Thursday, 15 September 2016

Hindu Hermaphrodite Harmony

The scriptures of Hinduism contains a remarkable amount of stories of deities who have intersex, hermaphrodite or transgender forms. They reveal a completely different view of gender and sexuality that was adopted in western Christian cultures.

What they all seem to have in common is the concept that human beings have both male and female qualities which balance each other in perfect harmony. Imagine the yin and yang symbol. Both are separate but unite to create complete harmony.

In the Hindu faith even the ultimately perfect man as personified by the god Shiva experienced femininity when he gave half of his body to his wife to become a new unified deity called Ardhanarishvara. There are several different stories which explain why Shiva united with his wife Parvati. Here are two of them.

In Tamil lore the story goes that the gods and sages gathered to worship Shiva and Parvati. One sage, Bhringi, would only worship Shiva. This offended Parvati and she cursed him by reducing him to a skeleton. Some of the other goads and sages were sorry of Bhringi because he couldn’t stand up. So they blessed him with a third leg to make him more stable. Parvati then saw how cruel she hade been and punished herself. Shiva saw her penitence and united with her into Ardhanarishvara so that Bhringi would have to worship them both as one deity. However, the sage continued to worship only the male half. Parvati accepted Bhringi’s devotion to Shiva and blessed him.

The other story of how the union cam about begins with the marriage of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva was in a state of ecstatic harmony and he wanted his wife to experience it also. Parvati asked what she should do and said she would tolerate any hardship to make it possible. Shiva invited her to sit on his lap. With no resistance whatever Shiva pulled Parvati closer and closer. Their bodies merged and Parvati became the left side of Shiva’s body.

One of the characteristics in Hindu iconography is the depiction of Ardhanarishvara and other composite deities. They are often shown as a single body divided directly down the middle. The illustration of Ardhanarishvara below shows this well.

This particular depiction shows both side if the body with two arms. This is unusual but not rare, as the Parvati left side most often has only one arm. It depends on which area of the Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, and which sect, venerates the deity.

Hindus born intersex or hermaphrodite and those who identify as homosexual are said to be regarded as human images of Ardhanarishvara. Whether the deity was ever venerated as their patron is uncertain.

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