In the Hindu community of India the term 'hijra' is used to refer to a certain sub-culture of transvestites, eunuchs and hermaphrodites. This sub-culture may however also be taken as a sub-religion or as a sect because life in this community is interlarded with religious elements, like the revering of the goddess Bahuchara en the maintaining of a guru-chela relationship with those that enter.1, 2

Within this guru-chela relation ritual initiations take place that make the aspirant into a true hijra, and the removal of the male genitals is therewith put central.3 Men who only wear women's clothing, transvestites, are thus by initiated hijras not considered as true hijras. It are only the ritually initiated eunuchs that are considered as true hijras.

About this emasculation the myth exists that therethrough hijras develop special powers, and for this reason hijras in traditional Hinduism are both feared and welcomed.4

This welcoming especially takes place during a marriage or a birth (of a son). During such occasions several hijras stop by. They thereby give a theatrical performance with comedy and sexual allusions after which they take a reward and bless the couple or child.5

Before the child is blessed the hijra examines the genitals of the child, and it is believed that if the child would be hermaphrodite it belongs to the hijras.6

That a hermaphrodite child would belong to the hijras is an interesting tradition. Hermaphroditism, the having of both male and female genital characteristics, occurs in rare cases,7 and it seems that this phenomenon is in Hinduist culture given a place with hijraism. This then would make hermaphroditism stand at the root of hijraism.

That dealing with hermaphroditism would stand at the root of hijraism within the Hinduist culture becomes further plausible when it is taken in consideration that marriage and the production of offspring is in that culture seen as very important. A hermaphrodite is not easily fertile and within traditional Hinduism then also difficultly marriable. It is plausible that such children were given a different place in society and that therefrom a hijra sub-culture arose.

That in the Hindu scripture the Manusmriti, which is dated in the time period of the first century B.C., already hermaphroditism is mentioned makes this also further plausible.8, 9

This creating of an own place in society for hermaphrodites then would also have given room to men with a non-masculine identification or a non-heterosexual orientation to find a place within the traditional Hindu culture. Thus we see around a kernel of rare hermaphroditism a ring of eunuchs rise, which by majority of numbers has been able to determine and guard the religious and cultural direction and which in its turn is surrounded by transvestites of different plumage because of which at the periphery of hijraism also practises of homosexual prostitution have been able to rise.10

This (general) subdivision is analogue to the (also general) subdivision that is given of homosexuality in the ageless wisdom of the Trans-Himalaya-lodge. For this is subdivided in rare but natural hermaphroditism, homosexuality as result of former incarnations and homosexuality as result of imitation.11

We then get a general overview as below in figure 1.

Hijraism Ageless wisdom
Hermaphrodites Natural hermaphroditism
Eunuchs Homosexuality by pre-incarnations
Transvestites Homosexuality by imitation

Figure 1.

The above comparison allows us also to extend the causes that are mentioned within the ageless wisdom to hijraism. Hermaphroditism is as rare but natural phenomenon the most authentic (because of which it can also stand at the root of hijraism). The choice for eunuchship is not so much natural and is less authentic but does possibly have a deep rooted cause in the experiences of former incarnations. Transvestism to conclude is then of these three the least authentic and finds its superficial cause in imitation of the previous two categories.

In this way then it is made plausible that rare but natural hermaphroditism stands at the root of the (now degenerated) phenomenon of hijraism.

  • Alice A. Bailey, Esoteric Healing, A Treatise on the Seven Rays, Volume IV, in: Twenty-Four Books of Esoteric Philosophy, (CD-ROM), Lucis Trust, London / New York, 2001.
  • F. Max Müller (editor), G. Bühler (translator), The Sacred Books of the East, Volume XXV, The Laws of Manu, With Extracts from Seven Commentaries, The Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1886.
  • Serena Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman, The Hijras of India, Wadsworth Publishing Company, New York, 1999.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, Ultimate Reference Suite, Version 2015, (software), Encyclopædia Britannica, 2015.