Thousands of trans people gathered in a village in Tamil Nadu for India’s largest transgender festival. Koovagam, a village in Villupuram district, played host to the gathering, which draws transgender, transvestite and cis-gender people from across the country.
The festival lasts 18 days and falls in the Hindu calendar month of Chaitra, around April, and is largely focussed on the Koothandavar Temple. The Hindu Lord Aravan is a central part of the festival. In Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna took female form in order to marry Lord Aravan the day before he sacrificed his life to Goddess Kali in order that his father would win a battle to end the Kurukshetra war. As a way of remembering Lord Aravan’s sacrifice, the transgender people at the festival dress themselves as brides, to be wed by priests. Mirroring the myth of Lord Aravan’s final day, there is a grand celebration that night, and the following day they clad themselves in white to mourn the ‘death’ of their husband.
The festival is considered very important by India’s transgender community, as many feel it is one of the only occasions when they are valued for who they are.