Man, Woman and The Other in India

International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Day is observed every year on May 17. Homophobia means “dislike or prejudice against the homosexual people”. Biphobia is “dislike or prejudice against bisexual people”. And, Transphobia refers to, “dislike or prejudice against transgenders”.

Section 377  is an article in the Indian Penal Code, IPC. It is all about what constitutes permitted sexual act in humans.

What has been the ethos of India with regards to this subject that goes beyond sex between a man and a woman?

Delving into the Samskrt language, we find a word NapumsakaPumsa means male. There is infact a mantra/ritual called Pumsavana performed in early conception for avana, i.e. to wish, hasten, a pumsa, male progeny. Pumsa denotes the spirit of being a man, masculinity.

Here we see the specific word Napumsaka meaning, “not pumsa”, those who are not fully male either by body or in character, in other words transgenders.

We also come across another word Samalingakamin, meaning those who desire the same gender, in other words homosexuals.

The fact that these words exist implies that such people existed too. If such people existed, then their practices of sex and other aspects would have existed too. Acknowledging them, also acknowledges their lifestyle.

While most languages in their usage have only 2 genders, one comes across 3 genders in prayoga, usage, in Samskrt and other Indian languages. So, it was an accepted fact in the Indian ethos, that besides the two genders, male and female, a 3rd division also exists in reality.

Transgenders were therefore accepted as a 3rd form of humans as Nature expresses itself in many forms.

The 3rd gender have been referred to in India by diff names – Eunuchs in English, Hijara in Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Arabic languages, Jogappa in Kannada, Aravani, Alior Thirunangai in Tamil. Nangai means womanly and Thiru is an honorific title given to males. Thirunangai means male and female in one body. This word for the transgenders in Tamil Nadu implies that they are not looked down upon.

When did this scenario change in India?

In 1870, the Indian Penal code (IPC) was formulated by the British administrators. In article 377 of the IPC, non heterosexual sex between male and female humans has been classified as “unnatural” and punishable upto a period of 10 years in jail.

Why was it classified as “unnatural”?

In 1870s, it was the Victorian puritan view that was prevalent in medieval Europe. That view was imposed on India through this section 377.

But since then, in the last 140 years, Europe and England have moved on in thought and practice, whereas India has been stuck with an outdated, alien law section – alien to the views of this land, alien to the jurisprudence of this land.

The origins of this thought in England and medieval Europe comes from the Biblical incident of Sodom and Gomorrah wherein it is expressed that the city of Sodom was burnt down by a fiery shower because some of its residents had indulged in homosexual acts.

It is from the name of this Biblical town Sodom that certain types of sexual acts are now called sodomy.

Modern science and analysis have proved that there was a meteor strike in the Alps mountains over 3000 years ago. Rebounding of the meteor parts as they hit the Alps, caused a spray of molten rocks on Sodom. This astral event has now been scientifically analyzed and explained with specific dates. In the wake of this analysis, to link the fiery shower to the act of sodomy of a few in Sodom makes it irrational, unscientific.

We need to now move ahead shedding behind the unscientific as well as Victorian views.

The issue concerning 377 can be viewed at from different perspectives.

It is a bodily fact that a person is born as a transgender. It cannot be expressed as a bodily defect. Mutations are a process by which evolutions evolve.

In the bodily realm, besides the physically noticeable bodily differences, what is physically not seen but is equally potent are the effects of hormone play in a person. The play of hormones is not limited to the stage of puberty but continues through the life. Imbalances in these can give rise to such situations in a person.

The other factor is the mind play. We all know that mind can play a substantial role in determining tastes, preferences, attitude in all aspects including sex.

While the case of physical body variations gives to transgenders, the other cases of hormonal and mental influences tend to take the preference towards homosexuality (gay or lesbian or bisexual).

In modern parlance the homosexuals, transgenders and transvestites have all been brought under the broad term LGBT – Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgenders, to distinguish them as a community different from the heterosexual community.

Fundamentally it denotes a sexual minority of people who vary from a stereotype male or female in their physical body parts, physique, physiology, psychology or preferences. It is a variance that reveals itself in their choice of partners for sex and life.

While the heterosexuals look at LGBT as a deviance, the LGBT community which over the last few decades have found a global voice, express in loud and clear terms, that it is not a deviance but another way of thinking where there is no harm done to other members of the society.

In the traditional Indian view also the personal preferences of LGBT were acknowledged. They also realized that the LGBT community were not harmful to society and were allowed to live their lives as per their preferences quietly. People from the LGBT community were given their lawful share, stake, pangu of village resources. They also figured among the rightful pangudhars, stakeholders in the village.

India had devised its own way of dealing with this community. The LGBT formed cults of their own and intermingled within themselves without intruding on the lifestyle of the rest of the heterosexual society.

The Kama Sutra also contains mention that homosexuality is something that is enjoyed by its practitioners. Narada Samhita, Manusmriti and a whole host of other texts acknowledge the existence of such people and their personal preferences. In a few temples there are sculptures of not just heterosexual couples but of homosexual couples as well. These are strewn all over the land and have been sculpted through the ages.

Literature and art thus showcase existence of homosexuality in ancient India.

These highlight that while heterosexuality is needed for procreation, homosexuality is seen to have been practiced by a minority few, purely for pleasure and solace.

This distinction can be seen in depictions even while dealing with concepts, principles, Tattva.

Everything in Nature including divine forces was attributed a gender – masculine, feminine or neuter.  There are stories of two masculine divinities, Tattva, Hari and Hara, coming together for a purpose – to bring forth Ayyappa, another divinity with their combined qualities, principles.

But here too, inorder to depict the concept of procreation, Hari or Vishnu principle takes the female form of Mohini, as the legend goes. The divinity Ayyappa however is commonly referred to only as HariHara Putra, meaning son of Hari and Hara.

There is another very interesting story in the Mahabharata legend. Where there is a dialogue between Yudhishtra and Bhishma. Bhishma is on his deathbed, on a bed of arrows. This dialogue takes place in the month of January 3066 BCE. Yudhishtra asks Bhishma as to, in sex, who enjoys more – man or woman. Bhishma then narrates the story of a king of a bygone era who had got converted into a woman, lady. In that king’s opinion, it was the woman who enjoyed the sexual act more.

What this brings out is that there were incidents where people of yore did consider changing their gender to enjoy the sexual act.

What is even more interesting is that such a topic was discussed between two men of high esteem, separated by two generations, such as Yudhishtra and his grand uncle Bhishma, on a solemn occasion when Bhishma was on his deathbed. Even on such an occasion, it was not out of the norm to discuss such a matter.

This tells us of the openness with which this subject was discussed.

As the heterosexual community does not make a big noise about their sexual preference, the LGBT community also did not, about theirs. It is only when one group tries to look down upon the other and intrude through laws and punishments, on the other’s right to live their lives as per their choice, do such issues come to the fore and seem larger than life.

In conclusion, the Indian ethos has been an open one where issues of sex, gender and LGBT have been given their due place in discussion and freedom of choice. We too, this day, should discuss and come up with laws that are in tune with the times, with the nature of this land and Nature “herself” to address this issue which perhaps is as timeless as the origins of man and woman.


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Gudravalli commemorates the mergence of Andal with Sri Ranganatha, an aspect of Narayana. Andal is one of the 12 Alwar, the poet saints of South India, who belonged to Sri Vaishnavism, and were ardent devotees of Lord Narayana.

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How did this festival come about?

Andal had promised that she would offer 100 thada of sweet dish Akkaraadisil to Lord Sri Ranganatha, Her beloved divinity, if He unites Her with Himself. Sri Ranganatha is an aspect of Narayana,  enshrined at Sri Rangam temple in Tamil Nadu, on the banks of Cauvery River.  Sri Ranganatha eventually accepted Sri Andal, as She became absorbed in Her Lord. Andal’s promise however remained unfulfilled.

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Sri Ranganatha

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Sri Rangam Temple, Tamil Nadu

The festival Gudravalli was instituted by Ramanuja, the propounder of Vishitadvaita, on 27th day of Margashirsha month, known as Margazhi in Tamil, to fulfil this promise of Andal.  100 thada of Akkaraadisil are offered to the divinity at Sri Rangam on this day. Gudravalli means to jointly pray to horse.  The 27th day of the month was chosen as Andal had merged with her Lord on this day, while singing the 27th verse of the 30 verses that she composed, in praise of Sri Ranganatha. This 30 verse devotional work of Andal is known as Tiruppavai. Andal sang a verse of Thirupavai on each day, in praise of Lord Ranganatha, in this month of Margazhi.

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The 27th verse

Koodarai vellum seer Govinda ! Undrannai

Paadi parai kondu yaam perum sammanam

Naadu pugazhum parisinaal nandraga

Soodagame tholvalaiye thode sevippoove

Padagame yendranaiya palkalanum yaam anivom

Aadai yuduppom adhan pinne paar soru

Mooda neiy peydhu muzhankai vazhivara

Koodiyirundhu kulirndhelor empavai

English Translation

Sri Andal has in the early verses described the rigors of the Nonbu as not decorating themselves and  not eating ghee and other delicacies to enable focus on the Lord. Now that She is in front of the Lord, she addresses the Lord as one who wins over those who are not willing to join Him or vanquishes those who are not following the righteous path and sings, we are singing your praise and seek from your hands gifts that the nation will be enamored of.  We seek from Your hands lovely garlands and ear rings and many other ornaments ; then lovely garments. We will adorn ourselves when these are given by your hands or you adorn us yourselves. Our beautification is for you to see and enjoy. And after adorning ourselves we will eat paal soru ie rice cooked in milk and ghee as your prasadam and the delicacy will be so full of ghee that the ghee will flow down our elbow as we eat.   And being in unison with you, in your company, partaking of the gifts and the food that you give us, we remain together and happy and blissful.

Relish Akkaraadisil, Relish Devotion

On this day, many households belonging to Vaishnavas, prepare Akkaraadisil. The uniqueness of this delicacy is that it is boiled and cooked in milk, instead of water.

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In Tamil, “Akkaram” means “Sugarcane”, Adisil means rice. After the rains, it is the time for harvest. Gudravalli falls around harvest season, when the other harvest festivals like Pongal are also celebrated. Thus there is a rich bounty of sugarcane and rice available in this period. This makes Akkaraadisil a very appropriate delicacy for this festival.

This sweet in a way, represents the sweetness of the devotion, bhakti of Andal and the Alwar. On this day, apart from relishing the sweetness of Akkaraadisil, let us also relish the nectarine devotion of Andal.

Revolution, Change Through Celebration

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New Year-A Harbinger of Change

New Year is just not a calendar but also harbinger of change. Change happens through a revolution which is generally violent. Change can happen through celebration.


Revolutions are not new to India or to humanity.

The 1857 War of Independence in India, was a revolution.

The first half of the 1900s was a successful revolution for independence of India from colonial power. This Indian spirit of revolution spread to other countries of the world and eventually led to the dismantling of the colonial system in other parts of the world too.

Some of the other famous revolutions of the world are the Long March of China, the Bolshevik revolution of Russia, the French Revolution, the American Civil war and many more.

Revolution to Change – Two Ways

Revolutions by nature tend to be violent. Revolutions by nature bring in change.

But revolutions need not be only through bloody acts. Revolutions can also come about through celebrations. How is the possible?

Change can primarily happen through 2 ways,

  1. Through violent revolutions
  2. Through celebration

While the 1857 war of independence and many other revolutions of the world were violent, the freedom struggle revolution in India, for freedom from colonial rule, leading to 1947, was by and large, a change through celebration.

People celebrated taking part in the freedom struggle. People celebrated making non violent sacrifices – Satyagraha. People celebrated going to jail.

This method of change through celebration was something new to the colonial mind. It was something they could not handle.

Shivaratri – Celebrating Change

The concept of change through celebration is nothing new to India. Every year, as we celebrate Shivaratri in the month of February-March, the celebrations in the form of a fast, prayers and singing epitomise the aspect of change through celebration. It is the time for the annual rejuvenation of the mind and spirit of an individual. This is discussed in detail in our Book and Film Understanding Shiva in the Bharath Gyan Series.


Change through Celebration

This thought of a revolution happening through a celebration is paradoxical to many minds.

For them, revolution has always been bloody. Whereas in the Indian ethos, be it in celebrating Shivaratri or through these above examples, change has been ushered in through celebrations.

Changing not just a corrupt but also a convoluted System

We have in the last few years seen a revolution to remove corruption. A change of not just a law or a bill. This revolution is for a change in the system itself, a system that has not only become corrupt but has also got convoluted.

Such a change in the system cannot occur from within the centre of the system, as it has to be a fundamental change. It has to therefore come from the people, who make up the strength of the system.

Democracy – People’s Strength

Democracy is a governance model built on involvement from the people.

Democracy is not just involving people to elect 540 representatives once every 5 years.

It is the involvement of the people in how they would like their lives to be governed.

The reality today in India is that there is no connect between the Bills being passed to Act and people’s views on them.

Democracy is like a spectrum. Near one end of the spectrum, is the Swiss democracy style wherein every major legislation has to be put to vote through a public referendum.

In India, as in some other countries, while this method is not possible, what is more probable, is a public debate on every major bill by informed people, before it can be passed as an act in the parliament. This is also a part of democracy. It is also one form of democracy. It is well within the norms and spectrum of democracy. It is democracy.

A Look Back At Traditional Law Makers

If we look back through the history of India, before independence, before the colonial rule, India was a prosperous land, not just because of its industrious people and natural wealth but it was prosperous because the land was governed well.

To have been governed well, there would have been norms and rules of governance.

In India before the British, such norms and rules were not fixed by kings, as kings were few and far between.

These norms of governance were fixed by Smritikars, schools of knowledgeable people, who laid down the norms of governance based on the land, its people, its values and that which were conducive and needed for societal living.

The king and the ministers were also subject to these laws.

While in sovereign Europe, the king was above law and made the law, in India, in the Smritis, the king was also subject to the law of the land, even while being the king.

These Smritis, law systems, were time tested governance principles that were successfully implemented, which made the land prosperous enough for it to be repeatedly looted through the ages. This we have discussed in detail in our book “You Turn India” of the Bharath Gyan Series.

Changing with Times

The Smritis however were not cast in stone. Smritis evolved as per the needs of the society and the needs of the times. It was the Smritikars, the leaders and thinkers in society, who had forethought and vision, who strived to keep the society in step with the changing needs with time.

It was the existence of these Smritis which made up the fabric of the land of India, irrespective of the various kingdoms that formed and transformed, the various kings and dynasties that ruled these kingdoms and the various people who lived in these kingdoms. These were the invisible threads that held the people of India together.

In present day world, these Smritikars comprise thinkers, lawyers, sociologists who are the think tanks, so essential to a Democracy, where the Parliament is the Supreme body of Governance, the principles of Governance can however, also be aided by think tanks formed with the new age Smritikars. The precedence comes in the form of the National Advisory Council, NAC, an extra constitutional body.

For, change is the only constant factor of life. For, if we do not recognize this and change, the change will sweep us asunder.

Act for the Change

For this change to happen as a celebration, what is needed is, as Swami Vivekananda said, is to initiate an “aggressive good”.

This aggressive good has to be a people’s effort. For it to be a people’s effort, people have to recognise that they are being affected, collectively and individually. The grave example for this being, as the German thinker Martin Nielmoller said during the time of the Hitler regime,

“First they came for the Jews,

And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists,

And I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Social Democrats,

And I did not speak out because I was not a Social Democrat.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists,

And I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then when they came for me,

There was no one left to stand up for me.”

The lesson here is, people have to stand up, when one in their comity is affected. Otherwise when it comes to affect them, there would be nobody to stand up for them.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna expressed His personal standpoint categorically as,

“There is nothing in the 3 worlds that I want for myself.

There is nothing in the 3 worlds that I need to work for.

But if I let myself follow the course of inaction,

So will others follow me.

I shall myself be the cause of degeneracy of the world.”

– Bhagavad Gita 3.21-23

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Bhagavad Gita

It is in this context, that revolution is action towards celebration of democracy in spirit and in essence!

This change through celebration has to be of the people, by the people, for the people, for their own good and that of their progeny.

A Striking Similarity

Post Independence, India saw yet another revolution, albeit smaller, but a positive step towards development. It was the Jai Jawan Jai Kisan movement, at the clarion call from the then Prime Minister of India, Shri. Lal Bahadur Shastri, to awaken the people to the contribution of the armed forces in providing border security and that of the farmers in providing food cum economic security for the nation.

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Lal Bahadur Shastri

The person who leads any revolution should have

  1. A resolve, stronger than steel.
  2. An impeccable character
  3. A cause that touches the hearts of the commoners.

These factors add the spice, the zing, the energy – that special ingredient, to make the revolution, a true celebration and its outcome, a change to be celebrated.