Myth and Reality of History and Present status of Devadasis.

Discussion in 'Asian Forum' started by Ignorant, Sep 16, 2015.

  1. Ignorant

    Ignorant New Member

    An attempt to look at the myth and reality of history and present status of Devadasis.

    In some parts of India a few centuries ago a practice developed under which a few women were made wives of god and named as Devadasis, Jogins, Basavis, Kalawants, Paravatis or Mathammas. These wives of God lived in or around the temples. They performed some duties at the temples and participated in the religious functions. They were an integral part of many large Hindu temples. In addition to their religious duties, the Devadasis were a community of artists. They presented dance and music performances at the temple as well as at private functions. It was customary for the elite to invite devadasis at marriages and family functions.

    There are different stories in Indian legends regarding origins of this system be it Kalidasa’s meghdoot ,the KAMASUTRA’s reference to courtesan or the classic “Mrichchha Katika” of Shudraka written in 6th century A.D .

    Devadasi practices

    DEDICATION PROCESS:From the late medieval period until 1910, the Pottukattu or tali-tying dedication ceremony, was a widely advertised community event requiring the full cooperation of the local religious authorities. It initiates the a young girl into the devadasi profession and is performed in the temple by the priest. In the Brahminical tradition marriage is viewed as the only religious initiation (diksha) permissible to women. Thus the dedication is a symbolic “marriage” of the pubescent girl to the temple’s deity.

    In the sadanku or puberty ceremonies, the devadasi-initiate consummates her marriage with an emblem of the god borrowed from the temple as a stand-in ‘bridegroom’. From then onward, the devadasi is considered a nitya sumangali: a woman eternally free from the adversity of widowhood.

    She would then perform her ritual and artistic duties in the temple. The puberty ceremonies were an occasion not only for temple honor, but also for community feasting and celebration in which the local elites also participated. The music and dance and public display of the girl also helped to attract patrons.

    Devadasis performed various duties as part of the temple deity’s worship. The exact nature of these duties varies with region. According to rules concerning temple worship (Agamas), dance and music are necessary ingredients of daily puja of deties in temples. These religious duties are uncontested and are a widely celebrated part of the life of the devadasi temple servant. These variations are described later in this section.

    Whereas in places such as Orissa, devadasis were traditionally celibate, in some other places a devadasi would usually acquire a “patron” after her “deflowering ceremony”. Patronship in a majority of cases is achieved at the time of the dedication ceremony itself. The patron who secures this right of spending the first night with the girl can pay a fixed sum of money to maintain a permanent liaison with the devadasi, pay to maintain a relationship for a fixed amount of time, or terminate the liaison after the deflowering ceremony. A permanent liaison with a patron does not bar the girl from entertaining other clients, unless he specifies otherwise. In case the girl entertains, other men have to leave the girl’s house when her patron comes.

    It seemed to us that authentic literature about devadasis is too scattered and is not available in a concise form for the common reader who has no time or patience to read academic research papers.
    Readable writings on devadasis are dominated by two categories of writers –
    (a) Leftist intellectuals who spare no opportunity to attack any religious institutions especially the onesthat have not received a favourable mention in international Marxist literature
    (b) Christian Missionaries and their protégés. These writers have been using the institution of devadasi as a stick to beat Hindu religion and Indian culture. Unfortunately, many Indians are not aware of the true history of devadasis. This prevents them from answering the smear campaign that has been going on for more than a century.

    The fact is that a devadasi was neither a prostitute nor a nun.
    She was a professional artist who did not suppress or deny her feminine skills. She was a woman whose life pattern was different from that of a typical woman in patriarchal society.

    The educated urban class acting under the influence of Christian missionaries delivered a fatal blow to the lifeline of the Devadasis by their anti-nautch campaign and thus pushed them into prostitution. The revivalist shut the doors firmly by creating a class of elite
    performers who preserved the dance of devadasis but usurped the position of devadasis as performers.

    The Devadasi was (and is not) a ‘prostitute’. It is indeed a great insult to brand as prostitutes the women who kept classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam and Odisee alive for centuries. The lack of empathy shown by reformists towards the Devadasis is indeed appalling and smacks of an imperialist and colonialist bias against everything Indian .

    The debate of Reformists vs. Revivalists is now a matter of history. The ground reality is that the Devadasi is today a poor woman who lives in a miserable condition with no family support as is understood traditionally and with no institutional support from temple or state.

    Their present social status is a gift of ignorance very wonderfully marketed by so called elitists of the society.

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