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  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders have their thalis taken off by priests after a 'thali' ritual signifying their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders have their thalis and bangles taken off by priests after a 'thali' ritual signifying their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders break coconuts to welcome the ritual procession pulling the statue of Hindu God Aravan through the streets after a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgendered and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders participants in ritual procession during the priest carry the statue of Hindu God Aravan in a streets after a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgendered and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities.AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders participate in a ritual procession carry the statue of Hindu God Aravan in a streets after a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgendered and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities.AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders and priests take part in a procesion pulling the statue of Hindu God Aravan after a 'thali' ritual signifying their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders have their thalis taken off by priests after a 'thali' ritual signifying their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders receives blessings from priests during a ritual procession pulling the statue of Hindu God Aravan after a 'thali' ritual signifying their marrriage to the Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, some 170 kms from Chennai on April 20, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders take part in a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 19, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders ppepare for a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 19, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders pose prior to a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 19, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

  • Koovagam Festival

    Indian transgenders ppepare for a 'thali' ritual which signifies their marrriage to Hindu god Aravan at the Koothandavar Temple in Koovagam village, Viluppuram district, some 170 kilometers from Chennai, on April 19, 2011. The temple is a focal point during the Tamil month of Chitrai, where transgender and transvestite devotees are ceremonially wedded to the Hindu deity, considered a patron god to the communities. AFP PHOTO/Noah SEELAM

Every spring, thousands of hijras (as male-to-female transgender people are known in India), eunuchs and cross-dressers from all over India and neighboring countries flock to the southern Indian village of Koovagam, for Hindu festival celebrating transgender people.

The two day festival at Koothandavar Temple is held in honor of the Hindu deity Aravan (also known as Iravan), who is believed to be the patron god of transgender communities.

According to a Hindu legend, Aravan, the son of the Pandava Arjun, sacrificed himself to ensure the victory of the Pandava brothers against the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war (subject of the Indian epic Mahabharata).

Before he sacrificed himself, Aravan wished to marry a woman and spend the night with her. In order to fulfill Aravan's request, Lord Krishna transformed himself into the form of an attractive woman, Mohini. After Aravan sacrificed himself the next day, Mohini grieved like a widow, breaking her bangles and beating her breasts.

The transgender devotees come each year to reenact the story of Aravan. In a symbolic ritual, the participants take on the role of Mohini and are married to Aravan by the temple priest. The next day they mourn Aravan's death by participating in ritualistic dances and breaking their bangles.

In addition to the religious ceremony, the participants compete in beauty pageants and singing contests.

The Koovagam festival is one among a number of festivals in India connected to the worship of gender-variant deities, that have traditionally been popular with Hindu devotees from across the LGBT spectrum. Some of the most famous ones are the Ayyappa and Chamayavillaku festivals in Kerala, the Bahuchara-mata festival in Gujarat and the Yellamma-devi festival in Karnataka.

CORRECTION: The word "transgendered" has been replaced with "transgender" in accordance with GLAAD guidelines. HuffPost Religion apologizes for the error.

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