In nature, all plants have sex. Trees burst into flowers, sway with the wind, attract bees with nectar, all so that their pollen can spread. Flowers transform into fruits for animals and birds who can shed the seed far away from their shade and germinate into the next generation.
In nature, all animals have sex. The cow has sex. The elephant has sex. The horse, lion and walrus have sex.
Illustration / Devdutt Patnaik
Animals fight for mating rights. Birds indulge in complex mating rituals. Selection is highly competitive. They can be monogamous or polygamous. In some species, the female takes charge of the children. In others, it is the male.
Animals also indulge in what lawyers and judges call ‘unnatural’ sex (revealing their poor knowledge of zoology). The male has sex with the male. The female has sex with the female. There are species where animals can become, or at least behave, or simply appear, as male or female, as situation demands. As of 1999, nearly 1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, have been observed engaging in same-sex behaviours; this is well documented in about 500 species.
But no animal and plant is known to be celibate. The a-jiva (inanimate objects) and the nir-jiva (dead creatures) do not have sex because they cannot have sex. The sa-jiva (animate creatures) must have sex if they want their species to survive. And they must have a lot of sex for they have to ensure there are enough numbers of offspring to make up for losses to predators who hunt and eat their young for their own survival.
But the need for offspring does not explain homosexual sex amongst animals. As does the existence of orgasm! Why does orgasm exist in many animal species, the dolphins for example? What is the evolutionary benefit it offers?
Pleasure? Does nature yearn for pleasure? Is that why Kama, the god of desire, of kisses, of love and lust, is described in the Atharva Veda as the one who existed before all? He has nothing to do with fertility. He is all about irresponsible fun casual sex, with the risk of rejection and heartbreak.
Shiva sets him aflame. Smears his body with his ash. The Goddess is appalled. She-who-embodies-nature transforms into Kamakhya, and ensures the hermit is initiated in the art of lovemaking. Nandi, who overhears the sounds of joy, writes the Kama-shastra, the treatise of lovemaking, which makes its way to Vatsyayana.
But Shiva is also Yogeshwara, known to withdraw from the Goddess, and isolate himself atop Mount Kailas, using his inward gaze to make his semen move in the reverse direction (urdhva-retas). Thus in celibacy, he separates himself from nature, and forges the path to the unnatural or shall we say supernatural, the realm of siddhi, where rules of nature do not apply, where time and space are slaves, not masters. Such a form is dangerous to society, for in society, it will be corrupted by power, as we see in stories of angry sages.
Who is the Shiva we worship? The one who is initiated by the Goddess (Uma-pati) or the one who withdraws from the Goddess (Yogeshwara). Both are valid. But the former is part of society in the vibrant city of Kashi, the other is atop
the faraway, lonely, snow-laden Himalayas.
Only in Kali yuga, do the celibates — much to Shiva’s dismay, I suspect — venture out of caves into cities and tell the devotees of the Goddess how they are supposed to behave. The Goddess laughs contemptuously and sticks out her tongue. She always wins.
The author writes and lectures on relevance of mythology in modern times, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.
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