Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...

Appendix 3.2 - Indian Eunuchs

In order to discover the different methods of castration employed on the human male in the East from the earliest times, it is necessary to examine the etymology of the words used to express the state itself and the means by which the subject is reduced to that state.

The method of crushing (mentioned in the Atharva-Veda, VI, cxxxviii, 2) is apparent in such words as—

  • Latin, capo, “capon,” from Greek, κόπτω, “strike”;
  • Greek, θλαθίας, θλιβίας, “eunuch,” from θλάω, “crush”;
  • and Sanskrit, vadhri, “eunuch,” from Sanskrit, vadh, “strike.”

Cutting is shown in—

  • Latin, castro, “castrate,” from root kes, Sanskrit, śas, “cut”;
  • Greek, τομίας, “eunuch,” from τέμνω, “cut”;
  • and Sanskrit, niraṣṭa, “castrated,” from aśri, “edge” or “knife.”

Finally, the operation of dragging appears to be implied in such words as—

  • Greek, σπάδων, “eunuch,” from σπάω, “drag.”

There still remains the Greek εὐνοῦχος, from which the best-known English term “eunuch” is derived. The old etymology by which the word means “one who is warder of the bed,” from εὐνή and ἔχειν, cannot now be accepted.

Jensen (Zeit. f. Assyr., i, 20) regards εὐνοῦχος as a loanword from the Semitic, the Hebrew being borrowed from the Assyrian sa rêsi (rîsi), “he who is the head or chief.” Campbell Thompson tells me, however, that he has recently come across a word for “eunuch” in cuneiform (Cun. Texts, xxiii, 10), šu-ut ri-e-ši (ea alidi), “one who does not beget,” which certainly conveys what we mean by “eunuch.”

For fuller details on the etymological side of the subject see Schrader, Reallex. der indogerm. Altertumskunde, Strass-burg, 1901, p. 919; Hirt, Indogermanen, Strassburg, 1905-1907, pp. 291, 658; and Louis H. Gray, “Eunuch,” Hastings’ Ency. Rel. Eth., vol. v, p. 579.

The derivations of the terms connected with castration clearly show their Oriental origin, but where in the East the practice actually started is unknown, although Mesopotamia is usually considered to have been its first home. It was known in Assyria, Israel, Ethiopia, Egypt, Persia, India, China, Greece and Rome. (See the list of references at the end of this appendix.)

In ancient India the social status of the eunuch was of the very lowest. Thus we read in the Mahābhārata (VIII, xlv, 25):

Mlecchas [barbarians, non-Aryans] are the dirt of humanity; oil-men are the dirt of Mlecchas; eunuchs are the dirt of oil-men; and they who appoint Kṣatriyas as priests in their sacrifices are the dirt of eunuchs.”

The following references to eunuchs are taken from the article by Gray (op. cit., pp. 582-583).

A eunuch, or “long-haired man,” is neither man nor woman (Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, V, i, 2, 14; IV, 1, 1f.; XII, vii, 2, 12; cf. Mahābhārata, v, clx, 115; and the references given by Bloomfield, Sacred Books of the East, xlii, 538 et seq.), and there is reason to believe that they ministered to unnatural sensuality (R. Schmidt, Beiträge zur indischen Erotik, Leipzig, 1902, p. 211). They could not inherit property (Āpastamba Dharma Śāstra, II, vi, 14, 1; Gautama D. Ś., xxviii, 43; Vāsiṣṭha D. Ś., xvii, 53 et seq.), and were to be maintained by the king, who was to take what would have been their inheritance if they had been normal men (Vāsiṣṭha D. Ś., xix, 35 et seq.). They were excluded from the śrāddha, or sacrifice to the manes (Manu, iii, 165), of which they were unworthy (ib., iii, 150), even as they were unfit for the ordeal by sacred libation (Nārada D. S., i, 332). No Brāhman might eat of a sacrifice performed by eunuchs (Manu, iv, 205 et seq.), nor might he consume any food prepared by them (ib., iv, 211; Vāsiṣṭha D. Ś., xiv, 2; Āpastamba D. S., I, vi, 18, 27; 19, 15), nor accept alms offered by them (Vāsiṣṭha D. Ś., xiv, 19). They were forbidden to serve as witnesses (Nārada D. S., i, 179) and were deemed incapable of keeping a secret (Milindapañhā, IV, i, 6). In contempt for their effeminacy they might not be struck in battle (Manu, vii, 19), a special penalty being imposed for killing them (ib., xi, 134; Gautama D. S., xxii, 23).

Being sterile, and so essentially ill-omened, the very sight of them was defiling (Manu, iii, 239 et seq.), and they were forbidden to be near the king during his consultations (Mahābhārata, xii, lxxxiii, 55), while the neat-herd Gañjā laments (Temple, Legends of the Pañjāb, Bombay, 1884-1900, ii, 396):

“When I was in my mother’s womb eunuchs danced at the door; and so I am lame, and have no hair on my head.”

A eunuch might not be converted (Milindapañhā, IV, vii, 53), nor might he be ordained (Mahāvagga, i, 61), and a bhikkhu was forbidden to castrate himself (Chullavagga, v, 7). Eunuchs were permitted to marry (Manu, ix, 79, 204). Dancers, who are of low caste in India, were castrated (Mahābhārata, iii, xlvi, 50), and the dancing of eunuchs is already referred to in Atharva-Veda, viii, vi, 11. In the puruṣamedha, or human sacrifice of the Vedic period, a eunuch was the victim offered to Misfortune [Pāpman] and —in this case the victim being neither of Brāhman nor of Śūdra caste—to Prajāpati (Vājasaneya Saṃh., xxx, 5, 22).

In modern India, although dwindling in numbers, there still exist classes of eunuchs forming separate communities. The most widely known name under which they go is Hijra or Hījdā, but numerous other names are found in different parts of India. Thus in the North-West Provinces they are also known as Mukhannas; in the Bombay Presidency as Pavayās or Fātadās; in the Central Provinces as Ivhasua; and in Madras as Khōja. In some states where two distinct names are in use it has been suggested that one of them applies to natural and the other to artificially created eunuchs, but such a division seems arbitrary to a great extent. For instance, in Saugor it is said that, the Hijras are artificial eunuchs, while in Madras it is they who are the natural ones. The point is, however, not an important one.

The origin of the eunuch class in India is wrapped up in legend, as is the case with so many tribes and castes. In Gujarāt tradition has it that they are the castrated votaries of the goddess Bouchera, Behechrā, or Bahucharā, who was a sister of Devī. She is supposed to be the spirit of a martyred Chāran or Bhāt woman. Some Chāran women were once travelling from Sulkhanpūr to a neighbouring village when they were attacked and plundered by Kolis. One of the women, whose name was Bahucharā, snatched a sword from a boy who attended her and with it cut off both her breasts. She immediately perished and her two sisters committed suicide. All three became Devīs and were worshipped in different places.

Bahucharā was chiefly venerated at Chunvāl, and as she became deified through self-mutilation, so her votaries emasculate themselves, and by wearing female clothes and adopting feminine manners try to make themselves as near as they can to their goddess, not only in dress, but also sexually.

For a short account of the Pavayā eunuchs see A. K. Forbes, Rās Mālā (new edition by Rawlinson, 1924), vol. ii, pp. 95-99.

We get further details of the origin and initiation rites of the Pavayās in Enthoven’s Tribes and Castes of Bombay, vol. iii, 1922, p. 226 et seq. (largely taken from the Bombay Gazetteer, vol. ix, pt. i, pp. 506-507).

In Aḥmedābād, Panch Mahāls, Kāthiāwār, Cutch and Khāndesh the Pavayā caste is found in small numbers. They are recruited from both Hindus and Musalmāns, who consider themselves the creatures, or rather the temples or houses, of the goddess Bahucharājī. Except that they do not dine together, Pavayās from Hindu and Musalmān families bear a close resemblance. According to their traditions a king of Champaner named Bāria was unhappy because he had no son. He was a devout worshipper of the goddess Bahucharājī, and through her favour a son was born to him and named Jeto. This Jeto was born impotent, and Bāria, out of respect to the goddess through whose favour the son was obtained, set him apart for her service. Bahucharājī appeared to Jeto in a dream and told him to cut off his private parts and dress himself as a woman. Jeto obeyed the goddess, and this practice has since been followed by all who join the caste.

Impotence is an indispensable qualification for admission into the caste. When an impotent man desires to be admitted he applies to one of the Pavayās, who breathes into his right ear, bores both ears with the point of a needle, and administers to him a solemn oath never to steal and never to act as a procurator to any woman. The novice is then admitted on probation. He eats coarse sugar, puts on women’s clothes, receives a new name, generally ending in “de,” such as Dhanade, Jhinide, Ladude and Khimde. The probationary period lasts from six to twelve months, during which the conduct of the novice is carefully watched and the fact of his impotence thoroughly tested. When impotence is established the next ceremony is emasculation. For this purpose the novice bathes, dresses himself in clean clothes and worships the image of the goddess. He prays to her to grant a propitious day for the operation. It is believed that if the operation is performed on a day approved by the goddess the result is seldom fatal. Behind a screen set up for the purpose the cutting is performed with a razor by the person himself, without any assistance. This is held to correspond to a birth-ceremony, which makes the patient a member of the caste. After the operation the patient lies for three days on a cot on his back without moving. During that time thirty pounds of sesame oil is continuously poured on the parts affected. For ten days more, or till the wound is healed, it is washed with a decoction of the bor (Zizyphus jujuba) and bābul (Acacia arabica) bark. On the sixth day after the operation coarse flour mixed with molasses and clarified butter is distributed among the caste people. The patient remains screened for forty days, during which he eats light food. Clarified butter is his chief nourishment, and he is forbidden the use of red pepper, oil and asafætida.

In 1880 the Gāikwār of Baroda forbade castration in his state, to the great sorrow of the Pavayās, who say that by thus remaining in their natural condition they displease the goddess, and that during seven lives they will remain impotent as a punishment for failing to sacrifice the useless member.

The Pavayās keep images of Bahucharājī in their homes and worship them daily, and when on begging tours are careful to visit her shrines in the Chunvāl. They keep both Hindu and Musalmān holidays.

They bury their dead. After death the body is washed and laid on a cot covered with a sheet and perfumed. The body is shrouded in a clean coverlet for burial. As they are neither males nor females they do not touch the coffin, which is carried, and the burying performed, by Musalmāns, the companions of the dead standing by mourning. On the dasa or tenth day and on the chālisa or fortieth day after a death the dearest companion of the deceased is bound, on pain of expulsion, to feed the caste-people and the Musalmān bier-bearers. A tomb is raised over the dead.

Pavayās live as beggars, singing the praise of their patron goddess Bahucharājī. In begging they stand in front of some villager, clap their hands and offer the usual blessing: “May mother Bahucharajī do you and your children good,” or “"Ado Bhavāni” —that is, “Rise, goddess Bhavāni.” If anyone fails to give them alms they abuse him, and if abuse fails they strip themselves naked, a result which is greatly dreaded, as it is believed to bring dire calamity. They beg in bands on certain beats and receive fixed yearly dues in kind or in cash from shopkeepers, carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, goldsmiths, Lohārs, etc. They also receive fees from every Kunbi on the birth of a son, and in most parts of Gujarāt when a son is born to a barren woman, or to a woman who has had no male issue, Pavayās are called in and made to dance in front of the house.

In the Bombay Gazetteer, vol. ix, 1899, pt. ii, pp. 21-22, we get a rather different and more detailed account of the initiation ceremony.

It takes place at the temple of the goddess Behechrā, about sixty miles north-east of Aḥmedābād, in the village of Sulkhanpūr, where the neophyte repairs under the guardianship or adoption of some older member of the brotherhood. The lad is called the daughter of the old Hījdā, his guardian. The emasculation takes place under the direction of the chief Hījdā priest of Behechrā. The rites are secret. It is said that the operation and initiation are held in a house with closed doors, where all the Ilījdās meet in holiday dress. The fireplace is cleaned and the fire is lighted to cook a special dish of fried pastry called talaṇ. While the oil in which the pastry is to be fried is boiling, some of the fraternity, after having bathed the neophyte, dress him in red female attire, deck him with flower-garlands, and, seating him on a stool in the middle of the room, sing to the accompaniment of a dhol or small drum and small copper cymbals. Others prepare the operating-room. In the centre of this room soft ashes are spread on the floor and piled in a heap. The operator approaches chewing betel-leaf. The hands and legs of the neophyte are firmly held by some one of the fraternity, and the operator, carelessly standing near with an unconcerned air, when he finds the attention of his patient otherwise occupied, with great dexterity and with one stroke completely cuts off the entire genital organs. He spits betel nut and leaf juice on the wound and stanches the bleeding with a handful of bābul (Acacia arabica) ashes. The operation is dangerous and is not uncommonly fatal. Some North Gujarāt Hījdās, though they hold themselves devotees of Behechrā, neither suffer emasculation nor wear women’s dress. They affect only the mincing talk and manners of lewd women. They marry and beget children, and are Hījdās only in name. They also perform plays at the birth of sons among the poorer Musalmāns. Hījdās of the play-acting class are to be found in and about Ahmedābād. As a class Gujarāt Hījdās enjoying independent means of livelihood have not to engage in sodomy to any active extent. As votaries of Behechrā they hold fields and lands, and rights on lands awarded to them from of old by native chiefs, village communities and private persons. They have rights on communities also, receiving yearly payments from them. Woe betide the wight who opposes the demands of a Hījdā! The whole rank and file of the local fraternity besiege his house with indecent clamour and gesture.

A few extra details will be found in Russell, Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces, vol. iii, pp. 206-209; Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the North-Western Provinces and Oudh, vol. ii, p. 495; and H. Ebden, “A Few Notes, with reference to ‘The Eunuchs’ to be found in the large Households of the State of Rajpootana,” The Indian Annals of Medical Science, April 1856, No. vi, p. 520 et seq.

In Southern India the eunuch caste is practically nonexistent, and even in 1870 the numbers were only small.

There is an interesting article by J. Shortt on the “Kojahs [sic] of Southern India” in the Journ. Anth. Inst., vol. ii, 1873, pp. 402-407. It was largely used by Thurston in his “Khōja” article, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vol. iii, p. 288 et seq., the medical details being, however, mostly omitted.

A few extracts from Shortt’s article will serve as an interesting comparison to the description already given in this appendix:

“The true Kojahs, or eunuchs, are chiefly seen in the houses of wealthy Mussulman nobles, by whom they are placed at the head of their zenanas or harems. Sometimes they hold important charges with a considerable amount of general control. The ladies of the harem look upon them as their confidential advisers in all matters relating to their personal concerns, whilst to them is left the entire management, arrangement, and supplies, etc., of the interior. In fact, all that concerns the female apartment is confided to their care.”

The description of the initiatory rites is very similar to that practised in Gujarāt, but we get fresh details of their clothing and behaviour:

“The hair of the head is put up like women, well oiled, combed, and thrown back, tied into a knot, and shelved to the left side, sometimes plaited, ornamented, and allowed to hang down the back; the whiskers, moustache and beard closely shaven. They wear the cholee or short jacket, the saree or petticoat, with an apron or scarf which they wrap around the shoulders and waist, and put on an abundance of nose, ear, finger and toe rings. They cultivate singing, play the dhole, a country drum of an oblong shape, and attitudinize. They go about the bazaars in groups of half-a-dozen or more, singing songs with the hope of receiving a trifle. They are not only persistent but impudent beggars, rude and vulgar in the extreme, singing filthy, obscene, and abusive songs to compel the bazaarmen to give them something. Should they not succeed they would create a fire and throw in a lot of chillies, the suffocating and irritative smoke producing violent coughing, etc., so that the bazaarmen are compelled to yield to their importunity and give them a trifle to get rid of their annoyance, as they are not only unable to retain their seats in the bazaars, but customers are prevented from coming to them in consequence. With the douceur they get they will move off to the next bazaar to resume the trick. While such were the pursuits in the day, at nightfall they resorted to debauchery and low practices by hiring themselves out to a dissipated set of Moslems, who are in the habit of resorting to these people for the purpose, whilst they intoxicate themselves with a preparation termed majoon, being a confection of opium and a kind of drink termed boja, a species of country beer manufactured from raji, which also contains bang; in addition to this they smoke bang. The Higras are met with in most of the towns of southern India, more especially where a large proportion of Mussulmans is found.”

In Vol. I, p. 255 et seq., we read some account of the dedication of basivis, who through their dedication to a deity assume masculine privileges. There is one goddess, Huligamma, to whom are dedicated not only basivis, but also men who are born as eunuchs or are in some way malformed. They dress exactly as women and might easily be mistaken for women. Fawcett (Journ. Anth. Soc. Bomb., 1890-1892, p. 343), writing in 1891, says that numbers of them may be seen at the goddess’ temple on the left bank of the Tuṅgabhadra river, Raichur, in the Nizam’s territory. They carry on the head a circular basket, in the centre of which is a kind of kalisam, representing the goddess, and hung about it and in it are various feminine ornaments and toilet gear.

Men who believe themselves temporarily or permanently impotent, as a form of vow assume female attire in the name of the goddess in the hope of restoration of virile power, and in many cases, as is only natural, this manifests itself sooner or later.


After reading the above account of Indian eunuchs the reader will at once be struck with the similarity to the Galli, the eunuch priests of Artemis of Ephesus and the Syrian Astarte of Hierapolis.

They too attempted to make themselves as much like their goddess as they could. The account given by Lucian (De Dea Syria, 50, 51) is very curious.

“On certain days,” says Lucian,

“a multitude flocks into the temple, and the Galli in great numbers, sacred as they are, perform the ceremonies of the men and gash their arms and turn their backs to be lashed. Many bystanders play on the pipes the while many beat drums; others sing divine and sacred songs. All this performance takes place outside the temple, and those engaged in the ceremony enter not into the temple.

“During these days they are made Galli. As the Galli sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on many of them, and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act. I will narrate what they do. Any young man who has resolved on this action strips off his clothes, and with a loud shout bursts into the midst of the crowd, and picks up a sword from a number of swords which I suppose have been kept ready for many years for this purpose. He takes it and castrates himself and then runs wild through the city, bearing in his hands what he has cut off. He casts it into any house at will, and from this house he receives women’s raiment and ornaments. Thus they act during their ceremonies of castration.”

(See Strong and Garstang’s The Syrian Goddess, 1913, pp. 84-85, and Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. v, p. 269 et seq.)

Louis Gray (op. cit., p. 582) gives the various theories as to the explanation of the self-mutilation of Attis, but considers that the only one which seems to fit the facts is that of Farnell, Cult of the Greek States, vol. iii, p. 300 et seq.:

“Even the self-mutilation necessary for the attainment of the status of the eunuch-priest may have arisen from the ecstatic craving to assimilate oneself to the goddess and to charge oneself with her power, the female dress being therefore assumed to complete the transformation.”

Although space will not permit my discussing the amazing history of Chinese and African eunuchs, I herewith append a bibliography on the subject which may be of use to those wishing to pursue it further.



  • [Ancillon, C.] Traité des Euneuques, dans lequel on explique toutes les differentes sortes d’euneuques, etc., 1707;
  • Pfierre] P[ierrugues], Glossarium Eroticum Linguæ Latinæ, Parisiis, 1826, under “Eunuchus,” etc., pp. 198-201;
  • “Outidanos” [Sir R. F. Burton] and “Neaniskos” [L. S. Smithers], Priapeia, 1890, pp. 16, 54;
  • R. F. Burton, Thousand Nights and a Night, vol. i, pp. 132 n5, 283n2; vol. ii, p. 50 n3; vol. v, p. 46n1; Supp., vol. i, pp. 70n1, 71 n, 72n;
  • E. B. Tylor, “Eunuch,” Ency. Brit., vol. ix, p. 890;
  • Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. ii, pp. 327-328; vol. iii, pp. 9-10, 237-238; vol. v, pp. 183-184; vol. vi, pp. 612-614;
  • Remondino, History of Circumcision, 1891, pp. 82-104;
  • Westermarck, Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, vol. ii, pp. 408, 414, 488n6;
  • Frazer, Golden Bough, vol. i, p. 38; vol. ii, pp. 144-145; vol. v, pp. 206, 269, 270n2, 278, 283; vol. vi, pp. 258, 272; vol. x, p. 430;
  • H. H. Ploss, Das Kind, Leipzig, 1884, vol. i, p. 340; vol. ii, p. 418;
  • C. Rieger, Kastration in rechtlicher, socialer und vitaler Hinsicht, Jena, 1911;
  • P. J. Möbius, Ūber die Wirkungen der Kastration, Halle, 1903.



  • Herodotus, iii, 48; viii, 105;
  • Xenophon, Cyrop., VII, v, 60-65;
  • Martial, iii, 24, 58, 81; vi, 2, 67; xi, 81;
  • Juvenal, i, 22; vi, 365-366;
  • Seneca, De Matrimonio, ed. Hase, p. 429;
  • Ammianus Marcellinus, XIV, vi, 17.



  • Deut. xxiii, 1; 2
  • Kings ix, 32; xx, 18;
  • Isaiah lvi, 3; xxxix, 7;
  • Jerem. Iii, 25; xxix, 2;
  • Dan. i, 3;
  • Matt, xix, 12;
  • Acts viii, 27.




  • Jensen, Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie, vol. xxiv, 1910, p. 109n1;
  • Klauber, “Assyr. Beamtentum,” Leipziger sent. Studien, vol. v, 3, 1910, p. 117.


  • Brisson, De Regio Persarum Principatu, ed. Lederlin, Strass-burg, 1710.


  • Rawlinson, History of Ancient Egypt, 1881, chap. xxii;
  • A. von Kremer, Ægypten, 1863, vol. ii, pp. 87-89;
  • Quatremère, Hist, des sultans mamlouks de l’Egypte, Paris, 1837, vol. i, 2, p. 132.


  • Gibbon, chaps, vii, xix, xxxii, xxxiii.


  • Yule and Cordier, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, vol. ii, pp. 115-116;
  • ditto, Cathay and the Way Thither, vol. iv, p. 82;
  • Dames, Book of Duarte Barbosa, vol. ii, p. 147;
  • Stent, “Chinese Eunuchs,” Journ. North China Branch Roy. As. Soc., N.S., xi, 1877, pp. 143-184;
  • J. J. Matignon, Superstition, Crime, et Misère en Chine, “Les Eunuques du Palais Impérial de Pékin,” 1901; “Eunuchs of the Imperial Palace,” T‘u Shu Chi Ch’êng (The Chinese Encyclopaedia), x, 121-140;


  • Muradja d’Ohsson, Tableau gén. de l’Empire othoman, Paris, 1820, iii, 302-304;
  • C. Snouck Hurgronje, Mekka, 1889, vol. ii, p. 24.
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