Villupuram: Thousands of people thronged the Koothandavar Temple to take part in the Koovagam festival, which cherishes and celebrates the transgender identity. The festival concluded on Wednesday evening.
Koovagam, a small hamlet in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu turned into the biggest camp of transgenders, popularly known as ‘aravanis’, from around the country and abroad over the last 18 days.
The festival celebrates the sacrifice of ‘Aravan’, son of Arjuna, before the war between Kauravas and Pandavas. As per the condition put forward by Aravan, Krishna takes on the female form to marry Aravan, before he is sacrificed the next day. The transgender community re-enact the rituals of marriage and widowhood as a form of worship. On Tuesday, all transgenders dressed up as brides, wearing colourful bangles and symbolically marry Aravan by ritually tie mangalsutra (thali) around their necks.
The festival concluded on Wednesday with the widowing of these ‘brides’, who then mourn the death of Aravan by breaking their bangles and thalis, symbolising the end of their one-day marriage. In the morning, a giant idol of the deity was taken in procession around the village and the sacrifice re-enacted by a nearby pond. A day before the symbolic wedding, the community celebrates cultural events, with ‘Miss Koovagam’, beauty contest being the most popular among them.
Andrea, a fashion design student from Chennai, who wishes to work as
costume designer in the film industry, won the ‘Miss Koovagam’ title this year.
The festival was attended by transgenders from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Malaysia, Singapore and many other places across the world.
“More than 60,000 devotees attended the festival this year and there is a substantial increase in the revenue collected. For us it is an opportunity to meet people of our community from different parts of the country and to share our experiences,” said Gomathi, who has has been attending the festival for the past 22 years.
Seethal Nayak, a transgender activist, said the festival is a celebration of transgender identity through which the community reaches out to the society for acceptance. “The festival and its increased reception was, in many ways, an eye opener for the government forcing it to include transgenders also in policy-making process,” she said....