ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Gender, Religion and Agency: Kinnars Claiming Death Rites


Vinita Chandra - Associate Professor - Department of Humanistic Studies, IIT (BHU)
Akanksha Yadav - Research Scholar - Department of Humanistic Studies, IIT (BHU)


43 – Trans/Third Gender Communities and Religion in South Asia


Performance of death rituals occupies a significant place in the life-course of a Hindu. Making funerary offerings to the deceased ancestors, piṇḍadāna, is surviving from a tradition that is said to date back to the Vedas. The tradition revolves around the idea of ritual transmigration of the deceased to the next world- the world of ancestors (pitṛloka). Domestic ritual manuals also describe piṇḍadāna, and the more elaborate śrāddha rites. Traditionally, death rites for the members of the hijra community (now also called kinnars) did not include piṇḍadāna. In 2016, the Kinnar Akhara, a transgender organisation resolved to perform piṇḍadāna and śrāddha rites for all the kinnars who passed away recently. This, for them, was claiming right to a dignified end of life and afterlife. The rites were performed on the Pishacha Mochan Kund in Varanasi. Subsequently, the ceremony was repeated in 2018 and 2020. The present paper seeks to document the transformation of the death rituals for the traditional trans-community of India. It seeks to examine this resistance to what they perceive as ‘denial of ritual’ as an act of claim-making, expression of religious agency. Thus, the present paper shall seek to locate the question on the plane of the discourse on gender and religious agency. Oral interviews with the hijras (including both Hindu and Muslim members of the community) and members of the Kinnar Akhara shall be conducted. To find out the response of the wider Hindu community to the performance of piṇḍadāna by the kinnars, Hindu priests, the doms (associated with cremating dead bodies) and other people shall also be interviewed. Newspaper reports and web resources shall be used for secondary data.