Sex and Sexuality according to the Vedas

Sex is understood as the ultimate force of creation. The primary purpose of human life is to carry forth the human race. To do so, one engages in the act of sexual intercourse with a partner to conceive a child. When put in such simple terms, the reason for its disregard and taboo nature in current times does not seem justified. However, this was not always the case. Looking into the past, when the Vedas were written and the Hindu religion was in its infancy, the act of procreation and the concept of sexuality did not face the kind of treatment it does in the modern world.

Acknowledging the Third Sex in the Vedic Age

Concepts such as homosexuality were not only mentioned in the earliest religious texts but were also provided with respect and protection. The blanket term “Third Sex” was used to refer to people that had both male and female qualities within them. Homosexuals, transgenders and intersex people were all included under this term. Even the Dharma Shastra, which was accepted and followed as the law, mentions no punishments for people born into the Third Sex. Not only were homosexual men and women protected under ancient Vedic laws they were also allowed to live out their lives freely, without any form of social pressure.

Although the act of marriage was and still is very important in Hinduism, homosexual men were neither forced nor expected to marry to conceive children and the practice was even forbidden in several scriptures. Instead, the concept of homosexuality was normalized to a great extent and the people of the Third Sex were allowed to live their lives out as they saw fit. Some homosexual couples chose to marry while others lived out there lives following the code of celibacy. 

Similarly, women belonging to the third gender were afforded all the same basic rights as other women. They too were free from the expectations of marriage. They were identified and accepted as independent women and were allowed to earn their livelihood.  The marriage that occurs between two homosexual people, male or female, was classified under the Gandharava type of marriage. This type of marriage was understood as the coming together of two people who were mutually attracted to each other and required no rituals or witnesses.

Vedic literature classified people into three sexes. This system of classification does not entirely depend on one’s physical characteristics but also takes into consideration an individual’s psychological and social status. The three sexes according to the ancient texts are the pums prakriti (male), stri prakriti (female) and the tritriya prakriti (the third sex). The scriptures classified the existence of the third sex due to the mixing of masculine and feminine natures until a point is reached when the individual can no longer be classified simply as a male or female.

The intermingling of Sex and Spirituality

Similar to the acceptance of people of all sexual orientations, the Vedas also spoke freely and in-depth about the role of Sex in society. The epic of how the river Ganges fell to Earth is a story that every person versed in the Vedas is aware of.  As the river was allowed to flow to earth, the Gods worried that the weight of the river crashing onto the planet would crush it. To prevent this, Lord Shiva caught the mighty river in his hair. As the Goddess Ganga poured into Lord Shiva’s hair, the two of them fell in love and married.  However, Lord Shiva allowed a small portion of the mighty river to flow down to earth from his hair, giving us the holy river Ganga we see today.

Beyond the simple legend of the story lies a much deeper metaphor. The union of the river and Shiva can be seen as the union of fire and fluid, the mixing and interrelation between spirituality and sexuality. The fire correlates to both the heat of existence and the divine spark of the Gods and Goddesses who are the ultimate forms of spirituality. The fluid on the other hand represents sexual fluids from the human body which mirrors the waters of the rivers. The combination of the two opposing natures gives life to life, the ultimate form of creation.

Thematic representations of sex are visible in Vedic literature as well as more physical objects. It is no mere accident that the fire pit which is central for all religious rituals is shaped like a vulva, a downward-facing triangle. The fire pit represents the womb into which offerings and sacrifices are poured to cement spirituality. Even the artwork and sculptures present in several prominent temples represent men and women, gods and goddesses engaged in explicitly sexual activities. Hinduism in its earliest days accepted and revered Sex and related activities as vital to the existence of life and attainment of spirituality.

Carvings on the walls of the famous Khajuraho remples

Sex and its Role in the Vedic society

Notwithstanding the current state of sexual education in India, Vedic literature provided an in-depth explanation about the importance and role of sex in society. Sex outside marriage was and still is considered a taboo in India. It was believed that the primary purpose of sex was to procreate; consequently sex outside marriage was seen as unnecessary and immoral.  This does not mean that the Vedas advised against sex. In fact, there are Vedic beliefs that the nature of the child depends on the way it is conceived. It was believed that children that were conceived in a state of bliss and euphoria developed into happy and healthy individuals. Conversely, children conceived in sadness or fear would grow to be unhappy people. They would be afflicted by sicknesses of the mind and body, causing them to lead unfulfilling lives.

The Vedas also warned against sexual acts performed during the menstrual cycle. It warned of the problems that the couple could face were they to engage in menstrual sex like sickness and fetal death. An analogy that can be used to explain the reasoning is that a seed sown during the rainy season is unlikely to develop proper roots and dies.

Additionally, Ayurvedic texts discuss the necessity of sexual satisfaction for health. Unhealthy people pass on their state of being onto the next generation.  Correspondingly, Ayurvedic beliefs state that for a person to be in proper health, they must lead an emotionally satisfying sexual life in addition to all the other basic requirements for proper health.

Our modern society, which is so unaccepting of queers and the concepts of sexuality, who belittle people that don’t conform to their thoughts, which has demonized sex and lacks real sex education, stands to gain a lot from studying the Vedas.

Reference 1: Sexuality and the World’s Religions

Reference 2: Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex: Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity and Intersex Conditions Through Hinduism 

Reference 3: Sexuality in the Indian subcontinent


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2 thoughts on “Sex and Sexuality according to the Vedas

  1. :

    Interesting read. However, any reading of sex in scriptures had to be founded on the y basic insights.
    One, that sex or sambhoga – supreme pleasure, however enjoyable, was an obstacle on the path to ultimate bliss.
    Two, there were parts of the Vedas which dealt with the society of a certain age. I believe those parts are perhaps just historical documents in their attitude to sex. Their preoccupation was to propitiate the gods & live well. It was the beginning of religion. The philosophies were to come later. Further, many branches of the Vedas perished with the families that held them.
    Thirdly, by 500 BC, Yaska composed a glossary on the Vedas. That’s because their language was already becoming archaic. Aja meant the unborn to some and the male goat to others.

    So we must be careful in not revising the scriptures to fit contemporary notions. I’ve never read about the third gender and what it might mean. However, I have read writings which cast their own light on the pantheon. I feel like we have to take into account the central idea of transcending the body, perhaps after enjoying it, as a basis of the dharma. In this all sex is questionable or none is…

  2. :

    Perfection in choosing the right words is what makes this article a beauty by ‘nature’.

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