I first came across references to the Sakhibhava lineage in an article by James M. Martin entitled I’d Radha be Krishna: Some Thoughts on the Sakhibhava sect of India. Martin quotes a passage from Hasting’s Encyclopedia of Religion and Morals:
“The Sakhibhavas are a branch of the Radhavallabhis (q.v.), small in number and of little importance. They carry to extremes the worship of Radha, Krishna’s mistress, whom they look upon as his shakti, or energetic power. The men assume the character of Radha’s sakhis, or girl friends, and, to enforce the idea of the change of sex, assume female garb,with all women’s manners and customs, even pretending to be subject to the catamenia. Their aim is to be accepted as genuine sakhis in a future life, and thus to enjoy a share of Krishna’s favors. They are of ill repute, and do not show themselves much in public. According to (H. H.) Wilson, they are to be found in Jaipur and Benares and also in Bengal. Some of them are wandering mendicants. They appear to have been numerous in the 17th century.”
Martin observes that the above passage acts to marginalize and downplay the significance of the Sakhibhava due to their ‘transgressive’ sexuality.
Vern L. Bullough notes that the Sakhibhava held that only Krishna was truly male, and that every other creature was, essentially female, subject to the pleasure-play of Krishna. According to Bullough, female devotees of the sect offered their ‘sexual favours’ freely to anyone, believing that all their partners are manifestations of Krishna. Male devotees affected the dress, behaviour and mannerisms of women, including an imitation of menstruation (during which time they withdrew from worship) and took the ‘female’ part in sexual intercourse, offering it as an act of devotion. Bullough does identify male Sakhibhavas with the Hijra, which slightly confuses the issue.
Just as orthodox Vaisnavas viewed the Tantric Sahajiyas with horror, so too the Sakhibhava were held up as an example of ‘degenerate’ behaviour, Devdutt Pattanaik, in The Man Who Was a Woman and other Queer Tales from Hindu Lore notes that the Sakhibhavas were more likely to be viewed as objects of derision and amusement rather than honoured for their devotion.