Tritiya Prakriti: the hidden third gender in Hinduism

Despite the slow but sure progression towards the rights of non-binary people across the world, they are often still mistreated and vilified in India. Many Indians continue to ignore and avoid this group of people.

But how many of them know that the idea of non-binary beings has not only been acknowledged but also highly respected in ancient Hindu mythology?

Of a vast Indian population of 1.324 billion, just 5 million are classified as transgender people. Although they were granted voting rights as a third sex approximately 23 years ago, they continue to be abused and unwanted.

Commonly known as hijras, they are constantly separated from modern society and often resort to begging or prostitution. As it stands, same-sex marriages are also still banned in India.

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So with almost 80 percent of the population following the Hindu religion, many would be surprised to know that sacred Hindu texts speak extensively of a third gender that us actually highly respected and revered. The Hindu term to describe this third gender is ‘Tritiya Prakriti’ – a concept that many still don’t know anything about.

Hindus offer lotus flowers on the ‘Shree Pranav Pardeshwar Mahadev’ to mark the Hindu festival Maha Shivratri (Getty Images)

What does Tritiya Prakriti mean?

Tritiya prakriti quite literally means ‘third gender’; a being that is neither fully male nor fully female both in mind and body. Hindu mythology contains many stories of this third sex who are continually transforming their identities; believing gender to be more of a fluid concept.

London based mythologist and storyteller, Seema Anand explains, “The way the stories have come to us, we still identify with one or the other but with some of these stories, there is a constant changeover. So, there’s obviously a mid-gender. It isn’t either. It’s not one or the other. It’s quite literally ‘The Third Gender’.”

This spiritual way of exploring gender is seen mostly within the Hindu Gods who were considered a ‘third gender’ themselves due to their ethereal, intangible nature, easily transitioning and merging genders. For instance, one of the most popular Gods, Lord Krishna, assumed a beautiful female form in order to marry a demon and eventually destroy him in battle.

RELATED: Three trans women are about to become police officers in a ground-breaking move for India

Another well-known diety, Lord Shiva, was known to have merged with his female counterpart, Shakti, to assume his androgynous ‘Ardhanarisvara’ form as half male, half female to symbolise the union of the two. He is now greatly respected by the hijra community with statues of Lord Shiva in this form. In fact, hijras are also respected in Shiva temples today for this reason.

A Pakistani Hindu family pray during the Diwali Festival in Lahore (Getty Images)

Where did Tritiya Prakriti come from?

The idea of tritiya prakriti dates back to the story of creation where it was believed that Brahma (the creator god) planned to form man and woman in one body. With both sets of reproductive organs, one could be self-sufficient and procreate independently.

However, Lord Shiva explained the joy derived from a man and woman uniting so Brahma created a daughter. Unfortunately, this ‘joy’ drove Brahma crazy as he began lusting after her. He tried, in vain to revert to his original plan but having experienced the temptation of a woman, was unsuccessful.

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