Homosexuality not alien to Hindu ethos

By Dr Sumit S Paul

In the wake of government legalising homosexuality and lesbianism, it must be noted that prior to 1860, when the Indian Penal Code was imposed by the British, the Hindu India was very ‘liberal’ towards homosexuality and lesbianism. Contrary to the general tenor that homosexuality came to India with the Muslims, especially with the Mughals, there’re clinching proofs of homosexuality being prevalent among the sub-continental masses. Mark Scadner’s essay, that was proscribed by the then PM, Jawaharlal Nehru , “Homosexual India” (The Illustrated Weekly of India, 1959) clearly stated that, “homosexuality was a way of life and was fully accepted in the ancient India.” The essay wasn’t critical of the ancient India’s attitude towards homosexuality, rather it lauded India’s “broad-mindedness.”

There’re references to homosexuality and lesbianism in the Indian mythology. South Indian deity Ayappa’s birth from the union of Shiv and Vishnu was authentically mentioned in Vanita, Ruth and Saleem Kidwai (eds.) Same-Sex love in India (2000). South East Asian travellers and scholars studying at Nalanda, Vikramshila and Takshshila (now in Pakistan and known as Taxilla) universities were amazed to see Hindu India’s nonchalance towards homosexuality. The men and women of Kashmir indulged in homosexuality and lesbianism. There’s a Kashmiri poem written in the original Sharda script by a Kashmiri Hindu poetess which graphically described her experience of ‘soixante neuf’ (69 or cunnilingus) with another woman. The poem was penned in the 11th century and was quoted by Professor Basham, the great Indologist.

The zamindars of Bengal used to sodomise young boys, especially kept for sodomy. This reminds readers of the Pathans of Pakistan’s NWFP, famous (or infamous?) for sodomising young boys. In the 14th century, a small-time king of Gujarat, Narsingh Solanki, was so obsessed with boys that he allowed his soldiers and ministers to have sex with his 26 sexually frustrated queens to satisfy them.  

Ancient sexologist Ganikaputra (he indeed was the son of a prostitute; Ganika means a prostitute in Sanskrit) described how some kings and wealthy people made love to young men. The ancient India had a thick connexion with Greece. There’re very many similarities between the Hellenic and Hindu cultures and even their pagan gods and goddesses were similar. It was Alexander’s invasion in 327 BCE , when he reached Jhelum along with his beleaguered soldiers, that ushered in a long period of Indo-Hellenic association. Greeks were avowed homosexuals and considered homosexuality to be recreational and heterosexuality as procreational.

From 2nd century to the 9th century, homosexuality was rampant in the Hindu India, so much so that even medical treatise of that period like Sushrut and Charak Samhita obliquely referred to it. Chandel dynasty of central India had the freedom for men to choose male prostitutes and women to opt for female prostitutes and in that period, precisely 940 AD, the erotic carvings of Khajuraho were sculpted and some of the erotic sculptures depicting homosexual sex were destroyed by the prude missionaries and the Brits.

There wasn’t any homophobia in the ancient Hindu India and it viewed homosexuality as something normal and natural till the missionaries came and the collective thinking of the Indians underwent a change. In short, homosexuality wasn’t alien to Hindu ethos. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2012 on page no. 2

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