- Posted August 8, 2013 by
Annual Transgender Festival
The Koovagam Festival is held for fifteen days during the Tamil month of Chitrai (April/May) every year at the Koothandavar temple. The Koothandavar Temple is in fact the only temple in India designated strictly for transgendered people. In particular, the temple caters to eunuchs or hijra, who are men who had their penis, testicles and scrotum purposefully removed during childhood so they could be recruited into a transgendered, all-hijra community. Although the Koovagam Festival is meant exclusively for transgendered hijra, its roots are based entirely on religion.
The most anticipated portion of the festival is the Miss Koovagam contest, a transgendered pageant organized by the Villupuram District Transgenders’ (Women’s) Welfare Association whose winners are determined based on their personality, HIV/AIDS knowledge, social concern and services delivered to their community on the previous day of marriage along with several competitions such as dancing, singing etc.,. The beauty contest, as instituted in 2000, was a means of empowering the community, creating awareness, and easing its acceptance by mainstream society. Besides, the transgenders feel that winning this event will give them an acceptance within the community, It serves as a source of pride and a shot of self-esteem to them. The show starts with a talent contest, which includes dancing to sexually coloured songs. Then the transgenders walk the ramp, each trying to outdo the other in their glitzy costumes and flashy jewellery. The audience cheers and enjoy by whistling and thunderous applauses.
Villupuram District Transgenders Welfare Association says that these celebrations cost around Rs.2 to 3 lakh, of which Rs.1 lakh comes from the government. The rest is collected within the community, with each transgender contributing what they can. The funds thus garnered go not only towards logistical expenses but also for the transportation and accommodation of indigent transgenders from elsewhere.
D-day at the festival is the day at which marriage ritual takes place where the transgenders are finely dressed-up in traditional wears such as sarees, Ghaghara’s and head out towards the koothandavar temple to get married. The priest in the temple makes an offering of coconut and bananas, offers camphor to the deity, and recites mantras for the Lord. He then ties the thali or mangalasutra, a yellow-coloured thread and token that symbolizes their status as married women, to wear around their neck to the lined-up aravanis (as they call themselves). One-night marriages with men known as panthis come to the festival in large numbers to have sex with the brides marking the festival as an erotic celebration of love.
On the last day of the festival, a procession of the Aravan effigy travels all around the village before the head is cut and consigned to flames. Lord Aravan’s death is mourned by the transgenders who have just lost their status as a wife and turned to widow. They cry, weep, scream by beating their hearts, bangles are broken, the sacred sindhoor is washed off their foreheads, the string of flowers are snatched from their head and finally, the thali is cut off. They sing songs about their ill-fated life, and wish their sexual status was only incidental.
The festival traces back its origin to Kurushetra war in Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas must sacrifice one of their “perfect male” fighters to win the Goddess Kali’s(keeper of Kurushetra) favor in an upcoming battle with their Kaurava cousins over who will rule their kingdom. Aravan, son of the great hero Arjuna volunteered to die but with three requests -To die on the battlefield, to watch the battle and to marry the day before being sacrificed. No woman would be allowed to marry a doomed husband and become a widow only a day later, so Lord Krishna turned into the beautiful enchantress Mohini, spending that final night with Aravan as Aravan’s wife and lover. The following morning, Aravan was beheaded and his head left on the grounds of war for him to watch the rest of the war, the other of his conditions. He saw his widow Mohini beating her chest and wailing inconsolably.
Koovagam has turned out to be the most-expected festival for transgenders across the State, which they never fail to attend. Over the years, transgenders have gone through continuous discrimination, humiliation, and oppression and continue to live on the fringes of society. Now, this festival has become a time to fulfill their sexual fantasies for men in the surrounding eight villages of Koovagam. This has led to decrease in arrival of transgender and pour in more number of men year by year. These men find every chance to grope the transgenders coming. However, our society must learn to respect the transgenders rather than harassing and teasing them realizing that transgender’s are also humans like us just born with lamentable defects. As for you and me, we can begin by making an attempt to educate ourselves about the community and work towards changing our attitudes towards people with gender-non-conforming appearance or behavior.