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( 4 ) The Ayur Shastra: Caraka Samhita


The Caraka Samhita was originally transmitted from Lord Brahma to Prajapati Daksa, from Daksa to the Asvini Kumaras and from those celestial physicians to Indra, who in turn handed the science down to Atri Muni.  Atri Muni passed the knowledge on to his son, Atreya, and his disciple, Agnivesa, put the revered precepts into writing.  The Caraka Samhita in its present form comes to us from the illustrious physician, Caraka, who preserved the original Agnivesa text sometime around 200 B.C.  Approximately one-third of the text was lost over time but later restored by a royal physician of the name Drdhabala during the Gupta period.


In a chapter entitled “Embryological Development” (4.2), the Caraka Samhita lists eight types of sexually impotent or napumsa offspring considered inborn and incurable: dviretas, pavanendriya, samskaravahi, narashandha, narishandhi, vakri, irshyabhirati and vatika-shandha (4.2.17-21).  It is important to note that only three of these types (dviretas, vakri and vatika-shandha) are identifiable at birth; the remaining five are determined later on in life when problems arise with sexual impotence.  Unlike the works of Sushruta, the Caraka Samhita does not explicitly mention homosexual behavior; nevertheless, the renowned eleventh-century A.D. Bengali physician, Cakrapani Datta, asserts in his commentaries that the word samskaravahi includes the five types of kliba associated with homosexual acts and mentioned by Sushruta.


A related chapter of the Caraka Samhita entitled “Formation of the Embryo” (4.4) states that when the fetus of a pregnant woman is situated on her left side and she experiences lactation in the left breast, activity in her left body parts, womanly dreams, desires and so on, the child will be female.  The opposite from this indicates a male child and if mixed symptoms occur, a child of the third sex (4.2.24-25).  The Caraka Samhita also mentions that the sex of the embryo becomes discernible during the second month of pregnancy.  If the embryo is round in shape, the child is male; if elongated, female, and if erratic, the child will be of the third sex (4.4.10).  Furthermore, if the consciousness of the fetus is feminine, female characteristics will develop during the third month of pregnancy and likewise in regard to male characteristics if the consciousness is masculine.  If the consciousness of the fetus is both feminine and masculine, third-gender characteristics will develop (4.4.14).


The same chapter of the Caraka Samhita goes on to state that when the mother’s doshas (the three bodily substances known as vayupitta and kapha) become gravely afflicted and affect her reproductive fluids, hormones or ovum, that affliction is transferred to her child at the time of conception.  When the chromosomes (bijabhaga) are afflicted the child becomes sterile and when the genes (bijabhagavayava) are afflicted the child will be either sterile or develop mixed physical traits (intersex).  Such a female offspring is called varta and a male, trnaputrika (4.4.30-31).  The Caraka Samhita also mentions that if the mother continually eats pungent and spicy hot foods during pregnancy, her child will become weak, deficient in semen, or sterile (4.8.21).  Prior to the third month of pregnancy, if the parents desire a male child but have doubts regarding the sex of the embryo, they may perform the Vedic rite known as pumsavana.  According to the Caraka Samhita, wherein this rite is fully described, the parents can actually change the sex of their embryo from female or third gender to male with the successful performance of this ritual (4.4.19).


Throughout Chapters 4.2-8, the sage Atreya explains to his disciple, Agnivesa, how innumerable factors contribute to the physical and psychic composition of the fetus.  These include the child’s previous birth, deeds, desires and state of mind as well as the parents’ own consciousness, health and personal efforts (paurusha).  To summarize in regard to the third sex, the living entity is said to take shelter of a third-gender embryo due to previous life impressions, deeds and desires.  Such an embryo is produced according to the activities of the parents, the course of nature itself, and ultimately divine ordinance or daiva.  If a third-gender embryo is afflicted within the womb it becomes sterile or unusually formed; otherwise, it develops normally and manifests as third gender only in terms of the psyche (desire and behavior).


In a chapter discussing aphrodisiacs or vajikarana, the Caraka Samhita (6.2) disparages men without progeny while glorifying those who sire many children (  It praises celibacy but cites the practice as a cause of certain ailments if the candidate is not qualified (1.7.10-11).  The Caraka Samhita warns against excessive indulgence in sexual intercourse and points out that a man’s potency is not necessarily discernible through physical characteristics.  It notes there are men of small stature, weak constitution or debilitated by disease that are otherwise highly potent with women and capable of begetting numerous offspring.  Such men “penetrate women frequently like sparrows.”  On the other hand, there are those who are impotent with women even though their bodies are large, strong and “discharge semen as profusely as elephants” (  Four types of sexually potent men are then listed: 1) those who are potent according to time and season; 2) those who become potent with practice; 3) those who become potent by taking aphrodisiacs or extraordinary measures, and 4) those who are potent like bulls by nature (  The Caraka Samhita states that men should not engage in intercourse before the age of sixteen or after seventy and that semen is diminished by old age, anxiety, disease, masturbation, fasting and sexual intercourse itself.  Even if a man is full of semen, the text asserts, he may be impotent with women due to various psychological reasons such as wasting, fear, lack of confidence, grief, some fault in the woman, ignorance of sexual enjoyment, lack of determination or simple disinterest.  The Caraka Samhita states that male potency is ultimately based on sexual arousal, which in turn depends not only upon a virile body but also a virile mind (  It then cites seven symptoms of healthy semen ( and provides numerous recipes for making powerful aphrodisiacs.  In regard to these, commentator Gangadhara Raya states that the word purusa in connection with aphrodisiacs indicates they are appropriate only for first-gender males—not women, children, the elderly or men of the third sex.


Chapter 6.30 of the Caraka Samhita describes eight types of unhealthy semen, their symptoms, causes and remedies (6.30.133-152).  Four types of male impotence are also cited: 1) those due to inborn causes or a complete absence of semen; 2) those due to erectile dysfunction; 3) those due to old age, and 4) those due to some deficiency in the semen (1.19.5, 6.30.154).  The Caraka Samhita provides a detailed description of each type along with their symptoms, causes and remedies.  In regard to the first category, this type is declared incurable and further divided into three: a) the inborn types previously described under napumsa; b) men whose reproductive organs have been destroyed by disease, and c) men who have had their penis or testicles removed.  Concerning the inborn types, the Caraka Samhita states that such men do not behave like males even though fully endowed with male organs (6.30.154-190).  In regard to men who have had their penis or testicles removed, this is the only reference to male castration found in either the Caraka or Sushruta Samhita and neither text provides a reason for the procedure nor any description of it.


Chapter 6.30 lists twenty disorders of the female reproductive system that are similar to those mentioned in the Sushruta Samhita.  It describes all of their symptoms, causes and remedies (6.30.1-125, 204-231) and cites three types that involve women of the third gender: putraghni, sucimukhi and shandhi.  The Caraka Samhita asserts that the putraghni is sometimes curable whereas the latter two are inborn and permanent.


In a section of the Caraka Samhita describing good conduct to ensure one’s health and well being, the physician Caraka states that a man should not make friendship with young boys, old men, the afflicted, or men of the third sex (1.8.25).  This unusual statement is not found in other texts and contradicts higher Vaishnava teachings of becoming a friend to one and all.


Third-gender snakes are also mentioned in the Caraka Samhita in a chapter discussing poisons (6.28).  Therein it is stated that such snakes are identified as appearing “terrorized” when happened upon.  Furthermore, the victim of a female snakebite is said to look downwards, have a feeble voice and trembling body.  The opposite of this indicates a male snakebite and if mixed traits are observed, a third-gender serpent delivered the wound (6.28.130-132).


The Kama Shastra


At the beginning of creation, Lord Brahma delivered the Kama Shastra or scriptures dealing in sense pleasure to Nandi—the renowned companion and carrier of Lord Siva.  Nandi later imparted that knowledge to the sage Shvetaketu, who in turn consolidated the teachings of the Kama Shastra into writing sometime during the eighth century B.C.  The renowned brahmana, Babhru, along with his many sons, summarized Shvetaketu’s vast work and this summary was later divided into several treatises during the third and first centuries B.C.  It was these treatises that were recompiled by Vatsyayana into the Kama Sutra, the essential Kama Shastra available today.  Lesser-known Kama Shastra texts include the Kamatantra, Kokasastra, Nagarasarvasva and several of the original works based on the writings of Babhru.  The following references to the third sex are found mostly within Vatsyayana’s fourth century A.D. Kama Sutra.


The Third Sex As Inborn:  While the Kama Sutra uses the term tritiya-prakriti to describe the intrinsic nature of homosexual and transgender behavior, other Kama Shastra texts provide more explicit descriptions of the third sex as inborn.  The Nagarasarvasva of Bhikshu Padmashri, for instance, a tenth century A.D. Kama Shastra text from northeastern India, discusses six major nerves in the vagina, two of which are known as putri and duhitrini (located to the right, at the very bottom).  In his commentary on Kama Sutra 2.2.31, Devadatta Shastri quotes the Nagarasarvasva as follows: “By stimulating putri, a woman stays young.  With duhitrini she bears sons, while with putri, daughters.  If both centers are activated at the same time, the child will be homosexual.”


Summary of Kama Sutra 2.8:  The chapter of the Kama Sutra entitled Purushayita or “Aggressive Behavior in Women” is a continuation of Chapter Six’s coverage of exceptional types of intercourse known as citrarata.  In the practice of purushayita, the couple reverses roles (“woman on top”) and the woman may also penetrate the man using her fingers or a dildo (2.8.1-10).  These same acts occur between women and Vatsyayana uses a lesbian couple (svairini) to demonstrate the different techniques of purushayita, including the eight types of aggressive penetration known as purushopasriptani.  This comprises the bulk of the chapter from verse 11 through 41.  Since Chapter Six (2.6.50) mentions that intercourse between men (purushopasripta) is also covered in this section, it is taken that these techniques apply equally to male couples.


Summary of Kama Sutra 2.9:  This chapter, entitled Auparishtaka or “Oral Sex,” describes men of the third sex (tritiya-prakriti) in two different ways according to whether they appear as masculine or feminine.  The feminine types have womanly mannerisms and sometimes dress up as females whereas the masculine types are manly and discreet, often serving as barbers or masseurs.  Both types are known to work as prostitutes.  Vatsyayana uses a masculine-type masseur of the third sex to demonstrate the eight techniques of auparishtaka and his client is similarly a discreet, masculine-type townsman (nagaraka).  After describing the eight techniques, Vatsyayana mentions that low-class women also perform these acts on men but stresses that it is not recommended.  He then discusses different regions in India that either accept or frown upon oral sex as a practice between men and women.  Returning briefly to the third sex, Vatsyayana mentions young male servants who perform oral sex on other men, as well as third-gender citizens who get married together out of great attachment and faith.  Then, continuing his discussion of auparishtaka as a practice between men and women, Vatsyayana discourages males from performing it on females.  He describes an additional technique known as “the crow” (simultaneous oral sex) but again discourages it, especially for brahmanas and leading members of society.  In conclusion, Vatsyayana leaves the practice of oral sex to one’s own discretion, adding that we cannot know who engages in it, or why.


Homosexual Marriage and “Parigraha”:  Some scholars question Alain Danielou’s translation of Kama Sutra 2.9.36, which interprets the word parigraha as “marriage.”  Like most Sanskrit terms, parigraha has many different meanings such as “to seize,” “to take in marriage” and “to engage in sexual intercourse.”  In her book, Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West (pp. 46-47), Ruth Vanita analyzes this term and concludes: “Parigraha, unlike vivaha (which is fully sanctioned marriage) can be used to refer to different types of marriage, including lower-status ones, and also to lasting bonds outside of traditional marriage, such as those between a man and another man’s wife or those between a courtesan and her long-term lover…the term parigraha refers to mutual intercourse, but also carries the connotation of a union or bond of mutual acceptance, such as taking someone in marriage.”  Vanita also mentions that in her review of the Kama Sutra she found parigraha used eight times for “marriage,” five times for “to seize or obtain” and six times for “copulation.”


Various Types and Lists:  In a chapter of the Kama Sutra (1.5) discussing intermediate or temporary partners, paramours in romantic dalliances are said to be of five types: 1) the young, unmarried girl; 2) the widow or divorcee; 3) the prostitute; 4) the consenting married woman, and 5) a partner of the third sex:


To these four must be added the third sex (tritiya-prakriti), the transgenders and homosexuals who have particular practices and constitute a fifth category of sexual partners. (1.5.27)


In a chapter of the Kama Sutra discussing the stimulation of erotic love (2.1), romantic desire is said to arise in four different ways: 1) by continuous practice; 2) from deep within the imagination and without previous experience; 3) by substituting an absent lover for another, and 4) under the prospect of material gain.  Regarding the second type, the Kama Sutra states that such romantic desires concern women and third-gender men who engage in practices such as auparishtaka (2.1.39-42).


In a chapter discussing appropriate behavior before and after lovemaking (2.10), the Kama Sutra lists seven types of amorous relations: 1) those born of physical attraction; 2) those produced by long cohabitation; 3) those feigned; 4) those substituted while thinking of another; 5) those formed without any attachment or feeling; 6) those that are degrading, and 7) those without any restrictions whatsoever.  In regard to the fifth type known as potarata, it is stated:


Potarata, or neutral sex, refers to occasional sexual relations due to the need for sexual satisfaction, with persons of no account, water-bearers, servant-women, men of the third sex, etc. (2.10.22)


The purport to this verse is that ordinary townsmen sometimes engage in relations with third-gender men, not out of natural attraction or feeling but for easy sexual satisfaction.  Vatsyayana states that such behavior is not recommended.


Third-Gender Men and Women in the Gynoecium:  Regarding polygamous marriages, Yashodhara mentions in his commentary on Kama Sutra 4.2.43 that a remarried widow should report to her husband all of the misconduct of her co-wives, including those “having relations with lesbians.”  Verse 4.2.56 of the Kama Sutra states that queens of a royal harem “must have servants or men of the third sex to bring the king flower garlands, ointments, and clothes as gifts.”  In a chapter discussing behavior in the gynoecium or female apartments (5.6), amorous relations between the wives are described as follows:


As a protective measure, nobody may enter the inner apartments.  There is only one husband while the wives, who are often several, therefore remain unsatisfied.  This is why, in practice, they have to obtain their satisfaction among themselves.


The nurse’s daughter along with female companions and slaves, dressed up as men, take the husband’s place using carrots, fruits, and other objects to satisfy their desires. (5.6.1-2)


In verse forty-five of the same chapter, Vatsyayana cites eight causes of misconduct among wives in the gynoecium, the seventh of which is “contact with independent women or lesbians.”


The Kama Shastra and Vaishnavism:  Some Vaishnava scholars dismiss the Kama Shastra since it emphasizes worldly enjoyment over renunciation.  Others, however, value at least some of the information it offers, not in terms of religious behavior but in regard to the practicalities of married life, human sexuality and seldom-discussed topics such as the third sex.  Indeed, many Vaishnava acaryas refer to the Kama Shastra in their writings and Lord Krsna’s gopi girlfriends, as well as some of His male servants or sahayakas, are all said to be expert in its teachings.  In his Srimad Bhagavatam commentaries, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada describes the Kama Shastra as “the science of sex” (4.25.38) and “the scripture in which suitable arrangements are prescribed for factually glorious sex life” (3.23.11).  He also explains that Vedic literature offers not only spiritual instructions but material ones as well and relates how Devahuti, an exemplary Vaishnava wife, took advantage of the Kama Shastra for the purpose of charming her husband and begetting good children.  Thus in some instances even Vaishnavas consult and utilize sections of the Kama Shastra.


Rites For Obtaining Same-Sex Love:  Apart from the Kama Shastra, many Vedic texts provide rites and other mystical procedures for the purpose of obtaining love, increasing one’s sexual potency, making aphrodisiacs, love potions, etc.  One of the earliest love rites mentioning same-sex desire is found in the Kaushitaki Brahma Upanisad as follows:


Now, regarding the intense longing of love stimulated by the gods:

If one should desire to become beloved of a man or of a woman or of men or of women, at one of these same points of time, having built up a fire, he offers in exactly the same manner, oblations of melted butter, saying:

“Your speech I sacrifice in me, you so and so; Hail!”

“Your vital breath I sacrifice in me, you so and so; Hail!”

“Your eye I sacrifice in me, you so and so; Hail!”

“Your ear I sacrifice in me, you so and so; Hail!”

“Your mind I sacrifice in me, you so and so; Hail!”

“Your intelligence I sacrifice in me, you so and so; Hail!”

Then, having inhaled the smell of the smoke and rubbed his limbs over with a smearing of the melted butter, silently he should go forth and desire to approach and touch [the person] or he may simply stand and converse with him from windward.  He becomes beloved indeed.

(Kaushitaki Brahma Upanisad 2.4)


(Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex, pp. 86-95)







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