Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Something is not right. At least it doesn’t seem that normal. When all the bosoms in the vicinity are overstated, you doubt if you are still standing in the real world. If every girl has breasts that big, invariably some divine intervention should have happened. Certain realists might start to consider the community service of an overgenerous plastic surgeon. Another strange thing is, there are way too little men around, especially with so many breasts walking.  Not that any of them are exposed or anything but is a pleasant sight, especially for men.

It’s a massive procession of women. Thousands of them. In fact, of all age. Decked in glittery brooches and necklaces, and wound in the flashiest possible saris. Each of them holding a special kind of wooden canister lamp with five lit wicks. The faces of these lamp-bearers are lit up like chandeliers, and kaboom! That is where the suspense cracks. You shoot a second glance to that shy countenance, which you are forced to from the chill that the first one gave you, to detect the first sign of cheating. That beautifully painted face follows the very same tradition as the unbelievable bosom. The strong square jaws and burly nose squints through the dense make up. One by one, hints of machismo uncover in dull bursts. The drag disappoints you more than it excited you in the beginning. That’s a lot of men in drag! A software engineer, a gym instructor, a bus driver, a sales executive, a body builder and a guy with the thickest eyebrows in the world, are all a part of the fanfare. All cross-dressed up as the prettiest of women they can possibly transform themselves to.

This should be a new addition to the quirky list of La Tomatina, Hadaka Matsuri, Holi and the Boryeong Mud Festival. Because you are standing right in the middle of the Kottankulangara Chamayavilakku- the procession that’s a part of an annual festival where thousands of men dressed up in drag carry the traditional lamp as an offering to the Kottankulangara Bhagavati, an incarnation of Goddess Durga. The procession is a hallmark of the two-day festival, celebrated on the 10th and the 11th of Meenam month of the Malayalam calendar (March/ April) every year, at Kottankulangara Temple (with a roofless shrine) in a small town called Chavara in Kerala. The offering in no way has anything to do with one’s sexual orientation whatsoever. Their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are actually the ones who help them mutate, and the entire process is observed with utmost solemnity and religious dedication. It is believed that the disguise pleases Goddess Bhagavati and She grants any wish you desire. Many of these macho damsels would vouch for the credibility of Her blessings from their prior experience of probably the last forty or fifty years. They include men who are cured of chronic illnesses and those who were rescued from life-threatening financial meltdowns. But one may still wonder, why all the fancy dress?
The folktale has it that, back in the day, a group of cowherd boys chanced upon a rock deep in the woods, which they used to crack a coconut. The impact did the stone harm and it started to ooze blood. Intrigued, when one of the boys ventured forth and touched the bleeding rock he dropped dead that very moment to the shock of his friends. The boys rushed back to the village and fetched the elders along with an astrologer, who examining the rock, declared a divine presence in it, and that it was a Swayambhu or a self-manifested deity. Apparently the Goddess disliked being touched by a male hence the unfortunate casualty. And therefore, to further approach the stone, in the absence of any women around, the men and boys donned the female costumes for the first time. They touched the deity, and they were unscathed this time. So it was inferred that to please the Goddess, a man had to do drag. Hence the tradition of these wo-men!

Today, owing to the growing popularity of Bhagavati’s “blessings” men from even outside the state flocks in every year to carry the lamp. In the festive season, areas surrounding the temple is transformed into hundreds of green rooms specialized in make-up and costumes of these devotees. Even the houses in the vicinity of the temple host these makeovers. While many find it extremely difficult to fit into the shoes of a woman, there are also those who effortlessly slip into place without much hue and cry. Some really burly ones stick out like sore thumbs, but there are some others that are remodeled into drop-dead gorgeous dames you can’t take your eyes off of.

Although it has the flair and fervor of any gay pride parade, a man’s sexuality is never questioned here. In fact this practice is regarded with great admiration, and during the procession, gawking or making passes at these wo-men is a strict no-no. Two nights of these processions send home thousands of comforted men who view the year to come, with great prospects.

With traditions of Ardhanareeshwara and Mohini, even though it shouldn’t come as an absolute shock to the Hindu psyche, the rest of the world must still be restraining a chuckle about this unusual practice called Kottankulangara Chamayavilakku.  But which custom has ever been exempted from the constant tease of the rest of the world that’s not a part of it? It’s only human nature, and that shouldn’t stop you from having fun.  


  1. Had not heard about this until now. Thanks.

  2. Would definately want to experience the festival and capture in clicks!

  3. പൂമ്പൊടി വീഴുമീ പൂവിന്റെയുള്ളിലും
    പൊടിയും മഴത്തുള്ളി വീഴുമീ ഭൂവിലും
    പാതിരാ മുഴുവനും കരയിൽ തല ചായ്ച്ചു
    പിൻവാങ്ങിയൊഴിയുമീ കടലിന്റെ യുള്ളിലും

    ഓർമ്മയായ് ജീവനായ് ജൈവബിന്ദുക്കളായ്
    പരിണാമവീഥിയിൽ നാഴികക്കല്ലുപോൽ
    പഞ്ചഭൂതങ്ങളെ വസ്തുവായ്‌ മാറ്റുന്നൊ-

    സ്പന്ദനം ചലനം വളർച്ചയുമായ്‌ത്തീരു-
    മിന്ദ്രജാലത്തിനും തുല്യമാണിന്നു നീ
    കാലമായ് മാറ്റമായ് വൈവിധ്യമായ് നിന്റെ

    ഞാനെന്നഭാവം വെടിഞ്ഞു  ഞാൻ നില്ക്കുന്നു
    സ്വന്തമായുള്ളതിന്നന്യമായ്ത്തീർത്തു ഞാൻ
    പിന്നെയും ബാക്കിയാണേകാന്ത സ്വപ്നങ്ങൾ
    ഇല്ലാത്ത ചുവരിലെ തെളിയാത്ത ചിത്രങ്ങൾ

    ശലഭമായ് വന്നെന്റെയധരം ഭുജിക്കണം
    സർപ്പമായ് വന്നെന്റെയുള്ളിൽ വസിക്കണം
    ഇല്ലായ്മ മാറ്റുന്നൊരുണ്മയായ്ത്തീരണം
    കൃഷ്ണനായ്‌ വന്നെന്നെ രാധയായ് മാറ്റണം

    എന്നിലെ ഗർഭഗൃഹത്തിൽ നിൻ കോശവും
    എന്നുടെ കോശവുമൊന്നു ചേരുന്ന നാൾ
    ഗന്ധർവ രാഗത്തിനാലാപമൂർഛയിൽ
    ഒന്നായ് രതിക്രീഡയാവുന്നു ലോകവും


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...