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Vijay Mehta

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xx India's tolerance to trangenders and homosexuals
« Thread started on: Apr 1st, 2006, 1:02pm »

Under the full moon, India defies categories
Tishani Doshi

MADRAS, India Koovagam is a village in Tamil Nadu, tucked away in India's
south. With a single street of mud huts and a temple surrounded by sugarcane
fields, it isn't the kind of place you'd expect to play host to the largest
transgender gathering in the country. But every April, on the night of the
full moon, it manages with considerable panache to do just that, in a burst
of revelry that is a combination of village fair and traveling circus.

To get there, though, you must negotiate trains, taxis and auto rickshaws;
find a motel in the nearby town of Villipuram; and then be prepared to
abandon all sense of normality. Because what happens during the festival at
Koovagam is nothing short of a magical transformation.

For five days leading up to the night- long ceremony at the temple, the
streets of Villipuram are overrun by transsexuals, eunuchs and transvestites
who descend here in thousands to parade in their brightest and best clothes,
with flowers in their hair and bangles on their wrists.

When they're not participating in beauty pageants, seminars on HIV, painting
and dancing competitions, they're sitting in roadside restaurants beguiling
onlookers about what's true and false, man and woman; fake and real; and the
place in between that defies all definition.

Transsexuals in India are known by a variety of names, most of them
derogatory, highlighting their inability to either produce or bear children,
but the umbrella term most frequently used to describe them, and by which
they are best known, is an Urdu word, hijra, which means impotent one.

For centuries, hijras enjoyed a unique position in Indian society, presiding
over marriage and birth ceremonies, but when India's British rulers outlawed
emasculation, hijras lost their royal patronage and ended up in ghettos,
without the basic rights to have a passport, a ration card or property. Many
have been forced into begging and prostitution. But they refuse to be
pigeonholed into "he" or "she," and continue to claim a third neither-
here-nor-there gender for themselves.

For India's hijras, who number from 50,000 to two million, what happens in
the Koovagam temple every April is a life-affirming act of high spiritual
significance. On the night of the festival, hijras come dressed as brides to
offer themselves in marriage to the warrior deity of the temple, Lord

According to Hindu myth, Aravan was a brave but virginal prince, who agreed
to be sacrificed in war to salvage his family's honor. His only request,
before going into battle, was that he experience one night of marital bliss.
His brothers searched everywhere, but couldn't find a woman who would
readily accept widowhood. Finally, Lord Krishna, assuming the form of a
woman, helped Aravan consummate his desires.

Every year in Koovagam, hijras re- enact this myth, becoming brides, wives
and widows in the span of a single night. During this time, they are
considered divine beings, for whom sex is an act of worship.

Last year, watching the festivities unfold from the roof of the temple, I
saw a sleepy village transform itself into a living, breathing theater of

All night, under the full moon, people sing and dance and gossip under
trees, while loudspeakers, fireworks, trumpets and drums fill the air with
music and light. Then bedecked brides begin to stream into the temple to be
married by a Hindu priest, who ties sacred marriage threads around their
necks; while outside, newlywed couples disappear into the sugarcane fields.

At dawn, the hijras transform, again, into widows. Amid wailing and chest-
beating, marriage threads are cut, bangles are broken, and flowers are flung
from fake braids. After this, the hijras bathe in a water tank to purify
themselves, drape themselves in white saris and vow that they'll return the
following year to make the same sacrifice.

Koovagam is living proof that a basic Indian philosophy is still in place,
one that envisions a universe boundlessly various, including all
possibilities of being, allowing opposites to confront each other without

The fact that the local people accept the hijras year after year with such
openness and anticipation is an optimistic sign in a country struggling with
issues of identity and gender.

For my part, I'll be making my pilgrimage to Koovagam again this year - not
to be married to Lord Aravan, but to bear witness to an ancient ritual that
rejects and transcends the ordinary.
« Last Edit: Apr 1st, 2006, 1:03pm by Vijay Mehta » User IP Logged

Greatest threat to Hindu religion comes from Dhongi Baba - Dada - Didi - Swami etc.
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xx Re: India's tolerance to trangenders and homosexua
« Reply #1 on: May 5th, 2011, 09:55am »

I read a book about transsexuals in ancient india, written by a dutch journalist. It is interesting and I will inform a lesbian girlfriend of me about this forum.

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