Vedic Third-Gender Types and Terms

The following Sanskrit lists from the Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Sabda-kalpa-druma and Narada-smriti define various types of men who are impotent with women as described in Vedic literature. These lists refute the common misconception held by some that words such as napumsa, kliba, etc. cannot refer to homosexuals.

The Eight Types of Napumsa

In a chapter of the Caraka Samhita (4.2) discussing embryological development and exceptional births, eight types of napumsa are listed and defined as follows:

  1. Dviretas—he has both male and female “seed.”

  2. Pavanendriya—he has no discharge of semen.

  3. Samskaravahi—he is aroused according to previous life impressions.

  4. Narashandha—his manhood is completely destroyed.

  5. Narishandha—her womanhood is completely destroyed.

  6. Vakri—his penis is severely curved or deformed.

  7. Irshyabhirati—he is aroused only by the jealous feelings of seeing other men in the act of sexual union.

  8. Vatika—he is born without testicles.

The Caraka Samhita is an ancient Vedic medical text put into writing sometime around 200 B.C. According to this text, all eight types of napumsa are produced by various factors such as previous life impressions, an equal “seed” conception, parental conditions and certain afflictions within the womb. Two other types of napumsa are mentioned in Chapter 4.4: the varta, whose female “seed” is afflicted in utero, and the trnaputrika, whose male “seed” is similarly afflicted. All ten types are described as inborn and incurable. According to Cakrapani Datta, an important eleventh-century A.D. commentator on the Caraka Samhita, the samskaravahi type includes the five kliba described by Sushruta and listed below.

The Five Types of Kliba

In a chapter of the Sushruta Samhita (3.2) discussing the conception of progeny, five types of kliba are listed and described as follows:

  1. Asekya—he is aroused only by swallowing a man’s semen.

  2. Saugandhika—he is aroused only by smelling the genitals of other men.

  3. Kumbhika—he takes the passive role in anal sex.

  4. Irshyaka—he is aroused only by the jealous feelings of seeing other men in the act of sexual union.

  5. Shandha—he has the qualities and behavior of a woman.

The Sushruta Samhita is an ancient Vedic medical text put into writing sometime around 600 B.C. All five types of kliba are described as inborn, due to an equal “seed” conception caused by various conditions of the parents. The Sushruta Samhita distinguishes the shandha from the other four in that the latter are said to possess semen and male characteristics whereas the shandha is completely devoid of these. It also mentions that the first four types of kliba achieve erections through drinking the semen of other men (3.2.44-45) and describes a type of female shandha with the qualities of a man (3.2.43). In the Sabda-kalpa-druma, the meaning of the word shandha is expanded into twenty different types and cited below.

The Twenty Types of Shandha

The following list from the Sabda-kalpa-druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary describes the twenty types of impotent men known in Sanskrit as shandha. The key criterion of a shandha is that he is sexually impotent with women, whether in terms of desire, performance or fertility. As evident from this list, a shandha can refer to many different types of men. Some are impotent with women by nature (tritiya-prakriti) such as the intersexed, homosexuals and transgenders, while others are ordinary males who have lost their potency due to various physical or psychological afflictions. The term shandha is therefore much more inclusive than widely believed and any surrounding context should be carefully considered whenever an interpretation is rendered. Simplistic definitions such as “eunuch,” “neuter,” or “sexless” may not always be accurate and in many cases completely incorrect.

Under the entry shandha, the Sabda-kalpa-druma dictionary quotes the Narada-smriti, which lists fourteen different types of men who are impotent with women. Then it quotes the Kamatantra, which lists twenty different kinds. Then it quotes Vacaspati’s fourteenth-century A.D. Smriti-ratnavali wherein the twenty types of shandha are listed and defined as follows:

  1. Nisarga—he is born without proper genitals.

  2. Baddha—he has no testicles.

  3. Paksha—he is periodically impotent with women (every other fortnight, month, etc.).

  4. Kilaka—he penetrates the woman using another man or some instrument.

  5. Sapadi—he is unable to enjoy sex due to the power of a curse.

  6. Stabdha—his penis is paralyzed, with no sperm.

  7. Irshyaka—he is aroused only by the jealous feelings of seeing other men in the act of sexual union.

  8. Sevyaka—he is sexually enjoyed by other men.

  9. Aksipta—his semen is deficient or does not discharge properly.

  10. Moghabija—his attempts to unite with the woman are fruitless.

  11. Salina—he is too shy or inhibited to even approach women.

  12. Anyapati—he copulates with things or beings other than women.

  13. Mukhebhaga—he performs oral sex on men.

  14. Vataretas—he has no discharge of semen.

  15. Kumbhika—he takes the passive role in anal sex.

  16. Panda—his penis does not respond to (the woman’s) touch.

  17. Nasta—he is without sperm due to disease.

  18. Asekya—he is aroused only by swallowing a man’s semen.

  19. Saugandhika—he is aroused only by smelling the genitals of other men.

  20. Shandha—he has the qualities of a woman; behaving and talking as they do, he may castrate himself.

The Smriti-ratnavali is a summary of Vedic law codes written by Ramanatha Vidya Vacaspati in the fourteenth century A.D. Also known as the Daya Rahasya, this text is still recognized as an important law reference in many parts of Bengal. The Sabda-kalpa-druma Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary, which quotes the Smriti-ratnavali in regard to the twenty types of shandha, was compiled in the early nineteenth century by a team of Bengali scholars under the commission of a local king named Raj Radhakantha Dev. The well-known Sanskrit dictionaries we use today, such as the St. Petersburg (Bohtlingk) and Monier-Williams, relied heavily upon this text and would not even have been possible without it. Typically, the European dictionaries edited, dismissed or perhaps misunderstood virtually all of the entries referring to homosexuality, due to the influence of their own Victorian culture.

Since the account in the Kamatantra ends by stating klibani vimsatih (these are the twenty klibas), the author takes kliba to be the same as shandha. The eleventh-century lexicographer, Hemacandra, similarly equates shandha with napumsaka. In other words, at least these writers believed that the words kliba and napumsaka could mean any of the things that the word shandha meant. In his important twelfth-century commentary on the Kama Sutra known as Jayamangala, the great scholar, Yashodhara, states that the homosexual men described in the Kama Sutra as tritiya-prakriti are also known as napumsaka. Similarly, the fourteen types of panda described in the Narada-smriti closely reflect those mentioned under shandha and are listed below.

The Fourteen Types of Panda

A fourth list of men who are impotent with women appears in the twelfth chapter of the Narada-smriti entitled “The Union of Woman and Man.” Within that chapter, men who are unfit for marriage due to impotence (panda) are listed and defined as follows:

  1. Nisarga—he is born without proper genitals.

  2. Vadhri—his testicles have been cut out.

  3. Paksha—he is periodically impotent with women (every other fortnight, month, etc.).

  4. Abhisapad-guroh—he is impotent due to the guru’s curse.

  5. Rogat—he is diseased (which may pass).

  6. Deva-krodhat—he is impotent due to a god’s anger.

  7. Irshyaka—he is aroused only by the jealous feelings of seeing other men in the act of sexual union.

  8. Sevyaka—he is sexually enjoyed by other men.

  9. Vataretas—he has no discharge of semen.

  10. Mukhebhaga—he performs oral sex on men.

  11. Aksipta—his semen is deficient or does not discharge properly.

  12. Moghabija—his attempts to unite with the woman are fruitless.

  13. Salina—he is too shy or inhibited to even approach women.

  14. Anyapati—he copulates with things or beings other than women.

The Narada-smriti is a Dharma Shastra text put into writing sometime before the first century B.C. Of the fourteen types of panda listed, the Narada-smriti(12.14-18) declares the following seven as incurable and unfit for marriage: nisarga, vadhri, irshyaka, sevyaka, vataretas, mukhebhaga and anyapati. It further declares the remaining seven as possibly curable: paksha, abhisapad-guroh, rogat, deva-krodhat, aksipta, moghabija and salina.

The Ten Types of Nastriya

Women who are impotent with men are mentioned less frequently in Vedic literature. Nevertheless, at least ten different types of nastriya or third-gender women can be found in various Sanskrit texts and are listed below.

  1. Svairini—she engages in lovemaking with other women.

  2. Kamini—she engages in lovemaking with both men and women.

  3. Stripumsa—she is masculine in behavior and form.

  4. Shandhi—she is averse to men and has no menstruation or breasts.

  5. Narishandha—her womanhood is completely destroyed.

  6. Varta—her female “seed” is afflicted in utero.

  7. Sucivaktra or Sucimukhi—she has an extremely small, undeveloped vagina.

  8. Vandhya—her menstruation is absent or suppressed.

  9. Moghapuspa—her attempts to unite with the man are fruitless.

  10. Putraghni—she has repeated miscarriages.

The svairini is described in the Kama Sutra (2.8); the kamini in the Bhagavata Purana (5.24.16); the stripumsa in the Mahabharata and various astrological texts; the shandhi, sucivaktra, vandhya and putraghni in the Sushruta Samhita (6.38); the shandhi, narishandha, varta, sucimukhi and putraghni in the Caraka Samhita (4.2; 4.4; 6.30), and the moghapuspa in various Sanskrit lexicons. The first three types are physically capable of bearing children whereas the remaining seven are infertile.

The Ten Causes of Gender

Both the Sushruta and Caraka Samhitas provide elaborate descriptions regarding how and why living entities take birth as male, female or third gender. Such descriptions can be summarized into the ten contributing factors listed below. In many cases, several or even most of these factors will be involved to some degree.

  1. Samskara—previous life impressions.

  2. Kama—desire.

  3. Sukarma—good karma.

  4. Vikarma—bad karma.

  5. Sukra-bala—strength of “seed.”

  6. Mithuna-vidhi—method of copulation.

  7. Paurusha—the personal efforts of the parents.

  8. Dosha—affliction.

  9. Prakriti—nature.

  10. Daiva—divine ordinance.

1) Samskara—previous life impressions.

According to Vedic teachings, the living entity is eternal and experiences innumerable lifetimes until achieving final emancipation. Thus, every newborn person comes with a complete package of previous life impressions, desires and activities known as samskaras. Based on these, the living entity takes birth as male, female or third gender.

2) Kama—desire.

Every living being has kama or innumerable desires as part of the previous life impressions or samskaras mentioned above. When the living entity desires to experience a lifetime as male, female or third gender, such a lifetime comes to pass.

3) Sukarma—good karma.

When the living entity takes birth as male, female or third gender according to desire, such a birth is said to be the result of previous good deeds or sukarma. A birth due to sukarma is evident when the person is happy with the awarded birth and resides in a setting where he or she is treated kindly. Such a person is furthermore endowed with auspicious qualities such as beauty, good health, strength, wealth, talent, intelligence, good parentage, righteousness, renunciation, religiosity, and so on.

4) Vikarma—bad karma.

When the living entity is forced to take birth as male, female or third gender against all desire, such a birth is said to be the result of previous misdeeds or vikarma. A birth due to vikarma is evident when the person is unhappy with the awarded birth and resides in a setting where he or she is treated harshly. Such a person is furthermore endowed with inauspicious qualities such as ugliness, ill health, weakness, poverty, lack of talent, foolishness, bad parentage, unrighteousness, excessive attachment, irreligiosity, and so on.

5) Sukra-bala—strength of “seed.”

According to the quantity and the quality of the parents’ “seed” at the time of conception, a child is conceived as male, female or third sex. When the father’s sukra or male sexual fluids predominate, a male is produced and when the mother’s sonita or female sexual fluids predominate, the child will be female. If both are equal, the offspring will be of the third sex. Such equal “seed” conceptions are further distinguished as follows: When the “seed” is exactly equal and afflicted, the child will be sterile or have both male and female physical characteristics; when the “seed” is mostly equal but slightly more in terms of the male or female, a third-gender boy or girl will be born respectively, and when the “seed” is mostly equal due to the profuse quantity and strength of both parents, a bisexual child is born. Thus, according to the bala or strength of the parents’ sukra and sonita, various types of male, female and third-gender offspring are produced.

6) Mithuna-vidhi—method of copulation.

According to Vedic science, the mithuna-vidhi or method of copulation can also determine a child’s gender by affecting the parents’ “seed” and attracting specific types of living entities to the womb. When upasriptaka or normal copulation is employed, the child will be either male or female but if citrarata or exceptional copulation is engaged in, a third-gender child will likely be the result. Such exceptional methods of copulation are further distinguished as follows: When the parents assume the purushayita or “woman on top” position, the offspring will be a male or female shandha who behaves like the opposite sex; when the wife assumes a complicated position during intercourse and the husband’s semen is weak, the child born will be a vakri with a deformed male organ; when the wife performs oral sex on her husband prior to intercourse and a son is conceived, that boy will be a mukhebhaga who performs oral sex on men, and if the husband performs oral sex on his wife prior to intercourse and a daughter is conceived, that girl will be a svairini who makes love to women. Thus, according to the parents’ mithuna-vidhi or method of copulation, various types of male, female and third-gender offspring are produced.

7) Paurusha—the personal efforts of the parents.

Parents generally desire heterosexual offspring—especially sons—and Vedic texts offer many helpful practices to assist them in this regard. The parents should keep good sexual health, take invigorating tonics, refrain from overindulgence, assume the upasriptaka or “man on top” position during intercourse, follow proper timing, observe prescribed rituals, consult astrologers, propitiate the gods and so on. At the time of conception, the consciousness of the parents should be peaceful and pure; they must have passion but not excessive lust, anger or detrimental feelings such as jealousy. In this way, the parents should apply personal effort or paurusha to conceive the offspring they desire.

8) Dosha—affliction.

Due to previous misdeeds and despite the best efforts of the parents, various afflictions or doshas can arise that result in the birth of sterile or malformed offspring. The word dosha refers to afflictions caused by some imbalance or aggravation of the three bodily substances known as vata, pitta and kapha (also called doshas). When afflictions occur in the sex organs, reproductive fluids, hormones, chromosomes or genes of either the parents or embryo of any sex, offspring are consequently born sterile or sexually malformed to various degrees.

9) Prakriti—nature.

When all of the above considerations are taken together they result in the aggregate factor known as prakriti or nature. The workings of material nature are subtle and mysterious yet grossly powerful. According to the stringent laws of prakriti, all living entities are forcibly born among the three genders in a series of countless lifetimes.

10) Daiva—divine ordinance.

The ultimate factor in regard to cause of gender is daiva or divine ordinance. Indeed, the laws of nature work according to God’s will and cannot be overruled. It is therefore daiva or divine ordinance that ultimately determines which of the three genders a living entity assumes. The various supernatural causes such as being cursed or blessed by a demigod or saintly person are also included within this category.

Spiritual Gender. According to Vaishnava teachings, the soul itself possesses an inherent spiritual form and gender that lies completely dormant during worldly existence. This innate spiritual gender has no bearing on a person’s present physical or psychological sex and remains unmanifest even in the state of impersonal Brahman realization. Spiritual gender—in full variegatedness—awakens only at the highest levels of devotional attainment and reflects the living entity’s pure desire to serve and interact with God in the spiritual world.

Vedic Testing For Impotence

Vedic testing for male impotence involves five basic steps: 1) a study of the man’s astrological chart; 2) an overall physical examination; 3) an observation of his sexual interaction with women; 4) urination testing, and 5) an examination of his discarded semen. There are different versions of this test but a general description is as follows:

The prospective groom’s astrological chart is first examined and if the parents of a girl about to be married have doubts regarding his potency, they hire a respected physician to thoroughly test him. The physician checks for masculine features such as a strong back, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, thighs, etc. along with the presence of good knees, bones, hair and skin. The penis, testicles, mouth and anus are also examined for unusual or defective signs and the man’s gait, voice and mannerisms should all be distinctly masculine.

Once the physical examination has been passed, the groom is next handed over to a professional courtesan who is thoroughly familiar with all types of men, learned in the Kama Shastra and accompanied by her retinue. With the parents’ permission, she tests the man’s erection along with his ability to penetrate and climax with any of her girls. After successfully completing the task, his stream of urination is examined and must be seen as noisy and foamy. The man’s discarded semen thereafter should also sink in water. The prospective groom is then declared fully virile to the parents and eligible to marry their daughter.

On the other hand, if the man exhibits any sign of weakness or failure with the girl, the courtesan employs various methods to ascertain his exact type of impotence. If she suspects he may be homosexual, she calls in a professional male prostitute to further test him. If she suspects some physical condition or disease, the physician is called back in. Based on her findings, the courtesan either declares the groom hopelessly impotent with women or suggests retesting him after a certain period of time.

Lady physicians and astrologers similarly conduct fertility tests on women, carefully examining them for favorable signs of feminine behavior and health. Vedic astrological texts such as the Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra (80-82) provide detailed lists of female attributes, both physical and astrological, which help determine the status of any girl’s fertility. Among all of the physical attributes listed, the feet, hips, sexual organ, abdomen, breasts, neck and mouth are especially examined for favorable signs. In Vedic culture, girls were generally married off at a very early age (typically between eight and twelve years old) and encouraged to bear children immediately upon reaching puberty. Dharma Shastra texts such as the Narada-smriti (12.25-27) attribute great sin to a father who does not get his daughter married prior to her coming of age. Other texts such as the Baudhayana Dharmasutra (4.1.12) extend the time limit to three years after puberty if the girl has no suitors; beyond this, she may select any husband of her own accord. Girls that are completely barren, excessively masculine or otherwise of the third gender, however, are exempt from all such marital considerations.

(Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, pp. 39-63)

Image: Sri Ganesha, celestial scribe of all Vedic knowledge.

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