Koovagam Festival: Celebration by the Hijra Community

Every year on spring, thousands of hijras from across the country gather in a celebration in Koovagam. It is one of the largest celebration of the hijra community held in Koovagam,a small hamlet located 30 kilometres away from the Villupuram disctrict in Tamilnadu. The ceremony takes place on a full moon day in Chittirai (the first month of Tamil calendar). What a sight it was to see thousands of them gather around lightening the whole place with joy, welcoming whoever wants to watch their ceremony with opened arms.

The first day is the wedding ceremony held in honor of the Hindu deity, Lord Aravan. Aravan the son of Pandava Arjun sacrificed himself for the victory of the Pandava brothers in Kurukshetra war. He wished to marry a woman before he dies so Lord Krishna transformed himself into a woman called Mohini. The next day,Mohini mourned for the death of him according to epic Mahabharata. The hijras dress as brides and tie ‘thaali’, a sacred thread signifying marriage around their neck.  Some even pierce themselves to show their devotion to Lord Aravan. Happiness lightened up the place as the marriage celebration began. Imagine looking at thousands of brides groomed posing to cameras, giving their best smiles and the sound of giggles and laughter echoing in the whole place.

The next day is the darkest day one could ever see. It is the removal of ‘thali’ ritual. All the brides who were dancing and laughing turned  widows overnight.  The widows mourn the death of Lord Aravan. They grieve, hugging all their friends pouring out all the sorrows . They break all their bangles and beat their chest and sing “Oppari”- a mourning song women sing for deaths. The sight of seeing them crying out their pain aloud moves everyone to tears.  Though it is just a regular ceremony that happens yearly, it is just heartbreaking to see them drowned in such despair after all the cheerful laughter I heard yesterday. My hands were shaky to capture these melancholy moments.

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This photo series has been contributed by Suriya P.K. and S. Shruthikka, students of School of Excellence in Law, Dr. Ambedhkar Law University, Chennai.

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