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Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex (1)


Let me first offer my respectful obeisances unto my beloved gurudeva, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Mindful of his desire to see all classes of human society included within the Vedic system of spiritual upliftment, I humbly attempt to write this book. It is also my desire to help steer readers away from the pitfalls of discrimination and hate based upon bodily distinctions, so often the trap of mundane religionists.

In modern times, there has been much controversy concerning the position and rights of gay and other third-gender groups within society. Should they be feared and eliminated as a harmful, corruptive force within our midst? Should they be ignored and hidden away, being denied the basic rights and privileges that other citizens enjoy? Or should they be welcomed as simply another color within the rainbow of human variety? The answer to these questions can be found in the ancient Vedic literatures of India, which have thoroughly analyzed and recorded all aspects of human behavior and knowledge since time immemorial.

After the Vedas were issued forth from Brahma at the beginning of creation, Manu set aside the verses concerning civic virtues and ethics, thus compiling the Dharma Shastra. Similarly, Brhaspati set aside the verses concerning politics, economy, and prosperity to compile the Artha Shastra. Nandi, the companion of Lord Siva, set aside the verses concerning sense pleasure and sexuality, thus compiling the Kama Shastra.[1] The great sage, Svetaketu, put this Kama Shastra into writing approximately five thousand years ago along with many other Vedic literatures.[2] It was then subsequently divided into many parts and almost lost until recompiled by the brahmana sage, Vatsyayana, during the Gupta period or about 300 A.D.[3] The result was the famed Kama Sutra or “codes of sensual pleasure.” Although commonly presented to Westerners in the format of an erotic sex manual, the actual unabridged Kama Sutra gives us a rare glimpse into the sexual understandings of ancient Vedic India.

Three Categories of Gender

Throughout Vedic literature, the sex or gender of the human being is clearly divided into three separate categories according to prakriti or nature. These are: pums-prakriti or male, stri-prakriti or female, and tritiya-prakriti or the third sex.[4] These three genders are not determined by physical characteristics alone but rather by an assessment of the entire being that includes the gross (physical) body, the subtle (psychological) body, and a unique consideration based upon social interaction (procreative status). Generally the word “sex” refers to biological sex and “gender” to psychological behavior and identity. The term prakriti or nature, however, implies both aspects together as one intricately woven and cohesive unit, and I will therefore use the two words more or less interchangeably in this book.

People of the third sex are analyzed in the Kama Sutra and broken down into several categories that are still visible today and generally referred to as gay males and lesbians. They are typically characterized by a mixed male/female nature (i.e. effeminate males or masculine females) that can often be recognized within childhood and are identified by an inherent homosexual orientation that manifests at puberty. The homosexual behavior of these people is described in great detail within the eighth and ninth chapters of the second part of the Kama Sutra. While gay males and lesbians are the most prominent members of this category, it also includes other types of people such as transgenders and the intersexed.

The third sex is described as a natural mixing or combination of the male and female natures to the point in which they can no longer be categorized as male or female in the traditional sense of the word. The example of mixing black and white paint can be used, wherein the resulting color, gray, in all its many shades, can no longer be considered either black or white although it is simply a combination of both. People of the third sex are mentioned throughout Vedic literature in different ways due to their variety of manifestations. They were not expected to behave like ordinary heterosexual men and women or to assume their roles. In this way, the third-sex category served as an important tool for the recognition and accommodation of such persons within society.

People of the third sex are also classified under a larger social category known as the “neutral gender.” Its members are called napumsaka, or “those who do not engage in procreation.” There are five different types of napumsaka people: (1) children; (2) the elderly; (3) the impotent; (4) the celibate, and (5) the third sex.[5] They were all considered to be sexually neutral by Vedic definition and were protected and believed to bring good luck. As a distinct social category, members of the neutral gender did not engage in sexual reproduction. This nonreproductive category played an integral role in the balance of both human society and nature, similar to the way in which asexual bees play out their own particular roles in the operation of a hive. In Hinduism there are no accidents or errors, and everything in nature has a purpose, role, and reason for existence.

Third-Gender Citizens

Vedic society was all encompassing, and each individual was seen as an integral part of the greater whole. Thus all classes of men were accommodated and engaged according to their nature. Third-gender citizens were neither persecuted nor denied basic rights. They were allowed to keep their own societies or town quarters, live together within marriage and engage in all means of livelihood. Gay men could either blend into society as ordinary males or they could dress and behave as females, living as transvestites. They are especially mentioned as being expert in dancing, singing and acting, as barbers or hairstylists, masseurs, and house servants. They were often used within the female sections of royal palaces and also engaged in various types of prostitution. Transvestites were invited to attend all birth, marriage, and religious ceremonies as their presence was a symbol of good luck and considered to be auspicious. This tradition still continues in India even today.[6] Lesbians were known as svairini or independent women and were permitted to earn their own livelihood. They were not expected to accept a husband. Citizens of the third sex represented only a very small portion of the overall population, which most estimates place at approximately 5 percent.[7] They were not perceived to be a threat in any way and were considered to be aloof from the ordinary attachments of procreation and family life. In this way they were awarded their own particular status and welcomed as a part of civilized Vedic society.

A Matter of Semantics

There is a strange being described within early British translations of Vedic literature. These beings are comic, mythical creatures that appear to have lost their relevance in modern times. They are described as neither man nor woman, or sometimes as both man and woman. They are compared to the gandharva or fairy and are believed to be asexual or without sexual desire. Even Arjuna, the eternal companion of Lord Krsna and the hero of the Mahabharata, became one of these beings while hiding during his last year of exile,[8] according to the Lord’s plan. There, dressed as a woman, he wore his hair in braids, behaved in a feminine manner, and taught dancing and singing to young girls with no attraction for them.

Welcome to the world of the so-called Vedic eunuch, a term so archaic and disingenuous it provides a good lesson both in semantics and social denial. First of all, there is no recorded evidence of any system of male castration in ancient Vedic India.[9] Castration among servants and slaves was only introduced into medieval northern India with the arrival of foreign Islamic rulers, sometime around the eleventh and twelfth centuries A.D.[10] Even then, it was usually only homosexual males who endured the dark and gruesome practice. The English word “eunuch,” or castrated male, is Greek in origin[11] and was commonly used to refer to both homosexuals and castrated men during the Middle Ages. When the term “homosexual” was first coined with the advent of modern psychiatry in the late nineteenth century, British writers continued to cling to the word “eunuch,” which was considered more polite by Victorian standards. Thus they used the word loosely to describe both homosexual and castrated men all over the world in regions ranging from Greece, Persia, India, China, Polynesia, etc. During the nineteenth century, when Great Britain was the major world power and had subjugated India, homosexuality was considered a sin so horrific it was not even to be mentioned, let alone discussed. This resulted in the use of vague, inappropriate terms to describe homosexual people such as eunuch, neuter, impotent, asexual, hermaphrodite, etc. While these different types of people exist to some degree and are included within the third-gender category, they hardly would have made up its mass. Rather, by behavior and as described in the Kama Shastra, the so-called eunuchs of ancient India engaged almost exclusively in homosexuality.[12]

The avoidance of this fact has lead to an erroneous understanding of the “Vedic eunuch” and his relevance to modern times. Words used to describe gay and lesbian citizens in Sanskrit were inaccurately translated to skirt homosexual issues and impose puritan ethics upon Vedic literatures where they did not otherwise exist. There are many examples of this, the most common of which is the Sanskrit word napumsaka (literally, “not male”), which is used to refer to a man who has no taste for women and thus does not procreate. While this may technically include diseased, old, or castrated men, it most commonly refers to the gay or homosexual male, depending of course upon the context and behavior of the character being described. Other Sanskrit words for people of the third sex include shandha (a man who behaves like a woman) and kliba or panda (impotent with women). These words appear to be somewhat interchangeable and, like most Sanskrit terms, have several different meanings. Nevertheless, they are plainly used to describe homosexuals and other types of third-sex people in Vedic texts. It is foolish to assume that Sanskrit words like napumsaka, shandha, and kliba only refer to castrated men or neuters, especially when we consider that castration was not systematically practiced in ancient India.

Another good example of inaccurate translating can be found in the Sanskrit word referring to lesbians or svairini. Literally meaning “independent woman,” this word was commonly mistranslated by early British scholars as “corrupt woman.”[13] And when mentioning maithunam pumsi, or simply “sexual union between males,” the so-called scholars have chosen as their translation “the unnatural offense with a male.”[14]

Mistranslations such as these have only served to confuse and cover the acknowledgement of gay and lesbian people within Vedic literature, people who were nonetheless clearly recognized and defined in the Kama Shastra. In many instances, such persons were even demeaned or vilified by foreign commentators who did not understand or accept the Vedic concept of a third gender. We can only hope that future scholars and translators will be more accurate and forthright in their work.

Third-Gender Roles

The Vedic literatures are comprised of voluminous Sanskrit texts numbering in the thousands, and their priestly authors were renowned for their detailed descriptions of all sciences, both godly and mundane. To obtain a clear understanding of human sexuality, behavior, and practice, one is advised to consult the Kama Shastra, which thoroughly covers this field. It is within these texts where the most information is found regarding the third sex and its members, behavior, practices and roles within society. A brief description will be given here, taken mostly from the eighth and ninth chapters of the second part of the Kama Sutra:

People of the third sex (tritiya-prakriti) are of two kinds, according to whether their appearance is masculine or feminine.[15] (Kama Sutra 2.9.1)

Members of the third sex are first categorized according to whether their physical characteristics are either male or female. These are known as kliba, or gay males, and svairini, or lesbians. Each of these categories is then divided into two, depending upon whether their behavior is either masculine or feminine. They are then further divided into many subcategories.

Homosexual people are the most prominent members of the third sex. While appearing as ordinary males and females, their third-nature identity is revealed by their exclusive romantic and sexual attraction for persons of the same physical sex. Gay men experience the attractions ordinarily felt by females, and lesbian women experience the attractions ordinarily felt by males. Such people commonly exhibit other types of “cross-gender” behavior, but not always.

Lesbians (Svairini)

Under the heading of tritiya-prakriti, or people of the third sex, the lesbian is first described in the chapter of the Kama Sutra concerning aggressive behavior in women (purushayita).[16] The Sanskrit word svairini refers to an independent or liberated woman who has refused a husband, earns her own livelihood, and lives either alone or in marriage with another woman. Her various types of homosexual behavior and practices are described in great detail within this chapter.

Lesbians were more likely to marry and raise children than their male counterparts and were readily accommodated both within the third-gender community and ordinary society. Those who did not produce children were sometimes known as nastriya or “not female.” Women of the third sex were engaged in all means of livelihood including trade, government, entertainment, as courtesans or prostitutes, and as maidservants. Sometimes they would live as renunciates and follow ascetic vows.

Gay Men (Kliba)

The word kliba can refer to any type of impotent man, but in this instance it is specifically used to describe men who are completely impotent with women due to their homosexual nature. Gay men are thoroughly described in the chapter of the Kama Sutra concerning oral sex (auparishtaka).[17] Oral sex is not recommended for heterosexuals and is forbidden to brahmanas (priests), but it is acknowledged as the natural practice among those of the third sex who are not otherwise engaged in celibacy. Homosexual men who take the passive role in oral sex are specifically known in Sanskrit as mukhebhaga or asekya.

Gay men with feminine qualities are first described:

Those with a feminine appearance show it by their dress, speech, laughter, behavior, gentleness, lack of courage, silliness, patience, and modesty.[18]

(Kama Sutra 2.9.2)

Gay men with feminine qualities are the most recognizable members of the third sex. For this reason, they have often kept their own societies within all cultures of the world. They generally keep long hair and arrange it in braids or in a womanly fashion. Those who dress up as females are known as transvestites. Feminine gay males were often professionally employed by aristocratic women and commonly served within the royal palace. They are proficient in the arts, entertainment, and most notably, dancing. As mentioned earlier, their presence at marriage and religious ceremonies was considered to invoke auspiciousness, and their blessings were much sought after. The masculine gay male is next described:

Those who like men but dissimulate the fact maintain a manly appearance and earn their living as barbers or masseurs.[19]

(Kama Sutra 2.9.6)

The masculine gay male is not as easily recognizable and would often blend into ordinary society, living either independently or within marriage to another man. Some were known to become professional male prostitutes who worked as masseurs. The technique of these masseurs is described in much detail. While effeminate gay men would keep smooth skin, apply makeup and sometimes don breasts, the masculine gay male would keep bodily hairs, grow moustaches or small beards, and maintain a muscular physique. They would often wear shiny earrings. Gay men were talented in many different ways and were engaged in all means of livelihood. They often served as house attendants to wealthy vaishyas (merchants) or as chamberlains and ministers to government officials. Such men were renowned for their loyalty and devotion. Sometimes gay men would live as renunciates and develop clairvoyant powers. Those practicing celibacy were often used as pujaris (temple priests).

Gay males typically engaged in fraternal or casual love but were sometimes known to marry one another:

There are also third-sex citizens, sometimes greatly attached to each other and with complete faith in one another, who get married (parigraha) together.[20]

(Kama Sutra 2.9.36)

There were eight different types of marriage according to the Vedic system, and the homosexual marriage that occurred between gay males or lesbians was classified under the gandharva or celestial variety. This type of marriage was not recommended for members of the brahmana community but often practiced by heterosexual men and women belonging to the other classes. The gandharva marriage is defined as a union of love and cohabitation, recognized under common law, but without the need of parental consent or religious ceremony.[21] In the Jayamangala, an important twelfth-century commentary on the Kama Sutra, it is stated: “Citizens with this kind of [homosexual] inclination, who renounce women and can do without them willingly because they love each other, get married together, bound by a deep and trusting friendship.”

Transgenders (Shandha)

The Sanskrit word shandha refers to men who behave like women or whose manhood is completely destroyed (the word shandhi similarly applies to women). This can refer to many types of third-gender people but is perhaps most commonly used to describe those with complete transgender identity. Such people do not identify with their physical sex but instead consider themselves and live their lives as members of the opposite sex. Male-to-female transgenders identify and live as women whereas female-to-male transgenders identify and live as men. They are also sometimes called transvestites or transsexuals and differ from gay males and lesbians in that they do not usually identify as homosexual and are less common.

It is possible that in ancient India, male-to-female transgenders may have sometimes castrated themselves in order to become feminized. More likely, however, since self-mutilation is greatly discouraged in Vedic culture, men of the third sex who identified as women would have tied their genitals up tightly against the groin with a kaupina, a practice that is still common in southern India and also found in various other world cultures. In a similar way, female-to-male transgenders would have strapped their breasts tightly against their torsos. Nowadays, however, such people often undergo hormone treatment and transsexual operations, especially in the West. Vedic culture allowed transgender people of the third sex to live openly according to their gender identity, and this is demonstrated in the Mahabharata story of Arjuna as Brihannala.

Castration was not a common or accepted practice of ancient India, and mutilation of the body is discouraged in Vedic texts and considered to be in the mode of darkness.[22] Its current illegal practice in northern India among the hijra or eunuch class can be attributed to the former centuries of Muslim rule that once encouraged the practice among servants and slaves who were homosexual by nature. In South India, largely spared from Islamic rule and influence, there is a third-gender class similar to the hijra known as the jogappa, but they do not practice castration.[23]

The abused hijra class of modern-day India is the sad result of cruel social policies directed against people of the third sex for almost a thousand years. Rejected by foreign overlords who ridiculed and condemned any form of gender-variant behavior as intrinsically evil and unnatural, these citizens were abandoned as social outcastes. Homosexual and transgender males could join the hijra class by castrating themselves but were otherwise forced to marry women and pretend to live as ordinary men. Unfortunately, this stifling social policy still remains dominant in India today and has become accepted by most modern-day Hindus.

Intersex (Napumsa)

The word napumsa can refer to any nonreproductive person of the third sex. Sometimes it specifically implies people born with ambiguous genitalia (the intersexed). Such people may be homosexual, heterosexual, or sexually undefined by nature, and their degree of impotence can vary greatly. Those born without proper sex organs are called nisarga in Sanskrit and typically have a chronic physical condition caused by the biological combination of the male and female sexes known today as intersexuality. This condition, formerly known as “hermaphroditism,” leaves its members sexually dysfunctional, unusually formed, or sterile. According to Vedic texts, people are born this way, at least in some instances, due to past sinful activities.[24] Nevertheless, such people were respected for their napumsaka status and treated kindly by Vedic society. They were accepted according to their nature and typically lived within the larger third-gender community where they shared similar roles.

In modern biology, the study of intersexuality and its various conditions is relatively new. The concept of the male and female sexes combining on a biological level, however, was already known by Vedic science many thousands of years ago and corresponds with the tritiya-prakriti category. Most modern researchers now suspect that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, plays a significant role in determining not only a person’s physical sex but also their sexual orientation and gender identity.[25] Indeed, homosexuality and transgender identity may very well be some of the most common forms of intersexuality we know, and this would explain why Sanskrit words describing people of the third sex are often used interchangeably and why homosexuals, transgenders and the intersexed are classified together.

It is a commonly held myth among some people that the third sex mentioned in Vedic texts refers only to the physically intersexed and not to homosexuals. While this view is clearly contradicted in the Kama Shastra, it is also important to note that intersex conditions are much less common within nature than homosexuality. On average, chronic intersexuality occurs in approximately one out of every 36,600 births,[26] and transgender identity in about one out of every three thousand. When this figure is compared to the estimated homosexual population of 5 percent or one out of every twenty births, it makes only one intersexed and twelve transgender persons for every 1,830 gays and lesbians. This disparity clearly demonstrates the predominate role of homosexuals within the third-sex category and indeed, Sanskrit lists of the third sex clearly include them among the various types cited.

Bisexuals (Kami)

The Kama Sutra thoroughly describes all types of sexual behavior and practices between heterosexual or first- and second-gender men and women. This is by far the major portion of the text. Within these chapters, bisexuality is occasionally mentioned. Apparently, in Vedic times, bisexuality was considered to be more of a variation for men and women who were so inclined, and not as a category of the third sex. Because bisexuals engaged in the procreative act, they did not possess the napumsaka nature of the third sex and other sexually neutral people. The Sanskrit word kami indicates that such persons were especially fond of lovemaking and that they displayed this fondness in a variety of ways. Kami includes people who are simultaneously attracted to both men and women or who engage in homosexuality for reasons other than natural attraction. Those who periodically switch back and forth between heterosexuality and homosexuality are sometimes known in Sanskrit as paksha.

Bisexual feelings within heterosexual or homosexual people usually occur at a rate of about 10 or 15 percent for either group.[27] These feelings may range from very mild ones that are easy to ignore, on up to stronger ones that require satisfaction. Bisexuality is a curious nature in that it can move back and forth, thus involving the question of choice, which is normally not an issue with heterosexuals or homosexuals. Heterosexuals often confuse the homosexual nature with bisexuality, falsely considering homosexuality to be merely a “choice” or “tendency.” They are unaware that the vast majority of homosexuals, or roughly 90 percent, have absolutely no attraction, natural or otherwise, for members of the opposite sex. Bisexuals themselves are often uncertain about their own sexuality, especially during adolescence. In one survey, 35 percent of all bisexual people reported to have previously identified as gay or lesbian earlier in life.[28]

In any case, bisexuals were typically accommodated within ordinary heterosexual society but would also frequent the third-gender communities where they were similarly welcomed. Topics discussed in the Kama Shastra pertaining to them include: men who visit transvestites or masseurs working as prostitutes, men in the company of lesbians, transvestites within the kings harem, women of the harem satisfying themselves in lieu of the kings absence, and male servants who practice homosexuality in their youth but then later become inclined towards women.[29]

Bisexual women (kamini) are mentioned in the Srimad Bhagavatam within the chapter describing heavenly realms situated below the earth.[30] In those beautiful regions, within celestial gardens and accompanied by lesbians and nymphs (pumscali), bisexual women would entice men with a cannabis beverage and enjoy sex to their full satisfaction.

Sexual Accommodation Versus Puritanism

In the Vedic system, different standards of behavior and sexual conduct are prescribed for different classes of men.[31] For example, the priestly order was held to high standards of conduct, followed by the government officials. Merchants and farmers were given more leniency, and ordinary workers and artisans, who made up more than half of the population, were given more leniency still. This contrasts greatly with most modern systems whereby all citizens are expected to follow the same laws. The advantage of the Vedic system is that it is able to accommodate all varieties of men within society according to their different natures.

It should be understood that the sexual behaviors described in the Kama Shastra are intended for the Vedic citizen pursuing worldly enjoyment, which is generally the aim of most people. They are not intended for those engaged in vows, austerities, and other penances that are recommended in the Vedas as a means of attaining moksha or liberation from material bondage. For this class of men (the spiritualists and brahmanas) only celibacy is prescribed, even within marriage, and this is considered to be the highest standard of conduct for those in the human form of life. However, Vedic culture is all encompassing and thus, while ultimately encouraging renunciation, also realistically accommodates other standards of behavior among common men.

In modern times, laws are drawn which artificially attempt to force all citizens to adopt standards of conduct that are normally assigned to the priestly class. From the Vedic perspective, however, sexual restraint is only effective when it is voluntary. Laws were used to regulate “vice” by establishing designated areas within the city or town and prohibiting it elsewhere, such as in the brahmana or temple districts. Responsible family life and celibacy were publicly encouraged and promoted by the government, but at the same time other forms of sexual behavior were acknowledged and accommodated accordingly. These include a wide variety of activities such as prostitution, polygamy, sexually explicit art, homosexual practices, the keeping of concubines, courtesans, etc. Anyone familiar with Vedic literature will be well aware that these activities were allotted a limited space within its culture.[32] They also continue to flourish even in modern times despite centuries of prohibition. The puritanical concept of total prohibition of vice is a failed, unrealistic system that causes widespread hypocrisy, disrespect for law, and injustice for many citizens. People of the third sex have especially suffered under this system.

The Third Sex and Scriptural Law

The sage Vatsyayana recognizes that sexual behavior varies from country to country. People of the southern and western regions tend to be more relaxed in their attitudes concerning sexual variation. Adhorata (anal intercourse), for instance, is particularly practiced by people in the southern regions.[33] While acknowledged as being occasionally practiced by all three sexes, it is not recommended for any of them, including members of the third sex, and is of course forbidden to brahmanas. Its practice is said to divert the life-airs downwards and cause disease. Homosexual men who take the passive role in anal sex are specifically known in Sanskrit as kumbhika.

Regarding scriptural law, there are no verses in the Dharma Shastra that specifically prohibit sexual behavior among people of the third sex. Two verses admonish sexual intercourse among ordinary males (pums-prakriti), but the atonement set is a mere ritual bathing and applies only to brahmanas or those of the twice-born class:

A twice-born man who engages in intercourse with a male, or with a female in a cart drawn by oxen, in water, or in the daytime, shall bathe, dressed in his clothes.[34]

(Manusmriti 11.175)

Another verse states:

Striking a brahmana, smelling obnoxious items such as liquor, cheating, and engaging in intercourse with a male are declared to cause the loss of caste.[35]

(Manusmriti 11.68)

This loss of caste was not permanent since it could be atoned for, but it is generally accepted that unmarried brahmanas should always practice celibacy. Even married brahmanas were discouraged from having any sexual contact with their wives unless specifically engaged to produce a child in accordance with the garbhadhana-samskara process.[36]

There are similarly no laws in the Dharma Shastra prohibiting sexual acts between women except for two that involve the violation of young, unmarried girls (aged eight to twelve).[37] In the Artha Shastra relatively minor fines are given as punishment for homosexual acts committed by twice-born males or involving young, unmarried girls. The fines for men are approximately four times the fines for women and girls.[38] It is also interesting to note that heterosexual crimes such as adultery and the pollution of women are punished quite harshly in the Dharma Shastra, usually by corporal punishment or death. In comparison, the same texts take little issue with homosexual behavior and seem to view it as rather harmless.

Other topics mentioned in the Dharma Shastra pertaining to people of the third sex include: their excusal from ancestral worship and oblations (sraddha); their omission from family inheritance (unless they had progeny); the recommendation that they, as well as women, should avoid offering food into the sacrificial fire; and that ritualistic priests (smarta-brahmanas) should not partake of such offerings.[39] Most of these injunctions relate to the fact that people of the third sex did not appease their forefathers and ancestral gods by producing progeny and were therefore treated as ascetics. Fire sacrifices and other ritualistic ceremonies are mostly intended for householders and not for renunciates or people of the neutral gender.

Sometimes, in the absence of women, heterosexual men engage in homosexual behavior against their nature with other men. This practice, known in Sanskrit as purushopasripta, is condemned by Vedic literature. In the Srimad Bhagavatam it is narrated that at the beginning of creation Lord Brahma generated the godless class of men from his buttocks who then forcibly approached him for sex.[40] To appease them, Lord Brahma created twilight in the form of a beautiful woman who completely captivated their lusty desires. This point of the story is important to note because it clearly demonstrates that the demons were not members of the third sex. This type of apparent homosexual behavior between first-gender males, as seen in prisons for instance where there are no females available, is considered “demoniac and is not for any sane male in the ordinary course of life.”[41] It should not be confused with the natural homosexuality described in the Kama Shastra and practiced by people belonging to the third sex, acting according to their nature and with affection.

Men who indulge in all types of sexual intercourse without restriction are known in Sanskrit as sarva-abhigama (SB 5.26.21). In a verse from the Mahabharata, Lord Siva explains to Goddess Parvati why some men are born with severe physical handicaps such as blindness, chronic illness, or without proper sex organs (as neuters). In his answer to the latter category, Lord Siva describes the fate of heterosexual men who engage in unrestricted sex:

Those foolish males who have intercourse in the wombs of lower-class women or animals (viyoni) are born again as neuters.[42]

(Mahabharata 13.145.52)

A similar verse from the Narada Purana states that first-gender males who have intercourse in non-wombs (ayoni) take their next births as neuters after suffering in hell. The idea is that heterosexual males (pums, purusa) have the prescribed duty in life to marry women and produce offspring, and any neglect of this duty is said to incur sin. This is not, however, the duty of men belonging to the third sex (napums) because they are impotent with women by nature and therefore not expected to procreate. The Narada-smriti (12.15) specifically states that homosexual men are “incurable” and should not be married to women. Procreation was not their prescribed duty or “dharma” under Vedic scriptural law.

Social Morality

It is said that a society can be judged by how it treats its minorities and gentler classes. In Vedic civilization the cows, the brahmanas, the women, and those belonging to the neutral gender (children, the elderly, the impotent, the celibate, and the third sex) were all offered protection as an important social principle.[43] In modern times, however, everything is topsy-turvy and thus these groups are now ridiculed, exploited, persecuted, and even killed, often under government sanction.

In Vedic society, people were familiar with the third sex and could normally recognize its characteristics within their offspring. Since everyone was accommodated under the Vedic system, third-gender youths could find their place within society according to their nature and thus grow healthfully into adulthood. In modern society, however, people are afraid to even discuss third-sex issues. Parents deny that their children are gay and try to force them to be “straight.” This causes psychological harm because it is against the child’s nature and creates friction and the fear of disappointing the parents. In school, third-gender children are ostracized by others and abused both verbally and physically. During adolescence, when others are dating and learning how to form relationships, third-gender youths are isolated and forced to hide their nature out of fear or shame. Alienated and confused in this way, they contemplate suicide, and it has been found that the suicide rate for gay teens is four times higher than that of their heterosexual peers.[44] Those reaching adulthood are discriminated against in the workforce, legally denied housing, scorned when they couple, and forbidden the joys of marriage. Shunned by both their relatives and society at large, people of the third sex are forced into self-denial, often under the threat of criminal prosecution.

The most remarkable aspect of this gross mistreatment of third-sex people in modern times is that it is all being done under the banner of so-called morality and religion. These citizens are rejected as immoral and undeserving of human rights solely on the basis of their romantic and sexual nature, which many people mistakenly consider to be merely a “choice.” This type of social rejection and mistreatment is due to ignorance. Not understanding the nature of the third sex, people become suspicious and fearful of their differences. This produces bigotry, which then festers into hatred and eventually violence. The disrespect and persecution of the third sex is a clear sign of Kali Yuga, or the modern era of irreligion and hypocrisy described in Vedic literatures. Under the Vedic system, these citizens were symbols of good luck. They were protected and would bestow their blessings upon society. The fact that they are now mistreated and oppressed can be seen as an omen of bad times, and it is a poor measure of our humanity.

It is a common misconception among some that in Kali Yuga there is an increase in the ratio of homosexual people.[45] Having researched this thoroughly, I have yet to find any Vedic verse supporting this claim. Rather, in the Vayu Purana it is stated, “In the Kali Yuga there will be more women than men.”[46] The foremost symptom of the Kali Yuga described is the marked increase in promiscuity among people of all genders. In the Bhagavad Gita it is stated that when irreligion is prominent, women become exploited and produce unwanted progeny, which then destroy the family tradition and become harmful to society at large.[47] While homosexual promiscuity can lead to disease for those involved, heterosexual promiscuity is ensued by disease, adultery, unwanted children, contraception, divorce, broken families, abortion, and so many social problems that directly affect the lives of other members of society. For this reason, the Dharma Shastra and other Vedic literatures strictly enforced the institution of marriage among heterosexual couples for the maintenance of the social structure. Homosexuality, on the other hand, was not taken as seriously under Vedic law and was not considered to be a social threat.

As a natural gender, the third sex has maintained a relatively fixed presence within human society since time immemorial, despite varying social policies. Indeed, its members will exist wherever there are males and females themselves, and this will be true regardless of any fear, rejection, or hate that we may project upon and cause them to suffer. For our own good, therefore, and by following the Vedic example of social morality and acceptance, we should respect and treat all living entities equally, without consideration of gender.

(Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, pp. 3-21)

[Continued in Part 2...]


[1] Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra 1.1.5—8.

[2] Among scholars, there is some diversity of opinion as to the compilation date of the Kama Shastra by the sage Svetaketu. Some place it just prior to the beginning of the Kali Yuga, while others date it to the eighth century BC. Svetaketu is an ancient sage mentioned in several of the Upanisads. See The Complete Kama Sutra, p. 3.

[3] Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra 1.1.13, 14 and p. 4.

[4] There are many examples of these three divisions of gender in Vedic literature. See Srimad Bhagavatam by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (4.17.26, 8.3.24, 4.28.61,and 10.1, notes); The Complete Kama Sutra by Alain Danielou (2.9.1); Beneath a Vedic Sky by William R. Levacy (p. 363) and The Laws of Manu by G. Buhler (p. 84, Manusmriti 3.49).

[5] These five types of people are assigned to the neutral gender according to all Vedic astrological texts. This is based upon their non-procreative status.

[6] Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra p. 10.

[7] There is some diversity of opinion as to the exact percentage of gays within modern society, what to speak of within ancient India. Although the Kinsey studies are often cited as documenting that 10 percent of the U.S. population is gay, most research with probability samples now place that figure at 3 to 6 percent, with somewhat fewer females (N. California Community Research Group, University of California at Davis.) As far as ancient India is concerned, it can at least be observed that out of the thirty-six chapters of the Kama Sutra, two chapters are devoted to addressing homosexuality, which is just over 5 percent of the text.

[8] Kamala Subramaniam, Mahabharata, pp. 260—261.

[9] Arvind Sharma, Homosexuality and Hinduism, p. 48. “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…”

[10] Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, Same-Sex Love in India, p. 109.

[11] Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, p. 211. [<Gr. “eune,” bed + “echein,” have]

[12] See Part 2, Chapter 9 of The Complete Kama Sutra by Alain Danielou.

[13] Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra, p. 6.

[14] Arvind Sharma, Homosexuality and Hinduism, p. 51.

[15] Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra 2.9.1.

[16] Ibid. 2.8.

[17] Ibid. 2.9.

[18] Ibid. 2.9.2.

[19] Ibid. 2.9.6.

[20] Ibid. 2.9.36.

[21] Ibid. p. 227.

[22] Self-mutilation as a form of penance is condemned by Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is 17.19, and by Lord Siva in Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Volume II pp. 425-427 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

[23] Serena Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India, p. 160.

[24] Mahabharata 13.145.52.

[25] The American Psychological Association, Public Interest Report (revised version, July, 1998).

[26] This average is based on statistics provided by the Intersex Society of North America, taken from an article by Brown University professor, Anne Fausto-Sterling, reviewing medical statistics from 1955-1998.

[27] These estimates are somewhat unclear due to the wide range of bisexual feelings themselves. The Kinsey study reported that 15 to 25 percent of women and 33 to 46 percent of men reported experiencing at least some degree of same-sex attraction during their lives.

[28] This survey was conducted by Dr. Ron C. Fox, a psychotherapist from San Francisco.

[29] This latter example is given in Jayamangala by Yashodhara (The Complete Kama Sutra, p. 191).

[30] His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam 5.24.16.

[31] Instances of this can be found throughout Vedic literature, especially in the Dharma Shastra such as Manusmriti, etc.

[32] There are many examples throughout Vedic literature. See Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.19, and Krsna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Chapter 48 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada for examples concerning prostitution and sexually explicit art.

[33] Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra 2.6.49.

[34] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu, p. 466 (Manusmriti 11.175).

[35] Ibid. p. 444. (Manusmriti 11.68.)

[36] See His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam 1.4.25, purport.

[37] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu p. 466. (Manusmriti, 8.369-370.)

[38] Arvind Sharma, Homosexuality and Hinduism, p. 58.

[39] G. Buhler, trans., The Laws of Manu (Manusmriti 3.150, 9.201 and 203, 4.205 and 206) respectively.

[40] His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam 3.20.18-37.

[41] Ibid. 3.20.26 purport.

[42] Mahabharata 13.145.52.

[43] The following verses support the principle of protecting people of the third gender, although neuters, the celibate and the third sex are not specifically mentioned. See His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam 1.14.41 and 1.8.5, purport. There is also the example of Maharaja Virata, which is described later.

[44] The American Journal of Public Health (June 2001). In research conducted by George Washington University, the Center for Applied Behavioral and Evaluation Research in Washington, D.C., and the Massachusetts Department of Education, gay students were about four times as likely to have attempted suicide as straight students (36.1 percent versus 9.4 percent), and reported threats or assaults almost five times more often (28.3 percent versus 6.9 percent).

[45] Srimad Bhagavatam 12.3.37 is often cited as a reference to homosexuality in Kali Yuga, but this verse refers to married men who have intimate association with the sisters and brothers of their wives—a clear reference to bisexuality and not homosexuality.

[46] D. R. Patil, Cultural History from the Vayu Purana, p. 75.

[47] His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-Gita As It Is 1.40-43.

Image: Sri Ardanarisvara in his half male, half female form of Siva and Durga combined.

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