The life and times of Indian eunuchs make for an interesting but pitiable reading.
How would you react if a eunuch approached you, arms stretched and asking for money? I guess you would be terrified and if you were in a car, you would roll up your windows and turn your face away.
In my case, I just fold up my hands as in saying,’Namaste’ which means I am not interested. This is my way of telling him or her respectfully, that he/ she better move on.
This article is about the life and times of Indian eunuchs and their history. I hope you will like it.
Life and times of Indian eunuchs
Eunuchs have always been a part of India. And they are still very much an important part of our society. But that importance is limited to just a few occasions and me, as an Indian am embarrassed to admit our selfishness on such occasions.
In the earlier days, these eunuchs or transgenders were kind of power centers. During the Mughal times, these people worked as the guardians of the harem. The Mughal Emperors employed these eunuchs, not because of their honesty but only because these unfortunate people did not have any sexual powers.
A harem was a palace for the lady members of the Mughal Emperor.
Some Emperors used to keep more than 1000 women in their harems and this was a source of worry for the kings.
What if some woman in his harem started having liaisons with outsiders? That would create a problem for the Emperor. Love affairs with outsiders carried the possibility of rebellions, you see.
Over a period, some eunuchs became important members of the Mughal court. European travelers tell us that the other nobles and high ranking officers of the court used to bribe these important transgenders to get important posts.
The chief eunuch in the Mughal harem was also the main pointsman of the Emperor. He was called Chief Nadir and his main duty was to keep his mater updated of all the affairs of the harem. Not surprisingly, many women used to keep the Nadir happy by plying him with gifts.
If he had some virility left then the harem women offered their bodies to him also.
Who can forget the love affair of a Mughal Queen with Javed Khan, the Chief Eunuch of Mohammad Shah Rangeela? It is said that this lady was so much enamored of her lover that she built a mosque for him right outside the main gate of Delhi Red Fort.
Such was the life and times of Indian eunuchs.
But the eunuchs did not serve their masters as just the protectors of the harem. Some of them became military generals like Malik Kafur.
Malik Kafur and Koh-i-Noor
One of the most important eunuchs during the Sultanate rule in India was Malik Kafur.
He was a born Hindu but was later forcibly converted to Islam during Alauddin Khilji’s campaign of Khambat in Gujarat. Perhaps Kafur was already a eunuch before his capture. His original employer must have castrated Kafur at the time of his purchase.
Khilji found Kafur to be a very useful soldier. The latter also became his boss’ lover and chamberlain.
Impressed by the soldierly qualities of Malik Kafur, Khilji sent him on several military expeditions. Some records say that it was during Kafur’s Warangal expedition that he got the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond. You may probably like to read this website link on Koh-i-Noor.
A terrible life
A very large number of slaves was castrated to make them eunuchs during the Islamic rule in India and the Western world. It was an unspoken rule to castrate male prisoners after their capture. All young boys, who were captured, were invariably castrated by their captors to serve various purposes.
Most of the young castrated ‘fresh eunuchs’ were kept as slaves and keepers of the imperial harem. Others were sold off to slave traders who in turn made a profit by selling off their booty to their international trade partners.
But were these young slaves happy in their new surroundings? And how did they cope with their new surroundings?
My guess is that the really young ones, those who were pre-teens, were definitely not very happy with being enslaved. These young children definitely missed their childhood and the warm company of their parents. Gone were the days of innocence, laughter, and merriment. Once castrated, these young boys were reduced to being lovers of their new masters and keepers of the harem. No wonder so many of these eunuchs grew up to be cruel, and unloving human beings.
Since these unfortunate souls could not love, marry, and have children, they reconciled themselves to their cruel fate. These ‘Khojas’ or ‘nadirs’ knew that without the patronage of their master-in this case the Sultan- they did not have any future. The families of these eunuchs had forsaken them and there was no way that these castrated young boys could come back to their families. Now, these young boys, who were devoid of their manhood, were 100 percent dependent upon their masters.
So, that was the state of these eunuchs in Muslim India- impotent yet powerful enough to deprive any high ranking noble of his prestige and wealth. But today, these very same people lead a marginal existence and are dependent upon begging and prostitution.
But do you know that several thousand years back, a Pandava had to become a eunuch because of a curse?
What’s the story?
We all know that after losing the game of dice, the Pandavas had to leave Hastinapura and spend 13 years in exile.
One day, during this period, Arjuna was taken to Devlok by Lord Indra. We all know that Arjuna Indra was the spiritual father of this Pandava.
While at Devlok, Arjuna one day saw Urvashi dance in the court of his father, Indra. She was a very beautiful lady and was the chief dancer in the court. Indra liked her a lot and for many, Urvashi was another ‘wife’ of Indra.
While dancing, Urvashi also looked at Arjuna and was immediately smitten by love.
‘Who is that handsome man,’ wondered Urvashi after seeing Arjuna.
After her performance, Urvashi approached Arjuna for a ‘date’. She thought that the Pandava would accept her advances but Arjuna was made of a different stuff. ‘O Mother, I consider you as the wife of my father Lord Indra, so please leave me alone,’ he said.
Urvashi was enraged at being rejected by Arjuna. How could the most beautiful woman in Indra’s court be rejected by a mere mortal, she wondered!
Unable to control her emotions and anger, Urvashi cursed Arjuna to spend a year as a eunuch as he did not have the ‘manhood’ to handle her. And that is why Arjuna became a neutered person for one full year
Hijras or Kinnars
Hindu eunuchs, also known as Kinnars, are still considered as special human beings on certain occasions.
These people are invited to households upon the birth of a child and are requested to bless the newborn. Kinnars are also invited to marriages and give their good wishes to the newlyweds. However, many hijras or Kinnars misuse their special status and often come announced and torment families.
But you know what, I feel miserable by looking at the lives of these unfortunate souls. These third-gendered ones also crave for a normal life,. They also want to marry and get settled and have children. And that is why these beautiful human beings follow a unique custom once in a year.
What happens is this; Once a year, the Kinnars of a South India village marry themselves to the moorti of Iravan, one of the sons of Arjuna. The name of the village is Koovaganam.
On this day, the Kinnars see themselves as Mohini, an avatar of Lord Vishnu.This marriage has all the elements of a traditional wedding- music, rituals, circumambulation etc.
Next day, the priests make these married Kinnars widows by cutting down the mangalsutra or the wedding necklace. So for one night, these beautiful souls make their desires come alive.You can read more about this amazing ceremony here.
But how did these Kinnars or eunuchs arrive on earth? Read on…
Lord Jamdagni and his wife Renuka lived a happy life. The sage was always immersed in meditation while Renuka kept an eye on the upkeep of their ashram. She was always on the move, trying to get their daily needs in time so that the sage stuck to his schedule. The couple had five children.
One day, Renuka was late in coming to the ashram. Her husband thought that Renuka was meeting someone on the sly and that is why she was late. Of course, she denied his charge and this made the sage even angrier. He ordered his sons one by one to behead their mother. Everybody except Prashuram refused.
But when Parashuram threw down his ax on his mother’s neck, Renuka developed not one, not two but several hundred heads, and each one of them flew to different parts of the country.
The other four sons of Jamdagni were cursed by their father to become eunuchs and today’s Kinnars owe their ancestry to Parashuram’s brothers. These Kinnars call Renuka as Yellamma Devi.
Over the past several centuries, our Hindu society has accepted Kinnars as legislators and spiritual leaders.
So, folks, this is a short history of the life and times of Indian eunuchs of India. I hope you enjoyed it.
Next time when you see an unfortunate eunuch on the road, please do not insult him/her. They are also the creations of our Almighty.