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Chamayavilakku – India’s Cross Dressing Festival

The Chamayavilakku festival is one of the most anticipated events held in Kerala every year. This festival is celebrated in the Temple of the Hindu Goddess Kottankulangara Shree Devi, in the small village of Chavara near Kollam, Kerala. The most outstanding traditional ritual followed during this festival is the cross-dressing of men as women. This is done on the last two days of the event where the lamp to glorify the Goddess is also carried by these men.

Chamayavilakku - India's Cross Dressing Festival
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Story Behind Kottankulangara Chamayavilakku

Though many myths surround the festival, it is widely believed that a group of young boys, who were cow-hearders, used to play around a stone. Dressed as girls they used to glorifying it and offering flowers and “Kottan” ( a sweet coconut dish), as they started considering the stone to be a Goddess. When on a fine day, one of the boys explained how the Goddess appeared before him; a temple was soon built, considering the stone as the lord. Consequently, a tradition of men being dressed up as women, offering their prayers to the Goddess for fulfilling their wishes, began.

A Lit Festival For The Transgenders

Chamayavilakku - Kerala's Cross Dressing Festival
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The festival of Chamayavilakku brings a sense of tranquility and a unique identity to the community of Transgender and the people who have opted to cross-dress. People believe that when prayers are offered to the Goddess Bhagavathi of the temple, a Chamayavilakku or the five-wicked lamp is to be held while being dressed as a woman. Hence, the Goddess would forgive the man’s sins. This gives many Transgender and opportunity to reveal their identity to the world. Here, they get the freedom to be themselves for the whole of two days, without any hesitation.

Who can attend the festival?

It is a custom for the members of the Transgender community and other men living in and near the village to attend the event every year. But, you can see many men from far-off cities and also abroad, attending the event. The Chamayavilakku event was held in March this year, which saw a whooping 4000 men, cross-dressing to please the deity. According to the temple officials, the number of men attending this festival only seems to increase each year.

When to go and what to do?

The time between 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. is sad to be an auspicious one; the temple remains open any time of the day. Since, a lot of crowd can be encountered, many devotees prefer arriving earlier.

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You can see most of the men wearing the Kerala-style saree and decked with loud make up. All these cross-dressed men carry the Chamayavilakku, or the unique lamp that is lit and held during the prayer session of the ritual.The lamp is available on rent, in the nearby shops. Also, a lot of camps are sent up by beauticians, who dress up these men.

To Sum It Up

The duration of the festival of Kottankulangara Chamayavilakkuhas been extended to become a 20-day affair, from what was an 11-day event. This is because of a constantly increasing number of Transsexual and homosexual people attending this event. They not only come from Kerala, but also from other cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai.

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About Anirudh Singh

Anirudh Singh is a passionate blogger and the man behind Amazing India Blog. He has 5 years of experience in the newspaper industry and he founded Amazing India Blog in 2015. Apart from writing and editing articles on Travel, Business and Technology at Amazing India Blog, he also contributes to other well known newspapers and online news blogs.