Ardhanarishvara, the Gender-Bending Deity

The half-male, half-female Hindu god has reemerged in different avatars over millennia. What it stands for is entirely up to you.

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Ardhanarisvara, a deity composed of both Siva and his consort Parvati, representing the masculine and feminine energies of Hinduism (The British Museum)

Ayesha Le Breton


June 24, 2024


10 min

In Monkey Man, a battered and beaten Kid (Dev Patel) seeks refuge and respite within the temple of Ardhanarishvara, home to the hijras. At the entrance, amid stone walls and intricate engravings, stands a statue of the half-man, half-woman deity. Looking at it, Kid asks the temple’s keeper and leader of the hijra community, Alpha (Vipin Sharma): “What is that?” Alpha responds: “One half devotion. The other? Destruction. Male. Female. Neither. Both.” 

Ardhanarishvara represents the harmony of masculine and feminine energy. “Some people find that strange. But we hijras understand it completely,” Alpha says. Though the film wasn’t the first time the Hindu god found expression as a motif of liberation, that hasn’t always been the case. The figure’s enduring appeal, in fact, lies in its multiple origin stories and what we take away from them.

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