Full of God: Ashtavakra and Ideas of Justice in Hindu Texts
Issue: Vol 3 No. 2 (2009)
Journal: Religions of South Asia
The paper examines how ideas about disability, sexuality, gender, desire and aversion, have circulated in Hindu texts through the figure of the disabled sage Ashtavakra. In the Mahabharata, Ashtavakra learns from a woman teacher that no one is immune to desire. The Ashtavakra Gita explicitly states that a wise person sees no difference between man and woman. Two medieval devotional texts, which tell the story of a child born to two women who have sexual intercourse, invoke Ashtavakra as an authority. The texts move away from the abstract question of sex between any two women, and towards the specific instance of these two women’s relationship. Narrative, unlike medical and legal texts, is impelled towards particulars, not abstract theories. Ashtavakra represents an ascetic tradition that tends to be opposed to pleasure. But because he is disabled, he is represented as aware of the vulnerability of living beings and their susceptibility to desire; he is therefore ideally suited to make the right ethical choice in this particular instanced. Hindu ethics tend to value the particular over the general, which is why Hindu law favors local custom over universal principle.
Author: Ruth Vanita