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Adrita Chakraborty
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The essence of Hindu mythology is that every individual is an embodied eternal atman (spirit or soul). Being distinct from the body — including its extended attributes like race, gender, and sexual orientation — every atman originates from the same Divine source and is therefore part of the same spiritual family, deserving the dignity of love, respect, and equal treatment. The Mahabharata states the example of Amba, a princess, who then turned into the transgendered Shikhandi.
The story of Amba started when Bhishma was searching for a suitable wife for his younger brother and the king Vichitravirya. Bhishma went to the swayamvar of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika and won over their hand for marriage as it was normal for a king to have more than one wife. Amba felt differently, however. Approaching Bhishma, she explained how she and Shalva had already given their hearts to each other, and that the swayamvara was actually pre-arranged for his victory.
After careful consideration, Bhishma arranged for Amba to be escorted to Shalva’s kingdom so she could marry him instead.
When Amba arrived at Shalva’s palace, however, she did not get the reception she had anticipated. Shalva wanted nothing to do with her. He felt humiliated by Bhishma, and as a proud warrior, refused to accept “charity” from him. Though she begged and pleaded with him, he wouldn’t budge. Heartbroken, Amba eventually gave up and returned to Hastinapura, where she explained to Bhishma what had happened with Shalva, and that she now had no other choice but to marry Vichitravirya. Bhishma, however — to Amba’s shock — said the option of wedding Vichitravirya was no longer possible because she had already given her heart to another.
Quickly realizing she was running out of options, she then suggested Bhishma marry her. After all, it was he who caused Amba to be in this predicament by taking her. But Bhishma insisted that he could not and would not break his vow of celibacy. Essentially deemed unmarriable, Amba was advised to return to her family.

Honest, sincere, and having acted only out of love, Amba had done nothing wrong, yet was cast aside as damaged goods. Reflecting on all that had happened, she was incensed at both men, but concluded that Bhishma was the ultimate cause of her ruined future. If he had never taken her, she would be a happily married queen.
So instead of returning to her family home, she entered the forest and began performing severe austerities to attain the power she needed for revenge. Eventually gaining the favor of the god Shiva, she asked him to give her the ability to kill Bhishma. Granting Amba her wish, Shiva told her that in her next life she would indeed play a part in Bhishma’s death. Determined to fulfill her goal as soon as possible, Amba immediately killed herself. There are multiple versions of the next part of the story. In some accounts, Amba is born as a daughter to the king Drupada. Told by Shiva that she would eventually be transformed into a man, Drupada names her Shikhandi and raises her as a boy. In this version, a powerful being living in the forest does, in fact, transform her into a man. In other accounts, Shikhandi is born a male, but grows up transgender because Shiva gave her the ability to remember her past life.
Either way, as Shiva promised, Shikhandi does get the opportunity to be the cause of Bhishma’s death towards the end of the Mahabharata during the war of Kurukshetra, and the issue of his gender plays a significant role.
So during the Kurukshetra war, Bhishma wanted the Pandavas to win but he knew that he could not be defeated. When the pandavas asked him hoe to defeat him, Bhishma said that he would never fight a woman. Knowing of the revenge of Shikhandi, Pandavas entered the war next day lead by Shikhandi closely follwed by Arjun. Refusing to engage Shikhandi in battle, Bhishma became vulnerable, which allowed Arjuna to take him down with a volley of arrows.
With Bhishma — the commander of the Kuru army — defeated, the Pandavas went on to win the war. And Shikhandi, whose gender was never an issue societally speaking, became remembered as a significant character who played a major part in overcoming the Kauravas. Today, many discriminate against people like Shikhandi, including Hindus.

But true Hinduism means promoting love and respect based on equality of the soul, regardless of a person’s gender, race, or sexual orientation. Hinduism thus has a history that is inclusive of all types of people and the pivotal roles they have played in India’s most beloved sacred stories.