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In Frames | Vicissitudes of a wedding – The Hindu

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Koovagam, a tiny village 30 km from Villupuram, is a popular destination for transgender celebrations, drawing spectators from all over India. In the Tamil month of Chithirai (mid-April to mid-May), the 18-day Koothandavar festival takes place, with evocative ceremonies on the last two days. Approximately 50,000 people congregate for the celebration, a time when local enterprises flourish. Residents of the village who work in big cities come back to run small businesses such as flower shops, bangle shops, boutiques, and food stalls. Some engage in making the thaali (sacred yellow thread) as it is the major part of the festival.

In a Tamil version of the Mahabharata, a character called Aravan offered himself as sacrifice for the Pandavas’ triumph in war. It is said he had a boon of marriage before his sacrifice but no woman wanted to marry him as it would mean widowhood. Eventually, it is said Lord Krishna married Aravan after taking the form of Mohini. Lore has it that Lord Krishna grieved for Aravan as a widow. In Koovagam, the rituals trace the legend. Transgender women dress as brides on the 17th day, and the priests of Koothandavar temple tie thaali for them.

On the last day, parts of the Koothandavar idol is brought from various parts of Tamil Nadu and assembled before being taken on a chariot. Transgender women gather and perform the kummi dance as the chariot moves. The crowds then travel a couple of kilometres the Natham , where the priests break the transgender women’s bangles and cut the thaali . Lord Koothandavar, their spouse, has passed away, and they weep in sorrow. The transgender women rub off the kungumam (red turmeric marks on the forehead) and dress in a white sari.

One transgender woman compared her personal life to the annual event in Koovagam. “Our lives are safe and cheerful one day, and then they turn disastrous the next. It is hanging by a thread,” she said.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

Steeped in rituals: Transgender women get ready for the ritual wedding on a full moon night during the Koothandavar temple festival on Tuesday at Koovagam in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

All aboard: A family on the way to the Koothandavar temple in Villupuram to attend the to attend the Koovagam festival.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

Divine fashion: Transgender women dressed up as godesses for the Miss Koovagam fashion show conducted as part of the festival.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

Cultural bridge: Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, 24 April 2024: DAY 2 – MARRIAGE CEREMONY: Transgender women from the U.S. participating in rituals. Visitors come from all over the country and abroad.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

In style: Jewellery, flowers and other bridal finery become a part of the costume for the symbolic marriage Lord Koothandavar during the festival.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

Joyous occasion: The temple priest ties the thaali to the transgender, symbolising her marriage to Lord Koothandavar.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

Wedding party: Transgender women perform the kummi dance after the symbolic marriage during the festival.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

Difficult end: A transgender woman cries as the priest breaks her bangles and cuts off the thaali, symbolising her entering widowhood.

Photo:
Akhila Easwaran

In mourning: A transgender woman drapes white saree, marking her ceremonial widowhood during the final day of the festival.

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