Homosexuality and Hinduism
Currently, the issue of homosexuality in Hinduism is controversial, especially amongst Hindus in countries where homosexuality is generally accepted. Hindu views of homosexuality are varying and diverse, in part because the accepted Hindu religious texts do not explicitly mention homosexuality.
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Homosexuality is also a complex matter in Hinduism because of the many types of religious life. In general, "twice-born" Hindus are prohibited from homosexual acts (maithunam pumsi), such as in Manusmrti 11:174, which mentions both men and women.
On the other hand, the famous Kama Sutra states that homosexual sex "is to be engaged in and enjoyed for its own sake as one of the arts." In general, then, the Hindu evaluation of homosexuality depends heavily on the context.
Homosexuality has an ancient history in India. Ancient texts like Rig Veda (which dates back around 1500 BC), sculptures and vestiges depict sexual acts between women as revelations of a feminine world where sexuality was based on pleasure and fertility.
There are great differences amongst Hindus as to whether homosexuality is acceptable behavior. The debate takes place against the background of Hinduism's teachings on love, sex, and marriage, which might be summarized as follows:
- In Hinduism, love is regarded as an eternal force. It is seen as devotion between two people, whether romantic or platonic. Hindus believe love and devotion are important in attaining Moksha or Liberation from the cycle of rebirths.
- Erotic desire or Kama in Hinduism was deemed as one of the most legitimate pleasures on earth (thus accounting for the vast numbers of erotic treatises, poetry and sensuous sculptures of ancient India). This however did not mean that lascivious behavior was promoted. Premarital sex in Hinduism is frowned upon and extramarital sex is prohibited. Sex was promoted within the context of a loving couple - usually heterosexual. On the other hand extremely ascetic schools of thought would have viewed sex as a distraction from the pursuit of Moksha.
Marriage in Hinduism is said to fulfill three functions: Prajaa, Dharma, and Rati. In marriage, Prajaa is progeny for perpetuation of one's family, Dharma is fulfillment of responsibilities, and Rati is companionship as friends and mutual pleasure as lovers. These three functions are given in the Dharma Shastras, books that are not considered to be religiously binding within Hinduism.
In Hinduism many of the divinities are androgynous and some change gender to participate in homoerotic behavior. In the popular Hindu epic Mahabharata, a transgender character named Sikhandin plays a pivotal role (5.191-5).
In modern India, transgendered men known as Hijras have sex with men. They religiously identify as a separate third sex, with many undergoing ritual castration. In Hindu thought a man who penetrates a Hijra is not defined as gay. And in the Kama Sutra sex acts involving homosexuality are regarded in some castes permissible while not in other castes.
Opposing Hindu Viewpoints on Homosexuality
Most of the debate on homosexuality within Hinduism is centered on these three teachings, and how proponents and opponents of homosexuality interpret these teachings.
Opponents of homosexuality argue that:
- Romantic love is only natural between a man and a woman, and it is impossible for two men or two women to experience the same form of love.
- Since romantic love is only possible between a man and a woman, sex between two men or two women can only be the product of lust, and lust is wrong; therefore homosexual activities are wrong.
- One of the three functions of marriage is Prajaa, the progeny for perpetuation of one's family. A homosexual couple cannot procreate, and thus cannot be married.
- Premarital and extramarital sex are wrong, and because homosexuals cannot marry, they should not engage in sexual relationships.
Proponents of homosexuality argue:
- Nowhere in the Hindu sacred texts is romantic love excluded to all but a man and woman, so there are no religious grounds to make a statement to the contrary.
- Since homosexuals can experience romantic love, homosexual sexual relationships are not all the product of lust.
- The three functions of marriage are given in the Dharma Shastras, books that are not binding to Hindus, and thus Prajaa is not a determining factor in Hindu marriages. Even if the three functions of marriage were binding in terms of marriages, Prajaa may be interpreted in a number of ways that do not involve procreation at all. Thus homosexuals should be allowed to marry.
- Sexual expression within a loving relationship is encouraged by Hinduism because it is not an expression of lust, but an expression of love and devotion to each others' happiness. Therefore, homosexuals in loving relationships (i.e. marriage) should be allowed to express their love sexually.
The Srimad Bhagavatam Debate
Within the Srimad Bhagavatam there are a few lines (Canto 3, Ch.20 Text 23, 24 & 26) that describe Brahma's creation of a group of demons that became obsessed with sex and demanded sex from him, but then he became frightened and ran away from them. Opponents of homosexuality believe this proves that homosexual behaviour is lustful and evil. Proponents of homosexuality argue that the demons were the children of Brahma, and that this story teaches that incest is lustful and evil (compare to the story of Shatarupa).
- RE: hindu homosexuality - Question and Vedanta answer on newsgroup alt-hindu, published on Hindunet.org.
- Hinduism FAQ: Prostitution - HinduWebsite
- The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) "Information and support for GLBTI Vaishnavas and Hindus"
- Why should homosexuality be a crime? - An article in The Times of India giving instances of homosexuality in present day India and in religious texts.
- Being a gay Hindu - personal blog