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The Hijras of India

There are several third-gender group is India. Probably the best-known are the hijras of northern India. The word “hijra” is of Hindi origin. The politically correct term to use is kinnar. Another acceptable term is mukhanni. An offensive term for hijra is chakka. In English, the equivalent is eunuch though this term is not precise since the majority of hijras no longer undergoes castration. Across India, it is known by other equivalent terms as the sub-continent is linguistically diverse. Differences also lie in the deities that are worshipped as well as in its practice.

In Tamil, Nadu, the term is aravanni or aruvani who are devotees of Kutandavar Aravan, god of Ali.. There is also the jogappa of South India who are devotees of the goddess Yellamma-devi, a popular Hindu deity of Durga. They are more of transvestites. They oversee the temple’s devadasis, maidservants of the goddess. Both the jogappas and the devadasis serve as dancers and courtesans. The sakhi-bekhis are few in number and can be found in normally in Bengal. They worship Sri Radha, the companion of Lord Krishna and typically dress as females to support the notion that they are girlfriends of Krishna.

A Kothi is different from hijra as the former are men or boys who take on the feminine role in sex with men and do not belong to a community. None of the above practice castration (Hijra (South Asia) in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The hijra is the only sect that practices castration. Hijras are devotees of the goddess Bahuchara Mata, the mother goddess worshipped all over India. In her name, as vehicles of her power to give blessings, the hijra traditionally earn their living by receiving alms and performing at weddings, at temple festivals, and at homes where a child, especially a male, has been born.

The dharma (religious obligation) of the hijra is emasculation, and the term eunuch is the most frequent translation of the word hijra. The emasculation operation is called nirvan or rebirth; only after the operation can hijras become vehicles of the goddess’s power. Connected to the obligation to undergo emasculation (for those who are not born intersexed) is the hijra claim that they are other-worldly people. Impotent as men, and unable to reproduce as women, the hijra are like ascetics (sanyasi) in their separation from normal family life (samsara) and in their dependence on alms for their livelihood.

Accroding to Serna Nanda, this ascetic ideal links the hijra to their goddess and to other figures in the Indian religious tradition, such as Arjun, hero of the Hindu epic Mahabharata and through him Shiva; hijras also identify with Krishna and Ram (avatars, or incarnations, of Vishnu). These religiously sanctioned connections help legitimate the hijra role in Indian society (qtd in (Freilich, Raybeck & Savishinsky 149). Hijras usually belong in a community of five to twenty individuals who become their surrogate and extended family.

They are organized according to seniority with a guru (seniors) and chelas (juniors) who are committed to loyalty and obedience to the guru. The traditional way for hijars to earn their living is by showering blessings after the wedding when the bride has been taken to the house of the groom. When a child is born, the hijras are called to the house or they can also just show up as they are merely practicing their prerogative of giving blessings for the fertility and prosperity of the child and the family.

Hijras are said to be able to do this because, since they do not engage in sexual activities, they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to either to bless or to curse. The shower of blessings is usually performed in the form of song, dance, clowning and drum playing. However, as India is becoming Westernized, the rituals are no longer as elaborate and the hijras’ opportunities for traditional work is declining. Asking for alms either from passers-by or the shopkeepers is another way to make a living. Territories are established and controlled by the local guru.

At times, in order to secure alms, they resort to cursing and shaming their target by exposing to them their mutilated genitalia. A third source of earning is prostitution. While this contradicts the ideal of being, the practice is now tolerated because of the income that they bring in (Freilich, Raybeck & Savishinsky 149-150). Hijras and other transgender Hindus commonly identify with and worship the various deities connected with gender diversity as related in the Hindu texts including the Vedas and Upanishads.

Other major scriptures referred to is the epic Mahabharata and the treatise excerpt, Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana. According to Amara Das Wilhelm in his book Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity and Intersex Conditions Through Hinduism, the sex or gender were clearly divided throughout the Vedic literature according to nature as “pums-prakriti” or male, “stri-prakriti” or female, and “tritiya-prakriti” or the third sex. The third sex or nature is analyzed in the Kama-sutra, another sacred text which emphasizes pleasure as the aim of intercourse.

It categorizes men who desire other men as a “third nature,” further subdivides them into masculine and feminine types, and describes their lives and occupations (such as flower sellers, masseurs and hairdressers). It provides a detailed description (not necessarily its approval) of oral sex between men, and also refers to long-term unions between men (qtd in Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association 2003). Among the deities referred to in the sacred texts is Sri Ardhanarisvara, the hermaphrodite form of Lord Shiva who is depicted as “literally split down the middle with one female breast, one male breast, etc.

The male side is represented in masculine features while the female side is voluptuous and slender with one large hip. ” In the Brahmanda Purana (5. 30) it is stated that Lord Siva assumed his hermaphrodite form of Sri Ardhanarisvara after duly worshiping his shakti through meditation and yoga. The Kurma Purana (1. 11. 3) relates how Siva’s original form of Rudra was also hermaphrodite. When Siva 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 Siva and Parvati. In Jayadeva Goswami’s twelfth-century text, the Sri Gita-Govinda (3. 11), Lord Krsna praises Siva’s form of Ardhanarisvara while experiencing separation from His beloved Radha, as follows: “Just see! Lord Siva 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. ” (qtd in Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association 2003). In the Linga Purana, it was said that Brahma was inspired by Shiva in his creation.

In the beginning, a lotus bloomed. In it sat Brahma. On becoming conscious, he realized he was alone. Lonely, frightened, he wondered how he could create another being to give him company. Suddenly a vision flashed before his eyes. He saw Shiva whose right half was male and left half was female. Inspired, Brahma divided himself into two. From the right half came all things male and from the left half came all things female. (qtd in Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association 2003). Most hijras trace their origin from the Indian epic the Mahabharata.

Arjuna, the disciple of Sri Krisna in Bhgavad Gita, is the hero warrior. When Arjuna refuses the advances of the celestial courtesan, Urvasi, she curses him to become a sandha (literally, “half man, half woman”). He uses the curse at the most opportune time disguising himself with an “exceedingly effeminate gait, manner of speech, and attire…donned a woman’s blouse and draped in red silk. Wearing numerous bangles, earrings and necklaces…” He got himself employed as a teacher of dancing, singing, music and hairdressing in the lady’s chamber at the King’s palace.

“ It is also said that during this one-year period, Brihannala performed all of the traditional duties of the sandha by dancing and offering blessings at wedding and birth ceremonies. ” In the van Buitenen translation Arjun was described below, through the eyes of King Virat: A handsome man, completely endowed/A swarthy youth like an elephant leader/ Who is wearing bright conches set into gold/And sporting a braid and a pair of earrings. ” This depiction of his hair and earrings, but not his dress, makes Arjun appear effeminate. “No man of your stature resembles a eunuch,” says King Virat, “in any which way, it seems to me!

” Arjun replies: “I sing and dance and make fine music/I am good at the dance and a master of song. … /The reason I have this form–what profit/Is there in recounting it but great pain? /Brhannada, sire, is my name, deserted by mother and father as son and daughter. ” The king has him examined and finds him “not a man. ” (qtd in Uppity-Eunuch, Biz). The hijras notion of nirvan is attributed to the goddess of male castration, Sri Bahuchara-Mata. She is an expansion of the goddess Durga who is mentioned in both the Padma and Skanda Puranas. She was bestowed this honor because of her tragic life.

She was a beautiful goddess who was deceived into a entering a marriage with a man who neglects her in pursuit of other men. One night, astride a jungle fowl, she secretly follows him and discovers him in the forest “in a stream with other young men and behaving as women do. ” Confronted thus, he confessed that he was forced by his father to marry and have children. “Infuriated, she castrates him and declares: ‘Men like you (who dishonestly marry women) should instead emasculate themselves and dress as women, worshiping me as a goddess! ’ Her next tragedy led to her death as she cut off her breast so she will not be raped.

“As she bleeds to death, she curses him to become impotent. ” The man begged for mercy but she again declared similarly, “Men like you (who rape women) will only be forgiven when they are castrated, dressed as women, and engaged in my worship! ” (qtd in Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association 2003). The hijras are also referred to in the Ramayana, an epic tale and one of the key texts of Indian mythology. In this, they appear when the god Ram has to go into the forest to perform tapasya (propitiation which may take the form of, for example, solitude or pilgrimage) for ten years.

As Ram leaves the city, the inhabitants follow him; he tells them to go back but when he reaches the forest, he realises that a group of people is still following him. He turns to them and asks ‘Why are you still with me when I told you to go? ’, and they answer, ‘You told the men and the women to go but we are neither men nor women and so we have stayed with you’. When they eventually leave the forest, Ram gives them a special blessing for having stayed with him and this is why, it is said, the hijras are still respected and were granted the power to heal, to bless and to curse (Suthrell 78).

The Indian gay and lesbian community has closely associated itself with Vaishnavism. This is the religion that is centered on the worship of Lord Vishnu as Supreme God. It began with Lord Caitanya who is an avatar or incarnation of the combined supreme god and goddess, Radha and Krishna Lord Krishna. During his birth, among his guests were “the dancers of the transvestite community, known as the “nartaka,” who happily performed before the Lord. These dancers were especially used for religious occasions. The movement maintains that “the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, and the canonical lives of Krishna are literally true.

. . that the souls of all individuals are eternal, and are trapped in a series of material bodies (reincarnation) owing to ignorance and sensory illusion. ” His mission was to deliver the souls of the Kali-yuga (or iron age) by introducing the chanting of the holy names of God or Hare Krsna thus propagating the chanting of the Holy Names of God namely Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. (Lewis 217). A major difference of the hijra with the other transgender sects is their belief in castration.

It is believed that the goddess, Bahuchara Mata appears to impotent men, commanding them to chop off their genitals and become their servant. If they do not, they will be impotent for their next seven incarnations. Before the castration, an hijra “midwife” (dai ma) may slice a coconut to see if she ought to proceed. If Bahuchara Mata wills the castration to happen, the coconut halves will separate cleanly. The castration process, incidentally, is called nirvan, meaning “a total calmness devoid of desire. ” The ritual is usually done during the most favorable time of early morning after doing puja, a Hindu ritual for cleansing.

Castration calls for the penis and scrotum to be tied around with a thread and all other clothes and jewelry removed, to symbolise the nakedness of the new born. When the operation is performed, the initiate stands with hands behind head, pelvis slightly forward and at the appropriate moment, two diagonal cuts are made, separating the penis and scrotum completely. The hijra is allowed to bleed to purify herself of the male element. The healing process is seen as a battle between Bahuchara Mata, the life-giver, and her sister Chamundeswari, the destroyer (Suthrell 84).

During the British rule, hijras were seen as indecent and laws were passed to eliminate them. Now, we read news stories of hijras finding success in politics. Kamla Jaan Kamla Jaan was elected mayor of Katni in January 2000. However, she was unseated two years later for having been judged a man when the seat was reserved for a woman candidate. Regardless, during the same election year, four other eunuchs were elected including Shabnam Mausi into congress. While the culture of India is more accepting of the third sex, hijras are still generally marginalized and live stigmatized existence.

They may cling to myths passed on as historical facts and cite religious dogma, their world remains a deviant world. It is a fate that includes a dimension of power albeit in the form of fear and mockery. Their effeminate ways are ridiculed and abused. Their birth is a source of sorrow for their parents, and their presence at home is generally considered a burden by their families. To sum up, allow me to cite a comment given by Z. Jaffery in her book entitled The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India: They were like the shadows and the critics of society.

Everything about them suggested paradox; they were not men, nor were they women; they were not invited to perform, but neither were they uninvited; they carried the instruments of song, but made no pretence of being able to sing; they blessed the bride and groom, but through a stream of insults; they were considered a nuisance, even extortionists, and yet they were deemed lucky; they were not paid to perform, but to leave everyone in peace; they partook of the rites of passage that they themselves were incapable of — marriage and birth.

They were clearly outcasts, yet were able, through a comedy of manners, to transcend the barriers of rank, caste and class, and reduce everyone to ridiculous equals (qtd. in Suthrell 81).

Works Cited

Freilich, Morris, Raybeck, Douglas & Savishinsky, Joel. Deviance: Anthropological Perspectives. Bergin & Garvey: New York, 1991. “Homosexuality_and_Hinduism. ” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 24 Aug. 2007.<Reference. com http://www. reference. com/browse/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Hinduism>. ) “Hijra. ” Lieberman, Tucker. 11 August 2003. Uppity-Eunuch, Biz.

20 August 2007 <http://web. archive. org/web/20030619010411/http:/www. angelfire. com/ri/tucker/gender/eunuchs/hijra. html> “Hijra (South Asia). ” 23 August 2007. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 25 August 2007 <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Hijra_(South_Asia)> “Hindu Deities and the Third Sex. ” Amara Das Wilhelm. 2003. Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association. 25 August 2007. <http://www. galva108. org/deities. html> Kidwai, Rasheed. “Women seat topples genderless Kamla – Jabalpur High Court asks eunuch mayor to step down immediately.

” The Telegraph [Calcutta] 04 February 2003. < http://www. telegraphindia. com/1030204/asp/frontpage/story_1637548. asp> Lewis, James R. Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy. Prometheus Books: Amherst, NY, 2001. Rasaily, S M. “Eunuchs can Teach Politicians c Lesson or Two. ” Rediff. com [Bhopal] 08 December 2000. <http://www. rediff. com/news/2000/dec/08eunuch. htm> Suthrell, Charlotte. Unzipping Gender: Sex, Cross-Dressing and Culture. Berg. Place: New York, 2004.

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