ST Saturday Special Report - Yearly Revelry to Worship Goddess (Sept 6)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Sep 6, 2008
Yearly revelry to worship goddess
By Wong Kim Hoh
THE muted sounds of animated chatter reverberate along the corridor on
the ninth floor of the Crystal Lodge Hotel in Port Klang.

The door of room 989 opens, letting out a heady scent of perfume,
incense and jasmine. A portly matron in a blue sari dashes out,
hairdryer in hand, and frantically races down the passageway.

Inside, confusion reigns.

Seven transsexuals in various states of undress create cacophony as
they beaver away at the business of making themselves beautiful. They
have enough gold and bling on them to light up Little India.

Saris in brilliant hues of red, yellow and green are laid out on the
two single beds and draped over chairs. Several big bags - containing
metres of jasmine garlands - sit on the vanity table, alongside an
assortment of make-up and beauty brushes.

In a corner, on a small makeshift altar, sit framed pictures of
several Hindu deities, including the elephant-headed Lord Ganesh and
Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.

The scene is repeated in at least two other rooms along the corridor.

Indeed, for five days each year, the Crystal Lodge and other hotels in
Klang are invaded by hundreds of transwomen from Malaysia and Singapore.

Decked out in their finest, they gather to worship the goddess
Bahuchara Mataji, enshrined in a small temple in this bustling port
town, about 30km west of Kuala Lumpur.

The presiding deity for transsexuals and other members of the
transgendered community, the goddess is often depicted sitting on a
rooster. She has four hands - the upper right hand carries a sword,
the upper left, scriptures. She has a showering of blessings in her
lower right hand, and a trident in the left.

Many myths surround Bahuchara Mataji. One suggests that she was once a
princess who castrated her husband upon discovering that he preferred
dressing up as a woman and going to the forest instead of coming into
their conjugal bed.

In India, Bahuchara Mataji's original temple was built in 1783 in
Gujarat and attracts about 1.5 million pilgrims each year.

The shrine in Klang - situated in the compound of a house - was set up
about 11 years ago by Ms Asha Devi, matriarch of transsexuals in Malaysia.

The 65-year-old transwoman, who underwent traditional castration in
India in 1972, has been visiting the temple in Gujarat annually for at
least two decades.

She set up the shrine so that the closely-knit Indian transgendered
communities in Malaysia and Singapore would have their own place of
worship too.

The occasion is not only an opportunity for them to worship, but to
bond and celebrate their uniqueness.

The scale of the festival has grown over the years, and now draws even
Indian transsexuals who have settled abroad. This year, at least three
of the devotees returned from Switzerland and Germany for the

The festivities last five days but reach fever pitch on the fourth.

In the morning, a whip-wielding priest leads a procession of at least
100 transsexuals - dressed in green saris - from a nearby shrine to
the temple. They carry urns of milk and earthen pots of fire as
offerings for the goddess, walking in unison to the heady din from a
group of musicians working the tabla, cymbals and clarinet.

The rhythms hit a frenzy as the procession reaches the temple. Several
devotees start to go into a trance, prompting fellow worshippers to
restrain them.

Some manage to break free, yelping and rolling up their eyeballs
before throwing themselves to the floor. They writhe like serpents
with their tongues sticking out. Others bow before the shrine,
chanting prayers as priests start bathing the goddess with the urns of

More elaborate rituals take place in the evening. With much fanfare,
the deity is borne aloft in a gaily-lit float which winds its way
around the town centre. The four-hour procession, which attracts a
huge crowd of devotees and onlookers, is the highlight of the
festival. Half a dozen whistle-blowing security officers clear traffic
and maintain crowd control.

It is quite a spectacle: hundreds of elaborately made-up transsexuals,
dressed to the nines and dripping with jewellery.

Some walk with hands linked. Others break into feisty dances while
balancing pots on their heads, and yet others twirl their colourful
skirts as they execute nifty moves with wooden sticks.

More prayers, riotous dancing and singing take place after the
procession returns to the temple.

It's past midnight.

A gaggle of transwomen with damp hair, streaked mascara and sweat
patches on their saris troop along the corridor on the ninth floor of
the Crystal Lodge.

They open the door to room 989, throw off their dancing shoes, and
take off their make-up and finery to retire for the night.