Summary of Vedic References
The following summary of Vedic references lists forty key points found in Vedic literature regarding the third sex. Each point is accompanied by one or more scriptural references to serve as examples. (Verses for each point are available in the book, Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex.)
1) Three categories of sex or gender are mentioned throughout the Vedic canon—virile males, fertile females, and an impotent third sex having both male and female qualities. (Svetasvatara Upanisad 5.10, Srimad Bhagavatam 8.3.24 and 10.1, notes by Srila Prabhupada)
2) People of the third sex (tritiya-prakriti) have mixed male and female qualities by nature and birth. Vedic texts describe them as homosexual, transgender and intersexed. (Caraka Samhita 4.2.17-25, Kama Sutra 2.8, 9), Sushruta Samhita 3.2.36-43)
3) Vedic texts contain lists that define third-gender men (napumsa, kliba, shandha, panda, etc.) and deem them impotent with women for a wide variety of reasons that include homosexuality, transgender identity, intersex conditions, and many others. Simplistic English translations such as eunuch, neuter, hermaphrodite, etc. are inaccurate and in most cases incorrect. (Narada-smriti 12.12-13, Sushruta Samhita 3.2.36-43, Caraka Samhita 4.2.17-21, Kamatantra, Smriti-ratnavali, Sabda-kalpa-druma, etc.)
4) The primary definition of third-gender people is that they do not beget offspring, being either physically impotent or devoid of any desire for the opposite sex. (Narada-smriti 12.12-13, Sushruta Samhita 3.2.36-43, Caraka Samhita 4.2.17-21, Kamatantra, Smriti-ratnavali, Sabda-kalpa-druma, etc.)
5) All three sexes (male, female and third sex) are biologically determined at the time of conception. (Manusmriti 3.49, Sushruta Samhita 3.3.4, Astanga Hrdaya Samhita 2.5)
6) Vedic medical texts (the Ayur Shastra) specifically mention how third-sex conditions (homosexuality, transgender identity and intersex) are caused at the time of conception. (Sushruta Samhita 3.2.38, 42-43, Caraka Samhita 4.4.30-31)
7) The sex of the fetus—whether male, female or third sex—becomes manifest during the second month of pregnancy and cannot be changed after that. (Sushruta Samhita 3.3.14, Caraka Samhita 4.4.10, 4.8.19)
8) Vedic astrological texts (the Jyotir Shastra) analyze the sex of any child, whether male, female or third sex, through the adhana or conception chart. Various planetary configurations indicate the conception of third-gender offspring. (Brihat Jataka 4.13, Jaimini Sutram 4.3.12, Saravali 8.18-20)
9) The Jyotir Shastra furthermore mentions hundreds of signs in the janma or birth chart indicating third-gender characteristics such as male and female homosexuality, transgender identity, bisexuality, impotence, sterility and so on. (Bhrigu Sutram 3.60, 7.35; Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra 18.13, 80.50-51; Jaimini Sutram 4.3.84; Brihat Jataka 17.3; Garga Hora 465; Jataka Parijata 16.18, respectively)
10) Living entities take birth as male, female and third sex for many different reasons that include the state of the mother and father, the living entity’s desire (kama), environment and nutrition, the psyche, past deeds (karma), previous life impressions (samskaras), astrological influences, divine ordinance (daiva) and so on. In any case, Krsna directs material nature and sanctions the birth of all living entities. (Caraka Samhita 4.2-3, Bhagavad Gita 9.10, 18.61, Srimad Bhagavatam 3.31.1)
11) Vedic texts state that men with inborn impotence such as homosexuals (irshyaka, sevyaka and mukhebhaga) and those without semen (vataretas) are incurable and unfit for marriage to the opposite sex. Furthermore, ayurvedic aphrodisiacs (vajikarana, which cure impotence in males) are useless on third-gender men who are impotent with women by nature. Bisexuals (paksha) are possibly fit for opposite-sex marriage if confirmed as potent after a period of one month. (Sushruta Samhita 4.26.3; Caraka Samhita 6.2.1-4, commentary by Gangadhara; Narada-smriti 12.11-19)
12) Vedic texts reiterate that women should not be married to third-gender men and that wives should leave such husbands. The same is true for males married to third-gender women. The Artha Shasta nullifies such marriages, returns the dowry and imposes fines whenever a spouse is thus deceived. (Narada-smriti 12.37, 97; Artha Shastra 3.15.14-15)
13) The Kama Shastra acknowledges third-gender marriages wherein same-sex couples with great attachment and complete faith in one another get married. (Kama Sutra 2.9.36)
14) Vedic teachings recommend minimizing and moderating the four basic necessities of life (eating, sleeping, mating and defending). Forbidding these entirely, however, is deemed unrealistic and inhumane. Regarding mating, even people outside the varnasrama system are entitled to marry and establish households. (Bhagavad Gita 6.16, Jaiva Dharma, Ch. 7, p. 172, Kama Sutra 7.2.59)
15) Vaishnavas should not get married with the desire to beget children or worship their ancestors. Rather, a marriage is considered ideal when it is God-centered and one’s spouse is viewed as a servant of Krsna. This is true despite whatever mundane priests or relatives may say. (Jaiva Dharma, Ch. 7, p. 164)
16) Vedic law promotes virtue and sense control but also allows for various regulated expressions of vice such as intoxication, meat-eating, prostitution and gambling, especially among the lower classes and general public. Total prohibition of vice in society is not the Vedic system. (Manusmriti 5.56, Srimad Bhagavatam 1.11.19, purport; Artha Shastra 2.25, 26, 27; 3.20)
17) No Vedic law specifically penalizes third-gender men or women (napumsa, kliba, svairini, etc.) for their characteristic behavior (homosexuality, crossdressing, etc.). They could be beaten for certain crimes or killed for grave offenses (like other citizens) but were never fined. (Narada-smriti 15.12-15, Srimad Bhagavatam 4.17.26)
18) No Vedic law prescribes castration for third-gender men. Rather, it is mentioned only as a punishment for males committing sexual offenses against women. (Manusmriti 8.374, 11.105; Narada-smriti 12.72-74, Gautama Dharmasutra 12.2)
19) Vedic law considers male (pums) homosexuality a minor offense and only if the offender is brahminically initiated (twice-born). It is easily atoned for by taking a ritual bath or paying relatively small fines. If the offending party does not atone, his brahminical caste can be lost. (Manusmriti 11.175, 11.68; Artha Shastra 4.13.40)
20) Vedic law considers female homosexuality an offense only when it involves the violation of young, unmarried girls (traditionally aged 8 through 12). The offense is fined variously and can include corporal punishment. (Manusmriti 8.369-370, Artha Shastra 4.12.20-21)
21) Vedic law books regard heterosexual crimes such as rape, adultery and the propagation of unwanted progeny as the foremost threat to human society (not homosexuality). (Manusmriti 8.352-387; Bhagavad Gita 1.40-41)
22) Parents must provide basic necessities (food, clothing, etc.) to their third-gender offspring, according to their means. The king should provide for third-gender citizens without family. (Manusmriti 9.202, Artha Shastra 3.5.32, Vasistha Dharmasutra 19.35-36)
23) It is an offense to vilify or publicly mock people of the third sex. This is punishable by various small fines. (Artha Shastra 3.18.4-5, Manusmriti 28.274, Narada-smriti 15.19)
24) Male potency is verified through a study of the man’s astrological chart, an overall physical examination, an observation of his sexual interaction with women, foam on the urine and the sinking of discarded semen. Nevertheless, men who are impotent with women are not always discernable. Female fertility is verified through the woman’s astrological chart and a physical examination for favorable signs of feminine behavior and health. (Artha Shastra 3.18.6, Narada-smriti 12.8-10, Caraka Samhita 22.214.171.124-5, Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra 80-81)
25) Homosexual desire is not taught or acquired through practice. Rather, it arises naturally from deep within the imagination or psyche. (Kama Sutra 2.1.39, 41-42)
26) The Kama Shastra explicitly describes people of the third sex (gay men, lesbians and transgenders) and relates their various characteristics, types, practices and traditional Vedic occupations as barbers, masseurs, house servants, florists, prostitutes, etc. The Mahabharata similarly describes Brihannala’s role as a third-gender woman in Vedic society. (Kama Sutra 2.8, 2.9; Mahabharata, Virata Parva, Ch. 3, p. 260-261)
27) In the Artha Shastra, third-gender men and women are described working for the king variously as bedroom servants, armed guards, harem supervisors, spies, assassins and so on. (Artha Shastra 1.21.1, 1.20.21, 1.12.21)
28) The Jyotir Shastra associates third-gender men and women with the planets Mercury, Saturn and Ketu; with expertise in various arts and magical sciences; with asceticism, and with the worship of Lord Vishnu and Brahma. (Brihat Samhita 16.19, Brihat Jataka 2.5-6, Jaimini Sutram 1.2.34, 76)
29) Vedic texts do not specifically associate the third sex with Kali Yuga. Rather, longstanding customs and scriptures on omen reading (the Nimitta Shastra) associate the third sex and other beings of unusual birth with prosperity, the special power to bless or curse, and variously as good or bad omens. (Srila Prabhupada tape #67-002, Brihat Samhita 46.95, Sushruta Samhita 1.29.21)
30) In the Mahabharata, Arjuna’s appearance as a male-to-female transgender (Brihannala) serves as an important example of the acceptance of third-gender people in Vedic society. Brihannala’s traditional role as a skilled teacher of the fine arts and her acceptance by Maharaja Virata are exemplary. Similarly, at the time of Lord Caitanya’s birth, Jagannatha Misra’s charity and kindness toward the third-gender dancers in his courtyard is highly commendable. (Mahabharata, Virata Parva, Ch. 3; Srila Prabhupada tape #67-002)
31) Everyone should work for Krsna or God according to their respective nature (svakarma or svadharma), even if performed imperfectly. To follow another’s path or to artificially suppress one’s nature is considered dangerous and ill-advised. (Bhagavad Gita 3.33, 35; 18.45-48)
32) Smarta-brahmanas (ritualistic, non-Vaishnava priests) typically view a very wide range of people, including the third sex, as impure, untouchable or outcaste. (Manusmriti 4.205-223)
33) The smarta or ritualistic scriptures typically demean and place restrictions on third-gender persons as well as many other types including women, sudras, artisans, dark-skinned races, etc., according to birth, body-type and caste. Vaishnavas and other transcendentalists, however, easily reject such mundane judgments in favor of a person’s quality of character and devotion to God. (Jaiva Dharma, Ch. 3, p. 54; Bhagavad Gita 9.32; Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.35, Caitanya-caritamrta 2.8.128)
34) Bodily designations such as gender (male, female or third sex), race, nationality, and so on play no role in determining whether a person is divine or demonic. That is determined by individual qualities and personal behavior alone. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16)
35) Truthfulness, being open and straightforward, revealing one’s mind in confidence, compassion, inclusiveness and so on are all important Vaishnava qualities that should be practically applied in cases of third-gender (LGBTI) people and issues. (Srimad Bhagavatam 8.20.4, Bhagavad Gita 10.4-5, Sri Upadesamrta 4, Jaiva Dharma, Ch. 20, p. 490, Krsna book, Ch. 24, p. 198)
36) A spiritually advanced person views everyone equally as part and parcel of Krsna. He never hates anyone. Rather, he is friendly and kind to all creatures. Conversely, mundane religionists discriminate against and exclude others on the basis of bodily differences. (Sri Isopanisad 6, Srimad Bhagavatam 3.29.26-27, Sri Tattva-sutram 35, Bhagavad Gita 5.18, 11.55, 12.13-14)
37) Krsna Himself never hates nor envies anyone. He is equal to all but especially inclined to His devotees. (Bhagavad Gita 9.29, 12.20; Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.21)
38) Vaishnava- or sanatana-dharma is very liberal and all living entities have a right to practice it. Anyone can serve Krsna in their natural capacity and chant the holy names whether fit or unfit, strictly following the regulations of bhakti-yoga or not strictly following. (Bhagavad Gita 12.9-12, Caitanya-caritamrta 1.9.29, Jaiva Dharma, Ch. 7, p. 172)
39) The third sex exists throughout the natural and supernatural worlds. Third-gender animals, humans, demigods and deities with mixed male/female qualities are mentioned here and there throughout the Vedic canon. (Sushruta Samhita 5.4.18, 25; Kama Sutra 2.8-9; Prasna Marga 15.214; Shatapatha Brahmana 126.96.36.199, Brihat Samhita 58.43, 67.9-10)
40) The material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. Every material manifestation (including the third gender) has its pure, original counterpart in spiritual existence. These truths are not easily understood, even by learned transcendentalists, and therefore the third sex is sometimes known as channa- or gupta-prakriti (the hidden sex). (Bhagavad Gita 15.1, Caitanya-caritamrta 1.1.5; 1.4.29, 65; 1.14.42, Jaiva Dharma, Ch. 32, p. 695)
Creation of the Third Sex
The third sex has existed as an integral part of nature since time immemorial and its existence is rooted in spiritual reality. Bhagavan or God is the Supreme Male and His Sakti or Goddess is the Supreme Female. When combined into one form, They become the Supreme Hermaphrodite or Third-Gender Deity.
Since the material world is a reflection of the spiritual, conditioned souls also accept male, female and third-gender bodies. The original creation of the third sex in this material universe by Lord Brahma is narrated in the Bhagavata Purana as follows:
One day, Brahma, the creator of the living entities, beheld his own reflection in the water, and admiring himself, he evolved Kimpurusas as well as Kinnaras out of that reflection. The Kumpurusas and Kinnaras took possession of that shadowy form left by Brahma. That is why they and their sexual partners [mithuni-bhuya] sing his praises by recounting his exploits at every daybreak. (3.20.45-46)
The Kimpurusas and Kinnaras refer to highly unusual beings that are part one thing and part something else. This typically refers to semi-divine beings that are half man, half animal but also includes the third-gender that is half man, half woman. Even today in India, transgenders, homosexuals and other people of the third sex are often addressed as kinnara due to their combined male and female natures. They are also believed to have supernatural powers because of this divine association.
One of Krsna’s pastimes evokes the verse cited above and can be found in Srila Rupa Goswami’s Lalita-madhava (8.34; see also Sri Caitanya-caritamrta 2.8.148-149). In this pastime, Krsna becomes so attracted by His own reflection in a jeweled pillar that He wants to embrace Himself just as Srimati Radharani does. It is said that at this moment, the Lord contemplated on becoming Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Radha and Krsna combined) to experience a drop of Sri Radha’s unlimited love and appreciation for Him.
Three Types of Celibacy
The three types of celibacy mentioned in the Ayur Shastra can be summarized as follows:
1) Celibacy performed voluntarily, with a peaceful mind, for good health or spiritual purposes and at the proper stage of life is in the mode of goodness.
2) Celibacy performed artificially, with an agitated mind, for mundane purposes such as prestige and power or at an improper stage of life is in the mode of passion.
3) Celibacy performed involuntarily through force or lack of opportunity, while unqualified, through painful methods (such as castration), in distress and producing bad results is in the mode of ignorance.
Four Types of Sexual Intercourse
The four types of sexual intercourse described in the Kama Shastra can be summarized as follows:
1) Sexual intercourse performed according to religious principles (in marriage, for procreation only, at the proper time and day, while clean, sober and purified, employing the upasriptaka or “man-on-top” method, etc.) is in the mode of goodness.
2) Sexual intercourse performed while neglecting religious principles (outside of marriage, for pleasure only, at an improper time, etc.), employing citrarata or exceptional methods (purushayita or “woman-on-top,” auparishtaka or oral sex, etc.) or with high-class courtesans is in the mode of passion.
3) Sexual intercourse performed while assuming very difficult positions; with biting and scratching; while mildly intoxicated; while jealous or unclean; employing methods such as adhorata (anal sex) or with lower-class prostitutes and persons of no account (potarata) is in the mode of passion mixed with ignorance.
4) Sexual intercourse performed without affection or attraction; with forbidden partners (such as the spouse of another, a relative, child, animal, etc.); causing great pain and distress; while grossly intoxicated or with hatred, anger, violence, rape and so on, is in the mode of ignorance.
Nine Components of Sex and Gender
Vedic science determines sex and gender not simply by a person’s genitals or appearance but by the nine components described in the Ayur Shastra and summarized below. Any variation, mixing, reversal, absence, weakness, etc. of these male/female components resulting in sterility, infertility or impotence with the opposite sex indicates the third gender.
1) Bijabhagavayava – male and female genetics.
2) Bijabhaga – male and female chromosomes.
3) Bija – male sperm and female ovum.
4) Sukra and Sonita – the male and female sexual fluids/hormones, respectively.
5) Linga and Yoni – the male and female sexual organs, respectively.
6) Rupa – bodily features such as facial hair, Adam’s apple, muscular build, etc. in males and enlarged breasts, wide hips, higher voice, etc. in females.
7) Kama – the desire of males for females, or of females for males.
8) Ahankara – one’s bodily identification or self-conception as a man or as a woman.
9) Vaja – male potency (and female fertility) resulting in successful procreation.
Twelve Types of Exceptional Marriage
There are various types of exceptional marriage that are not allowed within the strict rules and regulations of varnasrama (smarta-dharma) but which Vaishnavas often recognize and allow as helpful in the cultivation of bhakti. Such exceptions to the general rule are not typically performed in front of temple Deities but nevertheless honored by an understanding and loving devotional community. They are as follows:
1) the marriage of women who are not virgins.
2) the marriage of women without dowries.
3) marriage outside of one's caste or to an improper caste.
4) interracial marriage.
5) the marriage of a Vaishnava to a person of another faith, an atheist or an agnostic.
6) the remarriage of divorced Vaishnavas.
7) the marriage of fallen sannyasis.
8) the marriage of middle-aged and elderly Vaishnavas (who are past childbearing age).
9) the marriage of sterile or infertile Vaishnavas.
10) the marriage of third-gender or LGBTI Vaishnavas (same-sex marriage).
11) the marriage of Vaishnavas who do not want and will not have children.
12) the marriage of people who are not strictly following Vaishnava principles (for instance, ethnic Hindus or the sons and daughters of Vaishnavas).