The world we inhabit has a male principle and a female principle. The male and female are ubiquitous in nature. There is also the category of  hermaphrodite which carries the attributes of both; this category includes most species of plants, snails and some very few fish species but  rarely humans. The word hermaphrodite derives from Greek myth where the goddess Aphrodite (Venus) and god Hermes (Mercury) produced a son called hermaphrodites who later while swimming merged with a nymph enamoured by his beauty and came to have the attributes of both male and female.

Nature was never satisfied with simple monotonous cellular division of amoebas as a means of reproduction. Procreation by cloning was only the first step. Nature’s profound inner-most urge is to create variation. This is not merely on account of an aesthetic compulsion but arises from the very instinct of survival. Survival may be ensured through the artifice of variation not merely of a species but equally within  the species. No two faces must be alike no  two finger prints. A bi-polar sexuality ensures that genes will be so shuffled each time that variety will compound ad-infinitum and the result is a glorious breath taking diversity.

Beyond the genetic is the psychological factor which also appears to be a motivating force in creation. At that elevated level, the purpose is to split the unity into a duality with opposite poles, allowing a force of biological magnetism which impels its own dynamics. All life forms spend their life-span in a state of perpetual attraction, one gender with the other. While this attraction serves the essential biological purpose of procreation, equally it imparts humanity. The spin-off  is numerous varieties of love, from the conjugal to the maternal, constituting the greatest civilizing force in nature. Imagine a world where non-sexual reproduction like that of the amoeba was universally possible without the need for attraction between mates. Procreation without love or sex would be devastating as it would produce supremely self-centred beings who would treat each other with utmost indifference, if not animosity.  There would be no sharing and hedonism would grow monstrous, leading to life forms even within the same species seeking to eliminate each other in an unimaginably cold and calculating manner, much more than  at present, ensuring the extinction of species.

Beyond the psychological level, there is also a metaphysical justification for bipolar sexuality. The experience of the bliss of physical union may provide a glimpse of the greater bliss of spiritual union. Physical union replicates the soul’s quest for spiritual union with the super-soul as the Yab-Yum symbolism of ‘Mahasukh’ or Great delight of Tibetan mysticism tries to illustrate.

Sexual union in nature  indeed also reflects the perpetual union of the universal male and female principles at cosmic and metaphysical levels. When the Unmanifest  Absolute gained self-consciousness ( as against its true nature of SAT, truth, CHIT , consciousness, ANAND, bliss) with the question ‘who am I’, opposites emerged and its unity spiralled into a dream like and imaginative diversity. The diversity sought perpetually to join again into a unity, like when we wish to wake up from a dream. The dynamics of  apparent separation, which was illusory and not real, produced an even stronger dynamics of reunification, to wake up into reality. The sexuality in nature is a symptom of that dynamic.

The perfect union which preceded the dreamlike diversity of creation is symbolized as the Cosmic Hermaphrodite in Hindu mythology – the Ardhanareshwar, the Universal Essence represented as half Shiv and half  Parvati his consort in a single form combining perpetually the male and female principles in one body, in a state of continuing satisfaction and bliss. Ardhnareshwar  represents that perfect union, which we temporarily seek. It symbolizes the primal unity, before the inevitable falling into the wondrous slumber of duality, precipitating creation,with its separated male and female principles.

Tallest Statue of Ardhnareshwar, South Africa Credit: