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God and gender in Hinduism

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Title: God and gender in Hinduism  
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Subject: Hinduism, Hindu law, Janmangal Namavali, Hindu, History of Hinduism
Collection: Eastern Philosophy, Gender and Hinduism, Hindu Law, Hindu Philosophical Concepts, Hinduism and Society
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God and gender in Hinduism

In Hinduism there are diverse approaches to the understanding of God and gender.

While many Hindus focus upon impersonal Absolute, Brahman which is of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as both female and male. The Shakthi tradition conceives of a female Goddess which is held as the source of the male form of God. Other schools of thought like the Samkhya, view the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakriti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakriti is seen as being "...the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy" (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakriti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).[1]

In July 2012 Gopi Shankar, a Gender activist and a student from The American College in Madurai coined the regional terms for genderqueer people in Tamil, Gopi said apart from male and female, there are more than 20 types of genders, such as transwoman, transmen, androgynous, pangender, trigender, etc., many Indian gods are gender neutral and ancient India refers it as Trithiya prakirthi. "[2][3][4]


  • Smarta and Advaita 1
  • Shiva and Vishnu 2
  • Shakti 3
  • Radha Krishna 4
  • Ardhangini: the cornerstone of relationships 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8

Smarta and Advaita

The Smarta tradition, which by and large, follows Advaita philosophy believes all forms, male and female, to be different forms of the impersonal Absolute, Brahman which is of neuter gender and can never be defined. Brahman is viewed as without personal attributes (Nirguna Brahman) or with attributes (Saguna Brahman, equated with Ishvara) as God. In Advaita Vedanta, Ishvara is simply the manifested form of Brahman upon the human mind. Thus according to Smarta views, the divine can be with attributes, Saguna Brahman, and also be viewed with whatever attributes, (e.g., a goddess) a devotee conceives.

Shiva and Vishnu

In Vaishnavism and Shaivism, which are exclusive monotheistic denominations of Hinduism,[5] and,[6] like the Judaeo-Christian traditions, God, Vishnu or Shiva is personified as male when, in fact, God transcends gender and gender is simply used for embodied human beings to worship. For example, Shaivites and Vaishnavites worship God in non-anthropomorphic images, the linga and saligram respectively. Furthermore, for example, the principle that God's true nature is sexless is emphasized in the Vishnu sahasranama, a prayer reciting the 1000 names of Vishnu. Just as Muslims focus on (God) Allah's 99 "attributes" that are stated in the Qur'an, the holy book of the Muslims, many Hindus worship Vishnu daily by chanting his names which are also attributes.

Thus, the first few names, of Vishnu sahasranama, in particular, do not describe features of Vishnu in detail and hence are not anthropomorphic in nature and instead focus on His inherent nature or characteristics such as pervading the universe and as destroyer of sin. While Vishnu is commonly portrayed with human features, Swami Tapasyananda, in his book, Bhakti Schools of Vedanta, reminds readers that Vishnu pervades everything and is not anthropomorphic. Vishnu has no particular material form but can manifest in any form, and is a center of all force, power, will, auspiciousness, goodness, beauty, grace, responsiveness, etc. As Swami Tapasyananda said, "Vishnu is the Indwelling Spirit in all beings and the whole cosmos constitute His body." As Vishnu is the all-pervading Spirit and the Supreme Personality, anthropomorphism is deemphasized in Vishnu sahasranama. Thus, like Judaism and Islam, God's inherent nature transcends gender but Vishnu has been traditionally referred to using male grammatical gender.

Additionally,the power of God in those religions is anthropomorphically viewed as female, or Shakti. However, God and his power are indivisible, unitary, and the same. The analogy is that fire represents God and the actual heat Shakti. In one example, Lord Śiva assumed a form and split into two halves of male and female indicating the origin of the Ardhanarishvara - the union of substance and energy, the Being and his Shakti (force).


Shaktism, on the other hand, is a denomination of Hinduism that worships Shakti, or Devi Mata—the Hindu name for the Great Divine Mother—in all of her forms whilst not rejecting the importance of masculine and neuter divinity (which are however deemed to be inactive in the absence of the Shakti). In pure Shaktism, the Great Goddess, or Devi, is worshiped as nothing less than the highest divinity, Supreme Brahman Itself, the "one without a second," with all other forms of Divinity, female or male, considered to be merely her diverse manifestations. In human beings, she is seen as the power of intelligence (buddhi), compassion (daya) and divine love (bhakti), among her many other functions (Sharma, 1974; Goswami 1995).

In his seminal "History of the Shakta Religion," N. N. Bhattacharyya explained that "[those] who worship the Supreme Deity exclusively as a Female Principle are called Shakta. The Shaktas conceive their Great Goddess as the personification of primordial energy and the source of all divine and cosmic evolution. She is identified with the Supreme Being, conceived as the Source and the Spring as well as the Controller of all the forces and potentialities of Nature. Nowhere in the religious history of the world do we come across such a completely female-oriented system."

Alternative interpretations of Shaktism, however—primarily those of Shaivite scholars, such as Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami—argue that the feminine manifest is ultimately only the vehicle through which the masculine Un-manifest Parasiva is ultimately reached. In this interpretation, the Divine Mother becomes something of a mediatrix, who bestows advaitic moksha on those who worship Her. Thus, these Shaivite views often conclude that Shaktism is effectively a sub-denomination of Saivism, arguing that Devi is worshipped in order to attain union with Siva, who in Shaktism is the impersonal unmanifest Absolute. This remains a minority view in Shaktism proper, which considers Siva as an equal and inseparable aspect of Devi.

Radha Krishna

The common separation of Sakti and saktiman, i.e. Female and Male principle in god arrives at the conclusion Sakti and saktiman are the same.[7] Each and every god has its partner, 'betterhalf' or Sakti and without this Sakti he is sometimes viewed being without essential power.[8] It is not uncommon feature of Hinduism when worship of a pair rather than one personality constitutes worship of God, such is worship of Radha Krishna in traditions worshiping Krishna, as svayam bhagavan, who is male, include preference and veneration to his Radha, who is worshiped as supreme.[9] Its an accepted view that union of Radha and Krishna may indicate the union of Sakti with the Saktiman, and this view is existing well outside of orthodox Vaishnavism or Krishnaism.[10]

From the Vaishnava point of view the divine feminine energy (shakti) implies a divine source of energy, i.e. God as shaktiman. "Sita relates to Rama; Lakshmi belongs to Narayana; Radha has Her Krishna." As Krishna is believed to be the source of all manifestations of God, "Shri Radha, His consort, is the original source of all shaktis" or feminine manifestation of divine energy.[11]

A number of interpretations according to traditions possess a common root of personalism in the understanding of worship. Specifically Caitanyaite Gaudiya Vaishnava doctrine and mission is fiercely "personalistic," proclaiming the supremacy of Krishna, the identification of Caitanya as Radha-Krishna, the reality and eternality of individual selves, and a method for approaching the absolute reality and the Deity as a person first and foremost.[12]

Jiva Goswami in his Priti Sandarbha states that each of the Gopis exhibits a different level of intensity of passion, among which Radha's is the greatest. [13]

In his famous dialogs Ramananda Raya describes Radha to Caitanya and quotes, among other texts, a verse from Chaitanya Charitamrta2.8.100, before he goes on to describe her role in the pastimes of Vrindavana.[14]

One of the prominent features of Manipuri Vaishnavism for example is worship of the forms together, in this tradition, among others, devotees do not worship Krishna alone, but Radha-Krishna.[15] Rasa and other dances are a feature of the regional folk and religious tradition and often, for example, a female dancer will portray both 'male' Krishna and his consort, Radha, in the same piece.[16]

Ardhangini: the cornerstone of relationships

The concept of Ardhangini, of woman being an equal part of man and vice versa, and without either, both are incomplete.[17] This concept has extensively proliferated in Hindu society, especially the rituals of Hindu weddings.

This relationship is theologically symbolized by the marriage of Shiva and Uma, whose relationship and symbiotic love is a cornerstone of two major Hindu ideologies, Shaivism and Shaktism. Their eternal love-making describes the unity of their form and function. Shiva and Uma are interlinked and inseparable. Uma is the core of the Goddesses Durga and Kali, who are the female forms of Shiva, the Lord Destroyer.

See also


  1. ^ The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women
  2. ^ V Mayilvaganan (July 30, 2012). Gender pride march takes Madurai by storm.
  3. ^ "Madurai student pens book on gender variants". The Times of India. 2013-06-04. Retrieved 2013-06-16. 
  4. ^ "Cities / Madurai : Madurai comes out of the closet". The Hindu. 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2012-10-10. 
  5. ^ Dvaita Documentation: Vaishnava FAQ
  6. ^ Shaivam - An Introduction
  7. ^ Surendranath Dasgupta,A History of Indian Philosophy (1991) p. 31
  8. ^ Santilata Dei, Del Santilata, Vaisnavism in Orissa (1988) p. 167
  9. ^ Beck, Guy L. (2005). Alternative Krishnas: regional and vernacular variations on a Hindu deity. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press. pp. p. 68.  
  10. ^ Kakoli Basak, (1991) Rabindranath Tagore, a Humanist - p. 11
  11. ^ Rosen 2002, p. 54
  12. ^ Valpey 2006, p. 110
  13. ^ Schweig 2005, p. 125
  14. ^ Schweig 2005, p. 126
  15. ^ Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature - p. 4290, Amaresh Datta, Mohan Lal,1994
  16. ^ Schwartz 2004, p. 35
  17. ^ Bhatnagar, M.K. (1999). Feminist English Literature. Atlantic Publishers & Dist. p. 49.  


  • Schwartz, Susan (2004). Rasa: performing the divine in India. New York: Columbia University Press.  
  • Rosen, Steven (2002). The hidden glory of India.  
  • Valpey, Kenneth Russell (2006). Attending Kṛṣṇa's image: Caitanya Vaiṣṇava mūrti-sevā as devotional truth. New York: Routledge.  
  • Schweig, G.M. (2005). Dance of divine love: The Rasa Lila of Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana, India's classic sacred love story. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ; Oxford.  
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