascinating, Vinaya! I love to learn this stuff about other cultures, and you certainly did a great job of explaining it. Thank you so much.
Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on October 30, 2013:
Vinaya, wow...fascinating as always. A great write with so many interesting and enlightening information into Hinduism. I really enjoyed reading this, well done. Up and sharing.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on October 30, 2013:
This subject is open to many interpretations, regardless of religions, I suppose. I am always interested in other religions and how they feel about different subjects such as this one.
Voted UP, and shared.