The annual transgender festival of Koovagam.
Koovagam, a village in Tamil Nadu is fast becoming famous for its annual festival of transgenders and transvestites. Spanning 18 days, the festival takes place at the Koothandavar Temple dedicated to Aravan.
As part of the ritual, participants marry Lord Koothandavar, re-enacting an ancient myth of Vishnu/Krishna who married him after taking the form of a woman called Mohini. The next day, they mourn his death through ritualistic dances and breaking their bangles. Along with this, an annual beauty pageant and several other competitions like singing and dancing are also held.
At the dawn of the 18th day, the air is ripped by sharp wails, as Aravaan is beheaded, widowing all his one-day-old wives. Following tradition, the widows rip the Mangalsutraa from their necks, remove the flowers from their hair and throw away their ornaments. All the while wailing loudly and beating their chests, just like Krishna mourned for Aravan.
A transgender bride getting ready for "Kummi adi" ritual
Evening scape of Koothandavar Temple Koovagam
Transgenders bathe before heading to the temple
Buying mangalsutra in a shop near the temple
Getting blessed from an older transgender is considered auspicious
Local men flirting with the transgenders
Passing a mangalsutra shop
Shopkeeper near the temple hoping for customers
Men wear mangalsutras
People from nearby villages come to offer prayers for Lord Kothandavar
After getting married, transgenders are merrymaking with local men as one night brides
Young men from nearby villages seduce transgender brides on this night
"Bali Peedam" where mourning rituals take place
Merry go round at Bali Peedam
Mangalsutras are ripped off during mourning rituals
Bangles are broken as part of mourning
Transgenders doing "Oppari" (a means to express their sadness at a person's death)
Flowers from transgender's hair are seen hanging on trees
Transgenders wear white sarees to signify they are widows
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By Vijayaraj PS
Photographs by Vijayaraj PS