Additional Vedic References
( 3 ) The Artha Shastra
The Artha Shastra or scriptures dealing in economic development and statecraft were transmitted from Lord Brahma to the divine preceptors, Brhaspati and Sukracarya, who in turn abridged these texts for mankind. The renowned scholar Kautilya, also known as Vishnugupta or Canakya Pandit, preserved the Artha Shastra in its present written form sometime during the fourth century B.C. As with the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, Kautilya’s work dominates the field in terms of Sanskrit texts representing the Artha Shastra. Whereas Dharma Shastra texts address scriptural laws regarding brahmanas, the twice born, court procedures and atonement, the Artha Shastra is primarily concerned with economic guidelines, kingly duties, civil management, taxation and fines. Injunctions from the Artha Shastra regarding the third sex are summarized in the sections below.
Duties of the King: The Artha Shastra describes men of the third sex serving as house attendants and harem supervisors (1.20.21), spies (1.12.21), secret assassins (12.5.51) and servants to the king: “When risen from bed, [the king] should be surrounded by female guards bearing bows and, in the second hall, by third-gender servants wearing robes and turbans” (1.21.1). This latter scenario is also described in the Valmiki Ramayana in regard to Maharaja Dasaratha. Concerning spies, R.P. Kangle notes in his book, The Kautiliya Arthasastra (2003), that the word pandaka means the same as shandhaka. In regard to harem supervisors, the term used is “varshadhara.” Varshadhara refers to third-gender men who voluntarily withhold their semen from women, due to a lack of desire. The Artha Shastra also discusses enemies of the king and lists fourteen types of rulers declared as easy to eliminate. Of these, the thirteenth is an impotent king of the third gender (kliba) (6.1.13-14). Entire sections of the Artha Shastra delineate ways in which intoxication (2.25), meat-eating (2.26), prostitution (2.27) and gambling (3.20) are to be overseen and regulated by the king. Also mentioned is the longstanding tradition of all-male and all-female drama and dance troupes, along with several injunctions regarding them (2.27.28-29; 3.3.21).
Significantly, the Artha Shastra considers it a crime to vilify men and women of the third sex (kliba). If the person vilified is actually impotent, a fine of twelve silver panas is imposed; if the person is not impotent, the fine is twenty-four panas. For mocking a person of the third sex in public, the fine meted out is thirty-six panas. The mentioned fines are for persons of equal status; if the victim is a superior or the wife of another, the fines are doubled. If he or she is an inferior or if the vilification was committed by mistake, while intoxicated, etc., the fines are divided in half (3.18.4-5). The Artha Shastra also mentions three sources of proof used to ascertain a vilified man’s potency or lack thereof in court: 1) women; 2) foam in the urine, and 3) the sinking of semen in water (3.18.6). Similar but less specific injunctions against vilification are mentioned in the Manusmriti (8.274) and Narada-smriti (15.19). As with the Dharma Shastra texts, the Artha Shastra enjoins that an impotent man of the third gender should not receive any share of the family inheritance. If he somehow manages to have progeny that is not impotent, however, that progeny can receive a share. The family must in any case maintain their third-gender relatives with food and clothing (3.5.30-32).
Fines For Homosexual Behavior: Whereas the Dharma Shastra refers to panas in terms of small copper coins, the Artha Shastra refers to them as silver (2.19.2). Either way, a pana weighs one karsa or suvarna (9.76 grams)—the equivalent of sixteen masa beans or approximately 2 U.S. pennies. As previously mentioned, relatively minor fines are meted out in the Artha Shastra for certain instances of homosexual behavior. Regarding unmarried girls:
A young, unmarried girl deflowered by a woman shall pay a fine of twelve panas if she was a willing party and of the same varna; the violating woman shall pay double that. If the maiden was unwilling, the woman shall pay a fine of one hundred panas—plus the girl’s dowry—for the satisfaction of her passion. (4.12.20-21)
This verse differs from the Manusmriti, which prescribes either public humiliation or corporal punishment for the same (8.370). Both texts offer proscriptions only in regard to the violation of young, unmarried girls and not for acts between adult women.
Concerning non-vaginal sex and male homosexuality, the Artha Shastra states:
For a [twice-born] male approaching a woman elsewhere than in the female organ, the lowest fine for violence shall be imposed [forty-eight to ninety-six panas]; the same applies for one misbehaving with a man. (4.13.40)
This law most likely applies only to twice-born males (pums) if we recall that the Narada-smriti (15.14-15) forbids the imposition of fines on men who are uninitiated, impotent, etc. As with the Dharma Shastra, no verses in the Artha Shastra specifically prohibit sexual behavior among the third sex (i.e., using third-gender terms).
Various Other Laws: Crimes between heterosexual men and women are punished quite harshly in the Artha Shastra. For adultery and rape, the text prescribes high fines, branding of the forehead, amputation of the fingers, hand, ears or nose, and death by burning in a fire of straw or cooking in a big jar (4.13.32-33). Castration is meted out as a penalty only in regard to incest (4.13.30) or if a person injures the genitals of another (4.11.24). Furthermore, kings are specifically prohibited from castrating any man captured during times of war (13.5.13). Abortion caused by a blow is punished with the highest fine for violence (five hundred to one thousand panas) or with the middle fine (two hundred to five hundred panas) if induced through medicine (4.11.6). This differs from the Manusmriti, which offers no punishment for abortion other than penance and the refusal of libations (5.90, 11.88). Other Dharma Shastra texts, however, punish abortion variously with banishment (Narada-smriti 12.92), loss of caste (Apastambha Dharmasutra 1.21.8; Gautama Dharmasutra 21.9; Vasistha Dharmasutra 28.7), public humiliation (Apastambha Dharmasutra 1.28.21) or even drowning (Yajnavalkya-smriti 2.278). Child abuse is also mentioned in the Artha Shastra and punished as follows:
For a male violating a maiden of the same varna who has not attained puberty, the punishment is cutting off the hand or a fine of four hundred panas. If the girl dies, the punishment shall be death. (4.12.1)
The act of suicide is similarly penalized quite harshly in the Artha Shastra: an outcaste is made to drag the suicide’s corpse along the royal highway and relatives are forbidden from performing any funeral rites. If they do, they are regarded as outcastes themselves (4.7.25-27).
The Ayur Shastra: Sushruta Samhita
The Ayur Shastra refers to scriptures dealing in ayurveda or the science of life, health and medicine. The two most prominent texts in this category are the Sushruta Samhita, which is somewhat older and more widely known, and the Caraka Samhita, a well-respected text among Ayurvedic doctors and health specialists. Both books describe the third sex in detail and declare it to be inborn and incurable.
The Sushruta Samhita was transmitted from the god of medicine, Sri Dhanvantari, to Sushruta—an illustrious son of the sage Visvamitra. Sushruta put Dhanvantari’s teachings into writing sometime around 600 B.C. and a brahmana of the name Nagarjuna preserved it in its current form sometime during the fourth century B.C.
In a chapter entitled “The Purification of the Male and Female Reproductive Fluids” (3.2), the Sushruta Samhita lists five different types of kliba or third-gender offspring that are described as inborn: asekya, saugandhika, kumbhika, irshyaka and shandha (3.2.38-45). The first four are said to have semen and male characteristics (sukra) whereas the last is mentioned without. In regard to the ayurveda concept of sukra and sonita (the male and female sexual fluids and hormones, respectively), these are often interpreted simply as “semen” and “menstrual fluid” but they actually involve much more than just this. Sukra and sonita are the sixth of seven dhatus or bodily constituents produced in succession from the nourishment of food. The seven dhatus are: 1) rakta—blood; 2) mamsa—muscle; 3) medas—fat; 4) asthi—bone; 5) majja—marrow; 6) sukra and sonita—the male and female sexual fluids, and 7) ojas—the life energy. Sukra masculinizes the body and establishes the primary traits of male genitals and male neurology in the embryo. It further manifests the secondary symptoms of manhood during puberty such as muscle bulk, facial and bodily hairs, Adam’s apple, a deepened voice, sexual arousal and the production of sperm and semen (retas). Similarly, sonita feminizes the body and develops the primary traits of female genitals and female neurology in the embryo. It further manifests the secondary symptoms of womanhood during puberty such as breast development, enlarged hips, slighter muscles, less bodily hairs and high voice, sexual arousal and the production of ovum and menstrual fluids (artavam). Thus, sukra and sonita involve not only the semen and vaginal fluids but also what we identify today as the male and female hormones. This should be kept in mind whenever these words are interpreted.
The unusual conception of a child between two women, without the help of any man, is also mentioned in Chapter 3.2. Such infants are known as kalala and described as thin, boneless and misshapen (3.2.47). The next chapter in the Sushruta Samhita (3.3) is entitled “Pregnancy” and describes the third sex as inborn:
The birth of a male child follows the preponderance of the male seed (sukra) over the female (sonita), while the birth of a daughter follows the preponderance of the latter. A third-sex child (napumsa) is produced when both the male and female seed are equal in quality and quantity. (3.3.4)
In the second month of gestation, a round shape indicates the male sex of an embryo while an elongated shape denotes the female. An erratic shape like a salmali bud foretells an embryo of the third sex. (3.3.14)
A pregnant woman whose sides become raised and whose abdomen is found to bulge out in the forefront will give birth to a child of the third sex. (3.3.20)
Chapter 2.12 of the Sushruta Samhita discusses various afflictions of the male organ and their causes while Chapter 3.2 describes the different healthy and unhealthy types of reproductive fluids in both men and women. Chapter 3.8 mentions that women and third-gender men (kliba) should not undergo any type of venesection or bloodletting, while Chapter 6.38 lists twenty afflictions involving the female organ (yoni) and describes their respective symptoms and treatments. Four of these afflictions involve third-gender types: vandhya, putraghni, shandhi and sucivaktra. The first two are considered curable in some cases whereas the latter two are permanently sterile (6.38.5-8).
Chapter 4.24 of the Sushruta Samhita enjoins ordinary males to keep healthy habits and have intercourse with their wives only according to prescribed principles. Copulation with sterile women is said to be detrimental to the semen and intellect whereas intercourse with animals, through non-vaginal methods, or in diseased vaginas results in excessive loss of semen, aggravation of the life-airs (vayu) and diseases such as syphilis (upadamsa). Intercourse with the woman positioned on top is said to cause seminal concretions in the bladder (4.24.89).
In a chapter of the Sushruta Samhita entitled “Male Virility” (4.26), six different causes of male impotence are listed: 1) the mind; 2) the diet; 3) excessive intercourse; 4) disease; 5) an inborn nature (sahaja), and 6) voluntary suppression or utter apathy (4.26.3). Of these, the fifth type is declared incurable along with any disease causing permanent damage to the genital tracts. As for the rest, various types of aphrodisiac tonics known as vajikarana are recommended that instill great male potency.
In a chapter describing poisonous snakes and their respective bites, the Sushruta Samhita (5.4) provides an interesting example illustrating that Vedic science also acknowledges a third sex within the animal kingdom:
The eyes, tongue, mouth and head of a male serpent are large, whereas those of a female snake are small. Snakes with both features, along with milder venom and a less irritable disposition, are of the third sex (napumsaka). (5.4.18)
The vision or the pupils of a person bitten by a male snake are turned upward, whereas downcast eyes and the appearance of veins on the forehead indicate a female snake as the attacker. A patient bitten by a third-gender snake gazes sidelong. (5.4.25)
(Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, pp. 79-85)