Villupuram (Tamil Nadu), Apr.22 : Tamil Nadu is playing host to a weeklong festival dedicated to transgenders with the objective of facilitating their eventual entry into the existing social mainstream.
The festival, which began on Sunday, is held annually at 'Koovagam' in the state's Villupuram District.
The Koothandavar Temple that draws about 70,000 transgenders, homosexuals and cross dressers from around the world, culminates with two elderly males tying the knot to symbolize warrior king Aravan's wedding to Lord Krishna in his Mohini avatar.
According to Hindu myth, Aravan was a brave but virginal prince, who agreed to be sacrificed in war to salvage his family's honour. His only request before going into battle was that he experience one night of marital bliss.
His brothers searched everywhere, but could not find a woman who would readily accept widowhood. Finally, Lord Krishna, assuming the form of a woman, helped Aravan consummate his desires.
The ritual on Monday marked the second day of the festival in the temple.
This is the only transgender specific festival in India.
Lalitha, a transgender, said: "The significance of this festival is to mainstream our people and also to exhibit our talents. Those are things which we have in mind and we want to exhibit it at the festival."
Transgenders get married and on the same day they cut their mangal sutras to become widows.
This event happens during the month of Chithrai on a full moon day.
For eunuchs, who number between 50,000 to two million in India, what happens at the Koovagam Temple is of immense spiritual significance.
Transgenders like Anusha feel at home during the festival.
"I'm very happy that such a festival is being organized. I don't know how it was organized in earlier days, but for the last four years, this festival has been going on very well," said Anusha, a transgender.
On the night of the festival, eunuchs come dressed as brides to offer themselves in marriage to the warrior deity of the temple, Lord Aravan. At dawn, the transgenders become widows, wailing and beating their chests, as their marriage threads are cut, bangles broken, and flowers are flung from their fake braids.
After this, the transgender bathe in a water tank to purify and drape themselves in white saris and vow that they'll return the following year to make the same sacrifice.
Koovagam festival has of late attracted many foreign transgenders who throng this place to be a part of this unique festival of faith.