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Stories Of Gender Variance In Mythology

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India is often accused of being sexist, often more towards the women than the men. But it has not always been so. If you take a look at the annals of Indian Mythology, you will find many instances where the conventional rules of the society fall apart.

You will see that on many occasions, the subtle line that separates masculinity and the femininity blurs. The poets and authors of ancient times ventured boldly to examine and sometimes, change the preset notions about sexuality and gender.

The Tragic Story Of Aravan: Origin Of The Third Gender

One reason of this might be the belief that soul has no gender and the body you own is only a robe that you shall cast off and move on at the time of your death. You are born as a man, a woman, an animal or even a plant all depending upon your Karma.

Today, we shall look at some of the stories in the Hindu Mythology that transcends the confines of gender and sexuality.

Lord Ayyappan: The Mystery Son Of Vishnu & Shiva

Read on to discover stories that have men accepting roles of women, women who lived as men and instances where feminine and masculine were one and the same. Do not hesitate to leave your comments and views below.



"Ardhanarishwara" translates as the god who is half female and half male. It is the unified form of Lord Shiva and his Consort, Parvati. The form signifies the unification of Purusha (the masculine) and Prakirti (the feminine).

The form tells us that one cannot exist without the other, one is not greater than the other and that only once a being accepts both these qualities in him, can he live a fulfilled life.



Mohini appears many times throughout the length of Hindu Mythology as an avatar of Lord Maha Vishnu. There are three main stories that are often cited.

The first appearance was after the sagar manthan, when she appeared to solve the issue of sharing the Amrita (heavenly nectar). Lord Vishnu took the form of an enchanting woman who then goes on to shrewdly serve the Amrita only to the Devas.

The second appearance was to save Lord Shiva from the Asura, Bhasmasura. The bewitching Mohini caused the Asura to kill himself. But Shiva was so enamoured by Mohini that their union gave birth of Lord Ayyappa, who is a prominent deity in South India.

The third appearance was in Mahabharata. Aravan, the son of Arjuna needed to be sacrificed to ensure the victory of Pandavas in the war. Aravan had one last wish which was to taste the pleasures of marriage before meeting death. But no girl was ready to marry a man who had a certain death in his fate. As a solution, Krishna became Mohini and married Aravan and even mourned his death.



Shikhandi was born as the daughter of King Drupad but was brought up as a male. Some stories mention that she was even married to a girl. Shikhandi traded her gender with a yaksha to help kill Bhishma and to lead a marital life. Many stories also cite her as an androgynous character.



Arjuna was cursed that he would become a female for one year of his life by the Apsara Urvashi, when he avoided her advances. The curse became a boon during the last year of his exile when he lived as a woman called Brihanala in the kingdom of King Virata. Some also say that the curse made him a eunuch and not a female.



Sudyumna was born a male but was cursed to be a female for half of his life when he accidentally entered a restricted grove that belonged to Lord Shiva. He would change his gender every month and his female form was called Ila.

Budha (god of planet Mercury) fell in love with her. Ila bore Budha a son called Pururavas who went on to be the father of Kuru dynasty. Sudyumna also fathered three sons in the male form.


Narada As A Woman

Narada was proud that as he was very devoted to Maha Vishnu, he was immune to the Lord's Maya. To cure him of his pride, Maha Vishnu turned Narada into a female when Narada was taking a bath.

As a female, he forgot his true form and married a king. As the king's wife, he also bore many children. But the king and the children were all killed in a war. Overcome with grief, he tries to drown himself but emerges in his true form, as Narada. Narada, then understands the power of Maya and that no one is truly free of it.


Shiva As Gopeshwara

It is said that when Krishna engaged in raas-leela in Vrindavan, Shiva and Parvati were keen to participate in it too. Parvati was allowed to join as she was a female but Shiva was denied entry. The goddess of Vrindavan asked Shiva to take a bath in the lake at Mansarovar and then he would be able to participate in the raas-leela. Shiva did as asked and was transformed into a female. He was granted entry and was called Gopeshwar by Krishna.

Shiva is worshiped as Gopeshwar in the Gopeshwar temple, Vrindavan. Shiva is decorated as a woman and is dressed in a saree here.

Read more about: faith, mysticism, spirituality
Story first published: Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 14:58 [IST]
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