Do you want to listen to a long yarn? This tale is lost in the mists of time and rhetoric to the point where it is all a matter of belief now. Tamil traditions of Mahabharata talk about a rite ‘Kalappali’ or Sacrifice to the Battlefield before the epic battle began. Pandavas convinced Aravan, son of Arjuna and the Naga Princess Ulupi, to sacrifice himself to Goddess Kali. Aravan’s dying wish(es) is granted in honor of his self-sacrifice.
In some folk traditions, one of the boons was that Aravan would be married. Since no woman come forward to marry Aravan fearing imminent widowhood, Krishna took the form of Mohini and married him. The day after the marriage Aravan was sacrificed and Mohini wept and mourned his death. Krishna assumed his masculine for after that.
In the village of Koovagam, Aravan is worshipped as Kuttantavar in a temple dedicated to him. In the Chaitra month of the Tamil calender, Aravan’s marriage and sacrifice are commemorated in an 18 day festival. Aravanis (transgendered people who follow the cult of Aravan) flock to the village from far and wide. On the penultimate day of the festival, bedecked in bridal finery, they are married to Aravan by the temple priests who tie thalis (sacred thread symbolizing marriage) around their necks. This is followed by wild revelry that lasts all night. In the morning after the ritual re-enactment of Aravan’s sacrifice, the Aravanis mourn his death by breaking their thalis and bangles. They shed all their finery and put on widow’s whites. They stay in mourning thus for a month.
Below are some glimpses of this poignant festival where grief follows gaiety and both are shared by a community that is both ridiculed and feared by the masses. In a way the festival is a microcosm of the lives they lead on the fringes of our conscious. They happily do things no one else will do and in the end they are left bereaved with no one to fall back on but their own community.
Covenant of Boon and Bereavement
The owl hopes these frames made you pause and think.
Until next time,
The Observant Owl.
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