Arjuna as Brihannala

Singkat cerita pada saat Kerajaan Matsya akan diserang oleh para Kurawa, maka Brihannala yang tiada lain adalah Arjuna yang sedang dalam masa pengasingan menghadapi seorang diri. Dengan didampingi oleh sais kereta yang tiada lain adalah Pangeran Utara Brihannalapun maju ke medan peperangan tanpa mengenakan baju perang. Hanya busana sebagai abdi kerajaan saja yang dia kenakan dan tentunya mudah tertembus oleh anak panah.

Satu persatu Ksatria Kurawa dihadapinya dengan gagah berani, Kakeknya Bisma, Gurunya Dorna, Lalu Guru Kripa, Raja Anga Karna, Pangeran Doryodana, Dursasana dan Aswatama. Seluruh senjata musuh dapat dihentikan dan dipatahkan. Dua kekuatan beradu antara Brihannala dan Ksatria Kurawa. Namun Brihannala sangat mengkawatirkan nasib sais kereta yang tiada lain Pangeran Utara, maka Brihannala mengeluarkan panah biusnya. Satu persatu Ksatria Kurawa terbius dan pingsan.

- Wikipedia -

Brihannala, in the Hindu epic Mahābhārata, was the name assumed by Arjuna, who was in disguise as a Transgendered (on account of a curse by Urvasi). She (he) taught arts to Uttarā, the princess of the kingdom of Virata. She (he) also won the war against the Kauravas for Uttara Kumara, when they attacked the kingdom suspecting the presence of the Pandavas.

The five Pandava brothers were exiled from their rightful kingdom for twelve years. A further year had to be spent incognito without detection. Of all the disguises that the five Pandavas assumed during that last year, none can be considered more curious or surprising than that of Arjuna’s. His was not actually a disguise, but rather a transformation due to a curse. Earlier on, while visiting his father Indra in heaven, Arjuna had refused the amorous advances of the nymph Urvasi. Angered by this, she cursed him to become a “kliba,” a member of the third sex. These men sometimes dressed and behaved as females in Vedic India and had no sexual attraction for women. The fact that they are mentioned in the Mahābhārata and other Vedic texts indicates that such persons were present within that society many thousands of years ago.

Arjuna was despondent over the impending curse, but Krishna assured him that this so-called curse would actually become a useful benediction. It would serve as the perfect disguise for Arjuna during his last year of exile! When the time approached, the Pandavas decided that they would spend this last year in the capital city ruled by Maharaja Virata. Yudhisthira, the eldest of the brothers, praised the king as a good man, well known for his noble and generous qualities. The brothers then entered the city separately, after adopting their respective disguises, and each presented his own petition before the king requesting shelter and employment under his dominion.

Arjuna was the third brother to enter the king’s palace. Dressing up like a woman, he was transformed by Urvasi’s power into a person of the third sex. This third classification of gender, known as “tritiya-prakriti” in the Sanskrit language, is described as being a combination of both the male and female natures, yet at the same time neither one. Arjuna presented himself donned in a woman’s blouse and draped in red silk. He wore numerous ivory bangles, golden earrings and necklaces made of coral and pearls. His hair was long and braided, and he entered the royal palace with the gait of a broad-hipped woman. At the same time his body still remained incredibly stout and muscular. According to the Mahābhārata, his feminine attire hid his masculine glory but at the same time it did not. He appeared just like the full moon when eclipsed by the planet Ketu.
The Third Sex

The portrayal of Arjuna’s dress and behavior is very interesting because it clearly reveals his “cross-gender” status. While most English translations of the Mahābhārata simply use the archaic and evasive term “eunuch” to describe Arjuna, this definition is clearly inaccurate for several reasons. First of all, Arjuna’s cross-gender behavior reveals something much different from that of a mere castrated man or eunuch. The castration of ordinary heterosexual men, it should be noted, does not cause them to adopt the psychological nature, dress and behavior of women. Secondly, castration is not found to be an accepted practice of ancient India, and mutilation of the body was considered by Vedic texts to be in the mode of darkness. Its current illegal practice in Northern India among the modern-day hijra or eunuch class is attributed to former centuries of Muslim rule that once encouraged it. Islamic overlords commonly castrated homosexual servants and slaves during the 11th-17th centuries AD, but this system of castration is never mentioned in Vedic texts. In South India, largely spared from Muslim influence, there is a cross-gender class similar to the hijra known as the “jogappa,” but they do not practice castration. In his book “Homosexuality and Hinduism” Arvind Sharma writes, “…the limited practice of castration in India raises another point significant for the rest of the discussion, namely, whether rendering a word such as “kliba” as eunuch regularly is correct…”

The Sanskrit word “kliba” is used throughout Vedic texts to describe many different types of people who belonged to a “gender-ambiguous” and neutral third sex. These people were not considered to be ordinary males and females, and they did not experience attraction for the opposite sex or engage in sexual reproduction. They were taken to be a combination of both the male and female natures, yet at the same time neither one. We are familiar with this third sex today as gay men, lesbians, transgenders, the intersexed, and other types of persons who do not neatly fit into traditional male and female roles. In Vedic times, the third sex category served as an important tool for the recognition and peaceful accommodation of such persons within society.

Arjuna as Brihannala

While it is debatable as to exactly which type of “kliba” Arjuna actually became, his nature and behavior is clearly portrayed as a transgender male. Such men identify as female by nature and live their lives as women. Introducing himself as Brihannala, a professional dancer and musician trained by “gandharvas” or celestial beings, Arjuna explained that he was expert in singing, hair decoration and “all the fine arts that a woman should know.” After exhibiting his skills before the court, he was tested by beautiful young women to ensure that he was actually third-sexed and thus free from any lust for females. This is another important clue to note. Had Arjuna been merely a eunuch or neuter, the men of the palace could easily have examined him themselves for testicles or hermaphroditism (intersexuality). Instead, they made certain that beautiful women would not be able to arouse him.

Maharaja Virata was surprised yet pleased with his manner of speaking, and he agreed that Arjuna should live among the palace women and instruct them in singing and dancing. Brihannala (Arjuna) soon became a great favorite within their chambers. The king instructed his daughter Uttara, “Brihannala seems to be a high-born person. She does not seem to be an ordinary dancer. Treat her with the respect due to a queen. Take her to your apartments.” It is important to note that Maharaja Virata addressed Brihannala as a female, accepting her transgender status, and that he was familiar with people of the third sex within his Vedic kingdom. He did not ridicule or belittle her, and he most certainly did not have her sent away or arrested. He also did not suggest that Brihannala change her dress and behave as an ordinary male. Rather, he accepted her nature as it was and offered her shelter and employment within his royal palace.

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