Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

On the 10th and 11th of the Malayalam month of Meenam (mid-March to mid-April), thousands of men dressed as women throng the Kottankulangara Sri Bhagavathy Temple in Kollam for its annual festival, Chamayavilakku. As per tradition, during the two-day celebration, men line up from the temple gate for the ceremonial Ezhunnallathu (procession) around 2 a.m., holding lamps with five wicks to seek the blessings of the presiding deity, goddess Durga.

This gender-bending festival is a flamboyant display of sartorial creativity. Men deck up in women’s clothes, complete with jewellery and accessories. Every year, several studios and green rooms mushroom near the temple to help male devotees transform into women.

On both days of the festival, the same rituals are followed. This tradition goes back to the temple’s legend, according to which when some cowherds attempted to smash a coconut with a stone and it began to bleed. Astrologers discovered that the stone held Vanadurga’s divine force, and they instructed the local people to erect a shrine around it. At the time, girls performed pujas in the temple. The cowherds therefore dressed as girls to perform the temple’s initial pujas. Boys below the age of 10 also dress up as girls for Kakkavilakku, a part of the Chamayavilakku festival, but held during the day.

Over the years, Chamayavilakku has acquired a special significance for the transgender community in Kerala, which attends the festival in large numbers.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Sacred flame: A boy with a ceremonial lamp at the Kottankulangara Bhagavathy Temple in Kollam, Kerala, on March 24.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Getting ready: Family members help a boy get dressed before going to offer prayers at the temple.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Gracious look: Men attired in sarees and decked in jewellery participate in the rituals and procession.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Final touches: Boys get to wear lipstick and rouge for the ceremony.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Devotional fervour: The traditional five-wick lamp is an important part of the festival.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Floral adornment: Apart from jewellery, strands of flowers are also part of the finery worn by the male devotees.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Peace and poise: It is believed that the feminine touch propitiates the Goddess Bhagavathy and brings her blessings to all.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Lighter moments: The festival procession is older than any pride march.

Kollam’s Chamayavilakku festival | Embracing the feminine

Photo:
Thulasi Kakkat

Patient prayer: Many families come together to mark the sacred occasion.

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