This pride month, we’re focusing on the sexual oddities of an unusual pair, burdened with their share of inescapable curses – Budh, a neither man nor woman and Ila, who was both.
Tara (Star), tired of the prosaic ways of her husband Brihaspati, the preceptor of the Gods, fell for the sentimental charms of Chandra (Moon). Quite naturally, her husband wasn’t too delighted with the affair, as the evidence showed in her belly. He cursed the unborn child, Budh (Mercury), to have no gender at all.
While there are many versions debating the origin of Ila, but one states that she was the daughter of Manu, the first man on earth. Whether of her own discontent or her father’s, she performs strict penance to turn into a man. Lord Shiv grants her request and turns her into a man called Sudyumna. But as fate would have it, one day Sudyumna accidentally rides into Goddess Parvati’s private grove, in which any entering male creature is transformed into a female. Again, Lord Shiv came to Ila’s aid, but there was a catch: Ila would have to alternate between her female and male forms, each having no memory of the other.
Now, a nature typical to any Indian mother, Tara was naturally concerned about the marital prospects of her genderless child. Again, there is debate on how the story progresses from now – whether Budh finds Ila as a woman and any misunderstanding that would be born out of the fluidity of Ila’s sex. But as per the general consensus, Budh and Ila eventually get married, begetting Pururavas, the first of the Chandravamsis and the rest is history (or mythology).
While the veracity of mythology is a hotly contested topic, it undoubtedly serves as a mirror of the contemporary times. Budh and Ila’s story, perhaps owing to the significance of their progeny, finds itself in a limelight that a vast majority of trans literature could never hope to find. Even in its telling, the story, like many of its breed, shyly touches upon hermaphroditism through magical euphemisms. Stories like the birth of Dhristadyumna & Draupadi (through the celibate sages Yuja and Upayaja) and of Bhagiratha (through romantic intercourse between two queens) see their homoerotic undertones underplayed via a heteronormative lens.
Perhaps, it is time to unravel the implications of these stories beyond their magical realism, to finally give the LGBTQ voices that have remained unheard.