‘Hindu scriptures always speak of the third gender’

Maybe it was the familiarity with this verse that led hijras to equate Ram’s reign (Ram rajya) with gender equality and inclusion.
Devdutt Pattanaik
Devdutt Pattanaik

BENGALURU: In an attempt to prove that Hinduism is patriarchal and celebrates inequality, many often quote the lines from Tulsidas’s Ram-charit-manas, composed 400 years ago in Hindi, where Varuna, the sea god, while submitting to the power of Ram, says, ‘Dhol ganwar shudra pashu nari sakal taadana ke adhikari’ (the drum, the dumb, the servant, the beast and the woman, need to be beaten to get them to work).

Few speak of another line in the same literary work, spoken by Ram himself, to the storytelling crow Kakabhusandi, ‘Purush napunsak nari va jiv charachar koi, sarva bhaav bhaja kapat taji mohi param priya soi’ (man, queer, woman, even plants and animals, free of meanness, full of devotion, are all equally dear to me). This celebrates equality, not just between men and women, but also between humans, plants and animals. The verse also includes the colloquial word for queer, ‘napunsak’, which literally means ‘not quite man’—it can be applied to gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex people.

Maybe it was the familiarity with this verse that led hijras to equate Ram’s reign (Ram rajya) with gender equality and inclusion. Hijras are a community of transgendered men in India who choose to castrate themselves as they reject their masculinity.

They are a marginalized community that functions as a caste group, with entry based on initiation via a community leader (guru). Amongst them is a story from the Ramayana that grants them legitimacy. They say that when Ram returned from his forest exile he found a group of hijras outside the gates of Ayodhya.
They had left the city on the day Ram had left for the forest and had stayed out ever since. When Ram asked the reason for this, they replied, ‘You told the men who followed you to return home.

You told the women who followed you to return home. You had no instructions for us, who are neither men nor women. So we waited until you returned.’ Moved by their devotion, Ram took them by the hand and led them into his city. Ram’s rule (Ram rajya) would include all—even the third gender.Eunuchs or castrated males also play a role in the Mahabharata.

When Arjuna rejects the sexual advances of the nymph, Urvashi, she curses him that he will lose his manhood. Indra limits the curse and says it will only last for a year—the year depending on Arjuna’s choice. So during the thirteenth year of exile, Arjuna hides in the women’s quarters in the palace of Virata, king of Matsya, as a eunuch-dancer. He occupies the role traditionally given to hijras.

Hindu scriptures always speak of the third gender. And they are an integral part of mythology. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are no exceptions.‘Both refer to the queer’ extracted from Ramayana Versus Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik, with permission from Rupa Publications.

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