Collected Information About the
Eunuchs of India Known as Hijras

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click for source of fullsized image
shrine deity or murti of the hijra goddess Bahuchara Mata (Balol Temple, Santhal, Gujarat)
photo by Harshal Purohit

Hijra means "impotent one" in Urdu. In Hindi, hijra may be spelled hijada, hijara, hijda, hijira, or hijrah, and is pronounced somewhere between "heejra" and "heejda". An older, more respectable term for hijra is kinnar. An abusive slang Hindi term for hijra is chakka.
Some hijras were made to be literal eunuchs -- some of them against their will. The process isn't ordinarily a pretty one, usually carried out without the aid of modern anesthesia or antibiotics. Most, however, are transgender of some sort and choose to foreswear their lives as men while retaining their sex organs. A few, however, are intersex and are considered to be "born eunuchs." Hijras are usually considered to constitute a third sex or third gender in that they are neither men nor women. (Not coincidentally, both hijras and two-spirits -- Native American "Indians" who are also of a third gender -- have been said to refer to themselves as "not men, not women.") Hijras don't all look at themselves the same way. Some see themselves -- or are construed by others -- as females, feminine males, transsexuals, or androgynes. There are also female hijra, called hijrin, which are not the same as sadhin.

The term mukhanni may or may not be a synonym for hijra. Another such term is ali. The relatively new (as of 2003) Aravani (aka aravanni, aravani, or aruvani), originated in Tamil Nadu, was popularized in India as a politically correct term to describe members of the third gender, yet it applies more to the devotees of Kutandavar Aravan (India's god of the ali) than those of Bahuchara Mata (the goddess of the hijras). In Urdu and Punjabi, both in Pakistan and India, the term khusra is sometimes used. The Urdu term moorat -- a contraction of mard (man) and aurat (woman) -- is often used in Pakistan. In Gujarati, they are called Pavaiyaa. Another term is jankha.
The term koti (aka kothi) refers to males who take a "receptive" or feminine role in sex. They are usually not conflated with hijras, although they often dress as women and act in a feminine manner.
The word "hijra" has another, wholly unrelated meaning in another context: in Arabic, "Hijra" (aka Hegira) means "Migration," and is used in reference to various historic travels, such as the prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE to set up the first Islamic state.
An all-around introductory explanation of hijras is stored on this very site, here. If you are reading this and have information which you feel might be helpful to this site, please send an e-mail message to <scfeldman@juno.com>.
This page is linked to the Androgyne Online website because hijras have some things in common with androgynes -- like being of a third gender, for example.

There is also the term jogappa (or joggapa).
According to the fourth footnote at the bottom of the article, "Confessions of a Tantric Androgyne," by Ganapati Sivananda Durgadas, at the now-defunct Anything That Moves site, hijra is a Persian-influenced North Indian term, while joggapa is the South Indian languages' equivalent. Durgadas says that joggapa are priestly in vocation and predominantly transvestitic, while the hijra lean towards the transsexual side and labor in various vocations. Another writer, Walter Penrose, says that the jogappa are followers of Yellamma, "a goddess of skin disease who is believed to have the power to change the sex of individuals." According to Amara Dasa, the jogappa "do not practice castration."

Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
from Neither Man Nor woman: The Hijras of India, by Serena Nanda
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Articles | return to top

People | return to top

Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Defunct Websites Relevant to Hijras [made available via the Internet Archive] | return to top

Books | return to top

A Free Downloadable 116-page Study on Hijras

Photos   –   with thanks for help from Rekha on MySpace | return to top

Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Bahuchara Mata
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Movies | return to top

Videos | return to top

Blogs | return to top

Yahoo groups mailing lists | return to top

Jogappas | return to top

Kothis, aka Kotis | return

Other | return to top

Bahuchara Mata shrine deity
at Naklank Gurudham Temple
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Bahuchara Mata, from
Mota, in Gujarat, India
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Bahuchara Mata yantra
(explanations: 1, 2, 3)
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Bahuchara Mata
shrine deity or murti
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Bahuchara Mata's
alleged avatar, Pema
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What is the difference between a hijra and an androgyne? Well, for one, most androgynes have a gender identity of neither a man nor a woman, while hijras tend to have a feminine gender identity closer to that of a transsexual than an androgyne. Is there a tendency to conflate androgynes with eunuchs? Perhaps. And yet, not all eunuchs are hijras, not all hijras are eunuchs, and not all hijras identify as transsexuals or androgynes.
Traditionally, "real" hijras have been intersex (formerly referred to as hermaphrodites), a trait they share with Native American two-spirits, who consider "real" two-spirits to be intersex. In this paradigm, intersex people are "automatically" hijras and "automatically" two-spirited because they comprise the core of both designations physically as well as psychologically. In seeming corroboration, both hijras and two-spirits often describe themselves as "not man, not woman," and this brings to mind the self-conception of androgynes, who can be said to be the psychological counterpart to intersex people. Originally, the term androgyne was synonymous with hermaphrodite, and referred specifically to physical traits, not to gender identity.
Why are hijras and two-spirits considered to have more in common with transsexuals than androgynes? That may because of current cultural markers and may reflect modern thinking more than traditional context. The very nature of third genderedness is rejected by many layers of culture; it is easier to reduce hijras and two-spirits to a man/woman binary where an androgynous gender identity is not an option. Hence hijras and two-spirits are said to be transsexual, not androgyne, because that keeps things nice and tidy, making them "men" and "women" -- which they are not.
There is a special type of androgyne or eunuch known as neutrois: someone who seeks to nullify the genderedness of their outward appearance -- sartorially if not physically. Neutrois do not consider themselves to be androgynes, however, and they may well have a point. In 1970s research into androgyny spearheaded by Sandra Bem, people who scored high in tests on scales of both masculinity and femininity were deemed to be androgynous, whereas those who scored low in tests on scales of both masculinity and femininity were described as undifferentiated. Today, undifferentiated people would also be considered to be agendered. Neutrois are undifferentiated and agendered, and are unlike hijras in that they do no present themselves as women nor play up femininity in any way.


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This page first created 6/7/01. Copyright © Stephe Feldman, 2001, 2010, 2011 & 2012. Last update: 10/10/13.