Examples of same-sex relationships in other mythologies like Greek, Egyptian, etc. have been quite direct and obvious, where we have seen a relationship between two men, as in Greek mythology. However, in the context of Indian mythology, there is a slight difference. In the Indian context, it is important to understand that in the Hindu way of life, all sex led to procreation, as it was commonly believed that the ultimate aim of sex was procreation. As we have seen in numerous heterosexual unions, forced, tempted or the usual, a sexual act has always led to a child being born. Homosexuality has always been there in Indian mythology but depicted slightly differently.
Did homosexuality exist in ancient India?
Depiction of homosexual encounters has been with the help of sex change of one of the partners, and quite obviously to ensure procreation. Just as we have seen the case of Shiva and Mohini, in which the latter was Vishnu. While this might apparently be a heterosexual union, it is pertinent to note that Shiva was aware that Mohini was none other than the male Vishnu, and the Brahmanda Purana even has a reference to Parvati being ashamed of her husband’s act of pursuing Mohini.
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The story of Aruna/Aruni and Indra
A less known example is that of Aruna, the mother (or father?) of Vali and Sugriva, the well-known vanaras from the epic Ramayana.
Aruna was the charioteer of Surya, the Sun god, whose greatest rival was Indra, the king of the sky, whose thunderbolts caused clouds to release rain. The reason for this rivalry was simple; people on earth saw both the gods as important. They prayed to Indra for rains when the sun was the brightest and they prayed to Surya for dryness when Indra lashed the earth with rains.
Aruna had heard a lot about the Indra-sabha and about the beautiful apsaras, and longed to see just what happened at the sabha. Curiosity got the better of him and one day he decided to enter the sabha and see for himself. However, as a male it wouldn’t be easy, so he decided to take the form of a female and enter the sabha.
Without telling Surya, Aruna entered the court of Indra to see the secret sensual dance of the apsaras, in a female form, as Aruni. Aruni’s unfamiliar face however, intrigued Indra, who knew all his apsaras well. He approached her, and learnt about her true identity.
However, that did not deter Indra from enjoying ‘her’ company and eventually making love with Aruna, now Aruni.
As is common and possible in mythology, Aruni gave birth to a son immediately, called Vali. Aruni left the child in the care of the sage Gautama and his wife Ahalya.
Both gods had their turn
This tryst with Indra delayed Aruna and thus he was late for work. When Surya enquired about the delay, Aruna had no choice but to tell his Lord the truth. Surya was intrigued by what he heard and demanded that he too be shown the form that had so smitten Lord Indra. Aruna knew that he had no choice, so he took the form of Aruni once again.
Needless to say, Surya too found ‘her’ irresistible and instantly made love with Aruni, knowing well that the woman in front of him was none other than his charioteer, Aruna.
Once again, Aruna conceived and soon enough gave birth to a son named Sugriva, who too was left in the care of Gautama and Ahalya.
According to this version, Gautama and Ahalya already had a daughter called Anjana. Anjana is supposed to have told the sage about Indra visiting Ahalya while he was away. So Ahalya cursed her to turn into a monkey. Sage Gautama, of course, was enraged at the boys, Vali and Sugriva, for not informing about Ahalya and Indra and he cursed them too to turn into monkeys. Later, however, after Ahalya turned into a rock, Gautama felt sorry for the motherless children and decided to leave all the three monkeys with the childless monkey king of Kishkindha.
Such instances in mythologies of the world only go to prove that such acts were never seen as abnormal, and are mentioned without any bias towards any of the characters. Unfortunately, what was seen simply an act of erotic expression is now regarded as an abnormality.