Tickets checked, cosmetics checked, empty memory card for memories checked. This and many more are the items on the list for many trans-genders going for the Koovagam festival. Like any other festivals celebrated in India, Koovagam too is a special festival celebrated by the Hijra community esp. in south of India. But unlike any other festivals which denies the presence of the third gender there is no hard and fast rule in this festival. They welcome all.
Koovagam is a 18 day long festival carried in the Tamil month of Chitrai (English Calendar April/May) in 6 different parts of Tamil Nadu in South India (Pondicherry, Nagarcoil, Villupuram etc). However, the name comes from the village Koovagam in Ulundurpettai Taluk, in Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu, where it started. The story behind this festival dates back to the time of Mahabharata. Vishnu personifies himself into a beautiful lady named Mohini and marries Avani the son of Arjuna who was destined to be killed in the battlefield, before he leaves. As destiny takes toll Avani was killed. After hearing Mohini (Vishnu) laments the death of her dear husband. Believing this incident hundreds of Hijras dress like to be wed brides and marries Avani’s statue in the Kothandur temple of Koovagam village, by tying of the sacred thread called ‘thalli’. And the death of their beloved husband is lamented by them in the form of widow the very next day. The practice of marring and lamenting rituals goes on every year with faith and dedication.
Over the years this 18 day long festival has shortened to 10 days and has grown glamorous on the wills of the community. Now fashion show has emerged as a necessary ritual during the festival. Praveena from Madurai who was pronounced this year’s winner boasted her investment of rupees 1 lakh for clothes, beauty treatments etc. The Koovagam festival draws the local cosmetic, apparel, footwear industry with the perspective of good business. But this year local N.G.Os and medical camps which focus on inner and outer health of the Hijras were also seen. Due to the sex trade controversy during the festival many of the trans-genders of south India remained absent from the festival. Also the less number of domestic media in comparison of the international media in the festival, showed the lack of acceptance by the society.
The festival ended with joy, grief, glamour and lots of memories. With the hope of being accepted by the society, they part their ways until next year.