Kollam: More than 5,000 beautifully dressed ‘women’ lighting lamps in front of their deity attract hundreds of spectators during Chamayavilakku, a festival of Kottankulangara Devi Temple in Kollam.
What’s different about the festival is that men cross-dress as women. Men of all ages take part in the festival to light the traditional lamp (chamayavilakku) and hold it before the deity. The festival is held during the Malayalam month of Meenam, from 1 to 11.
B. Devakumar, Joint Secretary of the temple said, “The ritual of people dressing up as women began hundreds of years ago. The history of Chavara itself is associated with the ritual. The people of four areas surrounding the place jointly celebrate the festival.”
Another feature that makes the temple at Chavara in Kollam different is that the sanctum sanctorum does not have a roof. A canopy using tender coconut leaves, arecanut wood, and plantain trunk is set up where the deity is placed. Devotees in procession assemble at Kottankulangara junction, starting from Nallezhuthumukku and Chavara and walk towards the temple carrying ‘vandikuthira’, a model of a horse made of paddy and wood.
“I have been participating in this ritual for the last three years and it is a representation of my devotion to the deity,” said Sree Sankar, an engineering student who has cross-dressed as a woman. People from all parts of Kerala along with those from Northern India also take part in the festival. The festival concluded on Tuesday.