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PRAYAGRAJ, India (RNS) — On a warm January evening, sadhus and devotees surrounded Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the former reality TV star, jostling to get a selfie with her. She obliged them one by one, posing with hands gracefully folded into a namaskar.
In this northern Indian city historically known as Allahabad, it is the festival of Kumbh Mela, when millions of Hindus come to take a dip at the confluence of the three holy rivers — Ganges, Yamuna and the Saraswati, the latter long dried up and known only in myth — and to catch a glimpse of the holy men and women who camp at the weekslong festival.
Tripathi - Transgender - Activist - Founder - Order
Tripathi, 40, now a transgender activist and founder of the first monastic order of transgender people in Hinduism, made her splashing debut earlier in the day with a dip the Indian media covered as if it were a movie premiere.
Outside the tent where Tripathi was receiving her followers, the crowd became impatient, but she beckoned to those swarming the entrance, giving out generous hugs, a pat on the head or a little slap of adoration on the cheek, keeping order by dispensing blessings.
Evening - Lines - Tripathi - Makeup - Transformation
That evening, after the long lines had dissipated, Tripathi removed her ceremonial makeup and discussed her transformation from television personality to activist to a religious leader. “Effeminate and sickly” as a child in a family of Brahmins, the highest priestly caste, she grew up in the west Indian state of Maharashtra. In addition to being different from an early age, Tripathi was abused sexually as a child.
A dancer and choreographer, Tripathi embarked on a career that ranged from music videos to Mumbai’s infamously seedy dance bars. For years she battled with being called gay for her innate femininity, until she met prominent members of Mumbai’s hijra community — as trans people...
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Millions in tribute, but not a penny left for charity.