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Koovagam affords the transgender community to savour life intensely for 10 days. Photo: Sindhuja Parthasarathy
Brides for a day

in INDIA, 30/05/2013

According to the Mahabharata, Aravan, the son of Arjuna, sacrificed himself to ensure the victory of the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war. However, he wished to marry before he died and so Krishna transformed into Mohini and married him. After Aravan was sacrificed, Mohini grieved like a widow. Transgenders gather at Koovagam every year to re-enact this story. In a symbolic ritual, they marry the Lord Aravan and mourn his death the next day by performing the rituals of widowhood.

The distinctly modern struggle for gender identity finds expression in the hoary traditions of Aravan’s temple in Koovagam, Tamil Nadu.

My gender identity is fabricated and instinctive, illusionary and real, pivotal and irrelevant to the person I am. However, my identity crisis should be a non-issue to the people I work with, the political career I build or the social causes I work on. A revolution of sorts to challenge the social and economic exclusion of the transgender community is long overdue,” says Sowmya, a transgender person who contested in the recent elections in Karnataka.

A lot has changed in the lives of transgenders such as Sowmya (or Anu who works in the court of law) who are challenging conventional societal norms and foraying into mainstream professions. What has not changed through the years is the ritualistic and increasingly extravagant celebration at Koovagam, a village in Ulundurpet taluk in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu, which houses the 400-year-old temple of Aravan.

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