Becharaji town is famous for its temple to Bahuchara Mata, goddess of fertility and patron saint of hijras (transgenders). It is also one of the highly revered Siddha Shakti Peethas, a place where Sati’s hands are said to have fallen and a place where the sincere wishes of the faithful are fulfilled.
The town of Becharaji is named after its temple to Bahuchara Mata.
Bahuchara Mata is a Hindu goddess, one of the many forms of Durga, a warrior’s daughter of the Charan caste. According to the legend, she and her sisters has set off on a journey when a marauder called Bapiya attacked their caravan. It was the Charan custom, for men and women, never to surrender to the enemy. in response to the attack, Bahuchara and her sisters cut off their breasts and cursed Bapiya, who became impotent. The curse was lifted only when he worshipped Bahuchara Mata by dressing and acting like a woman. That is why Bahuchara Mata is considered the patron saint of India’s hijra community.
Bahuchara Mata’s symbols are a sword, sacred scriptures, the hand gesture of blessing (mudra abhay hasta) and a trident. She is seated on a cock, symbol of innocence.
In Indian culture the hijras are a third sex, people considered neither male nor female. Most are biological males who have been emasculated in childhood or adolescence, though some are intersex people.
The word hijra also refers to the cast or community they live in. Hijras leave their families to live in strictly hierarchical communities with a guru (master) and a few chelas (disciples).
Although castration is banned in India, some hijras undergo the procedure in a secret ceremony when they join the community. Removal of the penis and testicles is regarded as a second birth. However, it is reckoned that 70% of hijras are not castrated but take hormones to give them a more feminine appearance.
It is hard for hijras to form a real family, or even to find work. They mostly live by begging or prostitution.
India’s hijras are both respected and mistrusted. They are respected because owing to their castration they are believed to confer fertility. They are paid to attend weddings, where they sing, dance and bless the newlyweds to make sure the marriage will be fertile. When a boy is born in a neighbourhood a group of hijras comes to the door and the family gives them money, food and new saris. But they are mistrusted because they are believed to be able to cast the evil eye.
Every year the hijras from all India gather for the Koothandavar festival where they relive an episode of the Mahabharata. The festival takes place in the village of Koovagam, 200km south of Madras in Tamil Nadu. It starts at full moon and lasts 18 days in April and May.
Paradoxically, although homosexuality is still illegal in India, in April 2014 the country’s supreme court recognised the existence of a “third gender”, neither male nor female, and ordered the government to respect transsexuals’ rights. In so doing, the Supreme Court forced the central government and State governments to identify transgender people and give them the same social welfare rights and access to work and education as the rest of the population.
The Bahuchara Mata temple is considered especially holy because it is a Shakti Peetha: Sati’s hands are said to have fallen here. It is one of three Shakti Peethas in Gujarat, the others being Ambaji and Kalika in Pavagadh.
The Bahuchara Mata temple is also a Siddha Peetha, a place where the sincere wishes of the faithful are fulfilled. Childless couples and parents of handicapped newborns come to make offerings and pray to the goddess.