During the annual festival at this Kerala temple, men dress up as women for a day

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It is a unique festival and probably the only one of its kind in the world, where men dress in traditional women’s clothing and offer prayers.

This is Chamayavilakku festival at Kottankulangara Sree Devi temple in Kollam district of Kerala.

BCCL

The annual two-day festival which began on Thursday ended on Friday evening after traditional rituals and prayers.

It was the first time in two years that the Chamayavilakku festival was held with public participation.

In 2020 and 2021, the annual festival was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Chamayavilakku
Chamayavilakku/Facebook

Although the number of participants this year was less compared to pre-COVID times, hundreds of men, of various age groups, attended the festival dressed as women.

According to temple authorities in the pre-COVID era, the number of attendees reached 3,000 to 4,000.

Chamayavilakku
Chamayavilakku/Facebook

They dress in half sarees, kasavu sarees and churidars and also wear jewelry.

Often these are done by the family members themselves or by make-up artists at the temple premises.

chamayavilakku
BCCL

Men also carry a chamayavilakku (literal translation: make-up light – a lamp lit by five wicks) during the procession and when offering prayers.

They believe that performing prayers while disguising themselves as women will bring them blessings in the form of jobs, wealth, etc.

chamayavilakku
Chamayavilakku/Facebook

The presiding deity of the temple is Goddess Durga also known as Vanadurga.

The story

According to local folklore, cowherd boys once tried to crack a coconut by hitting it on a stone found in the woods. But to their surprise, they saw drops of blood dripping from the stone.

They got scared and told the villagers about their experience.

Later, the locals consulted astrologers who said that the stone possesses the supernatural powers of Vanadurga and that Poojas should be started immediately after building a temple.

So they built a temple where the stone was found using poles, leaves and tender leaves of coconut palm.

Kottankulangara Sree Devi Temple
Kottankulangara Sree Devi Temple

Since that time, only young girls were allowed to prepare flower garlands and luminous lamps in small family places of worship, cow herders began to dress as women and girls, offer prayers in the temple.

Thus began the tradition of men and boys disguised as women and girls.

These days, Chamayavilakku is also a transpeople festival, as several members of the community participate.

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