I for Ila

I for Ila

Ila is an androgyne from hindu mythology. He was born as Sudhyumna, a male child, to King Manu and his wife Shraddha. He once trespassed into Sharavana (the forest of reeds), the sacred grove of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva had laid a spell on the forest that all male intruders except Shiva would turn into a female on entering the forest. Puranas tell that Sudhyumna and his entourage, including his horses, turned into females. Ila, now in female form, approached Shiva asking him to take back his curse. Shiva and Parvati pitied Ila and modified the curse in such a way that Ila would transition between male and female forms in sync with the waxing and waning of the moon. Ila would not remember of her male form when she is female and vice versa. Yet existing in male and female forms would still be a curse for anyone but for Ila destiny already had plans in the form of Budha.

Budha was the son of Chandra, the Moon. He was born to Chandra and Tara, sage Brihaspati’s wife. Brihaspati when he came to know of the affair between his wife and Chandra cursed the child to be born of neutral gender. Budha ashamed of his birth performed Tapas to rectify the sins of his birth. He learned vedas and arts with the blessings of Vishnu. Though he was leading an ascetic life, he fell for the beauty of Ila and found out about the truth of Ila using his magic powers. Thus, Budha and Ila united in the pleasure of lovemaking. After a month of exquisite lovemaking and togetherness Ila turned into a male and asked Budha about his missing entourage.  Budha lied that his entourage was destroyed in a hailstorm and Ila could live in comfort in his hermitage. For the rest of the month Ila, as a man, stayed with Budha and learnt dharma and vedas. Nine months passed by this way and Ila gave birth to Pururavas who grew to become the first king of Chandravamsha, the lunar dynasty. The descendants of Pururavas are also known as Ailas after Ila.

Ila’s story is one among the many androgyny and queer stories in Hindu mythology. Devdutt Pattanaik in his book “Shikhandi: And Other Tales They Don’t Tell You” talks about many such stories from an interesting perspective.

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