In a first, transgenders took part in the religious royal entry procession called ‘Peshwai’ on 6th January for the ‘Kinnar Akhara’.
The world’s largest spiritual congregation at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and the now extinct Saraswati at Prayagraj (formerly called Allahabad) is recognised as ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’ by the UNESCO. In the days leading to the main event, Hinduism’s 13 official akharas take out processions to mark their arrival at the festival.
The procession which took place on Sunday, along with the Sadhus, were transgenders. In September last year, the Supreme Court in a historic verdict decriminalised homosexuality under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, who headed the transgender congregation at the Kumbh, said, “Those were significant victories but now the fight to get us social acceptance and our presence at the Kumbh is another step in that direction.”
“The Kumbh is a place where everybody is welcome and we welcome transgender people as well. But they can’t be recognised as an Akhara,” said Vidyanand Saraswati, spokesperson of the Juna Akhara, which is the biggest of the 13 Akharas.
Despite being recognised recognition by the Akhara Parishad, comprising of the 13 main Akharas, the procession stole the show by drawing one of the largest crowds. “We don’t need certification from the 13 Akharas. We are Sanatani Hindus and are demi-gods as per the Shastras. We are here despite the efforts to keep us out,” Tripathi added.
Massive preparations are underway for the Kumbh which will begin from 15th January. The Kumbh Mela is believed to be the largest religious gathering on earth and alternates between Nasik, Prayagraj (previously Allahabad), Ujjain, and Haridwar every three years.
The one held in Prayagraj comes in every 12 years and is considered the holiest of them all.