New Delhi: Cross-dressing, the act of wearing clothing commonly associated with another gender, is seen mostly as an ignoble concept. However, few people know that it also has roots in India's mythology and culture.
There is a community of Lord Krishna's male devotees in Mathura and Vrindavan who dress up in female attire as an act of devotion. The ‘cross-dresser’ saints are called sakhis (friend) and according to their interpretation, dressing up like females is the act of posing as Radha (she who gives pleasure to Krishna).
These saints live a life of devotion as Krishna’s beloved ‘Radha’. Less than 100 in number across the country, most sakhis remain unmarried. However, it’s not unusual to find those who are married. 50-years-old Purshottam, married and with two sons, decided to be a sakhi 12-years ago, he tells.
“My family was not happy with this attire and the lifestyle I adopted. There were fights but I persisted,” says Purshottam.
Other sakhis would give you clearer reasons why all is not well within the families. “No wife would ever like her husband to dress up like a female and which is why families disintegrate,” says dasi sakhi saint Radha.
Though Purushottam's family continues to live with him, other sakhis earn their livelihood by dancing in the temples. They face flak sometimes even from the religious community. Some temple gurus find sakhi saints a sham in the guise of devotion.
The tradition survives despite the social insecurities that this community faces. Whether people appreciate them or not, but the sakhis call themselves the treasures of ‘Brajbhoomi’ (land of Lord Krishna).