KOOVAGAM: Mohana of Tiruvannamalai was all smiles as Thennarasu ‘tied the knot’ at the Koothanadavar Temple. As twilight fell, hordes of transgenders swarmed into the brightly lit temple for the main ceremony of the Koovagam festival. Transgenders trace their roots to the epic Mahabharata where Lord Krishna is said to have taken female form to marry Prince Aravan, to fulfil a wish of the latter before being sacrificed just one day after his marriage. Thousands of transgenders symbolise this event by dressing up as a bride of Aravan, and walking to the temple to get a ‘thali’ tied.
To consummate the ‘wedding’, they spend the night with a man and cut the ‘thali’ the next day, mourning the death of Aravan.
“To us, this is an important function. No matter where we are or how fit we are, we will be here. Every year, we pray to God to fulfill our wishes. Whether the wish comes true or not, we continue to come every year,” Chandra said as she walked out of the temple with her man, Palani.
The transgenders dance and sing all night around small bonfires in a bid to make Aravan happy. For them, the festival is about love, pain and sacrifice.
Bachelors and families from Cuddalore, Ulundurpet, Kallakuruchi, Thirukovilur and Puduchery also visited the temple to tie a ‘thali’ and offer prayers for the fulfilment of their wishes. Many of them arrive in Koovagam at least two days before the main ceremony. “I prayed to God that if I give birth to a son, I would bring him every year and get the ‘thali’ tied. I came two days ago and have been staying in an empty ground here,” said Chitra of Anapur village.
Caste discrimination looms large in the village as Dalits of Koovagam are not allowed inside the temple and have to tie the ‘thali’ standing a few feet away from the entrance.
“They will see Koothandavar and offer prayers only when he is taken in procession around the village and to the Colony,” Kaliyan said. “A Dalit was possessed by God and it was thus that the Irulars found His statue when they were hunting for rats,” he added paradoxically.