Jyothi Prabhakar, Bombay Times

The Hindu mythology has many incidents showcasing fluidity of sex, where same-sex interactions have often served a sacred purpose. And sometimes, the gods themselves have been part of these transformations and unions.

In many parts of India, these avatars are worshipped in those very forms till date, and have festivals dedicated to them…
Born out of the merging of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati. Ardhanarishwara means ‘The Lord who is half a woman, and half man’.
Ayyappa, worshipped extensively down south, is born from the joining of Vishnu while he is Mohini, and Shiva. Mohini abandons Ayyappa in shame. But the Pandyan king Rajasekhara of Pantalam adopts the baby who grows up to be a great hero.
In the Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu takes the form of Mohini, a beautiful enchantress, in order to trick the demons into giving up Amrita after the manthan. But Lord Shiva falls for Mohini, and they have a relationsip, with Shiva being fully aware of the real identity of Mohini. The result of this union was a son (Lord Ayyappa).
Shikhandi, in Mahabharata, was born a girl, Shikhandini, to Drupada, the king of Panchala. She was the reincarnation of Amba, who was rendered unmarriageable by Bhishma. She was granted her wish to be the cause of Bhishma’s death, and was reborn Shikhandini. But since a divine voice told Drupada to raise Shikhandini as a son, she was taught warfare. On the wedding night, Shikhandini’s wife discovered that her “husband” was female, and insulted her. Shikhandini fled, but met a yaksha who exchanged his sex with her. She then became a man, Shikhandi, whom during the Kurukshetra war, Bhishma recognised as Amba reborn and refused to fight ‘a woman’. After his death, Shikhandi’s masculinity was transferred back to the yaksha.
When Arjuna spurned the amorous advances of a nymph, Urvashi, she cursed him to become a ‘kliba’, or a ‘hijra’, a member of the third gender. Lord Krishna then tells Arjuna that this curse would be the perfect disguise for Arjuna during his last year of exile. Arjuna takes on the name Brihannala and dresses in women’s clothes for a year.

A temple sculpture Ardhanarishwara
Mohini with Ayyappa and Shiva
Lord Shiva, entranced by Mohini – an artist’s version


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