Close Quarters

Documenting the transgender community’s annual celebration at Koovagam

31 July, 2023

In the months of April and May each year, the sleepy town of Vizhupuram, in Tamil Nadu, comes to life with thousands of visitors. Most from the transgender community, but also cross-dressers, customers, lovers and curious onlookers, who occupy its lodges, halls, markets, temples and fields. What drives them here is an 18-day festival, locally known as Koovagam, where queer and transgender communities express their identities. I visited it many times at the peak of the festival, during the last five days. Finally able to taste the fruits of their patience, the city and its otherwise unassuming lodges are charged with vigour and vibrance. Dressed and ready—draped in sarees, adorning themselves with earrings, bangles, lipstick, wigs and garlands—they step out. But not before pausing in front of a mirror, only to be struck with a sense of self-fulfilment and joy at being themselves.