The notion of gender as a spectrum may feel to some a modern revelation, but Hindu literature and mythology for centuries has taught of the figures who defied the binary. And while the reproductive connection between man and woman has always been revered in the faith, Hinduism, unlike most Western faiths, historically treats homosexuality as a natural behavior, one documented in folk tale and religious text alike. Behold, this incomplete list of Hindu deities and divine descendants who defied gender and sexual norms back in the day.
1. Shiva and Parvati
The supreme god of Shaivism, Shiva has often been held as the ultimate embodiment of masculinity, but as far back as the Kushan era, there have also been depictions of Shiva in the Ardhanarishvara form, an androgynous composite of Shiva and his wife, Parvoti. The form originated when Parvoti, desiring to share Shiva’s experiences, asked for their forms to literally be joined. “What is being said is that if the inner masculine and feminine meet, you are in a perpetual state of ecstasy,” explains Hindu scholar Sadhguru. Most often, the Ardhanarishvara is depicted with the female form of Parvoti on the left and the masculine attributes of Shiva on the right.