At first glance, the procession of saree-clad figures decked in heavy jewelry and elaborate makeup from the Kottankulangara Devi Temple in Kollam district of Kerala, seems much like any other ritual procession of women from any temple across Kerala. Certainly, the sight of this procession lit by lamps carried in the hands of worshippers has a certain feminine allure to it.
But a second, closer look reveals something unique: this procession of figures which has thronged here to celebrate Chamayavilakku, a festival of this temple, is composed of only men.
Each year, this distinctive ritual attracts hundreds of men from the state, and even from across the country, who cross-dress to take part in it.
These men come here to wish and pray for a job, good health, a suitable life partner, the well-being of their family and much more. Green rooms are set up in the temple premises for devotees to dress up.
One of the myths surrounding the ritual is that once a group of cow herd boys dressed up as girls and offered flowers to a stone nearby. Some of the boys then began to feel a divine energy radiating out of the stone. The stone came to be called Kottan, and around it a temple was built. And thus the ritual of men cross-dressing began.
Another myth says that on one occasion, when someone threw a coconut on the stone, it started to bleed. Hence, people considered the stone to have divine powers, and began to worship it.
The stone is now considered the temple deity, and some say that the stone has been growing in size over the years.