Hindu Mythology is replete with instances of Hindu deities behaving in a manner that can be associated with being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, in modern days better known as the acronym, LGBTQ. Even in folklore, traditional fables and religious narratives like Ramayana and Mahabharata, one can find if not many but a few examples of Hindu gods or demigods changing their gender or appearing in the form of a person from the opposite gender.
Moreover, according to author and Indian mythologist, Devdutt Pattanaik, in ancient India, the languages like Tamil, Sanskrit and Prakrit had innumerable words for non-heterosexual genders- napunsaka, kliba, kinnara and pedi are few among the others. This takes us back as to how the pressure to abide by Victorian morality caused the ancient Indian heritage of not only recognising, but, also accommodating non-heterosexual genders and sexuality, to get buried and become a concept that a predominant part of the country frowned upon.
Hinduism is largely based on the concept of many births and how every birth is defined by the soul's past karma. If this is to be believed, if a human being's karma ends up being the reason he is born a transgender, then who do we have to blame? Irrespective of the role karma plays, society only just started adjusting to these fresh ideas and has a long way to go.
In view of Mahashivratri being celebrated tomorrow, it is best to bring to the forefront how the mystical Lord, Shiva, once changed his gender and willingly took the form of a gopi.
This lesser known fact of the demigod can be enlightenment for those who still believe that Hindu mythology is free of these not-so socially acceptable ideas.
Lord Shiva is best known as the 'Devon ke Dev' which means the 'The Lord of the Greatest God.' He is regarded as the formless demigod, who is part of the Trimurti- the great triad of Hindu gods, with Vishnu and Brahma being the other two.
When we go down the mythological lane, Lord Shiva's tales are profound and inspirational, his powers are limitless, his kindness and benevolence stands unmatched and his appearance is intriguing.
Speaking of intriguing, there are many facts about Lord Shiva aka Bholenaath aka Neelkanth aka Mahadev that still stand less known or unknown.
One such story that raises eyebrows is that in which Lord Shiva dresses up as a 'Gopi' only to be near Lord Krishna, the incarnation of Vishnu.
Shiva is synonymous with deep meditation, and one day when he was engaged in this peaceful activity, he felt the melodious vibration of Krishna's flute. The tune drew him closer and he decided that he wanted to be part of Krishna's 'Maha-raas'- wherein Krishna replicated himself to dance individually with each and every gopi.
Following the melody, the Lord of all mystics reached Krishna's abode in Vrindavan, where the Lord was all set to begin the maha-raas with his gopis. Vrindavan was in a celebratory and festive mood ahead of the maha-raas commencing.
However, when Shiva tried to enter the maha-raas he was stopped by Yogamaya, Krishna's strong internal energy, owing to the fact that no other male except Krishna were allowed to be a part of the raas. This put Lord Shiva in a fix, as he had to now take the form of a Vraja milkmaid or a gopi to be eligible to enter. But, he did not think twice- neither about what it will look like, nor about what the rest of the gopis would think in case he was caught.
Lord Shiva took the shelter of Vrinda Devi and took a dip in the Manasarovar, post which the matted haired Lord Shiva who had worn a skull garland and was smeared with ash, emerged as a beautiful, exquisite gopi. Now that Shiva could witness the raas, he stood in a corner viewing the blissful singing and dancing and praying to Radha Krishna for unconditional prema-bhakti. For him the appearance did not matter, as long as his aim to witness the raas was fulfilled.
Subsequently, the raas ended and left Krishna feeling a bit uneasy as if something was amiss. To his surprise, one of the gopis, Lalita, informed him that there was a gopi who had three eyes and this way Krishna recognized Shiva and laughed at the entire scenario in an endearing manner.
Now that Bholenath had already become a part of the rasa, Krishna ordered him to play the gatekeeper of the maha-raas, ensuring him that every gopi would pay him respect and take his blessings before entering the raas-sthal, the place where the maha-raas would take place.
It is after this that Lord Shiva has been worshipped in the Gopeshwar Mahadev Temple in Vrindavan as a Shiva ling during the mornings and in the gopi form during the evenings.