In our entire series, we have discussed the references of same-sex relationships in other mythologies. We will now see the treatment of the same in Hindu mythology.
Though there are no direct references of same-sex relationships, but change of sex or taking new forms to facilitate a union is not uncommon. This has heavenly sanction but has also been looked down upon at times. One of the most cited myths here is Shiva’s infatuation with Vishnu’s woman form, Mohini. The subject is under discussion, especially since Shiva is supposed to have known the fact that Mohini was none other than Vishnu himself and the Brahmanda Purana, has a reference to Parvati being ashamed of her husband’s act of pursuing Mohini. The sexual union leads to Mohini (rather Vishnu) getting pregnant and how ‘she’ gives birth to Ayyappa who is also known as Harihar-putra (son of Vishnu and Shiva). There is also a mention of Vishnu abandoning the child Ayappa in shame; this could imply that same-sex relationships were looked down upon, but the act cannot be denied.
One very important reference of same-sex relationship is mentioned in the Bengali version of Ramayana, better known as Krittibash Ramayan. According to this version when a well-known king of the Solar dynasty dies without leaving an heir, then Lord Shiva is supposed to have appeared to the two widows of the king and asks the two to make love, the union of which would bear a son who would then be the heir to the famous Solar dynasty. The widows do as told and one of the queens bear a son, who was boneless (according to some religious texts, in a child, the father’s contribution is bones and mother’s contribution is flesh and blood). Later with the blessing of the sage Ashtavakra (one who was bent from eight sides), the child was normalized and he goes on to name the child Bhagiratha, the one who was born from two bhaga (vulva). This is the same Bhagiratha who later on was responsible for bringing the river Ganga from the heavens after convincing Lord Shiva to bear the force of the river! There are many versions to this myth, but whichever version one refers to the basic crux of the myth remains same – a child by two women. This can be seen as one of the many rare occurrences of same-sex relationship between two women.
An interesting variation of such relationships can be seen in the form of devotion in a certain sect of Vaishnavism. According to this, there is only one male, and that is god himself and all others are females. Love for god was the ultimate truth and thus many male devotees would profess their love and devotion to god in the form of Radha, the romantic consort of Krishna (or Vishnu). Many a suggestive couplet or bhajans have been written by men, professing their love to god in the form of Radha. Many modern day scholars see this as a form of homo-erotic expression of love, seeking religious sanction.
Examples of same-sex relationships are relatively rare in the Hindu mythology, because there are references of changing sex for the need of the moment and later regaining the original form. This could be to avoid depiction of same-sex relationships to ensure a single thought process to percolate down to the masses. This however, does not mean that such concept did not exist. This could be a subsequent interpretation by the later thinkers – which is a matter of debate. Temple architecture has detailed depiction of same-sex love and so does Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra. Was it looked down upon? Probably yes, but was it because it was same-sex? One can’t be too sure – and the reason could be, that sex according to Hindu texts, was only for procreation which was a duty, and any sex for enjoyment and pleasure was looked down upon. Looking down upon same-sex relationship could just be so, as it didn’t lead to any progeny and was more of giving vent to carnal pleasures. This is a major difference of opinion with the Greek mythology – there is no reference of a progeny in the Greek relationships and many of them existed out of pure physical attraction or pleasure, but the in the case of both the examples of same-sex relationship shown above in Hindu mythology, there is a child-birth.
To conclude, many have seen the series as being supportive of homosexuality (the numerous comments written to me directly more than hinted at this). My support or opposition to the subject is immaterial and probably has no relevance either. The objective of the series was definitely not to be judgmental or be opinionated. My endeavour on the subject was only to highlight the various references in the mythologies of world, of a much (supposedly) ‘modern’ and at times a taboo subject. Mythology is seen by many as a ‘belief system’ of a culture. We understand any culture by studying their mythology which gives us an insight into their faith, believes and motivations of life. All I have tried to do is unearth references of such relationships, the way they were and the way they were seen, then. As my readers would have realized it, there is no explicit comment on the subject and no aspect of the same-sex relationship has been judged or brought under the scanner with any specific perspective.
With this I conclude the series.