Koovagam Festival - the Transgender Festival in Tamil Nadu

Koovagam is a unique festival that revolves around the transgender community. It is an 18-day long festival that is celebrated in Koovagam village. This village is located about 25 km away from Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu. These days fall in the month of Chaitra (according to the Hindu Calendar), that is in March/April. The 'Koothandavar Temple' is the place where this festival is primarily held. 

Lord Aravan, from the epic Mahabharata, is one of the core elements of this festival. He is worshipped by all the transgenders that visit Koovagam during this festival. Various mythological stories trace back to the importance of Lord Aravan among this specific community. 

Koovagam festival is also referred to as the Kuthandavar-Aravan Mela.

Koovagam Festival Date 2020 

Although the festival lasts for about 18 days; the core rituals are celebrated for two days. The dates are 4th and 5th May 2020.

Koovagam Festival Story - Origin and Significance

Lord Aravan

The origin, history and mythological significance of this festival trace back to the time of 'Mahabharata.' For Pandavas to win the Kurukshetra war, it required sacrificing a life to Goddess Kali. At this time, Lord Aravan, son of Pandava Arjuna (and Naga Princess Ulupi) offered to sacrifice his life for their victory in the battle. His last wish before death was to get married and experience marital life for once. 

Since no woman would agree to marry a man who was supposed to die the next day; it was Lord Krishna who took the form of a woman named 'Mohini.' In one night, the marriage took place, and Aravan sacrificed his life on the next day. 

Koovagam festival commemorates this mythological incident and thus celebrates the union of various transgender women, also known as Aravanis; in order to celebrate this festival. 

How is it celebrated?

  • Koovagam village is one of the quietest, sleepy villages. However, it is during the Koovagam festival that it awakens and kind of, illuminates. This 18-day long festival involves a lot of activities that bring together tons of transgenders at Koovagam, about 25km from Villupuram district. 
  • The first 16 days involve numerous activities, programmes and cultural performances. Some instances would include awareness skits by NGOs, singing, dancing and more. 
  • The 17th day is the most prominent one. On this day, various transgender women dress as brides or Mohinis; wearing bright coloured sarees, colourful bangles, jewellery and ornaments. They visit the Koothavandar Temple in order to marry the deity 'Aravan.' The temple priests tie the 'thali' or 'mangalsutra' around their necks to signify the marriage. 
  • The streets are filled with crowds to witness the procession and festivities. A huge image (of the severed head) of Lord Aravan is also carried across the streets. It is kept in the temple throughout the rest of the year. It's only during this festival that a fresh coat of paint is applied to it, and it is taken out from the sanctum. 
  • After one night, on the next day, the Aravanis gather to mourn the death and sacrifice of Aravan. They change into white sarees and no makeup is worn. The priests remove the thalis and the women fiercely break their bangles, signifying their widowhood. 
  • The rejoice heard on the day before converts to cries of sorrow and mourning on the next day. And this is one of the stark contrasts of this festival. 

Aravanis Mourning the death of Aravan

The cultural activities and union of various flocks of people from all over the country lead to a spirit of togetherness and a sense of belonging in the hearts of everyone. It is an occasion to bring about light where there is darkness, and let all groups of people rejoice who they truly are.

It is indeed a unique festival that brings about the diversity and culture of India in a rather beautifully dramatic manner!

This post was published by Penaaz Valecha

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