In every body resides the divine who witnesses, guides, supports and enjoys all that the body experiences. — Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 13, Verse 22
Even the gods and goddesses in Hindu mythic stories exhibit gender fluidity and queer orientations.
During this period, many stories emerged wherein gods transition into goddesses and vice versa. There are gods who are third-gendered and some that manifest all three genders. Some deities only cross-dress, without gender transition.
Then there are male gods who exhibit female attributes and female gods with male attributes. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna refers to matter (prakriti) and the mind (purusha) as his two wombs (yoni).1 In some stories, Krishna is described as tying his hair in a plait, decorating his palms with red dye, wearing a nose-ring, and bending his body gracefully.2 It is in this form that Krishna is called the best of men (purushottama) and the complete man (purna-purusha). Apparently, for the ancients, masculinity did not diminish when the feminine was amplified.
One of the most celebrated forms of Lord Vishnu even today is the one in which he takes the form of the beautiful damsel Mohini to seduce, dupe and then kill the asuras. This form is regularly taken out in processions during Vishnu temple ceremonies such as Brahmotsavam.
Similarly, a female form of Lord Shiva in which he assumes the body of a milkmaid so that he can dance around Krishna in the paradise of cows (gau-loka) is also worshipped today as the milkmaid God or Gopeshwar Mahadev in Mathura.
For their part, goddesses are often shown only in the company of other goddesses, riding lions and going into battle with a trident in hand – characteristics that some would regard as masculine. Female deities in Hinduism are autonomous and look upon their male counterparts as objects of pleasure or the means to produce progeny.3 The Goddess is mother and daughter at the same time. In Goddess temples, she is either enshrined alone or with a female companion, or with two male consorts. In God temples, she is enshrined with the male deity as a consort, but often in a separate independent shrine, as we find in temples of Krishna-Vishnu in Puri, Tirumalai, Pandharpur and Dwaraka.
The epic story of the Mahabharata includes many queer characters such as Brihanalla, a man who loses his manhood for a year. Shikhandi is a woman who secures male genitalia later in life. Bhagashavana lives part of his or her life as a man, husband and father and the rest as woman, wife and mother. Yuvanashva, who drinks a magic potion, becomes pregnant and delivers a son from his thigh. Ila’s masculinity waxes and wanes with the moon, and Aravan’s wife is Mohini, the female form of Krishna-Vishnu.
The Puranas have stories of intimate relationships between members of the same sex, such as the story of Somavat and Sumedha, who marry after one of them turns into a woman. Regional folk retellings of the Ramayana often put a queer spin on some of the central characters of the epic. For example, Aruna, the God of dawn, is described as being of indeterminate gender, as he was born prematurely. He chooses to become a woman and is impregnated by two male Gods, Indra and Surya.
Indeed, the very idea of ‘homosexuality as sin’ is absent from the Hindu corpus, as it does not conceptually fit within a metaphysic of karma and infinite rebirth.