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Indian Art  
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In a text ascribed to a fourteenth-century C.E. poet, King Dilipa's widows who "lived together in extreme love" conceived a child after they made love to one another. Their child was born as a lump of flesh, without bones, but a sage provided him with a sound body. The boy was known as Bhagiratha, the boy born of two vulvas (bhagas).

The dual-gendered Ayyappa, born from the union of Shiva and Vishnu (as Mohini), is also known as Skanda or Kartikkeya. Other accounts of his birth attribute his origins to Agni and Shiva. In this version, Ayyappa was born after Agni (the male fire god) swallowed Shiva's semen. Although Shiva reprimanded Agni, saying his action was improper, oral sex between males was not considered "unforgivable or uncreative," as Vanita and Kidwai point out.

Today Skanda, the son of two males, and a god who refused to marry, has a nearly all-male following. Hindu temples dedicated to him, as well as mosques devoted to his Muslim companion Vavar, abound, especially in south India where yearly up to 50 million devotees make the pilgrimage to the Sabarimale temple in Erumeli, Kerala.

This Hindu temple incorporates a shrine honoring Vavar (in his aniconic form as a sword), for Ayyappa considered Vavar an inseparable part of himself. Ayyappa's devotees also pay homage to the Vavarambalam mosque located outside Erumeli.

Just as Ayyappa felt Vavar to be a vital part of himself, Krishna and Arjuna also expressed similar feelings for each other. Their friendship is described in the Bhagavad Gita (part of the Mahabharata). As teacher and disciple, they were devoted to one another. Krishna's life meant more to Arjuna than his mother's and Arjuna was more important to Krishna than wives or children.

Although Arjuna was married, on their last day together, Krishna spent the night with Arjuna. Parting the next day, they hugged and gazed longingly at each other until they were out of sight.


Cross-dressing is also an activity engaged in by humans and gods alike. The first time the warrior Arjuna took on the appearance of a woman, he worked as a dancer, anticipating the modern day hijras. Years later, when hiding in the forest with his brothers, he again donned female clothing to disguise himself. As a female impersonator, he found employment at the king's court where he instructed the princesses in the art of dance.

Today, at festivals and in village theaters in south India, actors playing the part of Arjuna wear saris and paint their faces with one color on the left and another on the right, signifying the dual, or androgynous, aspect of Arjuna and, in O'Flaherty's words, "expressing the sexual ambivalence of the man/woman/eunuch/transvestite."

Evidence of cross-dressing in the visual arts can be seen in a Rajput watercolor painting from 1740, attributed to Nihal Chand, Rajasthan, Kishangarh, which is inscribed on the reverse as "the gathering of the uniformed, wine drinking restless ones." It depicts numerous women surrounding a wealthy, but inebriated old man. One of the "women" is a black transvestite, but there is also a couple of ambiguous gender, both dressed as women, who are clearly engaged in sexual activity.

Krishna the cow herder (not to be confused with Krishna from the Mahabharata) and his lover the chief gopi (cow-girl) Radha, also enjoyed cross-dressing. Kangra paintings of the eighteenth century C.E. often depict a scene of Krishna and Radha exchanging clothes. They not only exchange garments, but also imitate the mannerisms of the opposite sex in divine play called Lila-hava.

Another image of Krishna dressed as a woman can be seen in a miniature dated to the eighteenth or nineteenth century C.E. and today displayed in the Kota Palace Museum.

Cross-dressing Krishna Devotees

Not only Krishna, but also many of his devotees wear female clothing. One of the most famous followers was the teacher and transvestite Caitanya (1500 C.E.). Some regarded Caitanya as the avatar of Krishna, but he felt he was an incarnation of Radha. The myth grew around Caitanya that he was Krishna as Radha incarnate, so his body became the site for Krishna to undergo a sex change and manifest as Radha.

Caitanya dressed as a woman and also observed menstruation rites. S/he met her lifetime companion Jaganath Das (1490-1550) when he was nineteen years old. They saw in one another the incarnation of Radha and Krishna. Das, it is said, was born from Radha's smile and Caitanya from Krishna's laughter.

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