Villupuram's Koovagam festival in pictures: A celebration of transgender identity

Published: 02nd May 2018 09:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd May 2018 08:53 PM  

Koovagam village in Villupuram district's Ulundurpettai taluk is world famous for the unique 18-day long festival of transgenders in the Tamil month of Chitirai (April/May), who congregate at Koothandavar temple dedicated to Aravan (Koothandavar). Thousands of transgenders from across the country flock to Koovagam to marry Lord Koothandavar, reenacting a centuries-old legend from the Mahabharata about Aravan, a son of Arjuna born out of wedlock. (Express Photos | G Pattabiraman)
Koovagam village in Villupuram district's Ulundurpettai taluk is world famous for the unique 18-day long festival of transgenders in the Tamil month of Chitirai (April/May), who congregate at Koothandavar temple dedicated to Aravan (Koothandavar). Thousands of transgenders from across the country flock to Koovagam to marry Lord Koothandavar, reenacting a centuries-old legend from the Mahabharata about Aravan, a son of Arjuna born out of wedlock. (Express Photos | G Pattabiraman)
According to the legend, Aravan agrees to be sacrificed to Goddess Kali, in order to win the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas under the condition that he be married before his death.  As nobody was willing to marry a man who was about to be killed, Lord Krishna takes the form of a woman, Mohini, and marries Aravan. The next day, Aravan is offered in sacrifice to Goddess Kali who then devours him. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
According to the legend, Aravan agrees to be sacrificed to Goddess Kali, in order to win the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas under the condition that he be married before his death. As nobody was willing to marry a man who was about to be killed, Lord Krishna takes the form of a woman, Mohini, and marries Aravan. The next day, Aravan is offered in sacrifice to Goddess Kali who then devours him. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
The first 16 days are spent in celebration, with songs, dance, beauty contests, plays and seminars on HIV/AIDS awareness conducted by NGOs.  (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
The first 16 days are spent in celebration, with songs, dance, beauty contests, plays and seminars on HIV/AIDS awareness conducted by NGOs. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
On the 17th day, priests tie thaalis or mangalsutras around the necks of the transgenders and for one night, all of them become the brides of Aravan. On the last day, when Aaravan is beheaded by Kali, the participants play the role of widows, mourning the death of their husband and ripping off their thaalis and ornaments.  (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
On the 17th day, priests tie thaalis or mangalsutras around the necks of the transgenders and for one night, all of them become the brides of Aravan. On the last day, when Aaravan is beheaded by Kali, the participants play the role of widows, mourning the death of their husband and ripping off their thaalis and ornaments. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
According to Hindu mythology, transgenders are believed to be from Aravan's lineage - the reason why they are called 'aravanis' in some parts of the country. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
According to Hindu mythology, transgenders are believed to be from Aravan's lineage - the reason why they are called 'aravanis' in some parts of the country. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
Transgenders perform their traditional 'kummi adi' dance near Koothandavar temple after getting 'married'. The Koovagam festival culminates on the night of the full moon (Chitra Pournami). (in picture: Transgenders near Koothandavar temple minutes before getting married on Tuesday evening) |  Express Photo by G Pattabiraman
Transgenders perform their traditional 'kummi adi' dance near Koothandavar temple after getting 'married'. The Koovagam festival culminates on the night of the full moon (Chitra Pournami). (In picture: Transgenders near Koothandavar temple minutes before getting married on Tuesday evening) | Express Photo by G Pattabiraman
Devotees throng the Koovagam Koothandavar temple as the chariot is pulled as part of the last day event of the 18-day-long festival. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
Devotees throng the Koovagam Koothandavar temple as the chariot is pulled as part of the last day event of the 18-day-long festival. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
A Transgender reacts as her bangles are removed along with her Thaali to mourn the death of Aravan. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
A Transgender reacts as her bangles are removed along with her Thaali to mourn the death of Aravan. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
Transgenders mourn the death of Aravan at the Koovagam Koothandavar temple festival. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
Transgenders mourn the death of Aravan at the Koovagam Koothandavar temple festival. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
Transgenders wear white dress as they mourn the death of Aravan. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
Transgenders wear white dress as they mourn the death of Aravan. (Express Photo | G Pattabiraman)
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