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Unique Transgender Festival in Koovagam

By: Akshatha Vinayak

It is fascinating to see the unique customs and traditions which the exploited class of transgenders follow. Even to this day, it is commendable to see their struggle for equality and rights that has been going on for years. After so many years of struggle, they are still considered as outcasts in the society. However, their efforts and with the help of some organisations it's good to see them shaping better lives now. They are now called as Mangalamukhi.

Koothandavar

Koothandavar
Photo Courtesy: Redtigerxyz

In fact, in the Indian mythologies transgenders are given a divine status. It is not just the society which sees them in a different way, but even their customs are also strange and unusual. Transgenders are said to have great belief in God; a special transgender festival takes place in Koovagam annually. Transgenders across India come here to celebrate this unique fiesta.

It is one of the unique transgender festivals which happens in Tamil Nadu. Koovagam, a village in Villupuram, is known for Koothandavar Temple. The festival is celebrated in the month of Chaitra (April-May) according to the Tamil calendar. Koothandavar is said to be Aravan, the son of Arjuna of the epic Mahabharatha. Some even say that Aravan is none other than Babruvahana.

Koothandavar Temple

Koothandavar Temple
Photo Courtesy: Sriram Jagannathan

The mythological tale takes us back to the time of war in Mahabharatha. During the time of war the Pandavas hear a prediction that they will lose in the war. To stop that from happening, the astrologer says that Pandavas have to give a human as a sacrifice to Goddess Kali. The problem is they have to give a man with all the qualities, basically a complete man. Dharmaraya will become anxious because he can see that only Krishna, Arjuna and Aravan are the three such men in the camp.

Transgender Festival India

Transgender Rejoice and Dance in the Festival
Photo Courtesy: WBEZ

Obviously, it is not possible for Krishna or Arjuna to give their lives as they are the key fighters. So, Dharmaraya asks Aravan, he happily agrees but with one demand. According to that, Aravan will sacrifice himself only after experiencing the marital bliss. The question is which King will give his daughter to a man who is about to die? So, Lord Krishna disguises himself into a female form of Mohini and marries Aravan. 

Transgenders as Widows

Transgenders as Widows
Photo Courtesy: Kannan Muthuraman

This transgender festival goes on for 18 days. They worship Aravan as Koothandavar. Transgenders consider themselves as Mohini and marry Koothandavar. In fact, the temple priest only ties the sacred thread (mangalaya) to them. One day after the marriage, they all become widows mourning the death of Aravan. Widowed transgenders wear white sarees like widows and serve the people for ten days.

Koothandavar festival

Transgenders Performing a Ritual in the Festival
Photo Courtesy: WBEZ

Koovagam Festival is a grand event for Transgenders. They not only come from Chennai, which is 100km from Vilipuram but also from several parts of India. Interestingly, some transgenders from foreign countries have also taken part in the celebrations in the recent years.

Several bus services are arranged from Chennai to Villupuram during this time. Koovagam Kothandavar Temple witnesses this unusual celebrations every year.

Read more about: festivals, tamil nadu
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