In his 2014 book Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You, mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik examined the queer behaviour of characters in Hindu mythology. In a recent talk at IIT Bombay’s Queer Lit Live, Pattnaik expanded on the ideas mentioned in the book and spoke about gender fluidity in Hindu Mythology.

One of the ideas the noted author mentions is that while the idea of queerness is recent in the West, it has always been present in Indian mythology. Apart from examples of characters like Shikhandi who was born a girl but became a man to satisfy his wife, he also mentions words like “napunsaka” – not quite a man – and the story of Shiva dressing up as a woman to visit Krishna and the gopis, which point to a more fluid connotation of gender in mythology.

Pattanaik also spoke of the difficulty of creating an accurate portrayal of the past. Perhaps there was not just a portrayal of homosexuality but also an acceptance of homosexuality in India’s past? “Understanding the past has to be done very carefully. There are many people who believe that ancient Indian had aeroplanes but no homosexuality,” he said to laughter from the audience. “Now how will you explain it to them?”