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social sciences

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At the same time, Vatsyayana notes: "According to the Acharya, the masters of learning, this practice is not recommended. It is contrary to sound morals and is not a civilized practice. One is defiled by the contact of the sex with the face" (2.9.26).

Vatsyayana (2.9.40) advises that high-caste Brahmans (priests), educated men, government officials, and famous persons should avoid oral sex. The commentary notes that such a prohibition was not absolute, however. Vatsyayana observes that youthful servants sometimes performed oral sex on "other men" (2.9.35).

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These passages suggests that, in addition to gender, caste and age were used to differentiate male-male eroticism in ancient India, both with respect to position and restraint.

The Kama Sutra specifies that two [male] citizens might have reciprocal relations with one another (2.9.36). To date, this passage remains a mystery, given the emphasis placed on distinctions of gender, caste, or age in homoerotic relationships in other Hindu contexts. It may simply be another variation, however, of a complex set of norms that could be applied in certain circumstances.

Sex Between Women

The Kama Sutra (2.8) also describes "virile sexual behavior in women." Whether this chapter refers to female homoeroticism (as opposed to women sitting on top of men), is controversial. In a later passage (5.6.2), however, the text clearly describes gender-differentiated sex between royal women and their female-to-male cross-dressed servants. The commentary (2.9.36) also mentions female-female oral sex, conducted in the privacy of harems or quarters restricted to women in other households.

The Laws of Manu (8.369-370) provides penalties for women who take a girl's virginity, but describes no punishment for oral sex or vaginal sex between post-virginal women.

Anal Sex

Anal intercourse, more so than oral sex, is seen as a perversion in traditional Hindu thought. Although Vatsyayana notes that anal sex was practiced in South India, the commentary notes that doing so used the "bad route" (2.6.49).

In the nineteenth century, Richard Burton noted that was permitted amongst Muslims and Sikhs in Northern India, and ignored in Southern India and the Himalayas. He wrote that Hindus were scandalized by being called "Gand-mara (anus beater) or Ganga (anuser)." Burton seems to equate pederasty with anal intercourse.

Hinduism Today

The term gandu, "one who has his ass taken," is still used as an insult in North India. Traditional procreative sexual roles are enforced by Hindu society, generally speaking, and arranged marriages are still common. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, especially among Hindus who live outside of India.

While there has always been an emphasis on marriage in Hinduism, homoerotic sex outside of marriage, generally speaking, is not tolerated in the way it appears to have been in pre-colonial Hinduism. Regarding homosexual behavior discussed in the Kama Sutra 2.9, the modern commentator Shastri writes: "These acts are clearly to be condemned and avoided."

The modern commentary makes allusion to inverts and perversion, not only with reference to anal intercourse but all homoerotic acts. Yet other aspects of traditional Hindu thought remain strong, as the continuing presence of the hijras attests, despite post-colonial discrimination against them.

Walter D. Penrose, Jr.

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social sciences >> Overview:  Buddhism

Buddhism is unusual among world religions in that it generally expresses neutrality on the issue of homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

social sciences >> Overview:  India

Indian thought towards same-sex eroticism and gender variance was more tolerant in the past than it is today.

arts >> Overview:  Indian Art

Not only is sexuality celebrated in Indian art, but many of India's gods also consider gender to be a fluid affair, sometimes manifesting as androgynes and sometimes switching gender altogether.

literature >> Overview:  South Asian Literatures: Diaspora

Although the treatment of homosexuality is rare in South Asian literatures in the contemporary period, the South Asian diaspora has recently produced a number of both gay and lesbian writers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Hijras

The Hijras--men who dress and act like women--have been a presence in India for generations, maintaining a third-gender role that has become institutionalized through tradition.

literature >> Kanga, Firdaus

Indian writer Firdaus Kanga has explored the intersection of two kinds of marginality: that based on being a member of a sexual minority and that based on being a disabled person.


Artola, George. "The Transvestite in Sanskrit Story and Drama." Annals of Oriental Research 25 (1975): 56-68.

Burton, Richard Francis. The Sotadic Zone. New York: Panurge, 1930. [Reprint of the original 1885-1886 "Terminal Essay."]

Chaterjee, Indrani. "Alienation, Intimacy, and Gender: Problems for a History of Love in South Asia." Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society. Ruth Vanita, ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. 61-76.

The Complete Kama Sutra: The First Unabridged Modern Translation of the Classic Indian Text by Vatsyayana, including the Jayamangala Commentary by Yashodhara and extracts from the Hindi Commentary by Devadatta Shastra. Alain Danielou, trans. Rochester, Vt.: Park Street Press, 1994.

Hall, Kira. Hijra/Hijran: Language and Gender Identity. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI, 1995.

Jaffrey, Zia. The Invisibles: The Eunuchs of India. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

Keay, John. India: A History. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

The Laws of Manu. Wendy Doniger with Brian K. Smith, trans. London: Penguin Books, 1991.

Mallanaga, Vatsyayana. Kamasutra. Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar, trans. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Murray, Stephen O. " Some Nineteenth Century Reports of Islamic Homosexualities." Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe, eds. New York: New York University Press, 1997. 204-21.

Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1990.

Pattanaik, Devdutt. The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2002.

Preston, Laurence W. "A Right to Exist: Eunuchs and the State in Nineteenth-Century India." Modern Asian Studies 21:2 (1987): 371-87.

Penrose, Walter. "Hidden in History: Female Homoeroticism and Women of a 'Third Nature' in the South Asian Past." Journal of the History of Sexuality 10:1 (2001): 3-39.

_____."Colliding Cultures: Masculinity and Homoeroticism in Mughal and Colonial India." Siting Queer Masculinities 1550-1800. Katherine O'Donnell and Michael O'Rourke, eds. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming.

Seabrook, Jeremy. Love in a Different Climate. London: Verso, 1999.

Sweet, Michael J. "Eunuchs, Lesbians and Other Mythical Beasts: Queering and Dequeering the Kama Sutra." Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society. Ruth Vanita, ed. New York: Routledge, 2002. 75-84.

_____, and Leonard Zwilling. "The First Medicalization: The Taxonomy and Etiology of Queerness in Classical Indian Medicine." Journal of the History of Sexuality 3 (1993): 590-607.

Thadani, Giti. Sakhiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India. London: Cassell, 1996.

Vanita, Ruth, ed. Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society. New York: Routledge, 2002.

_____, and Saleem Kidwai. Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literature and History. New York: Routledge, 2000.


    Citation Information
    Author: Penrose, Jr., Walter D.  
    Entry Title: Hinduism  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated January 17, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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