Men dress up as women to pray at Kerala temple

March 25th, 2009 - 6:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Kollam (Kerala), March 25 (IANS) Every year for two days men make a beeline for a temple in Kerala for a festival carrying lamps - and dressed up as women.
The 19-day-long festival concludes Thursday at the Kottankulangara Devi temple at Chavara near here. And the last two days see thousands of men dressed up in saris, ‘churidars’ and skirts arriving to pay obeisance.

Chandra Mohan, a member of the temple committee, said the number of devotees attending the festival has been increasing every year.

“Last night (Tuesday) the temple had given close to 4,000 coupons to people who had dressed up as women. This night (Wednesday) it will be even more and every year this number is going up dramatically,” said Mohan, who himself has prayed at the temple dressed up as a woman twice.

There are many stories about the origin of the festival, but the most popular one is about a group of boys, who used to herd cows and dress up as girls. They would offer flowers and coconut dish called ‘kottan’ to a stone.

The story goes that the goddess appeared before one of the boys and a temple came up at the spot. Since then the ritual of men dressing up as women to offer prayers started.

Legend has it that the stone, which is now the temple deity, has ‘grown’ in size over the years.

Mohan Das, an office bearer of a regional party here, said that he took part in the ritual Tuesday.

“My friend was here last year and he told me that his wish came true after taking part in the ritual. And hence I decided that I will take part this time. It was my family members who dressed me up in a sari,” said Kumar.

Men also carry a lamp mounted on a long wooden stick that is waist-high.

There are many counters in the temple that make womens’ dresses available for the devotees and there are beauticians too.

“The name and fame of this ritual and the powers of the ‘devi’ (goddess) has spread far and wide. This can be seen from the crowds that arrive especially on the last two days of the festival,” said Mohan.

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