Hinduism and LGBT topics

Hindu views of homosexuality and, in general, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues, are diverse and different Hindu groups have distinct views. Homosexuality is regarded as one of the possible expressions of human desire. Although some Hindu dharmic texts contain injunctions against homosexuality, a number of Hindu mythic stories have portrayed homosexual experience as natural and joyful.[1] There are several Hindu temples which have carvings that depict both men and women engaging in homosexual sex.[2] Same-sex relations and gender variance have been represented within Hinduism from Vedic times through to the present day, in rituals, law books, religious or so-called mythical narratives, commentaries, paintings, and sculpture. The extent to which these representations embrace or reject homosexuality has been disputed within the religion as well as outside of it. In 2009, The United Kingdom Hindu Council issued a statement that 'Hinduism does not condemn homosexuality', subsequent to the decision of the Delhi High Court to legalise homosexuality in India.[3]

Difference between Western and Hindu views of male sexuality

Unlike the West, the Hindu society does not have the concept of 'sexual orientation' that classifies males on the basis of who they desire. However, there is a strong, ancient concept of third gender, which is for individuals who have strong elements of both male and female in them. According to Sanskrit texts such as the Narada-smriti, Sushruta Samhita, etc., this third sex or gender includes people who have conventionally been called homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people and intersex people (LGBTI). Third genders are described in ancient Vedic texts as males who have a female nature—referring to homosexual men or feminine-gendered males. The gender/sexual role of third genders has for long been predominantly associated with receiving penetration from men, just like the gender/ sexual role of manhood has been to penetrate men, women or third genders. However, the Kama Sutra clearly describes third-gender men assuming both masculine and feminine identities as well as both receptive and dominant sexual roles.

Although Hindu society does not formally acknowledge sexuality between men, it formally acknowledges and gives space to sexuality between men and third genders as a variation of male-female sex (i.e., a part of heterosexuality, rather than homosexuality, if analysed in Western terms). In fact, Hijras, Alis, Kotis, etc.— the various forms of third gender that exist in India today— are all characterized by the gender role of having receptive anal and oral sex with men. Sexuality between men (as distinct from third genders) has nevertheless thrived, mostly unspoken, informally, within men's spaces, without being seen as 'different' in the way it is seen in the West.[4] As in some other non-Western cultures, it is considered more or less a universal aspect of manhood, even if not socially desirable. It is the effeminate male sexuality for men (or for women) which is seen as 'different,' and differently categorised. Men often refer to their sexual play with each other as 'musti.'[5]

The Hindu concept of homosexuality seeks to break this distinction between third gender and men, and to isolate sexuality between men along with the third genders, with all its negative consequences.[6] As such, men in India have long resisted the concept of 'gay,' and have sex with men without identifying as a 'homosexual.' [7] Gay activists have sought to introduce a locally acceptable term for 'homosexual' for two decades, without success. Finally, the term MSM was taken, because it was technically difficult for men to avoid, if they had sex with men. However, it too was rejected by Indian men, as it was seen as just another term for 'gay.' [8] In the past few years, however, the concept of 'homosexuality' has finally taken root, as men's spaces have weakened, because of Westernization and gay groups becoming strong with years of gay rights activism as well as HIV/AIDS activism.

A significant fallout of this has been that sexual desire between men, which was near universal earlier, is now become more and more isolated from the mainstream, as men are distancing themselves from it because of the stigma of effeminacy or third gender attached to the notion of 'gay.' [9]

Contemporary Hindu society

"“Hindu society had a clear cut idea of all these people in the past. Now that we have put them under one label ‘LGBT’, there is lot more confusion and other identities have got hidden."[10][11]

— Gopi Shankar in National Queer Conference 2013

Sexuality is rarely discussed openly in contemporary Hindu society, especially in modern India where homosexuality was illegal until a brief period beginning in 2009, due to colonial British laws.[12] On July 2, 2009 The Delhi High Court in a historic judgement decriminalised homosexuality in India; where the court noted that the existing laws violated fundamental rights to personal liberty (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution) and equality (Article 14) and prohibition of discrimination (Article 15).[13] Even before this judgement, in India homosexuals were very rarely prosecuted despite the existence of such laws in the penal code.[14] However, the Supreme Court of India re-affirmed the penal code provision and overturned the Delhi High Court decision, effectively re-instating the legal ban on homosexuality.

Even though Hinduism is never known to exclusively ban homosexuality, certain Hindu nationalist factions are opposed to legalising homosexuality while certain others choose to remain silent. However, in the last twenty years homosexuality has become increasingly visible in the print and audio-visual media, with many out LGBT people, an active LGBT movement, and a large Indian LGBT presence on the Internet. From the 1990s onward, modern gay and lesbian Hindu organizations have surfaced in India's major cities and in 2004, plausible calls were made for the first time to repeal India's outdated and nontraditional laws against homosexuality.[15]

Deepa Mehta's 1996 film Fire, which depicts a romantic relationship between two Hindu women, was informally banned for "religious insensitivity"[16] after Hindu Nationalists attacked cinemas where it was being screened on the grounds that it denigrated Indian culture, not on the grounds of homophobia per se, a position shared and confirmed by feminist Madhu Kishwar.[17] In addition, The Bharatiya Janata Party who were in power in India at the time, refused to ban it.[18] Similar protests occurred in 2004 against the lesbian-themed film Girlfriend — even though the portrayal of lesbianism was this time distinctly unsympathetic.[19][20] Several human-rights groups such as the People's Union for Civil Liberties have asserted that sexual minorities in India face severe discrimination and violence, especially those from rural and lower caste backgrounds.[21]

In her book, Love's Rite,[22] Ruth Vanita examines the phenomena of same-sex weddings, many by Hindu rites, which have been reported by the Indian press over the last thirty years and with increasing frequency. In the same period, same-sex joint suicides have also been reported. Most of these marriages and suicides are by lower middle-class female couples from small towns and rural areas across the country; these women have no contact with any LGBT movements. Both cross-sex and same-sex couples, when faced with family opposition, tend to resort to either elopement and marriage or to joint suicide in the hope of reunion in the next life. Vanita examines how Hindu doctrines such as rebirth and the genderlessness of the soul are often interpreted to legitimize socially disapproved relationships, including same-sex ones. In a 2004 survey, most — though not all — swamis said they opposed the concept of a Hindu-sanctified gay marriage.[23] But several Hindu priests have performed same-sex marriages, arguing that love is the result of attachments from previous births and that marriage, as a union of spirit, is transcendental to gender.[24][25]

Later, Vanita condenses the ideas in her book into an article, "Same-sex Weddings, Hindu Traditions and Modern India".[26] Here, she summarizes specific cases in which women specifically committed joint-suicides, were married and separated, or successfully married. She points out three different "forces that have helped female couples".[27] These are: the law courts, the media, and some Hindu authorities (such as the swamis mentioned earlier in this article) from her book. When female couples can stay together under the social pressures and get to the courts, the courts generally hold up their decisions, holding to the fact that the women are consenting adults. While this does not necessarily stop the harassment, it does lend the couple further legitimacy under the laws. In addition, the more successful same-sex marriages of women are those in which the women are financially independent. If they have social support from their families and community—for the most part—then they may be able to live in peace together. The media may also play an important role in same-sex marriages. In drawing attention to their marriages, women who do not necessarily know about LGBT rights groups may be contacted and supported by those groups after media attention. However, the flip side of this is that the anti-LGBT groups also may reach out against their marriage.

Many Indian and Hindu intellectuals now publicly support LGBT civil rights. Some liberal Hindu reform movements, especially those in the West, also support social acceptance of gays, lesbians and other gender minorities. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar writes that Hindus are more accepting of "deviance or eccentricity" than are adherents of Western religions, who typically treat sexual variance as "anti-social or psychopathological, requiring 'correction' or 'cure'".[28] Hindus, he argues, believe instead that each individual must fulfil their personal destiny (svadharma) as they travel the path towards moksha (transcendence).

Commenting on the legalisation of homosexuality in India; Anil Bhanot, general secretary of The United Kingdom Hindu Council said: The point here is that the homosexual nature is part of the natural law of God; it should be accepted for what it is, no more and no less. Hindus are generally conservative but it seems to me that in ancient India, they even celebrated sex as an enjoyable part of procreation, where priests were invited for ceremonies in their home to mark the beginning of the process[3]

The third gender

Main article: Hijra (South Asia)

Hindu philosophy has the concept of a third sex or third gender (tritiya-prakriti – literally, "third nature"). This category includes a wide range of people with mixed male and female natures such as effeminate males, masculine females, transgender people, transsexual people, the intersexed, androgynes, and so on. However, the original nature of third-gender has nothing to do with sexual orientation as is reported by the sects of modern LGBT and contemporary west. Third-genders have no connection with sex among men (which is universal). Third-genders are of a different gender from males and females because they have a female inside regardless of who they are sexually attracted to. Many MTF third-genders are not attracted only or at all to men, but are attracted either exclusively to women or are bisexual. Many FTM transgender people are attracted to men.[29] Such persons are not considered fully male or female in traditional Hinduism, being a combination of both. They are mentioned as third sex by nature (birth)[30] and are not expected to behave like ordinary men and women. They often keep their own societies or town quarters, perform specific occupations (such as masseurs, hairdressers, flower-sellers, domestic servants, etc.) and are generally attributed a semi-divine status. Their participation in religious ceremonies, especially as crossdressing dancers and devotees of certain temple gods/goddesses, is considered auspicious in traditional Hinduism. Some Hindus believe that third-sex people have special powers allowing them to bless or curse others.

In 2008, the state of Tamil Nadu recognised the "Third Gender"; with its civil supplies department giving in the ration card a provision for a new sex column as 'T', distinct from the usual 'M' and 'F' for males and females respectively. This was the first time that authorities anywhere in India have officially recognised the third gender.[31]

Hindu religious narratives

The Hindu god Shiva is often represented as Ardhanarisvara, a unified entity of him with his consort Parvati. This sculpture is from the Elephanta Caves near Mumbai.

In the Hindu narrative tradition, stories of gods and mortals changing gender occur.[32] Sometimes they also engage in heterosexual activities as different reincarnated genders. Homosexual and transgender Hindus commonly identify with and worship the various Hindu deities connected with gender diversity such as Ardhanarisvara (the androgynous form of Shiva and his consort Parvati), Aravan (a hero whom the god Krishna married after becoming a woman), Harihara (an incarnation of Shiva and Vishnu combined), Bahuchara Mata (a goddess connected with transsexuality and eunuchism), Gadadhara (an incarnation of Radha in male form), Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (an incarnation of Radha and Krishna combined), Chandi-Chamunda (twin warrior goddesses), Bhagavati-devi (a Hindu goddess associated with crossdressing), Gangamma (a goddess connected with crossdressing and disguises) and the goddess Yellamma.[33][34] There are also specific festivals connected to the worship of these deities, some of which are famous in India for their crossdressing devotees. These festivals include the Aravan Festival of Koovagam, the Bahuchara Mata Festivals of Gujarat and the Yellamma Festivals of Karnataka, among others.[35] Deities displaying gender variance include Mohini, the female avatar of the god Vishnu and Vaikuntha Kamalaja, the androgynous form of Vishnu and his consort Lakshmi.

LBGT interpretations are also drawn in the legends of birth of the deities Ayyappa (a god born from the union of Shiva and Mohini), Bhagiratha (an Indian king born of two female parents) and Kartikeya (where the fire-god Agni "swallows" the seed of Shiva after disturbing his coitus with his consort Parvati). Some homosexual Hindus also worship the gods Mitra and Varuna, who are associated with two lunar phases and same-sex relations in ancient Brahmana texts.[36]

Gender variance is also observed in heroes in Hindu scriptures. The Hindu epic Mahabharata narrates that the hero Arjuna takes a vow to live as a member of the third sex for a year as the result of a curse he is compelled to honor. He thus transforms into Brihannala, a member of the third gender, for a year and becomes a dance teacher to a princess. Another important character, Shikhandi, is born female, but raised as a man and even married to a woman. She becomes male due to the grace of a yaksha. Shikhandi eventually becomes the reason of the death of the warrior Bhishma, who refuses to fight a "woman." Another character, Bhishma appeases Yudhishtira's curiosity about relative enjoyment of partners during sex by relating the story of King Bhangasvana, who having had a hundred sons is turned into a woman while on a hunt. She returns to her kingdom, relates the story, turns the kingdom over to her children and retires to the forest to be the spouse of a hermit, by whom she has a hundred more sons.[37] Ila, a king from Hindu narratives, is also known for his/her gender changes.

Some versions of the Krittivasa Ramayana, the most popular Bengali text on the pastimes of Ramachandra (an incarnation of Vishnu), relate a story of two queens who conceived a child together. When the king of the Sun Dynasty, Maharaja Dilipa, died, the demigods become concerned that he did not have a son to continue his line. Shiva therefore appeared before the king's two widowed queens and commanded them, "You two make love together and by my blessings you will bear a beautiful son." The two wives, with great affection for each other, executed Shiva's order until one of them conceived a child. The sage Astavakra accordingly named the child "Bhagiratha" – he who was born from two vulvas. Bhagiratha later became a king and is credited with bringing the river Ganges down to earth through his austerities.[38]

Hindu texts

Hindus have many sacred texts and different communities give special importance to different texts. Even more so than in other religions, Hindus also foster disparate interpretations of the meaning of various texts. The Vedas, which form the foundation of Hinduism for many, do not refer explicitly to homosexuality, but Rigveda says regarding Samsara that Vikruti Evam Prakriti (perversity/diversity is what nature is all about, or, what seems un-natural is also natural), which some scholars believe recognizes the cyclical constancy of homosexual/transsexual dimensions of human life, like all forms of universal diversities.[39] People of a third gender (tritiya-prakriti), not fully men nor women, are mentioned here and there throughout Hindu texts such as the Puranas but are not specifically defined. In general they are portrayed as effeminate men, often cowardly, and with no desire for women. Modern readers often draw parallels between these and modern stereotypes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sexual identities.

Marriage in Hinduism is said to fulfill three functions: Prajaa, Dharma, and Rati. In marriage, Prajaa is progeny for perpetuation of one's family, Dharma is fulfillment of responsibilities, and Rati is companionship as friends and mutual pleasure as lovers. These three functions are given in the Dharma Shastras.

Historians Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, in their pioneering book, Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History, for the first time compiled extracts from Indian texts, from ancient to modern times, including many Hindu texts, translated from 15 Indian languages. In their accompanying analytical essays, they also demonstrated that Hindu texts have discussed and debated same-sex desire from the earliest times, in tones ranging from critical to non-judgmental to playful and celebratory.

Historian Devdutt Pattanaik summarizes the place of homosexuality in Hindu literature as follows: "though not part of the mainstream, its existence was acknowledged but not approved."[40] Other Indologists assert that homosexuality was not approved for brahmanas or the twice-born but accepted among other castes.

In his book, Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, Vaishnava monk Amara Das Wilhelm demonstrates how ancient expressions of Hinduism accommodated homosexual and transgender persons much more positively than we see in India today: "Early Vedic teachings stressed responsible family life and asceticism but also tolerated different types of sexualities within general society."[41]

Manu Smriti

The Manusmriti, which lists the oldest codes of conduct that were proposed to be followed by a Hindu, admonishes homosexual behavior only mildly. Homosexual behavior among ordinary males of the priestly class is classified only as a minor offense for which a ritual bathing is prescribed. In regard to female homosexuality, it is only deemed punishable if young, unmarried girls are involved. For instance, the verse referring to sexual relations between an older woman and a young virgin girl reads"...a woman who pollutes a damsel (unmarried girl) shall instantly have (her head) shaved or two fingers cut off, and be made to ride (through the town) on a donkey",[42] suggesting a severe punishment. However, the verse referring to sexual relations between two virgin girls suggests a relatively milder punishment  "...a damsel who pollutes (another) damsel must be fined two hundred (panas), pay the double of her (nuptial) fee, and receive ten (lashes with a) rod".[43] These provisions, quoted out of context, seem homophobic, but in fact they are concerned not with the gender of the partners but with the loss of virginity that rendered a young girl unworthy of marriage. For instance, the punishment for a forced sex act between a man and a woman states "...if any man through insolence forcibly contaminates a maiden, two of his fingers shall be instantly cut off, and he shall pay a fine of six hundred (panas)",[44] which seems more severe in comparison to the punishment prescribed for the same act between two virgins. Homosexual intercourse between men was sought to be censured by a prescription of a bath with one's clothes on, and a penance of "eating the five products of the cow and keeping a one-night fast" – the penance being a replacement of the traditional concept of homosexual intercourse resulting in a loss of caste.[45] The discrepancy in treatment may have been due to the text's non-equal views on males and females, considering that the Manusmriti is the same scripture that has stated that the status of woman in the society is the same as (or even lower than) that of a man’s land, his cattle and other possessions.

For Brahmanas and twice-born men, "causing an injury to a priest, smelling wine or things that are not to be smelled, crookedness, and sexual union with a man are traditionally said to cause loss of caste"[46] In the same chapter, the atonement for twice-born men is a ritual bath: "A twice-born man who has intercourse with a male, or with a female in a cart drawn by oxen, in water, or in the day-time, shall bathe, dressed in his clothes."[47] Here again, it can be noticed that the proscriptions are specifically for brahmana and twice-born males; there is no mention in the Manu Smriti of punishment for homosexual behavior between males of the other classes.

The majority of sexual matters dealt with by the law books are heterosexual in nature, and the punishments prescribed for heterosexual transgressions are often more severe. For example, "A man who is not a Brahmana ought to suffer death for adultery (samgrahana)" (2.8.359).

The Manu Smriti also notes the biological origins of a third gender: "A male child is produced by a greater quantity of male seed, a female child by the prevalence of the female; if both are equal, a third-sex child [napumsaka] or boy and girl twins are produced; if either are weak or deficient in quantity, a failure of conception results." (MS 3.49)

Narada Smriti

The Narada Smriti, written around 400 CE, forbids the marriage of homosexual men (mukhebhaga – men who perform oral sex on other men) to women: "These four [irsyaka, sevyaka, vataretas, and mukhebhaga] are to be completely rejected as unqualified for marriage, even for a woman who has been raped." (NS 1.12.15)[48]

The Narada Smriti also lists fourteen different types of panda or men who are impotent with women (see below).

Mahanirvana Tantra

The Mahanirvana tantra exclude the third-gendered from the right of inheritance, although establishing they have the right to be financially supported by their family.[49]

Kama Sutra

The Kama Sutra is an ancient text dealing with kama or desire (of all kinds), which in Hindu thought is one of the four normative and spiritual goals of life. The Kama Sutra is the earliest extant and most important work in the Kama Shastra tradition of Sanskrit literature. It was compiled by the philosopher Vatsyayana around the 4th century, from earlier texts, and describes homosexual practices in several places, as well as a range of sex/gender 'types'. The author acknowledges that these relations also involve love and a bond of trust.

The author describes techniques by which masculine and feminine types of the third sex (tritiya-prakriti), as well as women, perform fellatio.[50] The Second Part, Ninth Chapter of Kama Sutra specifically describes two kinds of men that we would recognize today as masculine- and feminine-type homosexuals but which are mentioned in older, Victorian British translations as simply "eunuchs."[51] The chapter describes their appearances – feminine types dressed up as women whereas masculine types maintained muscular physiques and grew small beards, moustaches, etc. – and their various professions as masseurs, barbers and prostitutes are all described. Such homosexual men were also known to marry, according to the Kama Sutra: "There are also third-sex citizens, sometimes greatly attached to one another and with complete faith in one another, who get married together." (KS 2.9.36). In the "Jayamangala" of Yashodhara, an important twelfth-century commentary on the Kama Sutra, it is also stated: "Citizens with this kind of homosexual inclination, who renounce women and can do without them willingly because they love one another, get married together, bound by a deep and trusting friendship."[52]

After describing fellatio as performed between men of the third sex, the Sutra then mentions the practice as an act between men and women, wherein the homosexuals acts are scorned, especially for brahmanas. (KS 2.9.37)

The Kama Sutra also refers to svairini, who are "independent women who frequent their own kind or others" (2.8.26) — or, in another passage: "the liberated woman, or svairini, is one who refuses a husband and has relations in her own home or in other houses" (6.6.50). In a famous commentary on the Kama Sutra from the 12th century, Jayamangala, explains: "A woman known for her independence, with no sexual bars, and acting as she wishes, is called svairini. She makes love with her own kind. She strokes her partner at the point of union, which she kisses." (Jayamangala on Kama Sutra 2.8.13). The various practices of lesbians are described in detail within the Second Part, Eighth Chapter of the Kama Sutra.[53]


There are other ancient Hindu/Sanskrit texts that refer to homosexuality. The Sushruta Samhita, for example, a highly respected Hindu medical text dating back to at least 600 B.C., mentions two different types of homosexual men (kumbhika – men who take the passive role in anal sex; and asekya – men who devour the semen of other men) as well as transgender people (sandha – men with the qualities, behavior and speech of women). It also states that men who behave like women, or women who behave like men, are determined as such at the time of their conception in the womb. (SS 3.2.42–43)[54] The Sushruta Samhita also mentions the possibility of two women uniting and becoming pregnant as a result of the mingling of their sexual fluids. It states that the child born of such a union will be "boneless." Such a birth is indeed described in the Krittivasa Ramayana of Bengal (see below).

Other texts list the various types of men who are impotent with women (known in Sanskrit as sandha, kliba, napumsaka, and panda). The Sabda-kalpa-druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary, for instance, lists twenty types, as does the Kamatantra and Smriti-Ratnavali of Vacaspati (14th century). The Narada Smriti similarly lists fourteen different types. Included among the lists are transgender people (sandha), intersex people (nisarga), and three different types of homosexual men (mukhebhaga, kumbhika and asekya). Such texts demonstrate that third-sex terms like sandha and napumsaka actually refer to many different types of "men who are impotent with women," and that simplistic definitions such as "eunuch" or "neuter" may not always be accurate and in some cases totally incorrect. In his article Homosexuality and Hinduism, Arvind Sharma expresses his doubt over the common English translation of words like kliba into "eunuch" as follows: "The limited practice of castration in India raises another point significant for the rest of the discussion, namely, whether rendering a word such as "kliba" as "eunuch" regularly is correct..."[55]

The Arthashastra of Kautilya represents the principle text of secular law and illustrates the attitude of the judiciary towards sexual matters. Heterosexual vaginal sex is proposed as the norm by this text and legal issues arising from deviation there from are punishable by fines and in extreme cases by capital punishment. Homosexual acts are cited as a small offence punishable by a fine.[56]

Sangam literature

Sangam literature use the word ‘Pedi’ to refer to transwomen, Likewise, the famous sangam period characters of King Koperunchozhan and Pisuranthaiyar are another example for same sex love and They are said to have not seen each other at all and yet shared love and regard for each other, so much, that they die at the same time at different places. “For instance, the friendship between King Pari and poet Kabilar is shown as something more than just friendship. There are lyrical undertones suggestive of the intimate relationship they had. But since there are no explicit representation, one can only postulate a possibility.[10]

Third-gender Hindu sects

Below are listed some of the most common third-gender sects found in Hinduism. There are an estimated half million crossdressing "eunuchs" in modern-day India, associated with various sects, temples and Hindu deities.[57] Despite being called "eunuchs", the majority of these persons (91%) do not practice castration but are more accurately associated with transgender.

The Hijra

Main article: Hijra (South Asia)

The most well-known third-gender group in India is perhaps the hijra of northern India. The hijra is the only sect that practices castration, a custom introduced during Muslim rule around the tenth century A.D. Male castration is not recommended in the Vedas and is not a traditional Hindu practice.[58][59] There are an estimated 50,000 hijra in northern India. After interviewing and studying the hijra for many years, Serena Nanda writes in her book, Neither Man Nor Woman: The hijras of India, as follows: "There is a widespread belief in India that hijras are born hermaphrodites [intersex] and are taken away by the hijra community at birth or in childhood, but I found no evidence to support this belief among the hijras I met, all of whom joined the community voluntarily, often in their teens."[60] Nanda also states: "There is absolutely no question that at least some hijras – perhaps even the majority – are homosexual prostitutes. Sinha's (1967) study of hijras in Lucknow, in North India, acknowledges the hijra role as performers, but views the major motivation for recruitment to the hijra community as the satisfaction of the individual's homosexual urges..."[61] The hijras especially worship Bahuchara, the Hindu goddess presiding over transsexuality.

The Aravani or Ali

Aravanis – the "brides" of Aravan, mourn his death

The most numerous third-gender sect (estimated at 150,000) is the aravani or ali of Tamil Nadu in southern India. The aravanis are typically transgender and their main festival, the popular Koovagam or Aravan Festival celebrated in late April/early May, is attended by thousands, including many transgender people and homosexuals. The aravani worship the Hindu god, Aravan, and do not practice any system of castration.[62]

The Jogappa

A lesser-known third-gender sect in India is the jogappa of South India (Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh), a group similarly associated with prostitution. The jogappa are connected with the goddess Yellamma (Renuka), and include both transgender people and homosexuals. Both serve as dancers and prostitutes, and they are usually in charge of the temple devadasis (maidservants of the goddess who similarly serve as dancers and female courtesans). Large festivals are celebrated at these temples wherein hundreds of scantily-clad devadasis and jogappas parade through the streets. The jogappa do not practice castration.[63]

Religious art

Medieval Hindu temples such as those at Khajuraho depict sexual acts in sculptures on the external walls. Some of these scenes involve same-sex sexuality:

Khajoraho scene of three women and one man.

See also


  1. Bonvillain, Nancy (2001). Women and men: cultural constructs of gender. Prentice Hall. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-13-025973-8.
  2. Keene, Michael (2002). Religion in Life and Society. Folens Limited. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-84303-295-3.
  3. 1 2 http://news.rediff.com/report/2009/jul/03/hinduism-does-not-condemn-homosexuality.htm
  4. The social construction of male 'homosexuality' in India, by S Asthana and R. Oostvogels, published in 'Social Science & Medicine', vol 52(2001), Quote: "Indian culture is highly homosocial and displays of affection, body contact and the sharing of beds between men is socially acceptable (Kahn, 1994) This creates opportunities for sexual contact, though sexual behavior in this context is rarely seen as real sex, but as play. Much of this same-sex sexual activity begins in adolescence between school friends and within family environments and is non-penetrative... Young men who cultivate such relationships do not consider themselves to be 'homosexual' but conceive their behavior in terms of sexual desire, opportunity and pleasure."
  5. Males Who Have Sex with Males (MSM) and HIV/AIDS in India: The Hidden Epidemic, Gregory Pappas, Omar Khan, Jason Taylor Wright, Shivananda Khan, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, and Joseph O’Neill; Quote: "Manliness and Musti Another important aspect of MSM in the subcontinent is the meaning of manliness. Many men consider it a display of sexual prowess for an older, sexually dominant man to have sex with a young and/or submissive man or boy. Jokes and folk knowledge regarding sex incorporate this theme and create some flexibility for socially acceptable MSM behavior in an otherwise repressive environment.23 The notion of musti also provides an open space for sexual behavior. Musti is translated as “fun or mischief” in Hindi and Urdu; the word is understood by most to describe sexual release through ejaculation and non-penetrative sex. In that sense, oral sex or mutual masturbation is not considered to be “sex”; this affords wider license to be given to musti between men. A phrase commonly heard is that a particular liaison was “just musti,” connoting that it is not to be taken seriously, and therefore below the level at which it would draw moral opprobrium. Musti is also tacitly acknowledged as a common part of boyhood experience: it is considered of little consequence, and it is believed that boys grow out of this behavior.24"
  6. The social construction of male 'homosexuality' in India, by S Asthana and R. Oostvogels, published in 'Social Science & Medicine', vol 52(2001), Quote: "As with Indian men and women, a social distance exists between masculine- and feminine-identified MSM and it is difficult to envisage a fundamental change in these arrangements - e.g. the development of more reciprocal social and sexual relations. It is therefore highly unlikely that a collective 'gay' consciousness and solidarity can be achieved in the Indian context. Indeed, care should be taken in assuming that an incipient 'gay movement' already exists in the country (Drucker, 1996)."
  7. HIV in India — A Complex Epidemic, Robert Steinbrook, M.D., N Engl J Med 2007; 356:1089-1093March 15, 2007, Quote: "For many Indians, sex between men is not sex but “mischief,” and many men who have sex with men do not identify themselves as homosexual."
  8. The social construction of male 'homosexuality' in India, by S Asthana and R. Oostvogels, published in 'Social Science & Medicine', vol 52(2001), Quote: "In practice, however, MSM is often use interchangeably with that of 'gay men'."
  9. The social construction of male 'homosexuality' in India, by S Asthana and R. Oostvogels, published in 'Social Science & Medicine', vol 52(2001), Quote: "Thus, whilst there was more social acceptance of alternative sexual natures in the 1970s and more space emerged for sexual minorities to live their lives without repression, gay men also became more sexually isolated. Due to the tendency to associate male homosexuality with effeminacy, men who wished to preserve their masculine heterosexual self-image withdrew from homosexual circuits. Thus there was a decline in the proportion of men who had sex with men who were also involved in heterosexual relationships."
  10. 1 2 Shrikumar, A. (October 18, 2013). "No more under siege". The Hindu. Chennai, India.
  11. http://www.glreview.org/article/the-many-genders-of-old-india/
  12. From section 377 of the Indian Penal Code: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
  13. The Times Of India https://web.archive.org/web/20160427121918/http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/photo.cms. Archived from the original on April 27, 2016. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. Indian Court Overturns Gay Sex Ban New York Times
  15. Attitudes, and the law, keep India's gays quiet New York Times – January 19, 2006
  16. Entry on the movie "Fire", from IMDB (Internet Movie Database). Accessed on August 9, 2006.
  17. Furore over a film PRAVEEN SWAMI, The Hindu
  18. 'Girlfriend' causes India storm, by Jayshree Bajoria, correspondent in Bombay for BBC News.
  19. Lesbian-Themed Bollywood Films Provoke Violence, Dialogue, by Sarah Warn, June 2004, for afterellen.com
  20. People's Union of Civil Liberties reports on sexual minorities
  21. Vanita, Ruth. Love's Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West. New Delhi, India: Penguin Books India, 2005.
  22. Discussions on Dharma, by Rajiv Malik, in Hinduism Today. October/November/December 2004.
  23. Gay couple hold Hindu wedding Tuesday, 29 May 2001, 11:29 GMT, BBC News
  24. As Tide Turns on Same-Sex Marriage, Churches Lag Behind New America Media, News Feature, Sandip Roy
  25. Vanita, Ruth. "Same-sex Weddings, Hindu Traditions And Modern India." Feminist Review 91, no. 1 (2009): 47-60. jstor.org (accessed February 9, 2014).
  26. Vanita, Ruth. "Same-sex Weddings, Hindu Traditions And Modern India." Feminist Review 91, no. 1 (2009): 53. jstor.org (accessed February 9, 2014).
  27. Kakar, Sundir (1981). The Inner World: A Psycho-analytic Study of Childhood and Society in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 39
  28. Pattanaik, Devdutt. The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore (p. 10). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press, 2002.
  29. Buhler, G., trans. The Laws of Manu (3.49). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.
  30. Third sex gets official status in Tamil Nadu Pushpa Narayan, TNN; Times of India, March 16, 2008, 12.59am IST
  31. [Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, Same-Sex Love in India, 2000, first section, sections 1 and 2, "Ancient Indian Materials" and "Medieval Materials in the Sanskritic Tradition" ; O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1980). Women, Androgynes, and Other Mystical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 302–4
    Thadani, Giti (1996). Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India. London: Cassell. p. 65
    Pattanaik, Devdutt (2002). The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore, Haworth Press, ISBN 1-56023-181-5
  32. "Hindu Deities and the Third Sex (1)". Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  33. "Hindu Deities and the Third Sex (2)". Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  34. For a complete description of twenty-nine of the most gender-variant Hindu deities, see Part One, Chapter Three of Wilhelm's Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex.
  35. "Hindu Deities and the Third Sex (2)". Gay & Lesbian Vaishnava Association. Archived from the original on 28 Feb 2016. Retrieved 14 March 2016. In Vedic literature, Sri Mitra-Varuna are portrayed as icons of brotherly affection and intimate friendship between males (the Sanskrit word mitra means “friend” or “companion”). For this reason they are worshiped by men of the third sex, albeit not as commonly as other Hindu deities. They are depicted riding a shark or crocodile together while bearing tridents, ropes, conch shells and water pots. Sometimes they are portrayed seated side-by-side on a golden chariot drawn by seven swans. Ancient Brahmana texts furthermore associate Sri Mitra-Varuna with the two lunar phases and same-sex relations: “Mitra and Varuna, on the other hand, are the two half-moons: the waxing one is Varuna and the waning one is Mitra. During the new-moon night these two meet and when they are thus together they are pleased with a cake offering. Verily, all are pleased and all is obtained by any person knowing this. On that same night, Mitra implants his seed in Varuna and when the moon later wanes, that waning is produced from his seed.” (Shatapatha Brahmana Varuna is similarly said to implant his seed in Mitra on the full-moon night for the purpose of securing its future waxing. In Hinduism, the new- and full-moon nights are discouraged times for procreation and consequently often associated with citrarata or unusual types of intercourse.
  36. Mahabharata Anushaasan Parva: Daandharma Parva, Chapter 12, shloka-1
  37. Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai. Same-Sex Love in India: Reading From Literature and History, pp. 100–102. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001. For more details on other versions of this story, see Chapter Six of Love's Rite, by the same author.
  38. 'Expose the Hindu Taliban!' by Ashok Row Kavi
  39. Pattanaik, Devdutt (2001). Homosexuality in Ancient India, Debonair 2000 or 2001. Essay available online from GayBombay.org.
  40. Wilhelm, Amara Das. Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, p. 131. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation, 2003.
  41. Manu Smriti Chapter 8, Verse 370. Text online
  42. Manu Smriti Chapter 8, Verse 369. Text online
  43. Manu Smriti Chapter 8, Verse 367. Text online
  44. Vanita & Kidwai 2001, p. 25
  45. Manu Smriti chapter 11, verse 68. Text online.
  46. Manu Smriti chapter 11, verse 175. Text online.
  47. Lariviere. Naradasmriti, (Part One). Philadelphia, 1989.
  48. Mahanirvana Tantra 12:104
  49. Danielou, Alain. The Complete Kama Sutra, Part Two, Chapter Nine, entitled "Superior Coition or Fellation [Auparishtaka]. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1994.
  50. Kama Sutra, Chapter 9, "Of the Auparishtaka or Mouth Congress". Text online (Richard Burton 1883 translation).
  51. Danielou, Alain. The Complete Kama Sutra. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1994.
  52. The Kama Sutra Of Vatsayana – Part 2, Chapter 8 Translation by Richard Burton (1883)
  53. Wilhelm, Amara Das. Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, pp. 267, 334. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation, 2003.
  54. Sharma, Arvind. Homosexuality and Hinduism (as part of Homosexuality and World Religions). Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International.
  55. Arthashastra(4;13;236)
  56. Wilhelm, Amara Das. Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, p. 346. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation, 2003
  57. India's Slow Descent Into Homophobia BY AMARA DASA; July 12, 2003, VNN
  58. FAQ:#7-What are the “eunuchs” of India?
  59. Nanda, Serena. Neither Man Nor Woman: The hijras of India, p. xx. Canada: Wadworth Publishing Company, 1999
  60. Nanda, Serena. Neither Man Nor Woman: The hijras of India, p. 10. Canada: Wadworth Publishing Company, 1999
  61. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Lgbt Issues Worldwide By Chuck Stewart; p.315
  62. Wilhelm, Amara Das. Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, pp. 77–78. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris Corporation, 2003.

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