Beauties Vie for Miss Koovagam Title
with Gay Abandon

This article is noteworthy in that it seemingly introduces the term
Aravani to the world for the first time (at least, that I know of).

[The following can also be read at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/transgendernews/message/2614 :]

From: tgnews_moderator <tgnews_moderator@yahoo.com>
To: Transgender News <transgendernews@yahoogroups.com>
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2003 19:38:19 -0400
Subject: [transgendernews] India: Beauties vie for Miss Koovagam title with gay abandon

>>> Source: News Today
>>> URL: http://newstodaynet.com/15apr/ld1.htm [no longer online]
>>> Date: April 15, 2003
>>> Location: India
>>> Item: News
>>> Title: Beauties vie for Miss Koovagam title with gay abandon

Villupuram, Apr 15:

Thousands of transvestites, eunuchs, hermaphrodites and drag queens from all over the country have woken up this otherwise sleepy place with their presence and peccadillos and are painting the town red in the run up to their religious rendezvous with Lord Koothandavar at his humble shrine in Koovagam village tonight on the occasion of Chitra pournami.

As it has been happening during the past few years, special cultural events have been organised for the Aravanis, the cognomen bestowed upon the members of the community after the legendary Aravanan, whose benign role they will be enacting tonight at Koovagam by tying the nuptial knot with Koothandavar, who will anyway be killed before the break of dawn tomorrow.

Among the culturals in which the Aravanis from across the country, the Miss Koovagam 2003 beauty contest is the most colourful one, held on the lines of international pageants. In the event held last night, Ranjitha of Bangalore walked away with the title by telling the panel of judges that her favourite person in the world was her mother.

Pamela of Bangalore, the first runner-up in the contest, said that she liked the loved bestowed on Aravanis by the people of Tamilnadu and second runner-up Madhumitha of Erode said that she liked people who helped others.

The temple festival at Koovagam, which is being celebrated from time immemorial with members of the third gender offering themselves as brides for Lord Koothandavar, who as per legend, wanted to get married before the day he was to be hanged. Since no woman came forward to marry a man who will be no more the next morning, Aravanan dressed up as a woman fulfilled the last wish of Koothandavar.

So, for the community of eunuchs in India, the festival held on the night of Chitra pournami is an important one and they land in Villupuram, the closest town to Koovagam, most of them arriving more than a week before the night. Besides filling up all lodges and boarding houses in the town, they normally dress themselves and strut around town with long haired wigs, bedecked with flowers, infusing a sense of bohemianism to the towns life, albeit temporarily.

More than a decade back, after the threat of AIDS became a reality in India, NGOs involved in creating awareness about HIV/AIDS zeroed in at Koovagam since the full moon night of the Tamil month Chithirai saw one of the biggest congregation of eunuchs at one spot.

Not only are the eunuchs considered one of the high risk groups exposed to HIV infection, the unbridled revellery into which the eunuchs break into by going out into the open fields of the village with men from around the area who, too, throng the place, called for some intervention from those fighting against HIV transmission.

So with some NGOs identifying the village for their campaigns to promote condom usage and disseminate the message of safe sex, Koovagam came into limelight grabbing the attention of international media. Going one step ahead, in the subsequent years, some NGOs caught up with the eunuchs at Villupuram itself in the days preceding to the full moon night by organising a series of cultural programmes for them involving the big names of the district like the Collector, Superintendent of Police and others.

It was during those meeting that the eunuchs expressed the problems faced by them, particularly the public ridicule they had to put up with and the contemptuous attitude of the society that used derogatory names for the community. So the term Aravani was popularised as a politically correct term to describe the members of the third gender.

In fact the Aravanis want the introduction of a third gender to describe them and not club them as male or female in official records. South India Aravanigal Rights and Rehabilitation Centre of Tiruchi, whose office-bearers spoke to the media here, stressed the need for the government to legalising the third gender. The organisation has embarked on programmes to impart vocational training to the Aravanis with a view to wean them away from begging and prostitution, two of the main means of living for them now. Besides, seeking legal sanction for sex-change operations, they wanted the formation of self-help groups for Aravanis as it is now done for women.

The treasurer of the organisation Shabeena Francis claimed that she was the first person in the country to change her gender from male to female in official records and also procure a passport as woman. She is now doing her MA in psychology under the open university scheme.

However, not every one who visits Koovagam tonight change their sex. Some of them are men with families and just doing cross dressing for the occasion and will go back to their life as bi-sexuals or homosexuals after dawn when the Aravanis will break their bangles and mourn the death of Koothandavar by changing into white sarees like widows.

This year, the cultural programmes were organised for the Aravanis by Dorcas Research Centre for Education, Art and Culture with the support of Tamilnadu Aravanigal Association and South India Positive Network and the event was managed by Dream Sellers.

Villupuram district Collector A Mohammed Aslam, Government Data Centre Commissioner Sivakami, District Superintendent of Police Abhay Kumar Singh and German envoy Carlston Var Nekki were among those who took part in the functions, besides some television artistes.

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This page first created 7/25/03. Copyright Stephe Feldman, 2003. Last update: 4/30/05.