First Published in Debonair, Annual issue, The answer in many respects depends on what we mean by homosexuality. Do Sexuality in ancient hinduism limit ourselves only to sexual acts between members of the same sex and leave out romantic affection?
Do we distinguish between those men who occasionally have sex with other men but otherwise live heterosexual lives, and those for whom sexual preference forms the core of their identity?
Do we consider same-sex intercourse that occurs in the course of a subterfuge, or as a result of frustration or desperation? And do we include liaisons involving those who consider themselves neither male nor female for example, hijras? Besides, the meaning has changed over time. As has the meaning of heterosexuality. The term homosexuality — that is so casually used today and is almost an everyday vocabulary — came into being only in the late 19th century Europe when discussions on the varied expressions of sex and sexuality became acceptable in academic circles.
Though they exerted a powerful influence on subsequent attitudes, they were neither universal nor timeless. With typical colonial condescension, European definitions, laws, theories and attitudes totally disregarded how similar sexual activity was perceived in other cultures.
There never has been across geography or history a standard expression of, or a common attitude towards sexual acts between members of the same sex. Love of a man for a boy was institutionalised in ancient Greece, amongst Samurais in Japan, in certain African as well as Polynesian tribes. These cultures offer no synonym for same-sex intercourse.
It was perhaps a practice that did not merit definition, categorization or even condemnation. So long as it did not threaten the dominant heterosexual social construct. To find out if homosexuality or same-sex intercourse existed in India, and in what form, we have to turn to three Construction of Hindu temples in stone began around the sixth century of the Common Era.
Construction reached climax between the twelfth and the fourteenth century when the grand pagodas of eastern and southern India such as Puri and Tanjore came into being.
On the walls and Sexuality in ancient hinduism of these magnificent structures we find a variety of images: Amongst scenes from epics and legends, one invariably finds erotic images including those that modern law deems unnatural and society considers obscene.
Curiously enough, similar images also embellish prayer halls and cave temples of monastic orders such as Buddhism and Jainism built around the same time. The range of erotic sculptures is wide: Occasionally one finds images depicting bestiality coupled with friezes of animals in intercourse.
All rules are broken: And once in a while, hidden in niches as in Khajuraho, one does find images of either women erotically embracing other women or men displaying their genitals to each other, the former being more common suggesting a tilt in favour of the male voyeur.
These images cannot be simply dismissed as perverted fantasies of an artist or his patron considering the profound ritual importance given to these shrines. "Sexuality in ancient hinduism" have been many explanations offered for these images — ranging from the apologetic to the ridiculous.
Some scholars hold a rather puritanical view that devotees are being exhorted to leave these sexual thoughts aside before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Others believe that hidden in these images is a sacred Tantric geometry; the aspirant can either be deluded by the sexuality of the images or enlightened by deciphering the geometrical patterns therein. One school of thought considers these images to representations of either occult rites or fertility ceremonies.