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Religion Library: Hinduism

Gender and Sexuality

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

Durga, standing on her lion, stabs MahishasuraIt would be wrong to think that the social realm perfectly mirrors the divine realm. It does not. However, the various personas and characters of the goddesses seem to at least acknowledge the complex roles that women may adopt in the world.

Four Arthas (purposes)
Kama (sexual love)
Wealth or power

Physical love is a necessary part of life; kama, sexual love, is one of the four "purposes" (or arthas)—along with wealth or power, righteousness, and salvation—in Hinduism. However, this physical love must fall within the confines of dharma. Indeed, sexual activity is typically viewed as dharmic only when it falls within the confines of marriage.

Ashrama (station in life)Duties
StudentLearn duties of his caste
HouseholderRaise a family
Forest dwellerStudy sacred texts

For instance the first stage in the Ashrama system is the Brahmacarin, the celibate student stage. It is only when one becomes married that one should engage in sexuality. Significantly, when one enters the Sannyasin stage, the renouncer stage, one also renounces sexual activity, because it is sexual desire, among other things, that leads to attachments, and attachments produce karma. There are, however, notable exceptions to this dharmic view of sexuality.

Krishna and RadhaIn the many stories and myths associated with the god Krishna and his human (or semi-divine) lover, Radha, the norms of sexual behavior are abandoned. Krishna sexually cavorts with the married Radha, who is unable to resist Krishna. Here, sexuality is a metaphor for devotion, for bhakti; Radha is so utterly devoted to Krishna (and he to her) that she becomes free of the norms of sexual behavior. Here love of and devotion to Krishna transcend human rules.


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