ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Female Impersonation and the Aesthetic Politics of Transgender Performance in the Ritual Worship of Manasa


Majumdar Pritam - Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, New Delhi, India


43 – Trans/Third Gender Communities and Religion in South Asia


 The practice of female impersonation or chokra-naach in the repertoire of Palagaan (a form of traditional theatre in Bengal region) provides an avenue for the koti (male-assigned at birth but female-identified transpersons) performers to express their transfeminine selves through cross-dressing and enacting female characters in the performance context of Manasa Palagaan which is part of an elaborate ritual of worshiping Manasa, one of the prominent snake deities in South Asia. The performative politics of transgendered subjectivities is enacted through the mimetic construction of Sati-Nari (ideal heteronormative woman) but the polyvocal bodies of female impersonators through ambivalent performances of non-conforming gender identities destabilizes the image of ideal heteronormative woman. This paper traces the aesthetic and performative politics of transfeminine subjectivities in the performance tradition of Palagaan to the Hindu theological concept of Ardhanariswara and Nari-bhav (androgynous self and affect). Further, this paper through an ethnographic study of the performing koti subjectivities within the performance traditions of Manasa Palagaan in the Dinajpur region argues that the aesthetic politics of transgender performers transcends their immediate aesthetic/mimetic context of performance (i.e. female impersonation) and reveals a process of constructing a hidden network of homosociality which challenges the heteronormative construction of gender in rural Bengal.