Koovagam Festival 2012: India's Largest Hindu Celebration Of The Transgender Community (PHOTOS)

05/01/2012 07:52 pm ET | Updated May 02, 2012

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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