India is a place of epic stories and one of the countries which possess a rich history. Unlike many other countries, which failed to continue the ancestral or ancient traditions, India, especially the state of Tamilnadu, in which people have been following the traditions for ages, is successful in maintaining the ancient traditions even today. Mythology and history are two concepts that help a human to follow a tradition or a culture and at the same time, they are the basis for breaking the stereotypes. Hence, respecting these two aspects makes a person believe in the community and make people follow unity in making the community stronger. The same thing happens every particular year as a grand festival in the village of Koovagam near Villupuram which is 200km away from Chennai, the capital city of Tamilnadu!
This is a festival of joy, tragedy, unity, encouragement, and empowerment. Many variations, tribes, and sub-tribes of the transgender community played a vital role in the mythology and history of India. Be it, the Pallavas in the south or the Mughals in the North, most of the mighty kingdoms and rulers have had Transgenders as court members, courtesans, dancers, and singers. They were worshiped and also treated as highly trustworthy more than any else, including queens. But unfortunately, the scenario has changed after the monarchy and people started criticizing Transgenders in various ways. Regally called as Eunuchs, these Transgenders are now being called as Hijra, chakka and much more demeaning, devaluing and degrading names.
Amidst all this criticism and judgmental scenario in and around India, most of the Transgenders don't fail in attending this annual festival which happens in the small village of Tamilnadu. It is to be noted that millions of people attend to witness this 18 day longest, largest, and oldest transgender festival. To all the criticizers from the queer community and all the trans-phobic people, observe the fact that this festival is larger than any pride march happens in the world. A lot of things must be learned from this festival, with its huge number of hosting; the Koovagam Festival portrays the unity of the transgender community.
Coming to mythological history, the stories behind this festival are completely fascinating to the core. Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna are the two characters who played the main role in this engaging story as a part of the Mahabharata. Indian history has witnessed the 18-day long war of Kurukshetra between Pandavas and Kauravas. Well, this story has happened two nights before the war. Sacrificing an animal or a human used to be a ritual before participating in warfare as a belief for victorious return. Instead of sacrificing an animal, Irava, or Aravan, one of the court members of Pandavas and also one of the sons of Prince Arjuna (gave birth to Aravan by marrying a Naga princess Ulupi) has suggested himself as a sacrificial creature to Goddess Kali to ensure that Pandavas must return with a great victory after crossing a lot of hurdles and to take revenge for Draupadi's insult.
History speaks that Aravan is a homosexual god, but the real story speaks that Irava has asked for one last wish to Lord Krishna that he must possess a wife to cry after his death. Then Lord Krishna transformed himself as Mohini, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu to marry Irava. After the perfect wedding with all the Hindu rituals included, Mohini spent a night with Irava just before the day he was about to get sacrificed. After the sacrifice, Goddess Mohini who indeed one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu/Krishna, mourns for the death of Irava by breaking her bangles and making herself a widow!
It is to be believed that the Irava has later become a heroic lord. There is a temple for Iruvan/ Irava/Aravan in the village of Koovagam as Koothandavar Temple. Since ages, many Transgenders have been visiting this sacred place to celebrate the life, marriage, and death of Koothandavar by marrying directly to the lord as his wives. In this 18-day long festival, the last three days are treated as the most important days where all the Transgenders from the nooks and corners of India, approach the main priest who acts behalf of the Lord Koothandavar in tying the sacred knots around the necks of Transgenders to portray the marital relationship with Lord Irava.
That whole night, all the Transgenders laugh, sing, dance, perform artistic skills, enjoy their hearts out as the wives of the Lord Aravan. They celebrate the marital relationship so purely like newly wedded innocent wives though they know their celebration of marriage lasts only for one night. Because the tragedy comes the next day, on which Lord Koothandavar is believed to be dead because of his heroic sacrifice. Hence, the next day, all the Transgenders sit together as large groups to cry their hearts out by plucking their golden sacred threads out of their necks, by breaking their colorful bangles and removing their large round red Bindis on their foreheads.
After crying aloud to mourn the death of the Lord Irava, some of the Transgenders dress up in white saris to portray the sign of widow-ism according to the Hindu mythology. This all happens every single year and every transgender, especially trans-women and transvestites takes this festival as their communal ritual and participate in various artistic performances.
As we stepped in the millennial era, the rituals are added but the tradition continues in the same way as usual. Do you know that transgender pageant is also one of the parts of this festival? Yes, every year, the organizers conduct the transgender fashion festival where many Transgenders participate as models and exhibit their skills and speeches, in the end, one of them will also be awarded the title of "Miss Koovagam." All these events happen throughout the 18-day long festival. At the end of the roller coaster journey of this festival with happiness and sadness, all the Transgenders leave the village of Koovagam to their respective places with the most satisfied smiles on their faces.
This society is always hard on them. They are treated as good only when they are required for their blessings, else they are always criticized and become the victims of verbal and physical torture. Imagine, a community which gathers around in thousands for an annual festival, do you think the transgender community is less in India. They are the ones who are carrying the heritage, history, mythology with their sexual orientations. Hence, these queer artists who mourn, for the death of a historical god who played a very important yet shortest role in the mythology, are well deserved to be respected than the people who don't even give a damn to culture and traditions.
And to all the people from the LGBTQ+ community, observe the fact that the transgender community is also much included in the queer culture of India. Respect them and be proud they are part of this community!