Can we trace queer references from the Ancient Literature of India?

The answer is yes, but with some difficulty. Here is why.

Celebrating Pride month with some myth busting on ancient South Asian attitudes towards LGBTQIA+. Veering away from visual arts and towards broad ancient culture references for today’s content.

Unfortunately, translations of ancient Indian literature, which we commonly use as a reference today were originally interpreted by western scholars, some of whom never even stepped on Indian soil before publishing their accounts as historians. For example, James Mill wrote ‘The History of India’.

Others took a Europe-centric view of sexuality, often devaluing or entirely ignoring aspects that are considered satanic in Christian morality. For example, the Book of Leviticus mentions “Moses says, if anyone hath intercourse with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination. let them both die: they are guilty, Leviticus (20:13)”.

On the other hand Kautilya’s Arthashastra, translated by R. Shamashastri, states, “A man having sexual intercourse with another man shall pay the first amercement” - where amercement simply means a fine.

Ancient Indian literature largely discouraged homosexuality because it doesn’t produce a child, but was considered a non-serious offence, not unnatural or sacrilege that need to be punished by capital punishment like Roman emperors did in Europe. This not only proves the existence and acknowledgment of homosexuality in society but also suggests a far less hostile attitude towards it than in the west.

 

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