Response to GALVA articles
by Hridayananda das Goswami
Posted January 30, 2003
I write in reply to Amara Prabhu’s various essays and letters on behalf of GALVA, the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association. I certainly agree with Amara Prabhu that we should encourage all people from all backgrounds to come to Krishna consciousness, and that it is natural to form various associations to support the diverse Vaishnava communities in their spiritual practices. Surely Lord Krishna appreciates and blesses all sincere efforts to help others advance in Krishna consciousness.
It is essential that we pursue such efforts with a clear and precise understanding of Lord Krishna’s actual teachings, as revealed in authorized Vedic literature, under the guidance of Srila Prabhupada, so that we all achieve success in our preaching. Thus I will attempt here to clarify certain issues raised by Amara Prabhu.
The Sanskrit term trtiya-prakrti means “third nature.” It does not literally mean “third sex.” We do not find in any known Vedic literature the term “third sex.”
The term trtiya-prakrti refers to a eunuch, or to a sexless status. It does not refer to homosexuality or to a homosexual. Thus Monier-Williams, in the standard Sanskrit dictionary, explains that trtiya-prakrti refers to “eunuch” or to “the neuter gender.” We should keep in mind that a sexless eunuch is not necessarily a victim of castration, as we shall see later in our discussion of Arjuna’s pastimes in the kingdom of Virat.
The most common Sanskrit word for “eunuch” is kliba. Evidence that this term refers not to homosexuality, but rather to a lack of manliness or male potency, is found in the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita wherein Lord Krishna tells Arjuna:
klaibyam ma sma gamah partha!
“Do not give in to the quality of kliba (klaibyam)!”
Clearly Lord Krishna is not ordering Arjuna not to be a homosexual, but rather not to be unmanly. Thus the Sanskrit dictionary defines kliba as impotent, emasculated, a eunuch; ‘unmanly, timorous, weak, idle, a coward.’
Arjuna in Virat
Amara writes, “…while visiting his father Indra in heaven, Arjuna had refused the amorous advances of the celestial prostitute Urvasi. Angered by this, she cursed him to become a “kliba,” a member of the third sex.”
Let us take a closer look at this story of the Mahabharata, Urvasi’s cursing of Arjuna in Indraloka. Urvasi’s curse is found in the third section of the Mahabharata, the Vana or Aranyaka Parva, i.e. the “Forest Book”, since it was during the Pandavas’ exile in the forest that Arjuna went to Indraloka, met his “biological” father, Indra, and received Urvasi’s curse.
Here is a literal translation of Urvasi’s curse:
“Urvasi said, ‘Because you will not welcome me, when I am under the control of desire and have come to your house with your father’s (Indra’s) permission, therefore Partha you shall wander as a dancer among women, bereft of prestige, reputed to be unmanly like a eunuch.” [Mahabharata, Critical Edition, Volume 4, page 1052]
Urvasi did not actually use here the word kliba. Also, in this context, the Mahabharata explains that Indra, not Krishna, encouraged Arjuna by saying that this curse would be useful during the Pandavas’ last year of exile in which they must remain unrecognized. Indra here states that Arjuna will lose his masculinity, but does not state that Arjuna will take on feminine qualities. Nor does Urvasi say this. Nor do either of them refer to homosexuality or to a “third sex.”
Arjuna is examined
“After exhibiting his skills before the court, he (Arjuna) was tested by beautiful young women to ensure that he was actually third-sexed and thus free from any lust for females. This is another important clue to note. Had Arjuna been merely a eunuch or neuter, the men of the palace could easily have examined him themselves for testicles or hermaphroditism (intersexuality). Instead, they made certain that beautiful women would not be able to arouse him.”
Unfortunately, this “Important clue” is not found in the vast majority of Mahabharata manuscripts. Indeed it is not found in any North Indian manuscript, including those written in the Devanagari script, those found in Bengal etc etc.
Almost all the Mahabharata manuscripts simply say, “Learning with certainty that Båhannala (Arjuna) lacked masculinity, he allowed him in the girls’ quarters.”
In the handful of South Indian manuscripts that do slightly elaborate on the testing of Arjuna, it is simply stated that,
“Having thus spoken (to Arjuna), and testing him, in order, with men and women, and understanding that he was a eunuch (kliba), the king ordered Brhannala to engage his daughter in dance.” (Mahabharata, Critical Edition, Volume 5, page 52)
I would suggest that these few words, which are missing in almost all Mahabharata manuscripts, and which lack any detailed description of how Arjuna was tested, and which also lack any explicit reference to Arjuna’s physiology, can hardly serve as the foundation for establishing the Vedic philosophy of gender, or the Vedic position on cross-gender, trans-gender or homosexual issues.
I will conclude these brief remarks by again noting that trtiya-prakrti, the “third nature, can be used as a grammatical term to refer to the neuter gender. The neuter gender is a “sexless” grammatical form, lacking both masculinity or femininity. This sexless, genderless status is the trtiya-prakrti or “third nature”. We do not find in the Sanskrit dictionary, which catalogues terms found in known Vedic literatures, a term for “third sex” or “third gender” as an indicator of homo- or bi-sexuality.
I strongly agree with Amara Prabhu, as I stated above, that the Vaishnavas should endeavor to bring Lord Caitanya’s mercy to all living beings, and that we must treat all devotees, and indeed all creatures with appropriate dignity and respect. Srila Prabhupada’s books inspire us to such behavior by revealing that all living beings are equally part and parcel of Lord Krishna. This eternal fact should serve as sufficient justification and inspiration to arouse the mercy and respect of true Vaishnavas.
With best wishes,
Hridayananda das Goswami