India’s Koovagam festival – a celebration of transgenderism


23 April 2008
Hindustan Times

Celebrating their uniqueness
by Avishek G Dastidar, Hindustan Times

The little known village of Koovagam in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district hosted India’s biggest festival of sexuality for the ‘third gender’ on Tuesday. Close to a lakh people from the transgender community tied the nuptial knot to a deity at the local temple and openly consummated their marriage in the fields under a full moon sky.

Thus kickstarted Koovagam 2008, an age-old festival that gives transgenders the chance to flaunt it in style on the streets without feeling the stigma — through rallies, beauty pageants, sports events, feasts and what not — for a week.

Legend has it that Lord Krishna turned into Mohini, a beautiful woman, to marry a local boy, Aravan, for a night because he was to be sacrificed the next morning at the Kurukshetra war and no woman had come forward to tie the knot. The eunuchs, called Aravanis in Tamil, assume the role of Mohini every year and marry Aravan at the Koothandavar temple.

So far so good. But villagers this year have protested against the ritual of open consummation in the fields. They say the morning after the euphoria, they are left to clean fields that look like a dump yard of used condoms.

“Often, our children pick them up and bring them home,” said Ramesh, a local resident. “We welcome the festival because it’s been happening for as far as we can remember but the increase in condom use in recent years has started creating this problem for us,” he said.

The Tamil Nadu Network of Positive People, an NGO, on Tuesday distributed 3,000 condoms during a popular beauty pageant called Miss Koovagam ’08. And it was just one of the many NGOs. Its founder director Rama Pandian said: “They are usually in a hurry to have frequent sex during this time, so the disposal of condoms may not adhere to the best practices.”

District Collector Brajendra Navnit told HT: “We’ve noted the problem. This year we’ll deploy more support stuff for sanitation at the village the next morning.”

Noting the problem, the Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative, which works with transgenders, is propagating a message, “No sex around the temple”.

Apart from sex workers leading a marginalised life in groups, the fest sees thousands of homosexuals, bisexuals, bi-curious and even cross-dressers coming out of the closet and boldly mingling with peers.


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