Koovagam a small village in Villupuram in Tamil Nadu. It is the epicenter of the biggest Transgender and Transvestite gathering in India. In this festival, they marry their God Aravan for only a day. The next day, they mourn the death of their husband.
Koovagam: Epicenter of the transgender festival
Koovagam is a small village. It is located 25 kilometers away from Villupuram district in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India. This village is often called as a sleepy village. But it comes to life in the days when the festival takes place.
Although the residents of this place are quite comfortable with the nature of the festival but there is a small section who thinks that coming of the third gender people in their village will have a bad influence on their children and the young generation.
Story behind Koovagam festival
This festival has its roots in the Hindu epic of Mahabharata. It is believed that, on the last day of the Kurukshetra war between Kauravas and Pandavas. In order to win the battle, Krishna advised Pandavas to sacrifice one man from their side. When nobody volunteered themselves, Aravan, son of Arjuna and Naga Princess Ulupi, volunteered himself.
Before getting sacrificed he asked for his last wish to be fulfilled. He wanted to get married before he dies. No woman was ready to marry him just for one day and then be a widow for the rest of her life. To fulfill Aravana’s last wish, Krishna took Mohini avatar and married him. The next day, he sacrificed his life and Pandavas won the battle. This whole act is enacted in the last two days of this festival.
Celebrtaion of Koovagam Koothandavar Festival
Koovagam festival is celebrated in the month of Chitirai of the Tamil calendar. It falls in the month of April and May. It is an 18 days long festival. Transgenders from around the globe come to participate in this festival. In the first 16 days, many events take place. It includes cultural programs, skits by NGOs, and other entertaining events.
The most important event among these is ‘Miss Koovagam’ beauty pageant. Like any other beauty pageant, this is specifically for trans people. They take part in this event and the most beautiful one receives the title of Miss Koovagam by the judges. For them, it is not just a title. They believe that this title will give them the respect and acceptance in the society that they are longing for.
On the 17th day of the Festival all the transgenders gather in the Koothandavar temple ground. They all come there dressed up as a bride wearing bangles and jewelry. They are married to Aravan. In Hinduism, mangalsutra and bangles signifies a married woman. That is why, the temple priest ties Thalis, commonly known as Mangalsutra around their neck. It signifies their marriage with Aravan. Whole night they celebrate their marriage by dancing and singing.
On the last day, a procession takes place with the statue of Aravan on a chariot. Priests breaks their bangles, cuts off the thali and washes of the vermillion (sindoor) from their heads. After the procession, all the wives of Aravan, known as Aravanis wear white saree and mourns the death of their husband. This also marks the end of this festival.
Being one of the biggest trans festival, it records a large number of footfalls every year. Special buses are arranged to reach Koovagam by the authorities. It is a way through which third gender people meet each other without any fear of getting judged by the society. Some of them find their family and some of them find love. It is that time of the year when these people live a common life like most of us.
Condition of Transgenders in India
Transgenders are those people who act differently according to the gender assigned to them at the time of their birth. These people are commonly known as ‘Hijras’, ‘Chakkas’, and ‘Kinner’. In some places they are also known as ‘Aravani’, ‘Aruvani’, and ‘Jagappa’.
In India, they were not accepted wholeheartedly as compared to other parts of the world. They were not given the same amount of respect as given to a man or woman. Most of the time, they are even not accepted by their own family members. That is why, they have to run their households either by begging or by involving themselves in prostitution.
In 2014, the Supreme Court passed a verdict in which it recognized the transgenders as the ‘Third Gender’ after male and female. This has led to a little change in their lives.
Current status of Koovagam festival
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, this festival has been canceled this year. Transgenders are upset with this news. But they understand the current situation. They are praying to their deity Aravan, for this pandemic to end soon. So that they can celebrate this festival next year with the same zeal.
Author: Anjali Datt
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