Traditionally Celebrated By Men Dressed As Women, Chamayavilakku Festival In Kerala Is Unexampled

by Tooba Shaikh
Traditionally Celebrated By Men Dressed As Women, Chamayavilakku Festival In Kerala Is Unexampled

It is a known fact that historically, Indian culture has been very open and fluid when it comes to gender and sexuality. Throughout pre-British history, you will find evidence of Indian culture being extremely accepting of people with diverse gender identities and sexuality. A major evidence of this openness is the Chamayavilakku festival in Kerala. This festival is by far the most unique cultural phenomenon you’ll get to experience. Indian culture is truly incredible and it never ceases to amaze you.

Chamayavilakku Festival In Kerala Witnesses Gender-Bending

This particular festival in Kerala witnesses men dressing up as women in order to worship a goddess to seek her blessing. Naturally, it has become an open and welcoming space for trans women as it is one of the few places where they can openly and freely be themselves.

It is, however, important to note that many cis-gendered men, too, participate in the activity out of their devotion. This festival is not traditionally by or for trans women but owing to the nature of how it is celebrated, it has transformed into a space that is safe for trans people.

It is celebrated annually in the Kollam district of Kerala. The Devi Temple in the Kottamkulara region of Kollam is where the devotees gather to celebrate this unique festival. Each year, there are also competitions held which reward the best-dressed woman.

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The Lore Behind The Festival

According to mythological folklore, the festival originated when a group of boys found a coconut while playing inside a forest. When they tried to break it, it started oozing blood. After narrating this incident and exhibiting the coconut to a learned priest, he revealed that it was actually a goddess.

He recommended that they should build a temple around it and worship the goddess. Since it was said that only women were allowed to worship the goddess, the men ended up dressing as women and worshipping it. Hence, the festival originated.

Another lore about the festival narrates a different beginning than this one. According to this other myth, a group of cowherds dressed as women and offered some flowers to a stone. They then began to feel divine energy emanating from the rock. Hence, they decided to call it Kottan and built a temple around it. Since then, this festival is being celebrated by such men.

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Have you heard of any such unique festivals in India? Let us know in the comments below!

Cover Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons