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Book Review: Shikhandi by Devdutt Pattanaik

Beware of a land where celibate men decide what is good sex

And it was a queer week. Sorry for the bad joke but then LGBT community should actually thank Devdutt Pattanaik for doing so much research in justifying how much Hinduism has hidden the queer side of life. For us, it may be unnatural, immoral or indecent, but then his theological research makes you question all the tales you have been listening to since birth. Everything from Ramayana to Mahabharata has been twisted and turned to suit the requirement of each Yug, but the core is alive. And our elders always forgot to tell us stories that are related to hijra’s and LGBT that also existed in Satyug era. Maybe due to immoral standards, but then Shikhandi by Devdutt Pattanaik helps us open our mind to understand this hidden ancestral side.

The book first describes a detailed version of the discovery of invention of queerness. Here Devdutt’s hard work and extensive research is described so as to help the reader understand the roots of queerness in different cultures. From India to Egypt to Mesopotamia, the author has made sure to cover as many aspects as he can to explain the different type of queer cultures in various parts of the world. The best part described is of the Hijra, titled as a local manifestation of queerness in India. Many of us don’t know that Hijras clap so that they can be seen. They want to overcome societal norms where they are treated as invisible, hence they clap to make us aware about their presence.

The stories start with Shikhandi, one of the best examples of Queerness in ancient history. Amba, a princess who was promised to be married to Prince Shalva, was kidnaped by Bhishma along with her sisters and delivered to Hastinapur to be married to his incompetent half-brother Vichitravirya. But thanks to her incessant begging, he decides that satisfying her sisters would be enough, so he let her go. But then Prince Shalva rejected her because she was tainted. She then begged Bhishma to marry her, but Bhishma had a vow of celibacy, so he politely refuses. Hurt, Amba then invokes Shiva, The Destroyer God. Shiva, pleased with her prayers and dedication, grants her a boon that she will be the cause of Bhishma’s death but only in her next life. Hearing this, Amba kills herself and was born as a daughter to King Drupad, named as Shikhandi. But King Drupad wanted a son, so he raised Shikhandi like a son only and was married to a woman. But then during their wedding night, Shikhandi faces trouble that how she would be able to satisfy her woman? Confronted with harsh reality, she tries to commit suicide but then is saved by a Yaksha named as Sthuna, who lends his manhood to Shikhandi for one night.

Stories like this will intrigue any reader into exploring the ancient queer practices of India. While reading the book, two of the best stories were of “Narada” who forgets that he is a man and settles as a wife. But then one day curse is broken and he finds himself transformed into a man again. Krishna makes Narada understand what exactly Maya is in the above-mentioned story. Then there is a story of “Pramila” who due to her excessive feminism, ends up making fun of passing Gandharva’s male genitals only to be banished to a Stri Rajya (Female only Kingdom) or kadalivana. Then comes sage Matsyaendranath, who answers her prayers and gets seduced and ends up fathering all the kids of the women there. But then his student Gorakhnath intervenes, who appears as a cross-dressing singer and dancer, to remind his teacher of his bachelorhood. Matsyaendranath leaves with Goraknath, along with all the sons he fathered, this leaving Stri Rajya intact. This shows a clear example of lesbianism and bisexual women, who need men only when required to father children. Otherwise, they are pretty happy on their own.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna shows Arjuna his cosmic form and says, ”I am all there is, was and will be”. In Hinduism, the world is not distinct from God. The world is God. God contains everything. The queer is not excluded.

Maybe whoever reads this book realize what difficult times queer are living in India. A land, full of twisted tales that lead to discrimination towards queers, maybe this book enlightens them. A must read for all and especially for all the ignorant societal pricks.

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