Tamil Nadu

Koovagam: many weddings and a funeral

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Shaju John

Scores of transgenders married the deity of the Koothandavar temple at Koovagam in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. But as tradition would have it, all of them were widowed within days.

Mobina left Koovagam in mourning after wearing the tiara just a few days ago. After being adjudged Ms. Koovagam, she became a widow as custom demanded that Aravan, her divine husband, must die a day after their marriage. This year too, Aravan, son of Arjuna, married many transgender persons like Ms. Mobina during the festival in the Koothandavar temple in the village in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. All were widowed, symbolically, as a legend from the Mahabharata gets played out amid the revelry.

Aravan agrees to sacrifice himself before the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas, but puts forth the condition that a woman must marry him before his death. Krishna takes the avatar of Mohini and marries Aravan. She is a bride for a day and after Aravan’s death, becomes a widow.

“We too fall in love, though we cannot have children,” Ms. Mobina says. Before the priests broke her bangles and cut her thali, she stole the limelight. At the beauty contest prior to the wedding, she came first. Preethi, also from Chennai, finished second. Subashree from Erode came third.

Ms. Mobina, the second of four boys, was brought up as a girl by her mother. She showed all traits of a transgender early on. Her parents consulted doctors. Later, trans-advisers counselled the family. She was advised hormone treatment and surgery. After graduating in first class in civil engineering, she found work in an NGO working for the third gender as an advocacy leader. She left home and saved money to undergo the surgery that would transform her into a woman.

“The transgender community struggles for survival and acceptance from society and own family itself. We wish to have a change in this. If we get the minimum wage for a living, most of us will not go for sex work or begging,” she says.

Ms. Mobina is grateful to Sudha, a transgender person who has adopted her. Her father occasionally visits her as the family mends ties with her. She is now looking for a better job and dreams of a career in modelling — most important, she wants to be accepted by her parents.

As the festival concluded on May 2, she and other newly weds walked out of the village in white with moist eyes.

(Shaju John is the Deputy Photo Editor of The Hindu)

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