Koovagam, the village that comes under media limelight every year in the Tamil month of Chithirai (April-May) when at least two lakh devotees of Lord Koothandavar, most of them from the LGBT community from around the world, congregate, has just one petty shop to cater to the entire needs of the few hundred families.
A picture of total neglect, the village has just two roads, which are in a bad shape. During the last annual Chitirai festival, SETC could operate buses only up to a point three kilometres away from the village, says Manikandan, who belongs to a family that has, for generations, been serving as priests at the Koothandavar Temple.
Even the temple, which throbs with humanity on the concluding day of the 18-day festival with transgenders, gay men, crossdressers and even others lining up to tie the ‘thaali’ and become the bride of the Lord just for a night, wears a deserted look with no visitors, except for the few men who have gathered at the nearby ‘nadaga medai’ (stage) to play parama-padham — the mythological equivalent of the board game snakes and ladders. It is not that outsiders have no business to visit the village at times other than the festival days. Its abysmal infrastructure provides little scope for locals to go anywhere. “Bus services are poor; we just have two buses to the village every day; healthcare facilities are a far cry,” says the priest.
In fact, at first sight, Koovagam is like any Indian village with idyllic settings comprising lush, green fields and narrow roads bisecting them. It has a primary school and a primary health centre. It borders a village, Natham, a kilometre away, where two centres associated with the annual festival are situated. The grieving spot, where devotees break their bangles and mourn the death of Koothandavar, is strewn with broken glass bangles left behind by those who visited the place last May.
More than three months after the ritual, no one has bothered to clear the broken bangles and the grove covered with dense foliage, including a banyan and tamarind trees, is pervaded by a sense of tranquil with a group of men playing cards in one corner. “You must visit during the festival, when at least two lakh people come here. In fact, we leave the fields open to accommodate the visitors,” says Manikandan. This village has a direct link to the great war of Mahabharatha that raged across the battlefield in Kurukshetra, present-day Panipat, adds the priest.
The villagers seek to dispel the notion that this is a festival for transgenders alone. Arumugam, a village elder who gets the kaappu (thread) tied on his wrist just before the start of the festival, says that people from all over the ‘jilla’ participate in it.