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Out of Focus

Koovagam, a sleepy hamlet near Villupuram in Tamilnadu, wakes up to world's attention at the end of every Spring Season.

Come April, its only temple, dedicated to Lord Koothandavar, turns into a beehive of activity even as its rustic folks play host to their unique guests, the transgenders of India, who gather for the Lord's festival with their offerings. Chaitra masa or beginning of Indian summer is the occasion when Hijras (Transgenders) have a date with their God that includes a wedding ritual with him.

The week long jamboree makes the boisterous genger wear bridal attire on the full moon night (Poornima) for the nuptial knot in the form of Mangalsutra with Aravanan as the Lord is known by another name. By Celebrating the festival every year, the transgenders perpetuate a glorious myth that dates back to the times of Lord Krishna in Dwapara Yuga, when he assumed the form of a maiden, Mohini, and married warrior Aravanan to win the Battle of Mahabharata at Kurukshetra for the heroic Pandavas.

As the tragic story goes, Mohini becomes a widow only a day after her marriage with Aravanan, who gets killed in battle. Dejected and forlorn, Mohini goes back to the original form soon after. Identifying with mohini, or claiming to be her direct descendant in the form of her incarnation, the transgenders make the temple priest tie the nuptial knot around their necks to symbolize their marriage with the lord aravanan.

As in the case of Mohini, the Hijras (Transgenders) declare themselves to be widowed after a day-long celebrations that include alocal dance, a procession of the Lord Koothandavar around the village, drawn in a wooden chariot. To symbolize their martyrdom, the widowed transgenders break their bangles and snap their thalis after the chariot is consigned to the flames at the end of the tiny village that has just about 50 families to boot.

What started as a trickle a few decades ago has now become a torrent with about 30,000 people gathering at Koovagam on the occasion to watch over 1,500 transgenders turn into celestial beauties for the pageantry that has become a cynosure of all eyes.