Bahuchara Mata (also known as Bedhraj Mata, Bahucharaji, or Ma Bahucharaji) is a Hindu Goddess sacred to men who want to be cured of impotence, women seeking to become pregnant, and to hijras (a community that includes persons who are intersex or are born male who traditionally cut off male genitalia in her honor). Bahuchara is often depicted riding a giant rooster and wielding a sword and trident. Mata (alternate: Maa or Ma) means “mother.”
In Gay folklife, deities such as Bahuchara have become spiritual icons, demonstrating that divine blessings for non-heteronormal identities within the LGBTQ spectrum are not new, and can be found in myths and legends of many traditional religions. Her connection with hijras, a transwoman identity in South Asia that, in India, is rapidly consolidating itself within the Indian LGBTQ community, also marks her as important in both hijra and LGBTQ folklife.
Myths of the Goddess
The myths associated with Bahuchara Mata often depict gender transformation and bodily mutilation on ethical and spiritual grounds. Bahuchara became a deity as a result of having saved herself, through an extraordinary act of courage, from being raped. One myth describes how she became a deity when she cut off her breasts in order to avoid being sexually assaulted by bandits (alternate telling: she cut off one breast and handed it to her attackers). In another version of the story, Bahuchara and her sisters were attacked as they were traveling to a fair by a man named Bapiya. Her sisters killed themselves, and as Bahuchara cut off her breasts, she cursed Bapiya with impotency. He begged for mercy, and she relented only if he would wear women’s clothing and worship her.
These myths have two principle themes associated with Bahuchara: first, celibacy or impotence — in particular, male celibacy achieved through the removal of genitalia — and second, gender transformation. One story relates how a king prayed to the Goddess for a son, a request she granted. The prince, however, was impotent. Bahuchara appeared to the prince in a dream, telling him to cut off his genitals, dress like a woman, and serve her, which he did. Men who are impotent are called upon by Bahuchara to do the same thing, becoming hijras and lifelong devotees to the Goddess.
Another version states that there was a prince whose parents married him to a beautiful goddess (namely, Bahuchara). But the couple never had sex, and the prince would disappear every night. His wife followed him one evening, and witnessed him having sex with men. Enraged, she castrated him and declared that such men as her husband had to be emasculated as a condition for a better rebirth. But she also declared that, if those same cursed men worshipped her, she would protect them.
Not all legends associated with Bahuchara are about men getting neutered or becoming women. The story of her cutting off her own breasts suggests that she neutered her own femininity as a means to prevent rape. Among her many miracles is a tale of changing a princess, who had been disguised as a boy, into a prince with a fully functioning male body.
Muslims and Bahuchara Mata
One legend describes how Muslim men came to worship the Goddess. A Muslim army came to destroy her temple in Gujarat, and its troops saw sacred roosters that lived on the temple grounds. Disregarding the sacredness of the cock to Bahuchara, some of the soldiers killed and ate her pets. Seeing what the men had done, Bahuchara called the birds back to her (alternative telling: one bird escaped and called out to the others), and the cocks burst forth from the stomachs of the men who ate them. Those soldiers who had not eaten the cocks then became cross-dressing followers of the Goddess (alternative: they ran away).
Bahuchara Mata and Hijras
Although hijras may worship at Mother Goddess temples of every type (there are many Mother Goddesses in Hinduism, all of whom are often collectively called the Goddess) and at Shiva temples, particularly those in which Shiva is Adhanari, both male and female. Bahuchara tends to be a hijra favorite, and many hijra homes have small shrines in them that are dedicated to her. When hijras go out among the people, they may be asked to bless male babies and married couples, and they often do so in the name of Bahuchara. As in the legend about the impotent prince, hijras may say they made their decision to become a hijra after Bahuchara visited them in their sleep. Others refer to other omens from the Goddess that convinced them.
Primary Temple and Pilgrimage Site
Major temples to Bahuchara Mata are in Bechraji Town and in Sankhalpur, both in Gujarat, India. The Sankhalpur temple is a site of pilgrimage for hijras all over South Asia, including Singapore. Festivals dedicated to the Goddess have singing and dancing as part of puja, acts of prayerful devotion. Female-born women who seek to get pregnant and bear a son will also visit the temple, as do men who want to avoid impotence.
Nanda, Serena. Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1999.
Pattanaik, Devdutt. The Man Who Was a Woman and Other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore. New York: Harrington, 2002.