Devadasi: Initiation Into Prostitution?

July 30, 2009 by chitragopi  
Published in Women

Dedicating a girl child to a deity, making her a deva dasi, later on to be launched in flesh trade, subjecting her to untold misery and a life of shame -it happens now. Her ancient counterpart, history reveals, occupied a dignified place in the society. Who is to be blamed for the fall?

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Dedicating a girl child  to God is not a custom approved by the scriptures. Infact it was not even practised before 6th century AD. There is no mention of devadasis in any of the books, taken for the study of history of this custom. Kautilya’s ‘Arthasastra’, believed to be written in the 3rd century BC, mentions prostitutes but it does not mention devadasis.The practice of dedicating a girl to God must have started only from the 6th century AD, says Anil Chawla, in his book, ‘Devadasis- sinners or sinned against?’ His book is a comprehensive study on the subject, Devadasi.

Sanskrit literature, developed in the 6th century, reveals that each temple had girls who served God through music and dance and orchestra. They were part of the normal establishment of temples. They formed an integral part of temple worship. A girl’s intiation as a devadasi was the symbolic marriage between her and God. It was nothing unusual. Many religions had and have women who dedicate themselves totally to God and become ascetics. ‘Deva’ means God and ‘Dasi’ means server. The temple undertook the maintanance of these women till their death. After their death, the kitchen fire of the temple was used for consecration. There is a mention of this fact in the ancient books. (Amrit Srinivasan)

Some of them, especially  Orissa’s Jagannath temple had devadasis who could be eqated to ascetics. These great women ascetics, who remained celebate, could control their natural human impulses, their five senses and could completely submit themselves to God. These girls danced and sang with their orchestra group, during temple festivals. But not all devadasis were of this line. The liberal tradition of the Indian society did not restrict thier freedom. Says Anil Chawla,”She was married to a deity, but that did not mean she had to live her life without the normal pleasures of sex and child birth. She exercised a fair degree of choice in the matter of choosing her sexual partner.”

The kings were the patrons of the temples and they made sure that there were such dancers to honour God. The bigger the temple, the more number of devadasis it maintained. They also cleaned the temples, brought flowers for worship and in the medieval periods were ranked next only to priests. The Tanjore and the Travancore temples had as many as 400 devadasis.

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5 Responses to “Devadasi: Initiation Into Prostitution?”
  1. ken bultman Says:

    Wonderful article on a subject heretofore unknown to me.
    thank you.

  2. Jenny Heart Says:

    Well written! Foof for thought. Like it!

  3. Ruby Hawk Says:

    I enjoyed your article so much. You went into much further detail than I. Thank you for a great article.

  4. fishfry aka Elizabeth Figueroa Says:

    Woah, A very intense article about areas of prosititution that I had absolutely no idea about.

    Thank you for the knowledge in your well writen article

  5. ladybaby Says:

    I was not aware of this practice, but it does not surprise me. Women have been used as slaves throughout history. It still goes on in parts of the world even now. Even in the USA there are secret sex trades going on. It is a horrible thing. These things need to be exposed more often, so that people can be aware of them, and maybe, just maybe some of these poor women can be rescued or saved from these sinful practices. Thanks for sharing this article.


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