Transgender people, also known as “Hijaras” in India, have traditionally played a role in society. However, they have so far been unable to integrate into society as a whole and remain on the periphery of it.
The transgender community has long been mocked and despised, reduced to forced prostitution and begging in order to survive. Despite the widespread belief that transgender people are not accepted, there is a community in south India that values and embraces their uniqueness.
The annual Koovagam Festival, which lasts 18 days, draws thousands of transgender people from all over the nation to the Koothandavar Temple in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram region every year between April and May.
Here are 5 things you must know about Koovagam Festival!
1. 18-day Festival
The unique 18-day festival of transgender people takes place in the Tamil month of Chitirai (April/May) in Koovagam village’s Ulundurpettai taluk. Participants congregate at Koothandavar temple, which is dedicated to Aravan (Koothandavar).
In long-standing mythology from the Mahabharata concerning Aravan, an off-wedlock son of Arjuna, thousands of transgender people from all over the nation travel to Koovagam to marry Lord Koothandavar.
2. Story behind it
In accordance with the myth, Aravan consents to be a sacrifice to Goddess Kali on the condition that he marries before he passes away in order to settle the conflict between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Nobody wanted to wed a man who was about to die, so Lord Krishna assumes the appearance of Mohini and weds Aravan.
Aravan is sacrificed the following day and consumed by Goddess Kali.
3. A celebration on its own
Songs, dances, beauty pageants, dramas, and seminars on HIV/AIDS awareness presented by NGOs fill the first 16 days of the festival.
4. Brides for one night
Priests bind thaalis or mangalsutras around the transgender people’s necks on the seventeenth day. Moreover, making them all into Aravan’s brides for one night. The participants take on the role of widows, lamenting the loss of their husbands. Also, pulling off their thaalis and jewellery on the final day when Aaravan is beheaded by Kali.
After marrying, transgender people do their customary “kummi adi” dance close to the Koothandavar temple. The night of the full moon is when the Koovagam festival comes to a close (Chitra Pournami).
5. A Day to Mourn
The celebrations reach their pinnacle on the evening of the 17th when all transgender people dress up as brides. They don vibrant bangles and sacramentally tie thalis (mangalsutras) around their necks.
The festival comes to an end with these brides becoming widows. To mourn Aravan’s passing, they break their thalis and bracelets, signifying the end of their one-day marriage.
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