Monday, August 31, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Throughout Hindu and Vedic texts there are many descriptions of saints, demigods, and even the Supreme Lord transcending gender norms and manifesting multiple combinations of sex and gender. These include male, female, hermaphrodite, and all other possibilities. In Hinduism, God is recognized as unlimited and untethered by any gender restrictions. For the purpose of enjoying transcendental pastimes (lila), the Supreme Lord manifests innumerable types of forms—just like an actor on a stage. As parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, the various living entities can also be seen to manifest within the full spectrum of sex and gender possibilities. From the impersonal perspective, the soul is not male, female, or hermaphrodite, but from the personal perspective the soul assumes such forms according to desire. In the mundane sphere, the soul manifests various gender roles in the pursuit of material enjoyment, but in the spiritual world these roles are adopted for the transcendental purpose of reciprocating with the Supreme Lord and rendering loving service.
Sri Ardhanarishvara is perhaps the most popular and widely known hermaphrodite deity in Hinduism. One half of the deity is Lord Shiva (usually the right side, but not always), and the other half is his wife, the radiant goddess (devi) Parvati or Durga. In the Brahmanda Purana (5.30) it is stated that Lord Shiva assumed his hermaphrodite form of Sri Ardhanarishvara after duly worshiping his Shakti through meditation and yoga. The Kurma Purana (1.11.3) relates how Shiva's original form of Rudra was also hermaphrodite. When Shiva was generated from Lord Brahma's anger at the beginning of creation, he appeared in a very fierce half-male, half-female form known as Rudra. Brahma requested Rudra to divide himself in two and thus he became Shiva and Parvati. In Jayadeva Goswami's twelfth-century text, the Sri Gita Govinda (3.11), Lord Krishna praises Shiva's form of Ardhanarishvara while experiencing separation from His beloved Radha, as follows: "Just see! Lord Shiva lives happily with half of his body united with Parvati, whereas I am far from united with Radhika—I don't even know where She is."
Remarkably, the fantastic hermaphroditic form of Sri Ardhanarisvara is not unheard of in nature. There is a rare type of mosaic intersexuality known as gynandromorphism in which a creature is biologically divided in half with one side (usually the right) male and the other female, often with a sharp line of demarcation between them. While extremely rare in humans, gynandromorphism has been observed in a number of different animals including butterflies, spiders, small mammals, and especially birds—more than 40 cases of gynandromorphism have been reported in avian species like finches, falcons, and pheasants. The gynandromorphic animal is literally divided in half by sex, with one testis and one ovary, and in the case of birds with male plumage on one side and female plumage on the other. Some aboriginal societies highly value such intersexed creatures—they are kept separately and cared for meticulously in the belief that they bring good luck to the village. Sri Ardhanarisvara embodies the fusion of the male and female principles and is said to represent all contradictions in nature such as masculine and feminine; light and darkness; impotence and fertility; harshness and compassion, etc. The deity is often worshiped for blessings in fertility, marriage, progeny, and longevity. People of the third sex, associated with this deity due to their combined male and female natures, are believed to possess similar powers. Temples of Sri Ardhanarisvara exist throughout India and large festivals are held on the Shiva-ratri day in the month of Phalguna (February-March).
In Vedic narratives Sri Arjuna manifests all three genders—male, female, and hermaphrodite. He is most popularly known in his male form as the heroic warrior of the Mahabharata, the disciple of Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita and the husband of Draupadi. He is very, very dear to Lord Krishna. It is said that when Krishna first met Arjuna tears came to His eyes and He embraced Arjuna wholeheartedly—this was because Arjuna reminded Krishna of His intimate cowherd friend in Vraja of the same name. Krishna and Arjuna became instant companions and spent many years together in deep friendship. In the Mahabharata (Sauptika Parva, XII), Krishna states, "I have no dearer friend on earth than Arjuna, and there is nothing that I cannot give to him including my wives and children." In the Drona Parva of the same text, Krishna reiterates, "O Daruka, I shall not be able to cast my eyes, even for a single moment, on the earth bereft of Arjuna…Know that Arjuna is half of my body." Once, when Krishna had to leave Hastinapura for Dvaraka, He quickly hurried to the apartments of Arjuna and spent the entire night with him in happy slumber, even at the risk of upsetting His temperamental wife, Satyabhama.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is described in post-medieval Bengali texts as the combination of Sri Radha and Sri Krishna. He is also clandestinely alluded to throughout the Puranas and other Vedic texts as the incarnation for this age of Kali (the Kali Yuga)—the golden avatara, who descends to augment the chanting of the holy names of God. In the Chaitanya Charitamrita (of Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami), two more confidential reasons are given for Lord Krishna's descent as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: He wanted to taste the ecstatic love experienced by Sri Radha for Him, and He wanted to propagate this confidential knowledge to anyone eager to receive it. Thus, while appearing in a male form, Lord Caitanya's inner mood and emotions were that of a female, His divine consort Sri Radha, i.e., in the mood of Radharani. There are numerous biographies available giving details of Sri Chaitanya's life, the most prominent ones being the Chaitanya Charitamrita of Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami and the earlier Chaitanya Bhagavata of Vrindavana Dasa Thakura (both originally written in the Bengali language but now widely available in English and other languages) and the Chaitanya Mangala, written by Lochana Dasa Thakura.
Kartikeya is the son of two male deities—Shiva and Agni (the fire God)—born without the help of any womb. He is the god of war and commander-in-chief of the demigods. Kartikeya is also known as Skanda, Kumaran, Subrahmanya and Murugan, and portrayed as a brave, handsome youth riding on a peacock, sometimes in a six-headed and twelve-armed form. Kartikeya is traditionally worshiped as a bachelor who avoids women. In the Brahmanda Purana it is stated that Parvati cursed Kartikeya so that he would see all women as his mother. Thus he never married and instead took companionship from his fellow soldiers. Another name for Kartikeya is Senapati—he was a lord or "husband" to his army. There is another version. Karthikeya is said to have been born to destroy the Asura Mahisha. (In later mythology, Mahisha became the adversary of goddess Durga.) Indra attacks Karthikeya as he sees the latter as a threat, until Shiva intervenes and makes Karthikeya the commander-in-chief of the army of the Devas. He is also married to Devasena (also called Deivayanai), Indra's daughter. The origin of this marriage lies probably in the punning of 'Deva-sena-pati'. It can mean either lord of Devasena or Lord of the army(sena) of Devas.
In the best-known version from the Shiva Purana, Kartikeya's birth is described as follows: The demigods needed a son who would lead their army against the asuras (demons). Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati agreed to produce such a son, but when they were locked in cosmic embrace for a very long time, the demigods became alarmed and interrupted them. Shiva spilled his seed on the ground and Agni, disguised as a dove and urged on by the other gods, swallowed the semen with his beak. Parvati was enraged by the course of events and chastised the gods bitterly. Agni was burned by the fire of Shiva's seed and submitted himself before the Lord. Shiva was pleased and allowed Agni to pass the semen on to the Krittikas. The sagely husbands of these goddesses, however, accused their wives of unfaithfulness and therefore they discharged the semen onto the Himalayan peaks. Himavata (the Himalayas personified and father of Parvati) was burned by the seed and tossed it into the Ganges River, which in turn deposited it into a forest of reeds—wherefrom a very handsome boy was born named Kartikeya. His appearance made Shiva, Parvati, and all the gods very happy. In the Skanda Purana, the story is nearly identical with the exception that Agni swallowed Shiva's semen disguised as a male ascetic instead of a dove. The Mahabharata also relates that when Kartikeya was very young, Indra feared he would usurp his throne and thus threw a thunderbolt at the boy. Instead of killing Kartikeya, however, it simply produced from his body another fierce-looking youth named Visakha. Indra then worshiped Kartikeya and installed him as commander-in-chief of the demigods... hence he is also the God of war. The Ramayana version is closer to the stories told in the Puranas, though.
Vedic texts, especially the Bhagavata Purana, describe Sri Krishna as the fountainhead and original source of Vishnu and all avatāras (incarnations). Because Sri Krishna is 'adi-purusa'—the supreme and original male—all other beings are regarded as female in relation to Him. In the Padma Purana it is said that during the advent of Lord Rama, the sages of Dandakaranya Forest became so attracted to the Lord they developed conjugal affection for Him. Since Rama could accept only one wife, Sita, He blessed the sages to become cowherd maidens in Krishna's pastimes, thus fulfilling their desires.
Sri Krishna's pastimes are very playful and sportive; narratives from the Puranas as well as post-medieval texts often portray Krishna and His friends (both male and female) crossdressing for fun and delivering messages in disguise. Krishna has many male attendants (sahayakas) who meticulously dress and care for Him and His intimate priya-narma friends arrange rendezvous for Him to meet with the gopis. These intimate friends are said to have nearly the same emotions (bhava) for Krishna that the gopis do and are always completely overwhelmed by Krishna's beauty and the love they feel for Him. Krishna is most famous for His loving pastimes with the gopis and His rasa-lila dances with them (rasa means 'emotion' or 'performance' and lila is a concept from Hinduism, which roughly translates to "play [lila] of the dance [rasa]," or more broadly as "Dance of Divine Love"). His chief consort is Sri Radha, the original source of all shaktis and Goddess of the spiritual energy. Radha is Krishna's life and soul; in His incarnation of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, He combines with Her to experience the ecstatic love She feels for Him. Krishna's natural complexion is bluish but when He combines with Radha He takes on a golden complexion and is thus known as Lord Gauranga. In another popular pastime, the svayam bhagavan Sri Krishna disguises Himself as the beautiful maiden, Syamali, just to pacify the jealous anger of Radha.
Lord Vishnu once transformed Himself into the most beautiful woman in the universe—Sri Mohini-murti. "Mohini" means "one who bewilders the mind," and "murti" means "form". This pastime is narrated in the Bhagavata Purana (8.8-9) as follows: The demigods and demons once combined their efforts to extract immortality-producing nectar from the ocean of milk. When the nectar was produced, however, the demigods and demons struggled for it and the demons made off with the pot. The demigods approached Lord Vishnu, who told them not to fear—He would resolve the issue. Vishnu then appeared as Sri Mohini-murti, the most bewildering of women. She is described as an extremely beautiful youth with a dark complexion and attractive fragrance. Her behavior and movements were very feminine and She attracted the minds of all men. Mohini approached the demons and, taking advantage of their captivation for Her, convinced them to release the pot of nectar. She told the demons She would distribute the nectar Herself and made them promise to accept whatever She did. They agreed, and once Mohini received the nectar She proceeded to distribute it only to the demigods. Thus the demons were never able to receive the nectar of immortality.
The largest festival and human gathering on earth or the world's largest act of faith—the Kumbh-mela—originates from the pastime of churning the milk ocean. It is said that while the demons and demigods were struggling over the pot of nectar, four drops were spilled in four places: Prayaga, Haridvara, Ujjain and Nasik. These places are thus believed to have great mystical powers.
Sri Narada Muni is the transcendental sage of the demigods. He was born from the mind of Lord Brahma and is a pure devotee of God. According to legend, Narad is regarded as the 'Manasaputra' referring to his birth 'from the mind of Brahma', the first living being as described in the Puranic universe. He is regarded as the 'Triloka sanchaari', the ultimate nomad who roams the three lokas of Swargaloka (heaven), Mrityuloka (earth, literally: "place of death") and Patalloka (nether-world). He does this to find out about the life and welfare of people. Narada Muni is a lifelong celibate (naistiki-brahmacari) and is mentioned throughout the Vedic literatures. He is often depicted traveling freely through outer space, plucking a stringed musical instrument (the veena), and preaching the glories of Lord Vishnu. Narada Muni moves from planet to planet and in all three realms of the universe—upper, middle and lower. His dear companion, Parvata Muni, often accompanies him. He is somewhat of a cosmic instigator—constantly coming and going, setting things in motion and sometimes creating mischief—but always for the higher purpose of demonstrating Vedic philosophical truths.
There are at least two instances in the Puranas wherein Narada Muni becomes a woman. In one narration, Narada asks Vishnu to show him His maya (illusion). Vishnu complies and instructs Narada to fetch Him some water from a nearby river. Narada does so, but falls into the water and emerges as a female. Narada then meets a man, falls in love, gets married, has many children, builds a home and establishes a prosperous farm on the riverbank. She becomes very happy and satisfied for many years. One day, however, there is an enormous flood, and Narada's husband, children, home and farm are all washed away in the raging waters. Narada laments piteously until finally the turbulent waters capture Narada herself. Terrified, she screams for help again and again. A hand grasps Narada and pulls her from the river. It is Vishnu—He has shown Narada His maya! In the Padma Purana there is a description of Narada's transformation into the beautiful cowherd maiden, Naradi. Narada Muni asks Lord Krishna to show him His divine loving affairs, and Krishna complies by turning him into the gopi Naradi and sporting with him for an entire year. This pastime is very similar to the one in which Arjuna is transformed into the maiden Arjuni, and it appears immediately afterward in the Purana.
In the Valmiki Ramayana (4.5.11-18), Lord Rama aligns Himself with the 'vanara' king, Sugriva, and they officiate their sacred alliance with a Vedic friendship ceremony. The ritual they perform is very similar to a Hindu wedding—fire is invoked as a witness, vows are exchanged, and the pair circumambulates the fire arena together. In India, third-gender couples sometimes emulate such friendship marriages to demonstrate their own love and commitment to one another.
Sri Shukracharya is the preceptor of the Daityas, the guru of the Asuras (Danavas) and master of all kinds of supernatural powers. He is associated with the planet Venus (one of the Navagrahas), material pleasures, beauty, magic and bewitchment. The story of Shukracharya's appearance as the son of Lord Shiva is narrated both in the Mahabharata and the Vamana Purana as follows: A powerful mystic named Kavya knew all sorts of maya (magic) but did not have the spell for bringing the dead back to life. Hearing that Lord Shiva possessed this power, Kavya propitiated the god by hanging himself upside down over a smoldering fire. When Shiva appeared, Kavya slipped into his mouth and remained there for a very long time, gaining access to Shiva's knowledge and powers. After acquiring the spell for reviving the dead, he sought a passage out but could only find Shiva’s phallus. Emerging from there, Shiva quickly caught the asura and decided to kill him. The goddess Parvati, however, stopped her husband and said, "Since this asura has left your body through the phallus, he is to be considered your son." Shiva agreed and from then on Kavya was called Sukra—"sprung from the semen of Shiva."
Sri Surya is the Vedic sun god also known as Ravi or Vivasvan. He is in charge of illuminating the universe and empowered by the Vaikuntha Deity, Surya-Narayana. In a popular South Indian version of the Ramayana, Surya falls in love with his charioteer, Aruna, after the god transforms himself into a woman. The story is narrated as follows: Aruna, the god of dawn, desired to see the beautiful courtesans dancing in the palace of Indra. He thus transformed himself into the goddess, Aruni, and sneaked into Indra's palace. Indra noticed Aruni and was immediately captivated by her amazing beauty. The two then came together and created a son named Vali. The next day, Aruna was late for his duty and Surya demanded to know why. Aruna described the incident and Surya requested if he could also see the beautiful form. Aruna complied, but Surya then became so captivated by Aruni he immediately united with her, producing another child known as Sugriva. The two offspring were later turned into 'vanaras' (human-like apes or man with ape nature) by the curse of Gautama Maharishi.
Sri Vallabhavardhana is a relatively little-known hermaphrodite form of Lord Vishnu and Lakshmi-devi combined. Lord Vishnu is a transcendental manifestation of God who resides in the spiritual world known as 'Vaikunta' (literally, "beyond all anxiety"). Vishnu maintains both the spiritual and material cosmos simply by His own sweet will—He is depicted as being completely aloof, lying peacefully on His serpent bed (Ananta-Sesa/Adi-shesha), attended by the Goddess Lakshmi (His spiritual shakti), and served in awe and reverence by His devotees. The demigods (devas) often call upon Sri Vishnu as a last resort for deliverance from their calamities. Like many other deities, Lord Vishnu manifests Himself in all three genders—male, female (Mohini) and hermaphrodite (Sri Vallabhavardhana). The Vallabhavardhana form of the Lord is literally split down the middle with the right half represented by Lord Vishnu and the left half by goddess Lakshmi. Sri Vallabhavardhana (literally, "half Vallabha or Vishnu") is mentioned briefly in the Bhavishya Purana, but otherwise little else is known about this rare and unusual form.
These are anecdotes from our mythology about a male transforming into a female and vice versa. How can a man/male "transform" himself into a woman/female and vice versa, and that too temporarily...??? Think about it...
A depiction of Sri Ardhanarishvara - an androgynous deity composed of Shiva and his consort Shakti, representing the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies. The Ardhanari form also illustrates how the female principle of God, Shakti, is inseparable from the male principle of God, Shiva. The term 'Ardhanarishvara' is a combination of three words- 'ardha', 'nari' and 'ishvara', meaning respectively, 'half', 'woman' and 'Lord' or 'God', that is, Ardhanarishvara is the Lord whose half is woman, or who is half woman. Ardhanarishvara also refers to the Dual Nature of the Cosmos. (Picture courtesy: http://www.shaivam.org/siddhanta/maardh.html)