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Friday August 1, 2008

Transsexuals gather for annual religious festival

POLITICAL stability and economic prosperity were among the things that members of the Hindu transsexual community prayed for at an annual religious festival held in a temple in Pandamaran near Klang recently.

The prayer session was the climax of a five-day celebration dedicated to the Hindu presiding deity for transsexuals, the goddess Bahuchara Mataji.

During the celebrations, which began on July 21, several hundred devotees from Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar and Europe fulfilled their vows by carrying pal kudam (milk pots) and thee chatti (earthen pots with fire).

Celebrating in dance: Transsexuals dancing after the special prayers at the Bahuchara Mataji temple.

Dressed in green sarees, the official colour for Bahuchara Mataji, the devotees chanted and recited mantras as they performed religious rites.

The prayers were led by the community’s matriarch, M. Asha Devi, 64, as well as several other community elders.

Asha Devi said the transsexual community hoped that better times were ahead, given the hardship faced by many due to the rising inflation.

“We prayed for peace and prosperity in the country and hope that whatever trials and tribulations we are facing now will be temporary,” said Asha Devi.

The temple, dedicated to the deity whose main temple is in Shankhalpoor in Gujarat, India, is owned and managed by the local Hindu transgender community.

Matriarch: Asha Devi (right) leading the rest during the prayers at the temple.

Among those attending were two members of the transgender community who are now married and settled in Switzerland.

Singaporean Selvi Hans, 50, and Malaysian M. Ranjini, 43, had gone to Switzerland about 20 years ago as dancers and had performed on the club circuit there before meeting their husbands and settling down.

According to the bubbly Selvi, who also maintains a home in Singapore, the event is also an opportunity for her to catch up with friends and community members.

“Almost everyone from our community attends the prayer celebrations and this gives us all an opportunity to meet and exchange news,” she said.

Ranjini concurred and added that the annual trip also gave her an opportunity to spend time with family members as well as her adopted children from the transgender community.

Also at the event was Singapore Straits Times journalist Wong Kim Hoh and photographer Wang Hui Fen.

Wong, who attended the celebrations to research for an article about the transgender community, found out about the annual event after reading about it in The Star last year.

The Bahuchara Mataji temple was initiated in Klang about a decade ago after the local transgender community decided that it needed its own place of worship.

Asha Devi said she had brought back information regarding Bahuchara Mataji worship from her trips to the main temple in India.

“I had been visiting the temple in India since the 70s and I suggested to my community members here that we should have our own Bahuchara Mataji temple in Malaysia,” she said.

The temple is at a community member’s family home and Asha Devi said they hoped to obtain a piece of land from the Selangor government to build a proper temple.

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