Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 18

FSR, Inc.

"Wedding of Two Souls": Same-Sex Marriage and Hindu Traditions Author(s): Ruth Vanita Source: Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall, 2004), pp. 119-135 Published by: Indiana University Press on behalf of FSR, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25002506 . Accessed: 13/04/2011 05:18
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=iupress. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Indiana University Press and FSR, Inc. are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.


"WEDDING OF TWO SOULS" Same-SexMarriage andHindu Traditions

Ruth Vanita

In 2000, I married my partner, a JewishAmerican woman, inNew York with Jewish andHindu ceremonies. The followingmonth we held awedding who conducted the Jewish ceremony said reception inNew Delhi. The rabbi thatwe were married "in the eyes of God and of all enlightened people." Whether or not a government recognizes same-sexmarriage, and however a government chooses to define marriage, no government can tell people whom to lovenor can it exert exclusive control overmarriage or people's understand ing of marriage. When Iwas educated atDelhi University in the 1970s and throughoutthe period that I taught there, from 1976 to 1996, same-sex lovewas almost never mentioned in the academy.From 1978 to 1990, Iwas active in thewomen's movement, as one of the founding editors ofManushi magazine and an activist means female human in thewomen's organization thatproduced it (manushi being). I found that a similarsilence prevailed then in feministpolitics aswell, both left-wingand right-wing. Many of the leadingactivists inwomen's groups were lesbians,but they nevermentioned or discussed this in activist forums. I, too, keptmy private and public personae almost entirely separate.How ever, I published some essays andwrote a PhD dissertation on same-sex rela tionships represented in English literary texts.'My colleagues at Delhi Uni versitywere appreciative of thiswork. For more than two decades, I also collected every reference to homosexuality in India that I came across in books,magazines, and newspapers. In 1995, historianSaleem Kidwai (whohad been making a similar collection) and I began towork on what became the book Same-SexLove in India:Readingsfrom Literature and History.2This col
1 My dissertationwas rewritten and published as Sappho and the VirginMary: Same-Sex ColumbiaUniversity Press, 1996). Love and theEnglish Literary Imagination (NewYork: 2Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai, eds., Same-SexLove in India:Readingsfrom Literature andHistory (NewYork:Palgrave,2000).


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

lection of translationsfrom texts in fifteen Indian languagescomposed over a period of more than two thousandyears, alongwith editorial essays contextu alizing and analyzing them, exposes as false themyth that same-sex desire is unknown in traditionalIndianculture.Kidwai and I conclusivelydemonstrated that same-sex love and romantic friendship flourished in ancient andmedieval India in various forms,without any extended history of persecution.We also found textualevidence of marriagelike unions, an area that I furtherexplore in my forthcomingbook, Love's Rite: Same-Sex Marriage and ItsAntecedents in India and theWest.3 This book arises from three extraordinary moments and sets of events. It be said to have had its genesis in June 1980,when I read newspaper re may ports of a joint suicide attempt by two young women-Mallika, twenty, and Lalithambika,seventeen-in Kerala, south India,who left behind letters stat ing that they could not bear to be separated from each other. In subsequent decades there were a series of such joint suicides and also several female femaleweddings indifferent parts of India. the same-sex Of weddings, thatbe tween two policewomen, Leela Namdeo and Urmila Srivastava, in 1988, re ceived themost attention and is discussed in this article.The secondmoment was in 1996,when I first read the amazing fourteenth-centurysacrednarrative of the birth of a heroic child, Bhagiratha, to twowomen who make lovewith divine blessing. In subsequent years I discoveredmore versions of this narra tive and have continued to ponder itsmeaning. The third is the present mo ment, in 2004, when two countries (theNetherlands and Belgium) have rec ognized same-sexmarriage and a third,Canada, is on the verge of doing so, while the United States is being galvanized by theMassachusetts Supreme Court decision that requires the state to recognize same-sexmarriage. These events in vastly different cultures, times, and places nevertheless have something in common-in differentways they point to the possibility of same-sex love and commitment being sanctified.Death, parenthood, andmar riage-each is a rite of passage, and eachmay also, in the rightcircumstances, words to hismale beloved, the "perfectceremony of become, in Shakespeare's love'srite." Same-sex relationshipshave been a subject of debate for centuries in In dian texts.Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling, and Kidwai and I have demonstrated that sexual identitieswere constructed in ancient andmedieval Indian texts, and thatFoucault and his followersarewrong about the first such constructionhaving occurred inmodern Euro-America.4In the present article, I focus on ideasof same-sexunion in Indian,especiallyHindu, culture.
3 Ruth Vanita, Love's Rite: Same-Sex Marriage and Its Antecedents in India and the West

(NewDelhi: Penguin, forthcoming). 4 See Michael Sweet andLeonard Medicalization:The TaxonomyandEti J. Zwilling, "First ofQueerness inClassical Indian ology Medicine,"Journal of theHistory of Sexuality3, no. 4 (1993):

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


The cultures thathave come to be calledHindu (a term firstused bywest Asian Muslims to distinguish non-Muslim inhabitantsof the subcontinent) constitute one of the oldest living religions in the world. They foster a very wide rangeof philosophy and practice, rangingfrom monotheism, polytheism, andwhat nineteenth-centuryGerman IndologistMax Miiller termed "heno theism" (choosingone deity for specialworship evenwhile acknowledging the divinityof others), to animism and even agnosticismor atheism. InHindu texts and traditions, written and oral, there is a god and a storyor variationof a story forpracticallyevery activity, inclination,andway of life.Despite this diversity, one can tentatively identifycertain ideasbroadly accepted inmainstreamHin duism and bymost Hindus today. These include the doctrine of rebirth, the de of adhering to dharma, however defined, and the idea that the uni sirability verse and everything in it partake of the divine. Though some texts today, like more widely the BhagavadGita and versions of the Ramayana, are relatively readand recited thanothers, and some, like theVedas, are consideredbymany Hindus to be more sacred than others, the hierarchy of texts differs widely from one Hindu community to another.Hinduism has well over a thousand years' history of written commentary and debate on sacred texts, but certain texts aremore important to certainHindu traditionsthan others and are dif ferently interpretedby them.No one textcan be used to entirely invalidatethe authorityof others, nor is there one priestly hierarchy that can dictate to all others. As many historianshave shown, Indianattitudes towardsex and lovewere radicallytransformedduring the colonial era. Indiannationalists imbibedVic torian idealsof heterosexualmonogamy and disowned anything in indigenous The distaste for sex thatwas one traditionsthat seemed to flout those ideals.5 strand inpremodernHindu thinkingbecame hegemonic andmarginalized all the other, more pleasure-oriented strands of thinking.More specifically, British rulers imported a virulent homophobia into India and other countries they colonized. They enshrined it in section 377 of the Indian Penal Code,
590-607; LeonardZwilling andMichael J. Sweet, "'LikeaCity Ablaze':The Third Sex and theCre ation of Sexuality in JainReligious Literature,"Journal of theHistory of Sexuality 6, no. 3 (1996): 359-84; Vanita andKidwai'spreface to Same-SexLove in India, aswell asRuth Vanita's"Introduc Medieval Materials in the Sanskritic Ancient Indian tion: Materials" and "Introduction: Tradition"; Views andModer Responses to andRuth Vanita, "HinduismandHomosexuality," in "Traditional World Religions,"ed. Gabriel Blau (Bard College God and SexualityProject). Homosexuality in the See alsoRobert P.Goldman, "Transsexualism, Gender, andAnxiety inTraditional India,"Journal of the American Oriental Society 113, no. 3 (1993): 374-401; and Amara Das Wilhelm, Tritiya Prakriti:Peopleof theThird Sex;UnderstandingHomosexuality,TransgenderIdentity,and Intersex Hinduism (Philadelphia: Conditions through Xlibris, 2004). 5 See, e.g., Ashis Nandy, The IntimateEnemy: Loss and Recovery of Selfunder Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983). See also "Introduction toModern IndianMaterials," in Vanita andKidwai, Same-SexLove in India, 191-217, formore details.


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

1860,which criminalizes intercourse"againstthe order of nature." Although it has been used largely to harassmen, it has also occasionally been used to threaten women and casts all homosexual relationsunder the cloud of illegal In 1994 the ABVA (AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan [Anti-AIDS Dis ity. criminationCampaign]) filed a petition in the Delhi high court, challenging this law as unconstitutional.The casewas dismissed a couple of years ago, be cause the lawyeron recordwas absent; lastyear, theNaz Foundation filed an other petition in the same court challenging the same law.The court is still consideringwhether to admit this case. Itwas in the context of modern homophobia that theword homosexuality was introduced into India, and thisword emphasizes sex rather than love.The current internationaldebate on same-sexmarriage is highlighting the impor tant fact thatmarriage,whether cross-sex or same-sex, is based on love, com mitment, and companionship, of which sexual desire is only one dimension. My argument is that, in the past two decades, some couples in India,most of them female, have, by gettingmarried to each other, compelled their commu nities to consider same-sex relationships in terms of love and commitment rather than simply in termsof sex. InHinduism, gender is often perceived simultaneouslyas very powerful and as irrelevant.This paradoxmakes possible the enforcement of gendered social roles alongwith the perception of spiritualnondifference.This isone di mension of a larger patternAshis Nandy describes: "Thegreater Sanskriticcul while institutionallyone of themost rigid,has alwaysbeen ideologically ture, This is partly because Hindu texts and traditions, one of themost tolerant."6 likeHindu gods and goddesses, aremultiple andmultidimensional, and this is reflected in approaches to sexuality. Whereas Hindu ascetic traditionsview all sexualdesire as problematic and justifiable only for procreation,many other canonical texts representKama, god of love and desire, as a universalprinciple of attraction,present from the moment of creation and causing allmovement and change. Contrary to texts that identifyprocreation as the sole aim of sexual activity, the fourth-century Kamasutra, also a sacred text,while giving procreation due importance, also emphasizes pleasure and joy as aims of intercourseand states that sexualde sire "finds its finality in itself' (1.2.12).7 The Kamasutramentions that twomen friendswho arewell-wishers of each other and have complete trust in each other may mutually unite. The and word parigraha is used (2.9.36),which some scholars translateas "marry"
6Ashis Nandy, Alternative Sciences:Creativity and Authenticity in Two Indian Scientists New Delhi: OxfordUniversity Press, 2003), 120-21. (1980; VT: 7AlainDanielou, trans., CompleteKima Sitra (Rochester, ParkStreet, 1994).This is The the translation quoted in themain text throughout.

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


others as "embrace."8 Classifying humans into men (who desire women), women (whodesire men), and thosewho prefer the same sex, theKamasutra also notes that individuals may engage indifferent typesof sexualactivityat dif ferent times: "It isby taking into account the country, the period, custom, the injunctionsof the sacred texts, as well as one's own tastes, that one decides whether or not to practice these kinds of sexual relations.Practiced according to his fantasyand in secret,who can knowwho, when, how, andwhy he does
it?" (2.9.44-45).9

My argument is thatwhereas prescriptive texts, such as legal andmedical texts, tend to view same-sex relations through the lens of purity and pollution, regardingthem asmildly distasteful, and prescribeminor penalties for them, narrative texts, placing sexual relations in emotional contexts, take a much more complex and nuanced view.These textsdepict same-sexunions that are marriagelike; the scattered same-sexmarriages thathave takenplace in India since the 1980s are amodem rewritingof those premodern ideas. Same-Sex Marriage in Recent Years The most famous same-sexmarriage inmodem India is probably that of Leela Namdeo and Urmila Srivastava.In early 1988, Indian newspapers na tionwide reported that these two policewomen had married each other in a Hindu ceremony in a small town in central India.The police suspended them from their jobs,but familyand friends supported them. Since then, the Indian media have reported a series of marriages, indifferent parts of the country,be tween youngwomen, almost allHindus. Most of them are lower-middle-class, from small towns, and not primarily English-speaking, although most have some education and several are employed. None of them are connected to movements. women's or lesbian/gay Since 1980 the press has also reported a series of joint suicidesby couples, mostly women frombackgrounds similar to those of thewomen who marry. In the letters they left behind, these couples state that theyprefer union in death to separation.'0 Joint suicides are not unique to same-sex couples.Many cross
8 Wendy Doniger and SudhirKakar translate parigraha as "do this service forone another." UK: Oxford and SudhirKakar, trans., Mallanaga (Oxford, Wendy Doniger Kamasutra/Vatsyayana University Press, 2002), 2.9.36. An extended discussion of the connotationsof this term in theKa masutra appears inmy forthcomingbook,Love'sRite. 9For amore detailed analysisofhomoeroticism in theKamasutra,seemy essay "Vatsyayana's Kamasutra,"inVanita andKidwai, Same-SexLove in India,46-53. 10 One journalistcataloged fifteen joint same-sex suicides in the stateof Kerala alone between 1992 and 2000, of which thirteenwere bywomen and two by men. The suicideswere prompted mostly by the impending forcedmarriage of one partner.The women, aged between sixteen and workers, and students. I also have evidence of suicides from twenty-two, includedpeasants, factory many other partsof India.


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

sex couples in India also commit suicide togetherwhen hostile families refuse them permission tomarry. In contrast to themajority of homosexuallyor bisexually inclinedpeople in who engage in secret same-sex liaisons while married to an opposite-sex India, these couples tried, through theirweddings and/or suicides, tomake partner, their love visible in widely understood cultural terms. By marrying and/or dying together, they proclaimed that theywere in love, and this proclamation was no different from similarproclamations by cross-sex lovers.As distinct from themodem United States,where same-sex love andmarriage are seen as opposed to cross-sex love andmarriage, in Indiaall romantic love andmarriage based upon it are seen as opposed to family-arranged marriage. Intense love and desire forunion are understood as arising from similarcauses,whoever the partnersmay be. This is indicatedby comments on same-sex marriagemade by onlookers, priests, and others. For example, a journalist who visited Leela and Urmila in the latter'svil where thewomen were staying with Urmila's family,spokewith neighbors lage, and relatives.A married woman named SushilaBhawasar, who was a neighbor and a village schoolteacher, said to the journalist,"Afterall,what ismarriage? It is awedding of two souls. Where in the scriptures is it said that it has to be between aman and awoman?"" Sushila'sview of marriage as a union of two soulswould be generally accepted by most Hindus in India and also by many Christians in the West. However, not allwould agreewith her logicalconclu sion that, because the soul is not gendered, amarriage between twomen or two women is permissible. During the late-1990s controversy in India and among Indians in the United States around the depiction of lesbian relations in the film Fire, right-wingHindu organizationsclaimed that same-sex rela tionswere unknown in ancientHindu India,andwere imported into the coun try by west Asian Muslims and European Christians, a myth stillwidely be lieved by many Indians.12 Most middle-class Indians avoid discussing sex in "polite"forums, including the classroom.The only respectable space for cele brating sexpublicly is awedding. Like traditionalChristian marriage and unlike Muslim marriage, tradi tionalHindu marriage is a sacrament and is not dissoluble. But, likemodern Christianmarriage,modern Hindu marriage, regulatedby a 1955 law, is both a sacramentand a contract, and it is dissoluble.Most ancientHindu texts rec

11 SushilaBhawasar,quoted inChinu Panchal, "'Wedded' Woman Cops toChallenge Sack," Timesof India,February 23, 1988. 12 New YorkerFilms, 2000). For accounts of the Fire, DVD, directed byDeepa Mehta (1996; controversy, see Geeta Patel, "OnFire: Sexuality and Its Incitements," andMonica Bachmann, "AftertheFire," in Queering India:Same-SexLove andEroticism in IndianCulture and Society, ed. Ruth Vanita (NewYork:Routledge, 2002), 222-33 and 234-44, respectively.

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


One of them is thegandharva vivaha, ormar ognize eight typesofmarriage.'3 mutual consent; it requiresno parental consent, no ritual,no officiant, riageby and no witnesses. Although some ancient legal textsdisapproveof this type of marriage, ancient and medieval narrative literature,both sacred and secular, often describes it nonjudgmentallyor even celebrates it as the best form of marriage because it isbased on choice. One article on themarriage of Leela andUrmila described their union as a gandharva vivaha.'4Most Indianswould readily understand this Sanskrit term as the equivalent of what today in Indian English is called a "love marriage," as distinct from themore conventional andmore prevalent family Whose consent is requiredbesides thatof marriage. The question is, arranged the two individuals? Ancient Hindu lawbooks consider the best type of mar riage to be one inwhich the two families arrange thewedding, a priest per forms the rites, and the father gives away his daughter as a gift to the bride groom, along with other gifts. A similar idea is present in the traditional her Christian ceremony in the bride's father walking her to the altarand "giving to the groom. But parental consent is not essential to the validity of a away" Hindu, Muslim, or Christianmarriage. marriage Although most Hindu marriages even todayare family-arranged, individualchoice is also attested in premodem texts and is prevalent in by modem India.Suchmarriages often lead to violent conflict and the social cast ing out of the couple, and even to suicide and murder, when they cross re way forHindu com gional, caste, class, and other boundaries.One traditional munities to understand and accommodate such unions involvesviewing them in the perspective of rebirth. Any strong and spontaneous, apparently inexpli attractionbetween persons, or even between a person and a place or ob cable, ject, is often understood to be the consequence of an attachment in a former life. I have found evidence in ancient textsof parents deciding to accept their children'scross-caste and cross-class marriages on the basis that the young peo must have been spouses of the same caste and class in a former lifetime.15 ple These texts also explain in the sameway same-sex attachments that last a life time.For example, in the eleventh-century Sanskritstory cycle theKathasarit when Pulindaka, a bandit chief, first sees themerchant Vasudatta, he sagara, jan immediately feels intenselydrawn to him. The narratorcomments: "Vakti manah snihyadakaaranam" (Affection [thatarises] in the heart maantarapritim
13S. K. Mitra,Mitra onHindu Law (NewDelhi: Orient, 2000), 516-17. 14 Tradition:The Marriage of Lila andUrmila," SaheliAsia, http:// Anu andGiti, "Inverting (accessedOctober 3,2002). www.saheli-asia.org/Sappho/sappho08.htm 15 The Justificationof ImpossibleLoves," inVanita, "Introduction: See the section "Rebirth: Ancient Indian Materials," inVanita andKidwai, Same-SexLove in India, 28-30. A more detailed will appear in my forthcomingbook,Love'sRite. expositionof this idea


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

When Vasu without a cause speaksof love [persisting]from a formerbirth).16 datta later falls in lovewith thewoman who becomes hiswife, exactly the same explanation is given for their love.All three spend their lives together, and when Vasudatta kills himself, having remembered his former births, his wife and his male friend kill themselves alongwith him. The continuityof such ideasbetween past and present and between writ modern Hindu priests ten and oral traditionsis evident in the fact that several have given similarexplanationsfor same-sex love. Inher 1977 book, TheWorld of Homosexuals, Shakuntala Devi recorded her interview with Srinivasa Sanskrit scholar and priest of themajor Vaishnava temple at Raghavachariar, SriRangam in south India.Raghavachariar, himself happilymarriedwith thir teen children, said that same-sex loversmust have been cross-sex lovers in a former life.The sexmay change but the soul remains the same in subsequent hence, the power of love impels these souls to seek each other.17 incarnations; In 2002 I attended the wedding of two Indianwomen, Mala Nagarajan and Vega Subramaniam, in Seattle. The Shaivite priest who conducted the Hindu ceremony toldme thatwhen he was requested to officiate, he thought about it and, thoughhe realized thatother priests inhis lineagemight disagree with him, concluded on the basis of Hindu scriptures that "marriageis a union of spirits,and the spirit isnot male or female."The fact that a similarexplana tionwas given by both a Shaivite and aVaishnavapriest and by a female school teacher in an Indian village indicates the overarching cultural importanceof the notion that the spirit retains its attachments throughvarious lifetimes.'8 Child of Two Mothers: Monstrous or Miraculous? An example of amarriagelike union between twowomen is found in a set of canonical fourteenth-century texts.One of these texts is the KrittivasaRa mayana, even today themost popular version of the Rama story inBengal. It is "saidby literaryhistorians to be the most popular single book in all of pre with a half dozen modern Bengal; and ... has retained its popularity" today,
16 Pandit Durgaprasad and Kasinath Pandurang Parab, eds., The Kathasaritsagara of So madevabhatta, 4th ed. (Bombay: Nirnaya Sagara,1930), 86 (my translation). 17Shakuntala Devi, TheWorld ofHomosexuals (NewDelhi: Vikas, 1977). 18I also explore inmy forthcomingbook, Love'sRite, the ideaof the spirit changinggender A fromone lifetime to another. few of theweddings reportedas female-female in India in facthave involved transgenderor transsexual men, some persons. Hijras,who are traditionallytransgender Hindu texts. In the timesmarry othermen. The idea that the spirithas no gender is found in several woman sage,Sulabha,herself unmarried,de ancient Sanskritepic the Mahabharata, the archetypal bates the question with philosopher king Janakaand successfullyproves that, as the spirithas no gender and is the same in all beings,women should not be constricted by sociallygendered roles. Debate For an exegesis of this important text, see my essay "TheSelf IsNot Gendered: Sulabha's with King Janaka," NWSAJournal 15, no. 2 (Summer2003): 76-93.

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


editions available in Calcutta book markets.'9This story is, as far as I know, unique, insofaras it tells of a child born of the divinely blessed sexual inter course between two women who are co-wives, or ratherco-widows. Most other narrativesof female-female love allow sexualconsummationof the premodern relationshiponly after one woman is changed into a man. Examples are the Greek myth of Iphis and Ianthe recounted by Ovid, and the story of Sikhan dini, a woman who becomes a man, in the ancient Hindu epic theMahab harata.No other story that I know of depicts twowomen producing a child to Opponents of same-sexmarriage today repeatedly argue that the purpose ofmarriage isprocreation.This objection keeps popping up despite the dozens of logical refutationsoffered (for example, Why ismarriage allowed between infertilepeople, people past the age of reproduction,and people who do not intend to procreate?).The argument is not susceptible to logic, because it is An rooted in emotion and imagination. emotional argument can be effectively answerednot by a rational only by another emotional argument.This emo but tionalcounterargumentwas offered by Rosie O'Donnell when she presented to the viewers of her talk show themanifest love between twomale partners and their adopted children. In the sacred narratives I examine, too, love emerges as the force that sanctifies the relationshipof the twowomen who produce a child together.This force isexperienced as a subjectiveemotion, but it is alsomuch more than that. It is represented as an objective and universal force, the god of love,Kama,who, by his presence, sanctifiestheir relationship. Inmost cultures children are perceived as a divine blessing.Although this blessing is ideally supposed to be connected with the love between a child's parents, this isof course not always the case. Children are frequently the prod uct of indifferent,loveless,and even hate-filled or violent connections between aman andwoman. However,whether or not they areproducts of love, children are (or were, until recently)products of sexual intercoursebetween aman and woman, forwhich theword love is often a euphemism. It ison the basis of this euphemistic connection between sexualactivity and "love"that antigay forces with fertilityand curses homosexual claim thatGod blesses heterosexual "love" with sterility. relationships It isbecause of the emotional, not the rational,value of children thatmost societies, even those like Indiawhich are severely overpopulated, see fertility as a divine blessing.A child isfelt (ratherthan thought) to be produced not just by its parents but by some third force,whether Nature or God or the gods. Paradoxically,the natural is also felt to be itselfmiraculous-patterns of pow
19 Apophatic Critique of Rama'sKing Tony K. Stewart and Edward C. Dimock, "Krttibasa's ship,"inQuestioning Ramayanas:A SouthAsian Tradition, ed. Paula Richman (Berkeleyand Los Angeles: University of CaliforniaPress, 2001), 243-64.



Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

erful rhetoric represent every child as a miracle of sorts.Any greeting card shop in any city in theworld provides evidence that the rhetoricof miracle is more popular than the rhetoricof nature-greeting cards congratulateparents on the blessing or miracle of a child; they do not remark that the child is the natural outcome of heterosexual sex. Why, then,when same-sex couples pro duce children together, with a littlehelp from their friends,do some opponents of same-sexparenting see this reproductionasmonstrous rather thanmiracu lous? The status of a child of same-sex parents asmonstrosity or asmiracle is contested inHindu texts composed in different generic contexts.An ancient Hindu medical textconstructs the child of twowomen asmonstrous; someme dieval sacred narratives,composed in the context of devotion to the preserver god, and to goddesses, rewrite thatmedical prescription to turn such a child into an especiallymiraculous one. I suggest that this rewriting is enabled by two shifts. One is the shift from an unemotionalprescriptive context to an emo tional and imaginativenarrative context. The second is the shift from an an cient purity/pollution context to amedieval devotional contextwherein gods, who love their devotees, dissolve all impurities. First, a quick look at the ancient Hindu medical text, the Sushruta Samhita. It states that a boneless child (interpretedby commentatorsas having cartilaginousbones) is the result of an act of sexual intercoursebetween two women, inwhich their sukra, or sexual fluids, unite in the womb of one of This statement ispart of the text'spathologizingof various differences them.20 in gender and sexual predilection. As Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling have demonstrated, this constitutes the firstmedicalization of gender and sex ual identities,much earlier than the nineteenth-centurymedicalization inEu rope.21 According to this text, awoman dreamingof sexual intercoursecan also conceive and give birth to a jellylikemass. The Sushruta suggests cures for some other conditions but does not prescribe any cure forbabies bornwithout bones. In fact, in the context of pathologizing various sexual differences, the text seems to suggest that such births aremonstrous and the resultof impure

The medieval texts, one Sanskritand two Bengali, rewrite this ideamore than amillennium later.The Sanskrit text is a fourteenth-centuryBengal re cension of a part of the Padma Purana,written in the Bengali script.The Ben gali texts are two versions of an accretive text, the Ramayana attributed to the poet Krittivasa.These texts tell the storyof how the hero, Bhagiratha, isborn to two co-widows after theirhusband,King Dilipa, dies childless.The widows'
20 An KavirajKunjalalBhishagratna, English Translationof the "SushrutaSamhita,"Chow khambaSanskritSeries 30 (Varanasi, India: ChowkhambaSanskritSeriesOffice, 1991), 132. 21Sweet and "First Medicalization." Zwilling,

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


sexual intercourse is planned and blessed by the gods. In the Padma Purana, the twowidows seek out a sage to share their anxiety regardingtheirhusband's line having come to an end. In one of theBengali versions, Shiva comes to the widows and instructsthem tomake love together. In these two versions of the text, the child isborn boneless, according to themedical text's prognostication, but a sagemiraculously cures him-a possibility themedical textdoes not en visage. In the thirdversion of the text (the remainingBengali version), the child is born beautiful and healthy, and the creator god Brahma explains that this is because Kama, god of love (alsoknown asMadan, and theHindu equivalent of theGreek Eros), inspired thewomen's lovemaking. The women's lovemak isdescribed in conventional romantic terms: ing
The skywas overcast with clouds, the swans sang and the peacocks danced. The skies darkened and a stormy rain followed. Burning with desire induced by Madan [god of love/desire], Chandra and Mala took each other in embrace, and each kissed the other... The two women dallied and made love [Dui nari mono ronge

krira kori]. rongo love

God's blessing had enabled the two women

to play the game of

and the energy [tej] of Madan entered the womb of Malavati. This is how Malavati became pregnant.22

I suggest that the emotional context in these narrativesenables the transfor mation of the potentiallymonstrous (sexbetween twowomen, leading to child birth) into themiraculous. which What, then, are the emotions that animate these devotional texts in the devotee is invited to participate?On the one hand, the framingemotion is devotional love directed toward the gods, in the Padma Purana especially to ward Vishnu, and in the KrittivasaRamayana especially towardRama.Within this frame there are other emotions: the queens' unselfish concern for their husband's lineage, kingdom, and ancestors, and their love for each other and for their child; the gods' concern for the universe and for humans; and the sage'sconcern for the royalfamily,the people, and the gods.The textdraws the reader in to share all of these emotions. On the other hand, there is the con flictingemotion of distaste at possible pollution caused by sexbetween the two
22 Nalinikanta Bhattasali, ed., Rdamyana-Adikanda,by Krttivasa,Dacca UniversityOriental Publications Series 4 (Dhaka:P. C. Lahiri, 1936), 90-92. This extract is translatedfor the first time intoEnglish, byAnannyaDasgupta. A full translation will appear inmy forthcomingbook, Love's Rite. See Bhattasali'sintroductionforan accountof thedifferentmanuscripts.


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

widows. The texts set these conflicting emotions in play and resolve them by privileging some emotions over others. All of these texts areVaishnava texts, that is, they are animatedby love for birth ispart of a largerdivine plan for Vishnu, the preserver god. Bhagiratha's the preservation of the universe. Rama, the incarnationof preserver god Vishnu, is to be born in the royal line of Ayodhya. The gods bless the two women's relationshipbecause it furthers thatplan. For the devout readeror lis tener, the possibility thatRama might not be incarnated is a fearfulone. The reader isdrawn into sharingthe gods' anxietyand is also reassuredthat theplan must be good because the gods have devised for thewomen to become lovers made in heaven. it.The match between the twowomen is literally The only reason for having children that is arguablyentirely unselfish is to replenish an underpopulated society or community.The birth of Bhagiratha When King Dilipa dies childless, the occurs in precisely that type of context. royal lineage of the sacred kingdom of Ayodhya apparentlycomes to an end. This endangers not only Dilipa himself, because he has no son to perform his last rites, but also all of his famous ancestors,whose last rites cannot be per formeduntil one of theirdescendants brings the river Ganga,who is also a god dess, down from heaven, to earth.Most important, the task of bringing the welfare of the Ganga to earth is seen as essential to thematerial and spiritual human race. In the Padma Purana,Dilipa'swidows aremotivated by a selfless anxietyabout all thesematters when they ask the sage to help them have a son. While they thus help strengthen patrilineage, they also find erotic and emo tional fulfillmentwithin the constraintsof their situation. The texts are pervaded by the emotion of wonder directed toward the gods. In theKrittivasaRamayana, it is the direct interventionand blessing of the gods that sanctifies the twowomen's relationship.In a sacramentalunder standing of marriage, whether Christian or Hindu, it is divine blessing that sanctifiesa secular relationship.It is also divine blessing thatmakes the appar when ently impossiblepossible. In the firstversion of theKrittivasaRamayana, Shiva tells thewomen theywill have a child, they ask, "Wearewidows, how can we have a child?"He replies, "Bymy blessings one of you will have a lovely child."23 One may compareMary's question in the Bible, "How shall this be, I know not aman?" and the angel's reply, "With God, nothing shallbe seeing with gender trans 1:34, 37 [KJV]). Shiva is a god associated impossible"(Luke and miraculous birth. He is connected to fe formation, varying eroticisms, maleness throughhis ardhanarishwara (half-man,half-woman) form, and to
Avasthi, ed., Krittivasa Ramayana, with Hindi translation (Lucknow, India: Krttivasi BhuvanVani, 1966),60-65. See alsoChandrodayaVidyavinod ed., Bhattacharyya, Sachitra ManoranjanBandopadhyayaatHitavadi Pustakalaya,1914).The (Calcutta: Ramayana Saptakanda which traces the ancestryof Rama. For anEnglish Kanda," storyoccurs in the firstsection, the "Adi translation(byKumkum Roy), seeVanita andKidwai, Same-SexLove in India, 100-102. 2 Nandkumar

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


homoeroticism throughhis playful transformationinto a female to please his He wife, Parvati, in love play.24 also fathers childrenwith the help of other males (he fathers Ayyappawith Vishnu-Mohini's help, and Kartikeyawith Agni's help).25 In the second version of theKrittivasaRamayana, the creatorgod Brahma tells the twowomen that the god of lovemade their lovemakingpossible and that if there is any demerit associatedwith it,he (Brahma) will take it on him self so that thewomen can be free of it.The gods' agency and blessing are more powerfully evident in thisversion than in the other texts, in that the child isborn healthy here and the inauspiciousness a deformed birth ispreempted of love. What is this love? It is an amalgamof the different typesof love cele by brated in the text-devotional love, romantic love,maternal love, familial love, all embodied in the god Kama. The presence of the god of love trumpsboth themedical prognostication that a child born of twowomen's union will be boneless and also the impurity possibly associatedwith twowidows' sexualunion.The romanticdescriptionof thewomen's love, attraction,and sexualunion in this text is, then, not fortu itousbut directly relevant to the auspiciousnessof the outcome. The etymol name is similar in all three texts: ogy given forBhagiratha's je Bhagebhagesambhog tatheupagata
Brahmadev thuilen nam bhagiratha. [Since he was born of the mutual enjoyment (sexual intercourse) between two vulvas The god Brahma named him Bhagiratha.]26

The word sambhog, literally meaning "mutualenjoyment," is theword gener used to signify sexual intercourseeven today. ally That the twowomen arewidows is a factwhose significancebears exami nation. The KrittivasaRamayana,a normative sacred text inBengal, endorses thewidows' sexualpleasure and thus flies in the face of the stereotype that Hindu widows, especially inBengal, are strippedof agency and totally forbid den to indulge in pleasure, especially sexualpleasure. The widows' pleasure surfaces in the intersticesof the patriarchalfamilyand the patrilinealnarrative, overflowing into an excess of pleasurable description-the monsoon, the kisses, the burning desire, the presence of Kama. My argument is that the
24See New York: Oxford Univer Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, Siva, theErotic Ascetic (1973; Medieval Materials in the SanskriticTradition," in Press, 1981); also Vanita, "Introduction: sity Vanita andKidwai, Same-SexLove in India,55-68. 25See "ShivaPurana:The Birth of Kartikeya," trans.Kumkum Roy; and Ruth Vanita, "Ay Celibate Friends," inVanita andKidwai, Same-SexLove in India, 77-80 and 94 yappa andVavar: 99, respectively. 26 92. Bhattasali, Rdmayana-Adikainda,


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

gods, especiallyKama, overcome anxieties regardingthe legitimacyof this type of lovemaking.Like the birth of many heroes, Bhagiratha's birth is not in "the order of nature."But most cultures acknowledge at least twoways of being un natural:a phenomenon may be supernaturalor divine, or itmay be subnatural and demonic. Bhagiratha's birth, likeChrist's, is framed as supernatural. Let me return to the argument that procreation is the purpose of sexual intercourseandmarriage, and that same-sex intercourseand union are there forewrong.Mark Jordanargues that thisargument arises from the fact that the Christian West has not fullyeschewed itshistoricalcondemnationof erotic and sexualpleasure in general: "The entire force of condemnation-including the surplusof force left over from the concession tomarriage-could be brought to bear on it [same-sex love].The irrationalforce of the Christian condemna tionof Sodomy is the remainderof Christian theology'sfailure to think through the problem of the erotic."27 Jordan also points out thatmany branches of Christianity, in their celebration of families and reproduction,have "degener ated into fertility cults," thereby giving up theGospels' prioritizationof spirit over body.28 Writing as a Christian, Jordan sees the celebration of biological as pagan, not Christian. fertility One might also point out, however, that a "pagan" emphasis on biological in conjunction with an acceptance of desire and bodily pleasure as fun fertility damental to lifemight be congenial to the construction of same-sexdesire as potentially, ifmiraculously, fertile.As discussed earlier,Hindu ascetic tradi tions developed a deep suspicionof bodily desire and pleasure, but this suspi cion alwayswas and still is contested inHindu philosophy and practice by the In dominant ideaof Kama or desire as one of the fournormative aims of life.29 as amajor life goal is view, such a concept of bodily, this-worldly pleasure my not central to traditional Christian theology.The blessing of same-sex inter course with a miraculous child in the Bhagiratha textsmay be read as a het erosexist assimilationof same-sex coupling; or itmay, conversely,be seen to of function as an affirmative incorporation same-sex sexualand amorous rela within a religiousnorm of the good and sanctified life. tionships Conclusion InHindu sacred narratives, the criteria for judging a relationshippraise worthy appear to be the same whether the relationship is that of siblings,
27 Mark D. Jordan,The Inventionof Sodomy inChristian Theology (Chicago: University of Press, 1997), 175. Chicago 28 Ibid., 174. 29 The other threearedharma (often translatedas justice, righteousness,or religion,but closer inmeaning to "the lawof one's being";artha (wealthandmaterial goods); andmoksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirths).

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


friends, lovers,or spouses.The question is, Is the relationshipa selfish one or does it contribute to the greater good? Purely selfish relationshipsbased only on individual pleasure are judged undesirable and shown to logicallyculminate in disaster, because two individuals who selfishly desire each other for their own pleasuremay also desert each otherwhen they discover that they can get greater pleasure elsewhere.Many Indian-languagecautionary folktales tell of aman andwoman eloping togetheronly to rapidlydiscard each other for other lovers. Desirable relationshipsinnormativeHindu textsare those inwhich the in dividualsmake sacrificesnot only for each other but also for their familiesand friends, the community, humanity, and the gods. These norms, which also reappear inmodem Indiancinema, are not very different from those thatAlan Examining the tombsof same-sex cou Bray analyzes inhis book The Friend.30 buried together in European churches from the fourteenth to the nine ples were publicly honored in teenth centuries, he shows that these relationships premodem Christian societies. The one significantdifference, Iwould argue, concerns sexual relations. Christian traditionsjudgemale-female relationshipsas bad or good depending on whether they are only about sexual desire (lust) or also about love. In the Bible a male-female relationship that is both sexual and loving can be cele brated as good (forexample, the relationship in the Song of Songs).However, although theBible represents good same-sex relationshipsas intense and pas sionate, they cannot be represented as sexual; famous examples are those of David and Jonathan,and Naomi and Ruth. Same-sex relationshipscannot be represented as good if they are explicitly sexual, because premodern Jewish were unable to fullyembrace human sexualityas good. andChristian traditions I am aware of themany commentatorswho rightlypoint out that the biblical condemnationsof same-sex intercoursearehistoricallyspecific,have been mis interpretedand blown out of proportion, and have nothing to do with homo sexuality, especially with loving same-sex relationships today.3Although I agreewith many of these arguments, Iwould add that same-sex sexual inter course is never represented positively in the Bible. This absence allows those so inclined to focus obsessivelyon apparentlynegative references.Hindu texts, in contrast, are occasionally able to represent same-sex relationshipsas both sexualand good. we Saleem Kidwai and I remarked that in the course of our research did

" Alan Bray,The Friend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). 31 See, among others, JohnBoswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance,andHomosexuality:Gay People inWestern Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century University of Chicago Press, 1980);and StevenGreenberg,Wrestlingwith God andMen: (Chicago: Wisconsin Press, 2004). University of Homosexuality in theJewishTradition (Madison:


Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion

not find evidence of anyone ever having been executed in India for same-sex relations.Today, Iwould modify that statement to say that themany suicides by same-sex couples in India today constitute a type of execution.Given that many cross-sex couples also are driven to suicide today,the crimewould seem to be not same-sex love as suchbut romantic love itself,because romantic love is seen as opposed to socialnorms. However, earlierways of accommodating love in itsmany formshave not disappeared from Hindu tradition.The same-sexweddings that have taken place in Indiawith familialparticipation andHindu priests officiating consti tute one manifestation of that survival.There are also many LGBT rights groups in India now.Most of them are connected with organizations funded primarilyto combatHIV andAIDS, but there are alsomany smallergroups fo cused on gay rights.32 The right tomarry has not, so far,been amajor issue for of these organizations. One reasonmay be that the Indian state, though a any seculardemocracy,has not yet fully takencontrol of marriage in thewayWest ern democratic states have since the nineteenth century.Marriage still func tionsprimarily in the purview of familyand community,not the state.Modern Indianmarriage laws recognize as valid any Hindu wedding conducted ac cording to the rites that are customary in the communityof one of the partners. A vastmajority of heterosexualmarriages in India today takeplace without a marriage license and are never registeredwith the state.The Indian govern ment does not confer asmany privileges andbenefits onmarried couples as the U.S. government does. Therefore,most people never report theirmarriages matters are con or, indeed, theirdivorces-to the government.All such family ducted within the community,with the approval of elders. This means that local communities play a large part in deciding what constitutes a marriage. Those who witnessed theweddings of same-sex couples thatwere reported in the press over the past twodecades clearlyconsidered themmarriages, and the couples live amarried life in their communities. In its 1991 reportLess Than Gay: A Citizens'Report on the Status of Ho mosexuality in India, theABVA demanded, among other things, that the gov ernment amend themarriage laws to recognize same-sexmarriage. It reiter ated this demand in For People Like Us, its 1999 report on the attempted suicide of twowomen, Mamata RaniMohanty andMonalisa Mohanty,whose Mamata andMonalisa had registered familieswere trying to separate them.33 a partnershipdeed, and severalother female couples in Indiahave also tried to
32For listings,see Trikone,amagazine forSouthAsian LGBT people, published inSan Fran and cisco since 1986 (http://www.trikone.org); Bombay Dost, India's longest-running lesbian-gay magazine, published inBombay since 1990. 33 AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan, Less ThanGay: A Citizens'Report on the Status of Ho mosexuality in India (NewDelhi: AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan, 1991), andFor PeopleLike Us (NewDelhi: AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan, 1999).

Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls"


obtain legal recognitionof some sort for theirunions. It isonly amatter of time before a petition is filed demanding that same-sexmarriages be recognized in law. The Indian situationmakes clear what is often obscured in the United States: the fact that however many rights a governmentmay confer or with hold, marriage is defined by people themselves, not by governments.A few decades ago, interracial marriageswere illegal in theUnited States, andmany Americans considered them unnatural; in the nineteenth century,many Hin dus considered intercaste marriage andwidow remarriageillegaland immoral. suchmarriages did takeplace, and theywere realmarriages in Nevertheless, the eyes of enlightened people. At the 2002wedding of Mala Nagarajan andVega Subramaniam, in Seat Subramaniam's father read a poem inTamil thathe had composed. In the tle, he quoted the ancient Tamil seer and poet Valluvan: "The seat of life is poem love; anyonewho does not have it is only a mass of bones encased by skin." Love is love andmarriage ismarriage,whether between a man andwoman,
two men, or two women.