20 krishnaarchana april 2023 FEATURE By Vinitha Radhamma Shikhandi Long before gender identity and LGBTQ became buzzwords in the society, there was a powerful hero called Shikhandi. The one who was born as a woman but lived the life of a man destined to avenge the injustices from her previous life. As per the Mahabharata by Maharishi Veda Vyas, Shikhandi was born as the daughter of King Drupada and was raised as a son by her parents. As a child, she was dressed as a boy and was taught warfare which was not usually taught to the princesses of that era. When she reached the age of marriage, she married the daughter of Hiranyavarma, but upon failure of that marriage, Shikhandi left the palace and went into the forest. In the forest she met the Yaksha, Stunakarna who agreed to do a sex exchange with Shikhandi; this is how she became a “man”. Shikhandi is believed to have been the reincarnation of Amba, the princess of Kashi. Princesses Amba, Ambika and Ambalika were abducted by the Patriarch of the Kuru family, Bhishma to get them married to Bhishma’s brother Vichitravirya. But once Amba disclosed to Bhishma that she was in love with Salva, the king of Saubala, Bhishma brought her back to her lover. But Salva was too afraid of Bhishma’s wrath and refused to accept Amba as his queen. Amba returned to Bhishma and requested him to marry her, but since Bhishma had taken the vow of celibacy, he refused to do so. Amba, thus shunned by her own society, did Tapas and penances and got the boon to be reborn to kill her nemesis Bhishma. She also had the rare blessing of being able to remember the incidents from her past life when she was reincarnated. Shikhandi’s birth signifies a woman’s pride, the rightful pride filled with self-esteem and not one filled with doubt. Amba was disrespected by Bhishma, who was the grand old man of the Kuru dynasty, and his position does not deter her in any way from promising to avenge the injustice meted out to her. She works hard to make sure that Bhishma pays for his mistake, and she does not outsource her task to anyone else but to her own reincarnated self. Women of today have a lot to learn from her, to be bold and confront the Harry Weinsteins of the world. No amount of power or money should be an excuse to dishonor or disrespect anyone. Tales of Shikhandi‘s birth and upbringing throw light on the understanding of gender identity and the importance of narratives around a child’s upbringing. She was born a girl, but because she was raised to be chivalrous and brave, she was an exceptional warrior. The whole concept of raising a child as a “girl“ or a “boy” versus the one of exposing the child to experiences of all kinds and from there to have the child identify her/his own self is not a new idea in any way. In our day and age, we continue to box our children by color coding them even before their births and getting “girl toys” vs “boy toys,” which significantly impedes the path to finding their true selves. Strange to see that nature vs nurture is an ongoing debate even five thousand years after Shikhandi. Shikhandi, or Shikhandini as he/ she is sometimes referred to, is also considered a transgender warrior by some. One who would not fit nicely into a male or female body. The very fact that Shikhandi is not depicted to have an issue with acceptance within the society and was allowed to partake in the Kurukshetra war gives us an idea of the so-called broad-minded thoughts prevailing in those days. Arjuna, during his time in the Matsya kingdom, when Pandavas were living incognito to escape the Kauravas, took on the identity of Brihannala, a eunuch. Brihannala was given respect and honor in the Matsya kingdom, Tales of Shikhandi’s birth and upbringing throw light on the understanding of gender identity and the importance of narratives around a child’s upbringing.