Homosexuality: India

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Ancient times

Devdutt Pattanaik, January 12, 2023: The Times of India

In 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh Arun Kumar said, “Just like the Supreme Court, we also do not consider this criminal. But we do not support homosexuality, as same-sex marriages and relations are not in sync with nature. Traditionally too, Indian society does not accept such relations. ”

But a few days ago, in 2023, the head of R S S, Mohan Bhagwat in an interview with Organiser insisted that LGBT is not only natural, but also culturally aligned. As he is a veterinarian, he knew about the homosexual traits of animals. And to prove cultural moorings of LGBT, he referred to the little-known story of Hansa and Dimbhaka, the allegedly gay generals of Jarasandh, found in the epic Mahabharat.

Games Krishn played: The story of Hansa and Dimbhaka comes from Sabha Parva (Rajasuyarambha) Chapter 14:3. Hansa and Dimbhaka were Jarasandh’s generals sent to destroy Mathura after Krishn had killed Jarasandh’s son-in-law, Kans. Krishn and his elder brother Balaram offered fierce resistance but the generals were invincible. Finally, Krishn spread the rumour that Hansa had been killed by Balaram, hearing which Dimbhaka lost his will to live and drowned himself in the waters of the Yamuna. On hearing that Dimbhaka had killed himself, Hansa drowned himself too.

Krishn had not lied; Hansa had indeed been killed by Balaram, but Krishn was referring to another kingnamed Hansa. The story is similar to the story of how Krishn spread the rumour of Ashwatthama, the elephant, being killed by Bhim, during the war at Kurukshetra. Drona, assuming that this referred to his son, lost his will to live, thus ensuring Pandav victory.

This makes us wonder, what was the exact relationship of Hansa and Dimbhaka? Were they brothers, friends, or father-son? It is not clear. The story mentions ‘widow of Hansa’ weeping before Jarasandh, but nothing else is known about either of them. But as per the R S S leader, the duo was probably a gay couple, because they could not live without each other.

If a gay mythologist had interpreted this story so, he could easily have been trolled for ‘manipulating Sanskrit texts based on Westernised ideas and creating a false Hindu history’. But since it is said by the leader of Hindutva’s cultural arm, who must have consulted celibate holy men well-versed in ancient Hindu language and lore, it must be true, a historical fact, ike Ram Setu.

Our other ancient queer heroes: Hopefully this story will make it to new textbooks to help students appreciate Bharat’s LGBT history, along with other queer tales such as Shikandi (woman who became man), Bhangashvana (man who became woman), and Yuvanashva (man who became pregnant).

The idea of two male lovers fighting side-by-side, impressing each other withtheir valour, comes to us from the Greeks. In its obsession with Muslim invaders, the Sangh forgets that a thousand years before Turks and Mughals, India had many foreign invaders and rulers – Yavanas (Greeks), Sakas (Scythians), Pahlavas (Parthians), Kushans (Central Asian Chinese). In fact, Mathura was razed to the ground, and Krishn was forced to flee to Dwarka, because of another of Jarasandh’s generals called Kalyavana, whose name literally translates to Black Greek.

Indo-Greek kings controlled much of north India 2,200 years ago. The earliest coins with images of Krishn and Balaram were issued by Indo-Greeks. Greek lore may have come to India even earlier, with Alexander’s army in 327 BCE. Alexander himself had a male lover, a Greek soldier named Hephaestion, whose death shattered him. Greek mythology also refers to the twin brothers Castor and Pollux: when one dies, the other loses his will to live, just like Hansa and Dimbhaka.

We worship Naag-devata along with mongoose and mouse: It took five years for the Sangh to discover this story. Hopefully, it will not take them that long to realise that unlike Islam, which is rigid, and constantly seeks permission from the past, and from God, Hindu Dharma-shastra have always been flexible, responding to desh (place), kaal (time) and patra (people). Even Vishnu adapts as situation demands, descending not just in male forms of various communities such as Vaman (Brahmin), Parashuram (Brahmin-warrior), Ram (royalty) and Krishn (cowherdcharioteer), but also, as a fish, a boar, an enchanting woman called Mohini, and even as Narasimha, a liminal being that is neither animal nor human, but a bit of both. 
While some of its American members slip in Christian metaphors such as ‘snakes in the Ganga’ to describe internal enemies, the Sangh should remember that Hindus worship snakes as Naag-devata. Hindus also worship the snake’s predator, the mongoose of Kuber, and its prey, the mouse of Ganesh. The Hindu divine makes space for all, the eater and the eaten, the mainstream and the marginalised, the majority and the minority. So should Hindu Rashtra. 

The writer ponders the modern meaning of myths

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