Chennai, April 15: For three days every year, eunuchs from across the country mourn the loss of their legendary love, Aravan, Arjuna’s son, at Koovagam village in Tamil Nadu.
This year is no exception. Over 100,000 eunuchs — Alis or Aravanigal as they are known in Tamil — have gathered at the Koothandavar temple, 25 km from Villupuram, for the festival that began last evening.
Tomorrow, they will tear their mangalsutras, marking the climax of the annual ritual that mourns Lord Krishna’s slaying of Aravan. It also marks, in a way, the eunuchs’ sense of alienation from mainstream society.
Legend has it that the Aravanis wished to marry Aravan, whom the gods had granted immunity from death, either at the hands of a man or a woman. Lord Krishna then assumed a form that was neither completely male nor female and killed Aravan.
The Koothandavar temple is said to be the only shrine in the country that symbolises the legend.
Every Chithrai, the month that marks the beginning of the Tamil New Year — it began yesterday — eunuchs from across the country reach Villupuram and then go to Koovagam to re-enact the legend. Many eunuchs come from Maharashtra.
For Madhumita, a cabaret dancer from Mumbai, or Kamali from Chandigarh or Shruti from Pune (not their real names), the festival provides a break from their daily grind. They are anguished by their exploitation in a male-dominated society and for being taken for a ride by NGOs that claim to work for the eunuchs’ health and welfare.
Sources in the district headquarters said over telephone that the festival kicked off last evening with a cultural programme and a beauty contest, organised by some NGOs, in Villupuram town.
“It keeps them happy for a while, makes them forget their misery,” sources said.
The beauty contest is among the high points of the festival, where the winner is crowned Miss Koovagam. Most participants turn up in their best attire.
Each eunuch at the festival is accompanied by at least three admirers, sources said. Most lodges at Villupuram are overflowing. The population in the town would exceed 400,000 during the festival, said the sources.