The annual festival of Chamayavilakku at the Kottankulangara Sree Devi Temple, Chavara, Kollam that witnesses a rare ritual of men and transgenders cross-dressing as women, had concluded on Saturday.

About 4,000 people visited the temple to pray to the deity wearing half -saris, kasavu saris, and bright churidars with matching jewellery, loud makeup and hairdo, complete with jasmine flowers.

Men cross-dress to seek redemption

Chavara Padmakumar, former temple secretary, says, “It’s believed that by dressing as a woman and offering prayers holding the Chamayavilakku (five-wicked lamp), Bhagavathi forgives a man’s sins. There is no age limit to participate in the ritual.” Padmakumar adds that he himself has been observing the ritual since he was five.

Like Padmakumar, there are several devotees who make it a point to attend the festival every year. While it is customary for men who reside in and around 5 km of the temple to offer the prayer, many even fly down from abroad to attend it. They even shave off their moustaches to perfect the part of woman on the occasion.

There are others like Pradeep Kumar, a businessman from Kannur, who has been visiting the temple for the last four years. “I was on the verge of bankruptcy due to heavy loss in business a few years ago. I came to know about the temple through a newspaper article, and as the last resort I participated in the ritual here. I would say, like a miracle, my business saw a sudden upswing and I could clear off all my debts. Since then I have made this an annual pilgrimage.”

For Trans, it’s a celebration of their identity

Over the last couple of years, the festival has seen an increased presence of the homosexual and transgender communities from Kerala, Karnataka and even Maharashtra attending the two-day festival, that falls on the 10 and 11 of the Malayalam month Meenam.

For the Trans people the festival is an annual affair to celebrate their identity, they say. Surya Vinod, television artiste and transgender activist says that the event gives an opportunity to reveal the Trans identity for many. “I used to take part in the event till three years ago. This is a much-awaited event for us in the community as on these two days we get the freedom to dress as women and travel in buses without much stigma. I had observed the ritual for almost 10 years with full devotion. As I have transformed to a woman now, I don’t partake in the ritual anymore.” She adds that actually the festival was only meant for boys below the age of 14 but with the passage of time, Trans people were also included in the festival.

AIADMK spokesperson Apsara Reddy, a Trans woman performed her maiden Chamayavilakku at the temple to ensure her party’s victory in the RK Nagar by election in Chennai. “This festival is about sexuality and I believe in the power of the female and the Shakti. I wish the goddess shower her blessings over me and my party to win the election. I felt very happy as the festival is a gathering of Trans people from around the country and abroad. I even met a trans woman from USA at this fete.”

Celebrity make-up artiste Renju Renjimar, a resident of Kollam and an ardent devotee of the goddess offered a silver pot this year to the temple. “It is a festival where people of every caste and religion come together and is attended by 95 % of the Trans people. Just like how Attukal Pongala is for women, this festival has turned to be the largest congregation of TG community in Kerala. I have been observing the ritual for the past 22 years without any break. I follow a strict vritham every year prior to the festival.”

Despite the festival celebrating cross-dressing, transgender and activist Sheethal Shyam says that they are not spared the occasional lewd comments from men. “Since many could identify me, I didn’t face much trouble. But it was sad to notice that there were many men who had passed vulgar comments at several among us. It shows that there’s still a long way to go before we wipe out the stigma against the Trans community completely.”

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