Kodava attire worn in gay wedding in the US has traditionalists upset

Others within the community pointed out that denying someone their right to wear the traditional attire at their wedding was wrong and discriminatory.
Sharath and Sundeep
Sharath and Sundeep
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Photographs from a gay wedding in California in which a man wore his traditional Kodava attire has led to objectionable comments from a section of the Kodava community in Karnataka's Kodagu district. Dr Sharath Ponnappa, a native of Kodagu and a doctor based in California, married his partner Sundeep Dosanjh in September. Dr. Sharath has been a resident of the United States for 13 years.

Sharath and Sundeep married on September 25 in a Sikh-Punjabi ceremony held on the day followed by a traditional Kodava ceremony on the next day. Photographs from the second ceremony featuring the couple in traditional Kodava attire were shared widely on social media  in Kodagu district.

However, some members of the Kodava community, an ethno-lingual community from Kodagu district, took exception to the pictures because it was a gay wedding. KS Devaiah, President of the Madikeri Kodava Samajam was quoted by News18 as saying that the community will ostracise Sharath for this “blasphemous” act.

"Such a shocking thing has never happened in the past. It is an insult to our community and our beliefs. We can't tolerate such a thing. Gay marriage is one thing and wearing sacred Kodava attire to solemnise a gay marriage is another thing. We are against the latter,” he said.

"The use of the traditional Kodava attire in the gay wedding is wrong. Our traditional attire is not something to be misused. It is something to be treated with respect and by wearing it in places like this, it is a mistake. The attire is worn in our traditional weddings and in festivals. It is not worn like this for promotional purposes," Bacharaniyanda Apanna, a native of Kushalnagar and a historian of Kodava culture said.

However, others within the community pointed out that denying someone their right to wear the traditional attire at their wedding was wrong and discriminatory, and that Kodava traditionalists should evolve with the times.

"I can’t see what this fuss is all about. Times have changed and it was their will and wish to wear whatever they wanted at their wedding. Everyone should relax and let live. Our Kodava costume has been copied for the attendants on The Golden Chariot train, how come nobody made a fuss? In today’s world, all cultures evolve and assimilate each other's practices. The world is a large melting pot," fashion designer and stylist Prasad Bidappa said.

He added that the costume worn by Sharath was not exactly Kodava attire. "There was no Kupya (the traditional knee length white achkan) worn. He had taken some elements of the costume but it looked more Yemen inspired than Kodava," Prasad said.

Actor Gulshan Devaiah said that the couple's decision to wear Kodava attire is a mark of their respect for Kodava traditions. "It shouldn't happen (the reaction to the photograph) Reading the opposition to it, there is a lack of progressive thinking because I look at the picture and they look beautiful and all that matters to me is the coming together of two people who love each other. I see the fact that they decided to wear the Kodava attire as a mark of respect and celebration of the Kodava traditions," he said.

The Kodavas consider themselves to be a martial community, and wear their traditional dress on special occasions including weddings and festivals. “Who is to decide what is ‘special’ for someone other than the individual? Is that privilege given to elders in a society and not the individual in question? At the face of it, logically there is nothing wrong in a gay groom or bride wearing a certain outfit at their wedding. So does this then, amount to homophobia, without admitting to it? That is open to interpretation, but the outrage does seem misplaced from a community that prides itself in being progressive,” a journalist from Kodagu said.  

"As a person from Kodagu, I am proud of our traditions and believe we all share it regardless of sexual orientation," Cariappa PM, a Kodava who lives in Boston said.

The couple - Dr Sharath and Sundeep - and their families have not commented on the controversy raised by members of the Kodava community in Kodagu.

(The picture used in the story is from the couple's wedding where they can be seen in a different attire).

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