Castration is not "Vedic"
by Amara das
Posted May 4, 2003

The recent assertions by some devotees (See Ashoka Patel, "Homosexuality and Vedic Culture") that homosexual people were castrated as a part of Vedic culture and that such a practice would grant someone a "better birth in the next life" are unsubstantiated by scriptural or historical reference.

Having researched this topic for many years, I have never come across any Vedic reference recommending castration for homosexual men. If anything, they were already considered "napumsaka" or impotent by nature in terms of lacking a desire for women. Mutilation of the body is discouraged in all Vaishnava texts and considered to be in the mode of darkness. In Bhagavad-gita As It Is (17.19) Sri Krsna states: "Penance performed out of foolishness, with self-torture or to destroy or injure others, is said to be in the mode of ignorance."

Furthermore, even Lord Siva was not pleased with Vrkasurašs offerings of self-mutilation in the 88th chapter of Krsna Book, and Srila Prabhupada reiterates such methods of sacrifice as being in "the mode of ignorance." Vedic authorities never recommend castration or bodily mutilation of any kind as a suitable practice for elevation to a "higher" birth, salvation, etc.

Within the Manu-smriti, capital punishment, lashings, amputation, branding, and other severe penalties for criminal offenses are all mentioned in the Dharma-sastra text, but there is no prescription for castration or any similar kind of punishment for homosexual men. Even same-sex behavior among heterosexual males ("pums-prakriti") is atoned for by a mere ritual bathing (Manu-smriti, 11.175). The only verse referring to castration involves heterosexual men committing adultery with "unguarded" women (Manu-smriti, 8.374).

The lack of punishment for homosexual behavior within the Manu-smriti indicates that homosexuality was obviously not viewed as threatening or dangerous to Vedic society. On the contrary, men of the third sex ("tritiya-prakriti") are generally described as gentle, feminine, or non-violent by nature. The attempt to portray them as perverted, "lower-birth" criminals deserving castration is completely inaccurate and mean-spirited.

Considering the issue from a historical perspective, homosexual castration in India is not mentioned prior to the advent of Islamic influence. When Persian, Turkish and Arabic military sultans began migrating into India around the 11th century A.D., they brought with them their own Middle Eastern traditions including the custom of keeping castrated homosexual slaves and servants.

Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) of the Sultanate of Delhi, for instance, is recorded as owning 50 thousand slaves, and Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1357-1388) owned 180 thousand. The eunuch slaves of these sultans are described as being highly valued and prized; since they did not keep wives or produce offspring, they were renowned for their undivided loyalty and were heavily relied upon by the sultans.

At the turn of the 14th century, the system of homosexual castration was well established in Northern India until becoming outlawed by the British government several centuries later. The remnants of this medieval system can still be seen in the "hijra" eunuchs of modern-day India, many of who still reminisce about the old Islamic custom.

In South India, the unnatural practice of homosexual castration was never adopted. Largely spared from Islamic rule, the "jogappa," a South Indian homosexual and transgender class similar to the "hijra," maintained their traditional roles as temple servants, dancers and artisans without engaging in castration.

Srila Prabhupada mentions this indigenous third-gender system when discussing the "nartaka" dancers at Lord Caitanyašs birth ceremony (tape #67-002) and in a purport from the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (1.13.106). On the tape he indicates that such dancers were neither male nor female "by nature" ("prakriti"), and not through castration. He adds that they were "dancing and chanting Hare Krsna" in the presence of Mahaprabhu and exalted devotees like Saci-mata, Jagannatha Misra and others. This indicates that they were Vaishnavas and not Muslims, and consequently they refrained from the practice of castration.

In conclusion, any suggestion that homosexual castration was somehow a recommended or "exalted" practice of Vedic India is uninformed at best and dangerously harmful and misleading at worst.