Queer Review | Shikhandi: And Other Tales by Devdutt Pattanaik

#QOTD – What was your pride month read?

I didn’t pick up anything specific for the pride month, but then I thought of revisiting this book: Shikhandi: And Other (Queer) Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik.

We are familiar with Shikhandi’s tale, but this book has more such stories to offer. Most of these stories aren’t new to me. I’ve known many of them since I was a child, thanks to Amar Chitra Katha and mythological TV shows. But has anyone ever promoted these stories from the perspective of ‘queerness’? The answer is a big no!

This book celebrates thirty such queer stories that exist in the Hindu mythology. Stories of gods changing their sex – Vishnu becoming Mohini to enchant the Asuras, and Shiva merging with Shakti to become Ardhanarishvara. There are tales of Budh, god of the planet Mercury, being cursed to be of indeterminate sex, Bhagirath being born to two women, King Yuvanashva giving birth to Mandhata, Arjun disguising as the eunuch-dancer Brihanalla. I was most fascinated with the story of Aruna, the charioteer of Surya, the Sun god. Aruna, in the form of Aruni mothered (or fathered) Vali with Indra, and Sugriva with Surya.

These twisted stories have an act of erotic expression. They have scandal in them, yet if seen without judgement there is a sense of acceptance. In the words of Devdutt Pattanaik, queerness isn’t only modern, western or sexual!

So how do we interpret these stories? They certainly shatter the conventional confines of gender and sexuality. Ancient Indian authors blurred down the line between masculinity and femininity. Were they ever guilty or ashamed to narrate these tales repeatedly? And, do we have the empathy to include sexual ambiguity in our society?

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