The battle of Kurukshetra between the Pandavas and the Kauravas was about to begin. For the Pandavas to win, a human sacrifice was needed to please Goddess Kali.
It had to be a true fearless warrior, and the three worthy of sacrifice were Lord Krishna, Arjuna and Aravan, the heroic son of Arjuna and the young Naga princess Ulupi. After much deliberation, it was decided Aravan would be the one to die.
Aravan expressed his last wish; he wanted to marry before his death. But no woman was willing to marry him as he was going to be killed the next day. So, Lord Krishna took the form of Mohini and spent the night with him. The next day, before the war started, young Aravan was sacrificed to the goddess.
This tale was re-enacted in a small, nondescript village called Koovagam, about 20 km from Villupuram and about 200 km from Chennai, on Chitra Poornima, the full moon day in the month of Chitra.
The deity at the Koovagam temple is Aravan and he is called Kuthandavar locally. Among those who assemble at the village to celebrate the festival are trans-genders, gay men, transvestites, etc. They come not only from all over India but abroad too.
As trans-genders consider themselves reincarnations of Mohini, they look at Aravan as their lover. They are called Aravanis today -- those Prince Aravan married and spent his last night with.
Text: Shobha Warrier in Koovagam
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj. Some faces have been blurred to disguise individual identities
Also see: Marching on history's path to Red Fort