Yudhishthira said, “When men and women have sexual intercourse, which one of them experiences greater pleasure? It would be appropriate for you to clear my doubts about this, sire.”

Bhishma said:

An example from long ago, the enmity between Bhangashvana and Indra, will suffice to explain the matter. In the old days, there was a royal sage named Bhangashvana who was exceedingly righteous. He had no sons and so, tiger among men, he decided to perform a sacrifice for the birth of a son. The sacrifice he performed is called the Agnishtuma and men do it either as repentance for some misdeed in the past, or to obtain sons. But this ritual displeases Indra.

When Indra, the king of the gods, heard about the sacrifice, he tried his best but he could find no weakness in that great king. After some time, the king went on a hunt. Indra took this as an opportunity and stupefied the king. Thus confused, along with his horse, the king wandered around, directionless and soon, he was oppressed by hunger, thirst and fatigue.

Then, the king saw a pleasant lake, filled with clear water. He got off his horse and brought him to the shore. When the animal had finished drinking, the king tied him to a tree and entered the waters of the lake to bathe. To his great consternation, he found that the waters had turned him into a woman. When he saw himself transformed, he was deeply embarrassed and that most excellent king grew extremely agitated in his mind and heart.

“How will I mount my horse, how will I go to my city? The Agnisthum ritual gave me one hundred sons, born from my loins. They are strong – what will I say to them? And to my wives, my retainers, my people from the towns and the countryside? Great sages who are learned in matters of duty and religion say that softness, gentleness and a tendency towards confusion are the qualities of women whereas physical energy, hardness and virility are the qualities of men. My manliness has been destroyed and this femaleness has come over me. How will I mount my horse again?”

Deeply depressed, the king returned to his city in the form of a woman. His sons and wives and relatives and his people from the towns and the countryside were amazed at what had happened and said, “What is this!”

That royal sage, who now had the form of a woman, said to all of them, “I was on a hunt and surrounded by my army. As fate would have it, I got lost an entered a huge forest that was thick and dense. In that dense forest, I was overcome by hunger and thirst and almost fainted. Then, I saw a beautiful lake that was visited by birds of all kinds. As I bathed in it, the fates transformed me into a woman.”

Calling his sons and wives and relations together, each by name, that best of kings who had been transformed into a woman, said to them, “My dear sons, enjoy this kingdom happily. I am going to the forest.”

The king bade his one hundred sons farewell and went into the forest. There, she came upon an ascetic’s hermitage and with him she had one hundred sons in the hermitage. She took her hundred sons and went to her previous sons and said to them, “You sons were born when I was a man. These one hundred sons were born to me when I am a woman. Have fraternal feelings for each other; enjoy the kingdom together, like brothers, dear sons!”

And the brothers did so immediately.

When Indra, the king of gods, saw the sons sharing the kingdom happily, he fell into deep thought. “I seem to have done that royal sage a favour instead of harming him.”

Then, Indra, he of one hundred sacrifices, took on the form of a brahmin and went to the king’s city where he managed to sow dissension amongst the princes.

“Even brothers who are sons of the same father do not live happily together. Look at the gods and the demons, both sons of Kashyapa. They got into a dispute about kingship. You are the sons of Bhangashvana and these are the sons of some ascetic. The gods and demons were both sons of Kashyapa. These fellows, the ascetic’s sons, are enjoying your father’s kingdom!”

Thus, separated by Indra, they began to battle each other.

When the ascetic woman heard about this, she burned with grief and began to wail. Indra came to her disguised as a brahmin and asked, “Lovely-faced lady, what is the sorrow that burns you up? Why are you crying?”

The woman saw the brahmin and said pathetically, “I had two hundred sons, brahmin, but they were taken away by Death. I was a king, once, and I had a hundred sons. They were brave and strong and looked like me, best among the twice-born. Once, I went hunting and I got lost in the dense forest. I was transformed into a woman after I bathed in a lake and so, I established my sons in my kingdom and came back to the forest. As a woman, I had another hundred sons with a great-souled ascetic. They were born in the hermitage and so I took them to the city. Time created disunity among them, brahmin, and that is why I am crying, afflicted by fate.”

Indra looked at that grieving woman and spoke harshly to her. “Long ago, my dear woman, your actions caused me great pain. You performed a sacrifice that is despised by Indra and, you creature of perverted wisdom, you did not include me in the honours. I am Indra! And you have wilfully sought hostilities with me.”

The royal sage saw Indra and touched his feet with his head. “Show me your grace, lord of the thirty three gods! That sacrifice was performed for the sake of obtaining sons. Tiger among the gods, you should forgive me!”

Indra was pleased with the prostrate monarch and wanted to give him a boon. “Which of your sons should I revive, king – the ones born when you were a woman or those born when you were a man?”

The ascetic woman joined her palms and bowed her head and said to Indra, “Let the ones that were born when I was a woman live, Indra!”

Indra was surprised and pleased and he questioned the woman ascetic again. “Why are you not fond of the sons that were born to you when you were a man? Why are you more fond of those born to you when you were a woman? I am eager to hear the reason for this, you should tell me.”

The woman said, “A woman is capable of more affection than a man. That is why I asked for the sons born to me when I was a woman to be brought back to life, Indra!”

Bhishma said:

When she said that, Indra was pleased and said to her, “You speak the truth, dear lady! All your sons shall be restored to life! Choose another boon, best of kings, man of good vows. Ask for anything you wish! What do you want from me – to be a man or to be a woman?”

“So be it,” he said and went back to heaven.

And so it is, great king, that women experience more pleasure.

(Excerpted with permissions of Aleph Book Company from Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica. Edited by Amrita Narayanan.)

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