Celebrating Pride Month - Is homosexuality a part of our culture?
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
With India celebrating its second International Pride Month, we are here to take you back to ancient India that traced instances of homosexuality. The LGBT movements in India are gradually throwing light on the diversity of "Genders and Sexualities" that have existed in the pre-Modern India.
The LGBTQ+ community in India was decriminalized very recently on the 6th of September, 2018. However, the members of this community are still not validated throughout the country.
Pride Month: More than Just a Parade, Globally
It is the time of the year when LGBTQ+ community members come out together celebrating who they are. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking over, the Pride Month celebrations have shaped differently this year. The month of June is known to be the month of honour to many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender members. Various events like parades, street parties, drag performances, live shows, and so on are held across the globe to celebrate the diversity of the sexualities. It is to create awareness and empathy about the struggles faced by these members to gain validation from their loved ones and society.
The month of June is chosen as a remembrance of the Stonewall Riots, 1969. These riots were against the police raids at a popular gay bar, Stonewall Inn in N.Y.C.'s West Village. It was the first time that people marched down the streets, against the oppressive anti-gay legal system. This June marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride Parade that was conducted in 1970.
India witnessed its first Pride Parade on the 2nd of July 1999, in the state of Kolkata. With about fifteen participants, this Parade was popularly known to be the Rainbow Pride Walk.
Hindu Mythology & Homosexuality
Though our scriptures do not approve of homosexuality, epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana provide enough evidence on its practice. In Hindu mythology, there exist several instances where elements of gender diversity have been described clearly. The epics, Puranas, and other folklores narrate stories of change of sex, homoerotic encounters, intersex, and third gender features in their various characters. We bring to you a few of these with crucial takeaways, worth a read!
Lord Vishnu as Mohini
Mohini, the female incarnation of Lord Vishnu is a lesser-known character among the masses. According to Matsya Purana, once Lord Vishnu had to take the form of Mohini to dissuade an Asur. Later, Lord Shiva saw Lord Vishnu as Mohini and instantly fell for 'her' beauty. The two gods thus became 'Harihara'- a composite form of Shiva and Vishnu as one God and their union led to the birth of a child, Ayyappa. This child later grew up to become a visible embodiment of their essential identity.
It is where Lord Shiva despite knowing that it was Lord Vishnu in disguise, was drawn towards Mohini. The union of the two male Gods indicates an instance of homosexuality.
Also , Lord Vishnu took the form of Mohini just before the Mahabharata war to fulfill Aravan's ( son of Arjun and Ulipi ) last wish - to not die as a virgin. Therefore , Lord Vishnu in the form of Mohini fulfilled his last wish.
The Birth of Bhagiratha
Bhagiratha is popularly associated with bringing Ganga onto the earth (Bhagiratha Prayatna). However, little is known about the birth of this prominent figure!
It was when King Dilip ruled the kingdom of Ayodhya. He had two wives- Chandra and Mala. Long story short, the King dies with no heir. It leaves his wives worried while they consult their family advisor - Sage Vashishta. He advises them to make love to each other. The widow queens follow the advice of the sage while Chandra enacted the role of a man. Mala got pregnant. However, the child born was without bones. He was then named Bhagiratha - the union of two Bhagas(vulvas). This boy grew up to be just a lump of flesh. Once, on an encounter with a Sage named Ashtvakra, he was given the boon of bones and beauty.
This story is a part of the epic, Ramayana that traces the Royal lineage of the Sun God.
The Khajuraho Sculptures
Unlike popular notions, only 10% of the Khajuraho Sculptures are said to be erotic.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is yet another instance highlighting homosexuality. Apart from the typical heterosexual female-male interactions, these sculptures also display images of women erotically embracing other women. There are sculptures on the walls of these temples that depict men embracing other men too!
After studying these sculptures, scholars have explained them as an acknowledgment that people of those days did engage themselves in various homosexual acts.
The Story of Shikandi
Shikandi in the Mahabharata played a crucial role in the defeat of Bhishma and ultimately, the end of Kauravas. Her story forever remained hushed by the society that looked down upon her sexuality.
She was born as a daughter to King Drupad, but he eventually raised her as a boy. He got her married to the daughter of Hiranyavarma, King of Dasharna. Later her father-in-law got to know about her sexuality. She then leaves Panchala and goes to the forest. In the forest, she met a Yaksha who agreed to change sex with her; she became a 'he'. Ultimately, she fought the Kurukshetra War against Bheeshma as per her boon from Lord Shiva.
Shikandi was one of the earliest trans characters portrayed in Indian mythology. End of the day, her sexuality was never a barrier to her relationships. Most of them accepted her as she was and later she played a crucial role in Bhishma's death.
To conclude, it is the discomfort among the people that makes them believe that homosexuality could not have been in practice a few thousands of years ago. The better side of the coin is that perceptions and presumptions of people have witnessed a gradual shift, over the past year. Despite the widespread homophobia in the country, discussions, and debates have significantly increased amongst the youth. However, we have a long way to go as far as awareness and acceptance of homosexuality in India is concerned.
So, Let us Get Better Together!
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