hijra – on the day of nirvan

veiled, jaisalmerOn the day of the Nirvan, the initiate (also known as ‘nirvan’) is woken up at the crack of dawn by the dai ma (midwife) and her assistant. He is directed to have a bath during which the dai ma offers prayers to Bahuchara Mata to make her knife sharp and rapacious and to enable a successful operation.

To test the readiness of the nirvan, he is shown a picture of Bahuchara Mata and is asked to gauge her expression. If the nirvan interprets the Mata as smiling, the midwife presumes that the operation is going to be a success and goes ahead with it. If She is perceived as incensed, the operation is put off for another day. For similar reasons, the initiate is asked to break a coconut. If he is devoid of nervousness and breaks the coconut into two equal halves, the dai ma goes ahead with the operation. If the coconut breaks into two unequal halves, the nivan is adjudged as tense, and the operation is postponed.

Suppose the nirvan is ready, he is made to sit on a stool by the dai ma. The assistant collects his hair, inserts it in between the nirvan’s teeth and asks him to bite hard on it. The penis and scrota are tied with a string to enable a clean cut. The nirvan is subsequently asked to focus on a picture of Bahuchara Mata and chant her name repeatedly. Once the nirvan goes into a hypnotic trance, the dai ma brings the readied sharp knife down and cuts off the nirvan’s male genitals. A stick is inserted into the urethra to keep it open.

Blood gushes out. Since it is supposed to ‘drain the masculinity out’, the flow isn’t curbed. For the next one hour, the nirvan goes into an ambiguous state between life and death. This is described as the ‘tug of war’ between Bahuchara Mata, the embodiment of life and her elder sister Goddess Chamundeshwari, the deity representing death.

If the nirvan survives, he is kept in sequestration for the next forty days. Dietary and other taboos are once again imposed on him. Gingili oil is applied on the wound to aid quick recovery.

On the third day after the emasculation, the nirvan is given a bath. On the 12th day, saffron and turmeric is applied on his face and his hair and is washed. The same ritual is repeated on the 20th and 30th day.

On the 40th day, the mehndi ceremony is conducted. Since hijras are prohibited from shaving, the nirvan’s facial hair is yanked off by tweezers. He is dressed in a red bridal saree, adorned with elaborate jewelry and his palms are decked with intricate designs of the mehndi or henna, a plant dye. The nirvan is given some milk and is taken in a procession to a temple tank. Prayers are offered to the Mata and milk is poured over the head of the nirvan and the water three times. It is now that the nirvan is seen as a genuine, authentic hijra who is sanctioned to bless people with fertility and prosperity even though he himself is impotent.

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