Some Information on Kutandavar Aravan

[The following is from the defunct ANDROGYNE@yahoogroups.com mailing list:]

Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2001 10:45:21 -0500
From: [Saadaya]
Subject: [ANDROGYNE] Fw: Hey, its me, Sreekishen :o)
To: <ANDROGYNE@yahoogroups.com>

Hi, I'm forwarding an email from my friend Sreekishen :o) regarding his own research with regards to his culture, East Indian. I know it's a long message, but the resources are awesome and the information is very interesting, I hope you all enjoy it.


Hello Saadaya :o)

The [. . .] article is titled "In Search of Female Identity-- April 1999"... try doing a search on that... i dont know if you would need to add the date, but you can try it both ways. The article is well-written and appears in an e-periodicle called Chennaionline. The author is Chander Kanta Gariyali IAS. Try doing a search on both, i'm sure you'll be able to find them somehow. Both authors deal with the cult of the god Kutandavar Aravan, who is worshipped primarily by tranvestite, transgendered and gay people (although several heterosexual people adore the god as well, the fact that the gods lover is a transvestite makes him appealing to gays etc...). Yet the festival of the god, and his marriage to the men attending it, is described as it occurs in two different villages. Niklas's article documents the festival in the remote village of Pillaiyarpukam, while Gariyali describes her experience in the equally remote village of Kuvagam. The people in these villages are quite friendly towards gays and transgendered people, and invite such people from all over India to come and wed their god, Kutandavar, who, as a good husband, will protect his "wives" and see to their welfare. Both articles on the subject are great, and i hope you are able to link up to them. Niklas gets more involved with the Ali people themselves, and provides a few brief individual case histories. He also descibes the society in which these Ali live (Ali is a Tamil "catch all" term meaning transvestite, gay, transgendered or hermaphrodite... people of such a background are usually considered a 3rd gender in India), how they are integrated into their communities and how they live, briefly of course (Niklas wrote this article as a preliminary step in a more full documentation of Ali society).

Gariyali is concerned more with decribing the festival of the Kutandavar itself, and the attraction it holds for gay and transgendered peoples. She also talks about other events than just the actual marriage to the god by thousands of transvestite, transgendered and gay men. She is very sympathetic, and even states that modern India can learn a lot from the more open-minded fellows who live in these back-woods villages (in contrast to the villagers of Piliyarpukam or Kuvagam, homophobia has been a problem in modern India, as it has been in many other countries. But it all depends on where you go in the country to see how you'd be recieved, some parts are more open-minded, others are less so).

Concerning your questions on the god Murugan (a.k.a., Karthikeya, Shanmuga, Skanda, Kumara, Subrahmania etc...). Well, i do know a lot about him as he is one of the principle gods worshipped by my family. However, i dont know any stories describing him as a gay god per se. There may be such stories and the god may have some shrines where he is described as homosexual (he is a very Bacchanalian deity, so i wouldnt be surprised if he was involved in some gay escapades)... but as far as i know, he is a heterosexual divinity (he has 2 wives, Valliamma and Thevaniamma, respectively a "low caste" wife and a "high caste" wife). He is worshipped by gays and straights alike, and the hindu Notion of Bhakthi (devotion to a deity) does allow for a worshipper to relate to any given deity as a lover (i once met a drag queen in Agra, who spoke English remarkably well, and who claimed that she was now a sadhu, or ascetic mendicant, and that the god Krishna was her lover)... this being so, i am more than certain that several gay devotees of Murugan Karthikeya (if they were Bhakthas of the god), would relate to the god as a lover.

However, one of the stories of Murugas birth contains an episode with homosexual elements in it: It is said that Shiva and his wife Parvathi were making love in their fierce forms as Bhairava and Kali, yet the vigorous energy of these two powerful deities in their love-making was so intense that it caused the universe to shake and the air to become compressed. The gods approched the entrance to Mt. Kailasa, where Shiva lives, and begged for his help. Siva was moved, and abandoning his sexual play, met the gods at the entrance to his paradise. They told him that the Universe could not bear the strength of his love play with Parvathi, and asked him to desist. He agreed, but being so close to orgasm his seed spilled out and fell in the sacrificial fire. Hindus believe that whatever falls in the sacrificial fire immediately goes to feed the gods, so now the bellies of the gods were full of Shivas seed... and since Shiva is such a fiery god, his semen is extremely hot and burns whatever it touches.... (only the goddess Parvathi can bear its heat,... as well as the god Vishnu, as we shall see in another myth)... the gods could not bear the heat of Shivas semen in their bodies, and begged Agni, the fire god, to carry the seed somewhere else. The fire god carried the seed to a number of different places, and finally left it in the river Ganga... but even her cooling influences could not contain the firey seed, and she washed it up onto a bank of reeds... the hot, firey seed then became the god Murugan. This story contains some homosexual elements, e.g., that the gods temporarily carried Sivas semen within them. But this is the closest I could find to gay elements in the myths of the god.

However, there is a South Indian god (worshipped almost exclusively in Kerala and Tamil Nadu) who is born from a homosexual union, and who is VERY closely associated with Murugan (i wonder if your informant may have been refering to this deity, yet confused the god with Murugan since these two are so closely related and it would be easy to confound them)... this god is called Ayyappa or Ayyappan in Kerala and Aiyanar in Tamil Nadu (he is also called Shasta... isnt that a soft-drink here in the States? LOL!). His major shrine is the temple on Mt. Shabarimala in Kerala. He is the son of 2 male gods, Vishnu and Siva. His story is a Malayali (that is, from Kerala, whose language is called Malayalam) spin on the Pan-Indian myth of the goddess Durga. It was said that after Durga slew the Buffolo-Demon Mahishasura, the sister of this demon (called Mahishasuri,.... in some versions, she is the demons wife rather than his sister) was infuriated, and wanted to revenge herself on the creatures of the earth and the gods who all invoked the great goddess to kill her brother. She performed great feats of asceticism and finally obtained a boon that no one but a child born from the union of 2 men would be able to kill her. Thinking that it was impossible for 2 men to have a child, she began to terrorize the earth and the heavans. The god Vishnu took on his well-known transvestite form called Mohini, s/he seduced the god Shiva and catching Shivas semen in hand, created a child from it. This child was Ayyappan, or Aiyanar, who slew the Mahishasuri (who in turn, owing to the purifying influence of the god, was then transformed into the goddess MaligapurathaAmman; even as her brother was said to have attained salvation after being slain by Durga, again, owing to her purifying influence) and saved the world from the harrassment of demons. The god is called Hariharaputra ("Son of Hari and Hara"... Hari being a name of Vishnu and Hara being a name of Shiva). The image of Shiva fused with Vishnu's transvestite form is also an object of devotion, and is called Hariardamurthy (a corruption of the Sanskrit name Hariharamurthy). So Vishnu and Shiva definately have homosexual tendancies... and their son, Ayyappan, though not gay himself, is born from a gay union.

Kuthandavar Aravan is an unmistakably gay divinity, and he to is wedded to Vishnu's transvestite form, Mohini. Mohini is her/himself an unmistakably transvestite deity (in Kerala, there is a ritual dance performed in honor of Mohini called Mohiniyattam... its really neat to see). Other deities associated with gay and transgendered people are, of course, Bacuchari Devimata (a form of Durga) and Yellamma. Both of these deities, though not gay themselves, protect gays and transgendered people, and are intimately associated with them.

I dont know too much about mother Bahuchari, except one story from Northern India which said that when the god-king Rama and his wife and brother were exiled to the forest, all the citizens of his community, Ayodhya, followed him there in devotional reverence... Rama was moved, but did not want to endanger his people, so he said that every man and woman should return to the city. While every woman and man did so, the Hijras (transvestite and transgendered people, who, in Indias cultural Idiom of gender, constitute a third gender) remained with Rama in the forest, since they could not be classified as women or men. Rama was deeply moved by their devotion, and the fact that they were willing to stand by him, he then blessed them to be eternally protected by the goddess Durga (BahuchariAmman), and that she would insure them peace and prosperity.

Yellama's attatchment to gays and transvestite is connected with the story of her apothesis into a goddess (a rather grizzly story heavy with tensions and anxieties surrounding caste and sexuality). It was said that she was originally Renuka, wife of the ascetic sage Jamadagni, who was so chaste that she could shoot fire from her face and hands (Hindu philosophy holds that retaining ones sexual energies build up "tapas" or "psychic heat/fire" in ones body). She could also cure diseases and perform miracles. Jamadagni, impressed by his wife, made sure never to have intercourse with her lest her tapas-energy disappate. They had 5 sons, but these they obtained by magical means rather than by sex, so the story goes. One day, Renuka went down to a river to gather herbs and flowers for sacrifice, there she saw a gandharva (a sort of male nymph or muse) engaging in vigorous sexual play with an "untouchable" woman (i HATE that term "untouchable"... but this is how the story goes). Seeing how the couple was having so much fun, Renuka began to feel a desire for the same pleasures herself... she approched her husband, Jamadagni, in a romantic mood. But Jamadagni was shocked, and he became furious when he realised that Renukas powers were already dissapating owing to her awakened sexuality. He called the untouchable woman to find out what happened, and when he found out, he flew into a rage. Like some kind of freaky psychotic, he wanted the two women dead, but could not engage in bloodshed himself as such an act would cause him to loose his own powers. So he tried to get his sons to kill them... but the first 4 sons were shocked and adamantly stated that they would not hurt their mother or the servant lady... for refusing his command, Jamadagni cursed them to become "half-women", since they felt such sympathy for women. The 5th son Parasurama, agreed, but only on the condition that his victims be brought back to life. He struck off their heads, which were said to multiply and fly all over the world. The other 4 sons, now transgendered, carried the heads of their mother and the body of the untouchable lady and set up shrines for them... at one shrine, Renukas head was attached to the untouchable lady's body and fused into one goddess. After her apothesis, Renuka became Yellamma, and vowed to protect low caste people from their higher caste oppressors (she is a deity worshipped more by members of the "schedualed castes" than by the higher castes who actually fear her), and she also vowed to protect gay and transgendered people, since her transgendered sons stood by her against the unfair wrath of their father. Its kind of a grizzly story, but i think it reflects many tensions that Hindus (with their obsession over distinguishing "pure" from "impure") have regarding both caste and sexuality.

I would like to relate the story about Kuthandavar, as it is somewhat touching, but his story is briefly told in the articles i have mentioned, and i know i have gone off on a nut here.... sorry this message is so long (can you tell i have been writing too many papers as of late? LOL!)... all the same, i hope it was informative and i am curious as to your replies.... good luck finding the links... let me know what you think... and take good care m'dear,

---Hoping to hear from you soon, Sree (<----this is what my friends call me for short)


[Another article relevant to this one is The Mystery of the Threshold: "Ali" of Southern India]


If they see
breasts and long hair coming
they call it a woman
If beard and whiskers
they call it a man:
but, look, the Self that hovers in between
is neither man nor woman.

Devara Dasimayya, 10th century CE

This is a poem by a medieval mystic in honor of Lord Ardhanarisvara (whose name means "Half-Man", an Indian version of the Blessed Hermaphrodite). There is more devotional poetry, or poetry evocative of this archetype, here:

http://www.angelfire.com/journal/saadaya/Poetry.html

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ANDROGYNE

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Last update: 3/4/13.