Weird Fat Lady or Hermaphrodite?

Remember this Old Hag/Young Woman perceptual illusion?

Well, the furnished apartment we’re currently renting in Chennai has an Indian version located above the bed.

Do you see a Woman With a Weird Potbelly or a Hermaphrodite Who Has Just Coyly Slipped His/Her Penis Out Of His/Her Sari?

Either way, it’s a delightful first thing to look at every day.

The latter explanation isn’t too far fetched.  Hermaphrodites show up a few times in Hindu scripture, the most famous figure being Ardhanarishvara, the combined form of Shiva and Parvati.

Origin story:

Tamil temple lore narrates that once the gods and sages had gathered at Shiva’s abode, they prayed their respects to Shiva and Parvati. However, the sage Bhringi had vowed to worship only one deity, Shiva, and ignored Parvati while worshipping and circumambulating him. Agitated, Parvati cursed Bhringi to lose all his flesh and blood, reducing him to a skeleton. In this form Bhringi could not stand erect, so the compassionate ones who witnessed the scene blessed the sage with a third leg for support. As her attempt to humiliate the sage had failed, Parvati punished herself with austerities that pleased Shiva and led him to grant her the boon of uniting with him, thereby compelling Bhringi to worship her as well as himself in the form of Ardhanarishvara. However, the sage assumed the form of a beetle and circumambulating only the male half, drilling a hole in the deity. Amazed by his devotion, Parvati reconciled with the sage and blessed him.

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2 comments
  1. The backstory is confusing. Doesn’t that make Shiva a hermaphrodite too, then?

  2. nraman said:

    Yes!

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