Sanskrit Words Referring to Homosexuals
by Amara dasa
Posted March 20, 2003


There is no question that Sanskrit words such as "kliba," "sandha," "napumsaka," etc., can be used to refer to homosexuals. Sanskrit texts such as the "Sabda-kalpa-druma," "Kamatantra," "Smriti-ratnavali," Sushruta- samhita," and "Narada-smriti" all list various types of men who are impotent with women, and these lists clearly include people of the third sex such as homosexuals, transgenders and the intersexed.

The Twenty Types of "Sandha"

The "Sabda-kalpa-druma" Sanskrit-Sanskrit dictionary describes twenty types of men known in Sanskrit as "sandha." The key criterion of a "sandha" is that he is sexually impotent with women, whether in terms of desire, performance or fertility. As evident from this list, a "sandha" can refer to many different types of men. Some are impotent with women by nature ("tritya-prakriti") such as the intersexed, homosexuals and transgenders, while others are ordinary males who have lost their potency due to various physical or psychological afflictions. The term "sandha" is therefore much more inclusive than widely believed, and any context involving its usage should be carefully considered whenever an interpretation is rendered. Simplistic definitions such as "eunuch," "neuter," or "sexless" may not always be accurate and in some cases totally incorrect.

Under the entry "sandha," the "Sabda-kalpa-druma" dictionary quotes the "Narada-smriti," which lists fourteen different types of men who are impotent with women. Then it quotes the "Kamatantra," which lists twenty different kinds. Then it quotes Vacaspatiís (14th century) "Smriti- ratnavali," in which the twenty types of "sandha" are listed and defined. Among these, three types specifically refer to homosexuals ("mukhebhaga," "kumbhika," and "asekhya"), and an additional four can include homosexuals ("moghabija," "anyapati," "panda" and "saugandhika"). One type specifically refers to the intersexed ("nisarga"), one to transgenders ("sandha") and another ("baddha") can include both transgenders and the intersexed.

The "Sabda-kalpa-druma" Sanskrit dictionary was compiled by a team of Bengali scholars under the commission of Raj Radhakantha Dev, a local king of the early nineteenth century. The well-known Sanskrit dictionaries that we use today, such as the St. Petersburg (Bohtlingk) and Monier-Williams, relied heavily upon this text and would not even have been possible without it. Typically, the European dictionaries edited, dismissed, or perhaps misunderstood practically all of the entries referring to homosexuality, due to the influence of their own Victorian culture.

Since the account in the "Kamatantra" ends by stating "klibani vimsatih" (these are the twenty "klibas"), the author takes "kliba" to be the same as "sandha." The 11th century lexicographer Hemacandra similarly equates "sandha" with "napumsaka." In other words, at least these writers believed that the words "kliba" and "napumsaka" could mean any of the things that the word "sandha" meant. In his important 12th century commentary on the "Kama- sutra" known as "Jayamangala," the great scholar Yashodhara comments that the homosexual men described in the "Kama-sutra" as "tritiya-prakriti" are also known as "napumsaka."

Of the twenty types of "sandha," at least five are also mentioned in the "Sushruta-samhita," an ancient Sanskrit medical text on Ayur-veda dating back to at least 600 BC. Of these, two specifically refer to homosexuals ("kumbhika" and "asekhya"), one can include homosexuals ("saugandhika") and one refers to transgenders ("sandha").

The Fourteen Types of "Panda"

Another list of men who are impotent with women appears in the twelfth chapter of the "Narada-smriti" entitled "The Union of Woman and Man." Within that chapter, men who are unfit for marriage due to impotence ("panda") are listed and defined. Of these, one specifically refers to homosexuals ("mukhebhaga") and two can include them ("moghabija" and "anyapati"). One refers to the intersexed ("nisarga") and one to transgenders ("vadhri").

The "Narada-smriti" also mentions various tests and possible remedies for each type of "panda." Some are considered to be curable while others are incurable. Regarding the homosexual type ("mukhebhaga"), it is stated that this "panda" is not considered male by nature and is therefore incurable and should not be united with the woman.

(Note: the complete lists and definitions of the twenty "sandhas" and fourteen "pandas" are available in Appendix 3 on the GALVA website (http://www.geocities.com/galva108). They have not been included in this posting due to their sexually explicit content.)