When foreign visitors, such as me, visit Karnataka, they usually only see Bangalore, Coorg, Mysore, the erstwhile capital of Karnataka, Belur, and Helebid, all of which are located in the Hassan district of Karnataka, and then leave. Mandya, Karvar, Shimoga, Kolar, and other areas are frequently overlooked.

However, I decided to include Belgaum and Bellary in my list of Karnataka travel locations because Trisha had told me that these two areas were where I’d find Karnataka’s version of hijras. Trisha, being a Tamilian, had no idea what the hijras of Karnataka were called and requested that I visit either Belgaum or Bellary, or both if feasible.

When I returned to my host’s house in Bangalore, I realized I hadn’t gotten nearly as much information about my area of interest as I had hoped, so I booked a private cab to take me to Bellary. The terrain was parched, with a few spots of flora. I also saw that there were various rocks and hills, which the driver claimed made granite quarrying a lucrative business. Before reaching the town’s core, we went by the famed Bellary fort. Bellary was pleasant but unremarkable, like any other town in South India. I checked into a decent lodge (with a localized name that I can’t recall) and was assigned to a room on the first floor. The hotel manager claimed that the room’s USP was its view of the street.

The sights that Indians have become accustomed to seeing: cows in the middle of the street, heat, dust, sounds, colors, and smells may pique your interest, Ma’am, ” he remarked, before adding, “I hope you enjoy your stay at our lodge.”

I thanked him and refrained from telling him that I was there to learn more about the hijras, not to take in the sights, sounds, and colors. I didn’t want to be condemned for being interested in a community that the average Indian looked down on.

Hijra Dance - Chhath Festival - Strand Road - Kolkata 2013-11-09 4214

Jogappas: The next day, as I stood on the balcony enjoying my morning cup of masala chai, I noticed a procession passing by. It was largely made up of men dressed in nothing but neem (Azadirachta Indica) leaves and carrying something large and spectacular on their heads. The men wore earrings and necklaces fashioned from cowries, and their foreheads were laced with turmeric and vermillion. As they approached, I realized that they were carrying heavy, intricately decorated baskets on their heads, each housing a big idol of what appeared to be a female goddess. The baskets were ornately fashioned with several flower kinds. A couple of men had adorned their baskets with a variety of colorful materials. Much to my astonishment, men emulated women’s movements and attitudes. Following the procession, there was some sexual whistling and catcalling from the male spectators. The males were clearly titillated by the basket bearers’ effeminate mannerisms, as they put a few coins into their palms and began behaving flirtatiously with them. Following that, a couple more basket bearers broke away from the group and pursued the males who had been flirting with them.

Another lodge visitor, a Karnataka local, informed me that the men parading the streets semi-naked were jogappas, a minor transgender subculture in Karnataka. The jogappas were mostly from the dalit (a lower caste) and other lower groups, but some were Lingayats (an upper caste among the Hindus). I was quite taken aback when I learned that a few jogappas were also Muslims.

Another group of jogappas was hot on the heels of those who had fled. One of them was singing traditional Kannada, Marathi, and Telugu songs, which I later learned were in Kannada, Marathi, and Telugu. A big-built dusky jogappa played the chudike, a one-stringed instrument, and two or three others followed the entourage on drums.

Goddess Yellamma’s idol was carried by the female Goddess they were transporting (also known as Renuka). The jogappas were thought to be Goddess Yellamma’s worshippers; they committed their lives to her worship owing to a slew of issues in life, including poverty, illness, and so on. According to Hindu legend, Yellamma was the wife of a mighty sage named Jamadagni. Yellamma grew engaged in watching a few young guys play water sports at the water source while fetching water from a neighboring river. Hours flew by like sand, and Yellamma was completely unaware of it. Despite Yellamma’s protests to the contrary, her enraged husband Jamadagni accused her of infidelity when she eventually returned home. He commanded his sons to behead their mother in order to punish her. The first four refused, prompting an infuriated Jamadagni to force them to become transsexual. Parashurama, the fifth son, who is also an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu, the Preserver, carried out his father’s orders and murdered his mother. Surprisingly, Yellamma survived. Her brain grew a thousand times its original size, and she gained superhuman abilities. Yellamma was soon demoted to the status of goddess. Transgender people, including her first four kids, became passionate supporters.

Though the jogappas, whose major objective in life was to worship the Goddess and provide social duty, began as devout devotees of Goddess Yellamma, they gradually utilized their position in the cult to acquire money through prostitution, according to the hotel guest. As a result, they began making effeminate movements in order to attract men and solicit prostitution. The temple administrators used the jogappas and jogitis by forcing them to become devdasis (or temple prostitutes) by forcing them to plunge in the sacred temple pond before the initiation ritual.

I also learned about the “Kothis of India” during the next three days. The word kothis reminded me of the Thai word “Kathoey,” which means “woman lads.” India’s kothis aren’t strictly hijras, but rather boys who dress up as girls and serve a male clientele. Aside from Arvani and Jogappa, I discovered that another devotional cult was active in West Bengal. The Seibeke cult is this. Even though they dressed in sarees, decked themselves with bangles, the bindi (the round dot gracing the forehead of Hindu women), and flowers, the men of this cult did not have to undergo a sex-change operation or de-masculinization such as shaving off their facial hair. They called themselves men. The Seibeke cult traveled from town to town, chanting bhajans (devotional songs) in the worship of Lord Krishna.

I have been a story writer since 1998 and have published many novels/novellas in both English and Japanese. Protagonists of the following fictions are Hijras – including ordinary males who turn into Hijras over the course of the story:

My Medium URL: https://sakurazawa.medium.com/
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