The transformation begins.
Saris are wrapped, makeup is applied, jewelry is put on, and wigs are donned.
The train leaves in 2 hours from Pondicherry towards the village of Villupuram. There awaits a new sister- a new hijra– India’s third gender.
Hijras are also called aravanis in this region of India, for the epic Sanskrit tale of the Mahabharata, in which the character Aravan, sacrifices himself to stop a war. His last wish is to be married, and as no woman would willfully marry a man who is doomed to die, the god Krishna changes himself into a woman, granting Aravan’s wish before his certain death.
This newly transformed aravani has undergone surgery to change her sexual organs from male to female, and has waited and recovered indoors. For forty days she has hidden and avoided being seen by any man, and tonight she will be born in a ceremony of song, dance, food, and drink. She will be seen as a sort of mystic, as many hijras are. They largely remain, however, poor, outcast members of society.
This also serves as an important opportunity for these particular aravanis to increase awareness and visibility. They are all members of a community organization called Sahodaran Society, a sexual health clinic and community center for the LGBT population of Pondicherry. It is the only safe space and meeting place for this portion of the population in the area.
Tonight, in celebration of the birth of a new woman, strength and courage bind these individuals together towards the hope of a future of understanding, tolerance, and acceptance.